Words by Jeremy Lebeuf 


There is a modest farm nestled a wee bit north of the tourist hub of Port Douglas, here you will find a plantation where chocolate grows from the trees. A place that will take you on a journey of discovery on how to love and enjoy chocolate even more than you do now. It’s a setting that offers a true bean-to-bar experience that will tantalize all your senses and leave everlasting joy in your heart and a hum on your tastebuds.

This special box of chocolates contains the beautiful life of Darryl and Jenny Kirk, founders of The Australian Chocolate Farm. You see a beautiful life is the nuance of a meaningful life, one where you can live your passion - something that is coming into fruition for the Kirks as they keep building towards what is to come; An opportunity to share their story of the very special chocolate grown and made in Tropical North Queensland, through a unique café attraction paired with tours and of course drool worthy tastings.

There is much more to a block of chocolate than just eagerly unwrapping the foil to squealing delight. The best chocolates are not about sugar cravings at all, but about the cacao and the unique stories behind each origin and it all starts from the ground up. 

Darryl and Jenny moved to the Douglas Shire from Brisbane around 30 years ago. Like so many that visit, the charm of the region was too alluring, they had that ‘this is nice’ moment and with that they were destined to stay.  They purchased 13 acres in quaint Shannonvale, between Port Douglas and Mossman, this whole region is rich in the abundance of sugar cane that has been farmed here for decades. With their new parcel of land, they have always thought they might like to do something with it, but they just weren’t too sure what it was.

Initially, it wasn’t in the cards to be chocolate makers, it kind of fell into their hands out of convenience. It wasn’t until prospect presented itself as part to be part of a government sponsored trial to delve into how cocoa might grow in the region. This came at a time when cane farmers just had a devastating five year low of subpar pricing.  The government and ex-Cadbury Executives were encouraging farmers to take parcels of their land and turn it into cocoa. The programme paid for half of all the set-up costs, including all the seedlings.  After attending a couple information sessions, it was a “Why not” decision, they had the land to spare and still not sure what to do with it, they decided to give it a red-hot go!

Jenny and Darryl have never been the type to shy away from a challenge, they know the toil and grind of starting new ventures, the two have been hospitality specialists for years opening kitchens at the Port Douglas yacht club and Mossman Bowling Club as well as opening Mojo’s in Mossman.

With the world’s supply cocoa being grown in West Africa, South America, Indonesia, and surrounding regions there was no delusion of a thriving plantation overnight suddenly in Far North Queensland. It took the hard yards to get the fragile Papua New Guinea seedlings to take, most of the first batch didn’t make it to fruition. The second were a bit hardier, but were getting burnt, it was growing pains like these for both the plants and the Kirks to overcome to produce the thriving plantation they have now. Patience and determination were the raw ingredients that made their plantation grow. 

Now with flourishing cocoa trees growing they started selling their pods to another company. Then the decision to become chocolate makers came serendipitous. But they wanted something more, they wanted to do something for themselves.

Looking to their various skill bases and what else they could do to expand rather than just grow cocoa, could they make it as chocolate makers, could they really do it? Darryl has always had a keen interest in learning more about chocolate. Transpiring organically the dream started to evolve for the Kirks, they had their own cocoa plantation, “let’s make chocolate from our own beans”.

When you think of the world’s greats chocolate makers, Belgium and Switzerland come to mind, not a bloke from FNQ, but Darryl has made his mark as a chef and pastry chef; he has successfully worked alongside a master chocolatier in the late 80s as well as other master Swiss and German pastry chefs, leaving him with a firm foundation in this craft.

It has been an absolute rollercoaster the last few years to get the business open. Hurdles to overcome, many ups and downs, countless of challenges, and then of course the “pandemic” put its spanner in the works. Through their grit and perseverance, they are almost there tasting the sweet fruit of their labour.

Love, passion, experience, and striving to get better are the ethos that kept the dream alive to introduce a first-rate tourist attraction known as The Australian Chocolate Farm.

As pioneers in chocolate making in the region, Jenny and Darryl’s story is a captivating tale that spans trial and error and a bar load of research and questions.

