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9 June 2023 · Mazda Stories

Exploring Australia's Treasure Chest Of Life

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THE ECO PIONEERS OF NORTH AUSTRALIA

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

Words James Jennings / Images Jason Ierace / Films Grainger Films

 

The geography of Port Douglas, a coastal town in Far North Queensland, 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’s local community have 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. I start with Oaks Kitchen & Garden, a Southeast Asian cooking school that uses homegrown, 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.”

Using permaculture in her daily harvested garden, Boon 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.”

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

Bringing people together to share a good meal is one of life’s great pleasures for Boon. “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.

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A celebrated designer of organic, handmade 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 item is made in her off-grid home. 

“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,” Kelly 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 also the future generations to come.”

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

With designs that have appeared at London Fashion Week, Kelly 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 the community and on social behaviour as a whole.”

Inspired, I head to my next destination, as the CX-5’s front ventilated seats provide respite from the humidity that hums over Port Douglas.

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I arrive at The 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.

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

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

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

Alan Carle 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,” he says. “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,” he continues, and the couple view The 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 CX-5 between Oaks Garden & Kitchen, Kelly’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 Kelly, Boon, and Alan and Susan Carle, it’s certainly in good hands.

JAMES JENNINGS 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), Off-Road mode and powerful driving dynamics, it was the perfect travel companion for his tropical adventure.