Exploring Australia’s Treasure Chest of Life



In Australia’s tropical North Queensland, Mazda Stories meets a diverse group of eco-conscious residents who believe that what we do today will matter tomorrow.

The geography of Port Douglas, a coastal town in Far North Queensland (FNQ), makes it one of the most enthralling places on earth. Located alongside two World Heritage Sites — the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest — Port Douglas’ local community has become intertwined with the nature they live in and around.

The Captain Cook Highway is another star attraction: a winding, beautiful highway that hugs the Coral Sea. Its sparkling water reflects off my Zircon Sand Mazda CX-5 as I navigate the coastline of Port Douglas in style.

I’m here to learn how many of the area’s inhabitants are committed to regenerative ways of living and working. It starts with Oaks Kitchen & Garden, a Southeast Asian cooking school that uses home-grown, organic ingredients.

Rachael Boon, a qualified chef and avid gardener, greets me and together we explore her property. “Because of our tropical climate, we get some exotic fruits that you can’t find anywhere else,” she says, picking ripe dragonfruit from a nearby tree. “We can grow a lot of things from Southeast Asia and a lot of ingredients for Thai cooking.”

“Growing food and putting that onto a plate for others to enjoy, that gives me joy.”

RachaEl Boon

Using permaculture in her daily harvested garden, Rachel can work with the local climate and environment. “It means the garden dictates what we are going to put on our menu,” she says. “We’re growing things that suit the tropics and that work well naturally. By doing that, the food tastes better.”

Chef Rachael uses a verdant four-acre site to create a farm-to-table experience characterised by vibrant and flavorful dishes

Bringing people together to share a good meal is one of life’s great pleasures for Rachael. “It’s why I’m so passionate about food and cooking,” she says.

With the CX-5’s impressively capable all-wheel-drive system making easy work of some of the more challenging terrain, I head off to meet another local artisan paving her way.

A celebrated designer of organic, hand-made fashion, Leah Kelly was taught to sew as a child by her grandmother and specialises in pieces notable for their use of natural materials. These include hemp, pineapple fibre and banana bark and each is made in her off-grid home. 

“You are not only doing yourself and the planet a favour, but the future generations to come.”


“It’s the opposite of fast fashion, because each piece takes a lot of time to make, is designed to last and comes from my heart and soul,” Leah says. “I believe it’s an important way to do things – by living and working sustainably, you are not only doing yourself and the planet a favour, but the future generations to come.”

Using materials such as banana bark, bamboo and pineapple fibre, Leah Kelly hand-crafts eye-catching designs that have been featured in London and Paris Fashion Weeks

With designs that have appeared at London Fashion Week, Leah’s believes her unique work is a simple way to bring joy to the world. “When you wear something that you feel comfortable and proud in, your spirit is uplifted,” she says. “I think that has a huge positive impact on community and on social behaviour as a whole.”

Uplifted and inspired, I head to my next destination, the CX-5’s front ventilated seats providing respite from the humidity that hums over Port Douglas.

I arrive at Botanical Ark, an ethno-botanical garden owned by New Yorkers Alan and Susan Carle. Adhering to the Japanese philosophy of omotenashi — the act of putting others ahead of oneself — the Carles had big plans for a treeless farm they originally purchased in 1982. Over 40-plus years, the pair transformed the space into a verdant paradise that’s helping save thousands of precious rainforest plants used for everything from food to spices and shelter to medicine.

“Our message to the world is to respect the planet.”

Alan Carle

The Botanical Ark, sprang from humble beginnings. “I just wanted to feed my family,”  laughs Alan. The eight-hectare property includes two houses and an artificial lake, all built by the Carles. “We basically created everything that you see today,” he says. “It’s been a labour of love.” 

The Carles have made countless trips rainforests around the world to source plants, introducing Australia to everything from African breadfruit to dragonfruit.

Started over 35 years ago, The Botanical Ark evolved from a subsistence farm into an ethnobotanical garden that emphasises the use of plants for foods, medicine, cosmetics and more

Alan lets me sample ‘miracle fruit’, which masks certain receptors on your tongue so that something sour, like a lime, will suddenly taste deliciously sweet, and the South American ‘ice cream bean’, which is nature’s version of cotton candy.

“If we really want to look after our planet, we have to start with the rainforest. This is the treasure chest of life on Earth.” 

“We’d like to think our legacy is that we’ve provided a tool chest of resources for people to use for the future,” says Alan, who, with Susan, views Botanical Ark as a ‘Garden of Eden’ and a gift for others. It’s omotenashi in action. “Our message to the world is to respect the planet – let’s look after the mother that looks after us.” 

Dynamic and comfortable, driving the Mazda CX-5 between Oaks Garden and Kitchen, Leah’s studio and The Botanical Ark has been a learning experience. Bringing me closer to an area where sustainability, innovation, and a healthy focus on community have taken root, the journey gave me hope for the future. With local thought-leaders like Leah, Rachel, Alan and Susan, it’s certainly in good hands.

James drives THE MAZDA CX-5 in zircon sanD

James Jennings, a writer and presenter specialising in motoring and entertainment, drove the Mazda CX-5 in North Queensland. Making the most of the CX-5’s Mazda Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) and Off-Road Mode, powerful driving dynamics and fuel-saving Mazda M Hybrid technology, it was the perfect travel companion for his tropical adventure.

Words James Jennings / Images Jason Ierace / Films Grainger Films

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