From the green pastures of the Atherton Tablelands, churning out creamy dairy goods and aromatic fruits, to the freshest daily catch off the coast, Tropical North Queensland is diverse both in its landscape and resulting culinary offerings. So, it’s no wonder foodies and chefs across Australia are singing its praises as the go-to place for some of the best produce in the country. And that’s before we even mention the coffee plantations, nut farms, wineries, and the only distillery north of Bundaberg.
More and more travellers to the region are scheduling their getaways around our food festivals, guaranteed to deliver equal measures of fun and foodie passion, set against a backdrop of paradise. Are your taste buds screaming ‘FOMO’? Then put these events on your culinary calendar; you (and your taste buds) are in for a treat!
Feast of the Senses, Innisfail
When: 23 – 28 March, 2017
Held over six days, this festival is a true homage to local farmers who put their soul, year after year, into harvesting the bounties of the tropics. Book a spot on one of the four food trails, where you’ll visit producers on their properties and hear about the farming process and the challenges they face. The food trails include Tully and its surrounds, where you’ll learn about rare fruits, the Atherton Tablelands, Mena Creek Way, plus a tour of the Mirriwinni-Innisfail area. Keep an eye on the festival events page for updates.
On Saturday, 25 March, an attempt will be made to create the world’s longest banana split using 40,000 locally grown bananas and lots of ice-cream, resulting in an 8,000-metre-long dessert. Fun for the whole family, each team will make five banana splits, which you’ll eventually be able to tuck into as a reward.The next day the main event of the Market Day Extravaganza will kick off from 9.00am. Held in Innisfail’s CBD you can expect around 100 stalls, showcasing a range of exotic fruits, a celebrity cook-off, a community cooking competition, plus plenty of activities to keep the kids happy.
Port Douglas Carnivale
When: 26 – 28 May, 2017
Late May is when it’s time to kick up your heels in Port Douglas because the party is coming to town, and it all starts on Friday, 26 May at 5pm with a lively parade down Macrossan Street. Featuring community floats, performers, and live music, it’s a night the locals and visitors look forward to. The amusement rides are bound to keep the kids entertained until the fireworks start at 9pm. The food stalls mean you’ll be able to grab a bite to eat along the way.
But the serious foodie side of things commences earlier that day, with Paradise on a Plate setting the tone with the Asahi Longest Lunch to be had in the picturesque setting of palm-tree-fringed Rex Smeal Park. Each of the four courses is accompanied by matching wines and an entertainer – that’s right, this lunch comes with a unique act per course! Speaking of unique acts, LA SOIREE will be performing at Carnivale between 19 – 28 May. This theatrical act has gained worldwide recognition, but it’s way more than just a night at the theatre. Part burlesque, and part cabaret, with lashings of a circus sideshow, it’s an evening of entertainment you won’t forget. Best to leave the kids at home for this one.
Back to the serious business of food. Estrella Port on a Fork – Food, Music & Wine is another must-attend event. With award-winning musician Ben Lee headlining, you know you’re guaranteed an evening of top talent, and we haven’t even started on the nosh. There’ll be plenty of stalls serving signature dishes created by local chefs and inspired by the region’s fresh produce. With fire twirlers, DJs, and live burlesque acts, Rex Smeal Park will transform from a peaceful park to a vibrant, thriving festival. So, select a delectable dish, settle in for sunset, sip on a glass or two of chilled vino, and then party in paradise. Tickets for all events can be purchased here.
Taste Port Douglas
When: 11 – 13 August, 2017
This three-day foodie gathering has a big celebrity chef backing. You’ll see them on stage presenting cooking demonstrations, they’ll cater for the Big Taste dinner series, and you’ll see them milling about, getting involved in pretty much everything. This is an indication of the calibre of event Taste Port Douglas is and that’s why it continues to attract more visitors every year.
The main event of the weekend is the two-day food and wine festival, where both take centre stage. This isn’t just about stalls serving up irresistible morsels, showcasing the best of our region’s produce, though. There’ll be wine, spirit, and craft beer tastings. There’ll be informative workshops held by industry influencers. Think cocktail-making, fruit-carving, salt sessions, and more. The details of the workshops are yet to be released, so keep a lookout on the webpage, or sign up to the newsletter from the homepage, so you’re among the first to hear the updates. One change we can fill you in on is that entry into the Festival Village is free this year.
Perhaps consider a longer stay in Port Douglas for this one. The sheer number of eating opportunities demands it. And then you’ll have time to explore the World Heritage listed sites of the Great Barrier Reef or the Daintree Rainforest. #winning.
Reef Feast Palm Cove
When: 5 – 8 October, 2017
This four-day annual shindig sees Palm Cove’s Williams Esplanade momentarily drop its relaxed, easy vibe as it transforms into a lively, tropical party, where food takes centre stage.
Stalls will sell a sumptuous selection of dishes inspired by fresh produce from across the region, and the live music will kick off from Friday night at the jetty.
This year you’ll see a slight change with the Big Brunch replacing the Longest Lunch on the Saturday. It’ll start from about 10 or 11am, with local restaurants still catering, of course. Sip mimosas, while taking in the balmy breezes, swaying palm trees, and Coral Sea views. Later in the day is when the stages come alive with top music talent, and the stalls will be set up selling everything from small plates to deli wares such as balsamic vinegar with mango.
Stay tuned for further details on this four-day annual event.
Babinda Harvest Festival
When: Saturday, 7 October, 2017
This year will mark 55 years since this event was first held in 1962 to celebrate the start of the sugarcane harvest. Since then it’s grown into a family-friendly festival offering great food, fun, and entertainment. The kids will be entertained with the rides and face painting, while the older members of the clan will have plenty to keep them occupied with the food stalls, live entertainment and the display of local art in the pavilion. The grand parade starts at 3.30pm, where you’ll see vintage cane-farming machinery driven down the street, alongside colourful floats from schools, local businesses and community organisations. Once the parade ends the gates will open to Bill Wakeham Park, the official festival grounds, at around 4.30pm. This year will see more food stalls than ever, too. Expect wood-fired pizza, cannoli, and ice cream vans serving up delights made with fresh, local produce. Lovingly homemade jams, spreads and cakes will also be on offer. The 9pm fireworks display is when everything will start drawing to a close – and by then, you’ll most likely be feeling a little weary after the food and fun that’s been had.
Tastes of the Tablelands
When: Sunday, 15 October, 2017
From locally grown and roasted coffee, to tropical boutique wines, fragrant fruits, crisp vegetables, and ice cream bursting with local flavours, this is the festival that shows off so much of what the Atherton Tablelands offers. Known as the food bowl of the tropics, you could be mistaken for thinking you’re driving through the cooler regions of the south. Its rolling green hills, waterfalls, and lush vegetation make it a popular destination for tourists and locals seeking a weekend away. But foodies are also flocking to the area, embarking on the many food trails. This festival is the prime opportunity for you to sample amazing produce, within one setting. So grab a shady spot, take in the live music playing throughout the day, and taste to your heart’s content.