Through these humble beginnings of trial and tribulations and a true love of working with chocolate Darryl relentlessly refined the art of chocolate making in the pair’s small kitchen with a tiny-scale two-kilo chocolate Melanger. With each small batch he would eagerly seek the approval of his creations from friends and of course Jenny, and with each casual tasting he was encouraged as they devoured every sweet morsel, their reactions increasing with delight.

In 2016 during those times of chocolate revelations in their home kitchen, Darryl, the arching high achiever entered an international chocolate-making competition to gain further insight to better perfect his craft, really it was just an exercise to see what they could learn from the judging. His dedication paid off with an outstanding win, his 85% Dark chocolate won World Silver on the global stage, this was the confidence boost they need to forge forward with their dream.

Realising they had something truly special to pursue they entered further competitions and the accolades kept pouring in as Darryl’s art was being recognised, he has also won silver for the milk chocolate, this year, 2022, it was a gold placing for their lemon myrtle chocolate at the Sydney fine food fair, one I can attest to being more than worthy of such a coveted placing.

Proving Darryl to be a renowned chocolatier classed amongst the master of those he once worked beside as a pastry chef.

Over 13 acres rows of trees stand strong supporting the weight of hanging ripening softball-sized cocoa pods. This is where chocolate starts with the unassuming cocoa bean. It’s the care and love from the land that raises the crops and the people who cultivated them. Jenny and Darryl take great attention to nursing the land to express the flavour of the tropics into the growing of their cacao plants.

The world’s best chocolates all start from the bean, Jenny and Darryl always knew they had good cocoa pods, but it was when the beans were judged globally, they were gobsmacked at just how highly their beans faired worldwide.

Their cocoa beans were entered into a global competition called the Cocoa of Excellence, a very prestigious world comp that judges the quality of the beans only.

From 254 entries around the world, they made the top 50 first, which is considered a great achievement in itself, from there they also received the bronze award for the Asia Pacific Region. All solidifies that that beans produced by the Kirks are amongst an elite of high-quality beans.

When visiting the farm, Jenny will host intimate tours that wander through the plantation where wildlife spotting might take first billing with the abundance of critters roaming about in the peaceful sanctuary the Kirks have created.

She shares the delicate processes of fermentation and drying where 60 to 70 percent of the flavour comes from, and how they take strides to educate what takes place before chocolate is wrapped in foil. It’s a realisation of the potential of the cocoa as they grow and harvested.

You will discover the cracking of the pods by hand with fleshy fruit appearing, how very different raw cocoa looks. Why they are fermenting the beans in banana leaves, a little trick of the trade, shhhhhh. Then you are engulfed by the smell of drying beans, it’s the type of smell that sends butterflies in your tummy knowing that this the begging of something amazing.

The story continues from the ideal roasting time and temperature, learning what a “winnower” is, and how the beans turn to liquid in their now 40-litre Melanger (as opposed to the two-kilo one they started with).

Visitors will discover the delicate art of tempering the perfect chocolate as Darryl folds and scrapes the cocoa delight on a large marble slab until it shines, feels smooth on the tongue and when you break a piece, you’ll hear a clean and sturdy snap.

All the hallmarks that provide a quality product you can’t get anywhere else.

After you can’t take the build-up of anticipation any longer, finally there is the tasting to satisfy your chocolate sweet spot.

Indulge in fresh chocolate creations consumed at their origins. Handmade artisan sweets before your very eyes, cherish the pleasure of these bean-to-bar treats in the plethora of deliciousness, and let the day pass you by in this dreamy haven.

The pretty as a postcard café will melt your heart at every turn with something pulling you in at every glace, Jenny has seamlessly curated a tranquil spot for morning tea and light lunches so visitors can stay awhile and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

After visiting The Australian Chocolate Farm, you will never look at a bar of chocolate the same, it is much more than just something generic that you pick up from the confectionary aisle at your local supermarket. It’s an amazing world, a blissful story shared by Jenny and Darryl that will have you embracing their approach of growing trees from seed here in the beautiful Douglas shire, cocoa beans fresh from the farm to handmade chocolates crafted before your eyes.