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25 Romantic Getaways

I could have stayed on Lizard Island a month, or the rest of my life. But after three days of hiking, biking, and snorkeling, we were in danger of having a day to do nothing but lounge on the beach. Ilene decided it was time to move on. An English couple we'd befriended recommended a rain-forest lodge not far away where tree houses hung over the Daintree River, spiders spun golden orbs, and a 15-foot python lived under the restaurant. Ilene booked a reservation for the next night.

Into every anti-honeymoon a little rain must fall. A 12-day downpour had created an infestation of "mozzies"—as Australians affectionately call mosquitoes—at the Silky Oaks Lodge, an eco-resort in the middle of a 135 million-year-old World Heritage rain forest. On the hour-long trip north from Cairns into the high, cloudy jungle, our driver described Queensland's alternative attractions: estuarine crocs the size of Cadillacs lurking among the mangroves, and beaches rendered unswimmable by "stingers" (jellyfish) the size of a thumbnail that can cause unspeakable agony or death.

But there wasn't anything nearly that exciting on the Silky Oaks van trip to Cape Tribulation, the deadly stretch of coastline that so vexed Captain Cook in the late 18th century. We bonded with honeymooning twentysomethings who were also rolling their eyes at tourist traps advertising "emu carpaccio" and the riverboat nature cruise from which we squinted at crocodiles no bigger than a shoe. The closest we got to a life-threatening encounter was a pub crawl in Port Douglas, where we fended off giant fruit bats swooping down Main Street, and Ilene narrowly avoided a fistfight with a drunk Ozzie chick who thought we'd stolen her taxi. Dousing ourselves in deet and dressing for bed in socks and turtlenecks, the only action we saw that night in our spare, colorless cabin was Ilene jumping on the bed, hunting down mozzies with a rolled-up magazine. So much for jungle love.

That is, until we met Linc Walker, a Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal guide and our introduction to the mysterious country we were so eager to discover. A mellow, ponytailed earth dude in wraparounds, Linc drove us down to the mudflats to take us on a traditional spearfishing excursion and school us in the ways of "the old ones."

Entranced by his tales of dreamtime, the Aboriginal creation myth, we followed him into the mangroves, leaping across tentacled roots to examine slimy things Linc said were edible, to coax a snail-like creature from its shell, and to hurl 10-foot barbed poles at schools of silver mullet, which we learned to track by their shadows. Falling into a dreamtime of our own, we almost missed our flight back to Sydney and boarded the plane filthy but happy for our brief, authentic brush with the bush and Australia's original spiritual adventurers.

Our lack of an itinerary left us free to blow out of the big city after a couple of days in Sydney and take a train to Katoomba, an old resort town in the nearby Blue Mountains that's been turned into an extreme-sports haven.

"Scared already?" asked Jason, our abseiling instructor from High 'n Wild Mountain Adventures, as we struggled with our harnesses.

"No!" I shot back, pulling my helmet down over my glasses.


Abseiling is Australian for rappelling down cliffs or waterfalls or the Sydney Opera House. Here was the Big Finish of the Anti-Honeymoon Ilene had been looking forward to. But as I clamped my harness to the rope that would guide me down the narrow gorge and stepped backward over a cliff into thin air, I wondered if all this constant thrill-seeking and limit-testing was really necessary.

To my amazement, and Ilene's (and no doubt Jason's), I was a veritable Spider-Man of the cliffs. Ms. Thrill Seeker, however, looked surprisingly rattled as she crawled up the skinny path after the 98-foot drop to the top of the 197-foot one. She jumped, cautiously working her way down bit by bit, when a sudden wind gust blew her to and fro like a pendulum over the canyon. I watched, my stomach spinning with her as the rope caught on a bramble and she dangled, stuck, until she worked the rope free and landed with a thud.

With my newfound "Spidey sense," I was itching to move to the next, even higher jump. Ilene, on the other hand, was coming to terms with not being quite the Evel Knievel she thought she was. To cheer her on, I recited the High 'n Wild mantra: Feel the fear, but do it anyway. "Kind of like getting married," I added. She looked at me. I looked at her. We both looked at Jason and knew what we had to do: Ask him to drive us back to town to the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, if he could.

Yes, we bailed out at the peak of our anti-honeymoon. After two weeks of thrill-seeking and spill-seeking, we were ready to accept who we were—an old married couple. We no longer needed to prove ourselves to each other. What we did need was a traditional sweetheart moment: sipping a milk shake from two straws like normal newlyweds—but with a little adventurer's dirt on our faces.

16 Carneros Inn
This California wine-country retreat has 86 rustic cottages surrounded by grapes destined to become heavenly fizz. An enclosed patio wraps each moss-green bungalow; au courant interiors (cowhide Corbusier chaises, Eames lounges) are tempered by classic nesting flourishes: wood-burning fire-places, deep soaking tubs, and blood-orange bath treats. The local harvest also shows up in the spa's grape-seed body scrub. At the inn's Boon Fly Café, linger over the Pinot Noir-braised short ribs; then let the sommelier suggest a sparkling vintage so you can pop a cork (or the question) on your private porch in view of the vines.
4048 Sonoma Hwy., Napa; 707/299-4900; www.thecarnerosinn.com; doubles from $375.


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