We hopped off the charter bus into the cool, dark rainforest in the Mowbray Valley near Port Douglas. Lit torches lined a dirt path, weaving through the trees to a clearing where others gathered. Clusters of people chatted amongst themselves, all of us strangers to each other. Eric & I procured drinks from the outdoor bar, then awkwardly stood around as passed h’ors devours ushered their way into our stomachs – crocodile on cucumber, caramelized onion/goat cheese tartlet, glazed chicken on a skewer – delectable teasers for starving appetites.
Suddenly, a distant rhythmic drumbeat grew nearer. We clusters hushed and inched toward the sound, not sure whether to follow the beat or wait until it arrived. A male voice cut through the rhythm, singing a foreign melody in foreign words. Then they arrived, aboriginal musicians with faces painted and skin showing. The drumbeat stopped. Silence. All was still but the breeze and the white noise of crickets.
They beckoned us to follow as we continued excitedly down a torchlit path, all of our senses heightened from the darkness and unfamiliar noises. This was Flames of the Forest – an award-winning, aboriginal dining experience nestled in the mystical rainforest.
Our destination was a large outdoor pavilion with three large community tables. After observing the other guests for the evening, we strategically sat at a table with seemingly animated older folks – this proved as an excellent choice of table mates, as the rest of our evening consisted of shared stories, belly laughs, and cross cultural learnings.
Chrystalline chandeliers glittered violet from the ceiling, candles flickered on the tables, and twinkling strands of golden lights swooped through the brush. The light cast on the tall trees like painted spindly hands reaching for the Southern Cross. It was, in a word, enchanting.
The wine poured. That exotic, wooden, reverberating resonance of the didgeridoo that encapsulates Australia in a single sound played. We acquainted ourselves with our table mates – all midlifers, all from different places in the world. Entrapped in conversation, it almost shocked when our aboriginal hosts – the Creek family of the local Kuku Yalangi tribe – began to speak, welcoming us to the event and explaining the tribe’s culture, values, and beliefs. We learned of the didgeridoo, the concept of “before the before”, and how dreamtime stories are passed from generation to generation. Our host’s personality shined – serious but cheeky, intensive and fierce, descriptive though illuminative. He guaranteed that we would believe in every word that parted his lips… even the fables and legends of his ancestors.
At the conclusion of his speech, dinner commenced. As did the didgeridoo/drum music. Seven courses of locally produced cuisine served family-style around the table. And OH was it delicious. A region can be flaunted through the tastebuds. And this meal boldly declared itself of culinary worth. Just reading the menu is an experience of palatable magic. See for yourself:
The kangaroo steak ranked among our list of favorites. This was a particular treat – I can’t tell you the last time I walked to the local butcher and said, “Hey, mate, I’ll take the ‘roo!” By the way, my wine glass was never empty. Like, never. Our servers were quite attentive. So by the time our bellies were bursting and the plates were no longer passed, a warm fuzzy wine feeling circulated my veins. Or maybe that was from the amiable company and delectable dishes. Regardless, I was feeling full in the belly and the heart.
With the presentation of dessert launched the dreamtime stories. The host expressed a forbidden love story between a beautiful duck and a river snake, which weaved a marvelous tale about how the platypus came to exist. And as he promised, I believed it.
Though pricey, our evening at Flames of the Forest remains one of my favorite experiences in Queensland. It encapsulated aboriginal culture, indigenous music, tribal legends, gourmet food, unending wine, and new friends against the backdrop of the tropical rainforest. Magical.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Flames of the Forest is limited – in seating and in nights performed. The aboriginal cultural experience is only held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- I booked my reservation through a third-party site (Viator) which was cheaper than direct. I also used a coupon code from Viator’s Facebook page for an even steeper discount.
- Dress code is “smart casual” and heels are not recommended (grass). If you need to look up smart casual, have no shame… so did I.
- During the h’ors devours portion of the evening, investigate the other guests to determine who you’d want to sit with at the community tables. We purposefully avoided the young couples who seemed standoffish & aloof.
- Bring business cards. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll want to keep in touch with your table mates.
- Video recording is prohibited.
- Arrive hungry! There is a lot of incredible food.
- Have an open mind, drink lots of wine, and enjoy!
What’s the most exotic dining experience you’ve ever had? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!