Escape to Mount Mulligan

Leaving the rat race behind, but not the creature comforts.

Just 35 minutes from Cairns by chopper, Mount Mulligan may as well be a million miles from civilisation as you kick back and reconnect with nature.

Sue Wallace

Jason Lerace, Sean Scott and Wilson Archer

7 January, 2020


An Agile Wallaby pauses on the water’s edge and takes a long drink, a feral pig with its tiny piglets wander by and as if on cue, a fish leaps from the water with a splash.

It’s 5.30am, an ideal time to pick up the binoculars and spy on the wildlife on the opposite bank from my deck at the new Mount Mulligan Lodge in remote Far North Queensland. 

Just a 35-minute helicopter trip north-west of Cairns or a two and a half hour drive by 4WD, the lodge is on a 28,000-hectare cattle property and sits in the shadow of majestic Mount Mulligan.

From the moment we arrive it’s clear the grandeur of the luxury lodge and surrounds matches the splendour of the landscape.

The pavilion, where you will find the bar, dining area and lounge, showcases timber and stone with huge pylons that were part of a Sydney Pyrmont pier. Smooth river rock has been used for the fireplace, while Queensland red gum – charred black using the Japanese yakisugi technique – has been used for the walls and spotted gum for the flooring.

Outside the black-tiled infinity pool and eight suites overlook a small weir where lily pads act as springboards for frogs and paperbarks and river gums fringe the surrounds.

Paddle boards and kayaks are at the ready to explore the still waters where elusive barramundi are hiding. Or you can just settle back on a sun lounge and watch nature at play.

But as tempting as it is to just chill here, there’s much to see.

Just a 35-minute helicopter trip north-west of Cairns or a two and a half hour drive by 4WD, the lodge is on a 28,000-hectare cattle property

The property is named after Irish born James Mulligan who discovered gold in 1876 on the nearby Hodgkinson River

This is a property that once made headlines for all the wrong reason – the site of a coal mine where 75 miners perished after a monster explosion back in 1921. A plaque with their names pays tribute to so many lives cut short in the tragic accident.

Nearby the old township of Mount Mulligan where more than 300 people lived, is now a ghost town. It was disbanded when the mine closed in 1957 but the bones of a railway station, picture theatre, bath house, post office and two pubs, remain and an eerie reminder of a once flourishing township.

In the area you will also find the Tyrconnell gold mine, the home of Australia’s oldest operating gold crusher, which at its peak employed 2000 men – another reminder of very different times.

The property is named after Irish born James Mulligan who discovered gold in 1876 on the nearby Hodgkinson River.

General manager Jody Westbrook describes it as an amazing off-grid property where you can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life and yet is so easily accessible from Cairns.  

“The mountain itself is majestic with the colours changing in the different light throughout the day, the depth of history of the mining towns, the amazing birdlife, along with the intricate workings of the cattle station make it a very special place,” she says.

It’s now part of the Morris Group’s Northern Escape Collection, joining Orpheus Island and the Daintree Eco Lodge, to offer travellers a luxurious escape with its own special twist.

For a change of pace, try donning goggles and a face muff, jumping in an ATV and joining a convoy to negotiate boulder-strewn dry creeks and straddle rocky trails. It’s an exhilarating fun experience, dust and all.

A cool towel awaits and a picnic lunch shaded by gum trees at Branch River below Mount Mulligan also known as Ngarrabullgan, with your guide Teniel Lignieres.

The conglomerate and sandstone tabletop mountain boasts a spectacular 18-kilometre escarpment, 10 times the size of Uluru. 

“Aboriginal legend is all about the wandering spirit called Eekoo who lives at the peak but there’s a mystery why the Djungan people suddenly deserted the mountain 600 years ago and it’s not climbed,” she says.

Today it’s just for looking at in all its glory.

Returning to the lodge, you’ll likely spot rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras and Noisy Friar birds, passing some of the Brahman cattle roaming the property.

Then, after a refreshing dip in the pool, perhaps back to the luxurious room to relax while deciding on how to spend the evening.

Everything at Mount Mulligan resort happens at the pace that suits you. If you want to kick back and soak in your corrugated iron bathtub with a book, so be it. The bathtubs are a nod to the past, as abandoned water tanks were cut in half for baths in the old township.

What you won’t have to duo is contend with crowds, given that Mount Mulligan caters to a maximum of 16 residents at a time, with rates that include gourmet meals, Australian wines and beers and soft drinks, mini bar and daily activities.

Everything at Mount Mulligan resort happens at the pace that suits you. If you want to kick back and soak in your corrugated iron bathtub with a book, so be it

It’s an extraordinary feeling to be away from it all, but without forgoing any of the creature comforts – the creatures

In the evening, you might decide to jump in your electric buggy for a spin to evening drinks up the hill at the rustic Sunset Bar. There, with a sundowner in hand, is the perfect place to watch the blood red sunset creep across the sky, before heading back to the Pavilion to sample the culinary adventure presented by executive chef Amanda Healey.

Healey creates fabulous tastes using produce from the rich Atherton Tablelands – with locally sourced, caught and foraged produce starring in seasonal dishes accented with native and bush foods. 

“It’s all about respecting the food – I call my style refined simplicity where it’s about taste and making things from scratch,” says Amanda, who picks offerings from a thriving vegetable garden.

Dine under thousands of stars on degustation taste sensations including Cairns exotic mushrooms, Mulligan red claw dumplings, Bushy Creek ribeye and wattle seed and wild rosella flower flavoured treats plus Australian wines.

It’s an extraordinary feeling to be away from it all, but without forgoing any of the creature comforts – or many of the creatures. Just on the fringes of the light, the silhouette of a wallaby can be seen, and the chorus of frogs forms something of a natural backing track to the evening, along with a strange popping sound coming from the water.

“Barra make that noise when they are feeding,” says Jody – evidence that they are in residence after all. It’s all part of the Mount Mulligan magic.