Caressed by butterfly wings at the 'best house in Australia'

On a tropical mountaintop, Christina Pfeiffer flutters from helipad to tennis court at the 'best house in Australia'.

We're floating in an infinity pool, sipping champagne and staring dreamily across a pastiche of green, where hectares of neat farms and tree-covered hills stretch towards the Pacific Ocean. After a tough time at the office, a weekend with no schedules or important decisions to make - aside from where to eat, when to swim and what massage treatment to try - is a perfect way to relax.

We've rented Mali Mali, set on 16 hectares of land 1200 metres above sea level on Mount Somerset in Far North Queensland. It won the 2008 Master Builders Australia award for best house in the $1million to $2million category and Queensland's House of the Year.

Surrounded by luscious tropical gardens that attract beautiful butterflies, Mali Mali (an indigenous word meaning butterfly) is part of the portfolio of Executive Retreats, a company that specialises in beach and mountain holiday homes. Also in its stable of hideaways is Tranquilla, the winner of Australia's Best Back Yard in 2007. Mali Mali's designers took their inspiration from the airy pavilions of Bali. Timber walkways skirt fountains and fish ponds, connecting the main living pavilion with the three pavilions for sleeping.

The main area has soaring ceilings and houses an open-plan kitchen, dining and lounge areas. The media room is equipped with a plasma television and surround-sound system. The interior blends stylishly into the tropical background. Furniture is contemporary, much of it designed by Melbourne's Jimmy Possum. The Miele kitchen has the newest appliances. Each sleeping pavilion has an ensuite bathroom with sunken baths and L'Occitane toiletries.

Next to the helipad is a tennis court with night lights and a barbecue cabana perfect for lazy afternoon parties. We play some tennis, and then return to the pool. After drinks, we doze on comfortable pool-side lounges.

For some well-deserved pampering, we pick up the phone and dial Executive Retreats' mobile massage therapist or private yoga teacher.

Massage treatments use Li'Tya aromatic oils made from native plants with intriguing names such as Maccalla Full Moon, Pekiri Dream and Koora Detox. Lillypilly, wild rosella flowers, kelp and macadamia oil are used in facials. You can have your hands covered in a Tasmanian kelp hydrating mask, wrapped in hot towels and massaged with skin-softening Munthari hand lotion while your feet are soaked in Jiga Jina aromatic oils and covered with a pepperberry foot mask. It's a lifestyle to which I could become accustomed.

Although in-house catering can be arranged, we decide to sample the best that Port Douglas chefs have to offer, a 15-minute drive away.


This seaside town has grown into a vibrant restaurant hub with an abundance of upmarket restaurants including Zinc, The Living Room and 2 Fish. But the flavour of the month is contemporary European cuisine, and the newest restaurants here are Harrison's Restaurant & Bar and Le Sixieme Sens Restaurant & Wine Bar.

Spencer Patrick, a Michelin-star chef, runs Harrison's open kitchen. The menu is a fusion of classic European and modern Australian. Traditionally rich dishes such as pork belly and duck are presented in a lighter style to suit North Queensland's climate.

Le Sixieme Sens Restaurant & Wine Bar, run by Swiss chef Clement Wuthrich and his Norwegian wife, Marianne, is tucked away on the first floor of the Club Tropical building opposite Rex Smeal Park, with views to Sugar Wharf. The French-influenced menu suits the tropics. My pan-fried duck is served with a salad and the potatoes are crushed with olive oil and topped with a coffee lime sauce. Dessert is a tangy Tahitian lime mousse.

Back at Mali Mali, green tree frogs stare at us with bulging eyes to match our bulging stomachs. This becomes our nightly ritual.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.


Getting there

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue fly to Cairns. Transfer to Mali Mali by helicopter, chauffeur-driven limousine or rental car.

Staying there

Mali Mali sleeps eight, priced from $950 a night for up to six guests and $50 for each extra guest. The minimum stay is five nights. Phone (07) 4098 1418 or see

Eating there

Harrison's Restaurant & Bar, 41 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas, phone (07) 4099 6364.

Le Sixieme Sens, corner of Macrossan and Wharf streets, phone (07) 4099 6338.

Zinc, corner of Macrossan and Davidson streets, phone (07) 4099 6260 (both Zinc's cuisine and eye-catching toilet design is the buzz of the town).

Sassi at Peppers Bale{aac}, 1 Bale{aac} Drive, Port Douglas, phone (07) 4084 3085, see, offers a stylised tropical adaptation of home cooking from Italy's Adriatic coast.

The Living Room, 22 Wharf Street, Port Douglas, phone (07) 4099 4011, see, is set in a Queenslander-style timber cottage surrounded by century-old mango trees.

2 Fish Restaurant, 7/20 Wharf Street, Port Douglas, phone (07) 4099 6350, see, offers magnificent feasts.

Nautilus Restaurant, 17 Murphy Street, Port Douglas, phone (07) 4099 5330, see, has a five-star romantic setting among tropical gardens. Children under eight are not allowed.

Further information