There is something wild and just a little bit sexy about far north Queensland’s Port Douglas. In some ways it’s a sort of tropical frontier-like town, with thongs and shorts the standard dress code amongst boisterous cane toad race crowds. While just a few paces along Macrossan Street, the elegantly attired glamour set lounge in oversized leather couches sipping mint infused Mojitos at sophisticated alfresco dining and bar venues like Watergate, Salsa and On the Inlet.
Port Douglas attracts an eclectic crowd of both locals and visitors, creating an intriguing melting pot of tropical fusion. Having shrugged off its quaint fishing village tag long ago, it’s easy to be seduced by Port’s exotic charms.
Graced with the natural beauty that comes from being sandwiched between twin world heritage delights, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, Port has plenty of diversions, both natural and man-made. With Four Mile Beach at one end of downtown Macrossan Street and mangrove-lined Dickson Inlet at the other, shaded beneath densely canopied overhanging trees, shops, restaurants and open-sided bars spill across the pavement.
If you’re in town on a Sunday, we encourage you to head straight to Market Park at the inlet end of Macrossan St. Designated a cotters market (meaning that all goods sold should have been made or produced by stall holders or their families) it’s one of the best markets around. Held all year round except during the wet season when it’s not unusual for 2m of rain to fall in a month (yes that’s right, two extraordinary metres!), you will find exotic fresh fruits, handcrafts, gifts and clothing. There’s also plenty of home cooked delights, squeezed juices and fresh fruit to sate hungry travellers.
Just beyond the park, Dickson Inlet is the tidal tributary that links Port Douglas Marina with offshore islands and reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. Lining the inlet are a few choice watering holes like On the Inlet and the awkwardly named Port Douglas & Districts Combined Club, both of which are popular haunts for late afternoon drinks overlooking the steady stream of boats returning from the Reef.
Further upstream Lady Douglas River Cruises plies the winding creeks, searching for saltwater crocodiles concealed in the muddy, mangrove lined banks as passengers sip champagne. If you’re in Port for a few days make sure you do this cruise – it’s fabulous.
Reef & Rainforest
But it would be remiss of any visitor to Port to not leave town briefly to visit either the Great Barrier Reef or the rainforest. Both have their appeal, though the long (sometimes rough) offshore boat trip to the outer reef discourages some. Depending on which vessel you choose to travel on, it can take anything up to two hours travelling each way, so its definitely not for the weak stomached.
A much closer option is to visit the Low Isles, a leisurely boat trip from Port, but still offering terrific snorkeling surrounding a tiny sand cay, albeit one that is generally over run with visitors due to its close proximity to the mainland.
Hop onboard any of the charter yachts like Sailaway or Aquarius that depart from Port Douglas for the Low Isles daily.
Venturing north from Port, the ‘all vehicle’ road ends at Cooktown with rugged Cape York well beyond: truly this is where frontier land begins. Not for the fainthearted, nor the under prepared, with few facilities and even fewer people, most visitors to Port will find enough tropical wilderness without venturing any further north.
A short ten minute drive from Port Douglas is Mossman Gorge, where the Mossman River tumbles down over granite boulders surrounded by lush rainforest. Home to indigenous Kuku Yalanji people, the Mossman Gorge Visitor Centre is the base for small group Dreamtime Walks into traditional lands. An interpretive walk led by Indigenous guides who have strong links to country, this is one of the most authentic Aboriginal cultural experiences you’ll likely find in Australia – it’s highly recommended. Guided walks follow original hunting trails, culminating in billy tea and aromatic bush-smoked damper. The Visitor Centre was the brainchild of Kuku Yalanji elder Roy Gibson. Driven by a passion for a sustainable future for his people, if you find yourself on Roy’s tour, you’re in for a very special treat.
Self guided tours are also an option if you just want to take a dip in gin-clear waters and soak up the rainforest aromas (fee applies).
Flames of the Forest takes diners into the rainforest for gourmet dining beneath the forest canopy that is showcased with clever lighting and flaming tiki torches. Different themes and menus highlight the intimate setting with either an Aboriginal Cultural Experience or Saturday night Rainforest Dining Experience (perfect for romantic dinners). Wax-draped candleabras create a dramatic entrance before diners are seated beneath the stars. Though the glorious setting takes centre stage, the food is not bad either!
Palmer Sea Reef Golf Course is a links-style course with landscaped grounds, wide expansive fairways and challenging greens all par for the course. The course has been known to have it’s fair share of wildlife (in the form of salt water crocodiles) inhabiting the water traps so you’d be well advised to brush up on your game before teeing off!
Early risers would be hard pressed to find a more valid reason to set the alarm than to climb into a basket suspended beneath a hot air balloon. Raging Thunder launch their balloons from the Atherton Tablelands town of Mareeba. Drifting over the high country as the land awakes, sleepy locals stand on their back steps waving to balloonists, kangaroos bound through eucalypt forests while aromas from the drive-thru bakery drift skywards.
Coconut Grove Apartments, centrally located in downtown Macrossan St, are a small group of luxuriously appointed fully self-contained apartments. Modern, contemopary and within walking distance of all of Port’s downtown attractions.
Pullman Hotel Sea Temple Resort is set around what must surely be Australia’s largest lagoon swimming pool. 3000sqm of gloriously aqua water set amidst lushly landscaped gardens is the focal point at Sea Temple. Set on Four Mile Beach, though why you would bother swimming in the ocean when the pool is just so inviting? The best rooms for water babies are swimout lagoon rooms with direct pool access. Courtyard apartments have private outdoor dining areas with private plunge pools and garden showers. Villas are spacious both indoors and out, with own pools and lush gardens to provide plenty of opportunity for shade from the tropical heat. Penthouse Villas are decadently sized: perfect for small groups who want to share living and outdoor areas but also want to maintain privacy with separate bedrooms with own bathrooms.
Dining at Sea Temple is an indulgent treat with an ever changing menu that reflects the deliciously fresh produce of Tropical North Queensland. Set lagoonside, with either alfresco or air-conditioned areas, dining is a sultry experience that invites one to linger a little longer to soak up the sophisticated yet balmy, tropical vibe.
A little way out of town, and a million miles from the bustle of city life, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is for eco warriors who like a bit of luxury with their natural beauty. A deluxe eco retreat, five star amenities blend seamlessly with treehouse-style bungalows perched high in the forest canopy. All bungalows come with ocean, mountain or forest views – the best have all three! Splendid for couples, or small groups, the hotel is set on a high headland with its own private beach that stretches for 2km. Lagoon swimming pools are intimately concealed within the forest with waterfalls and a spa pool too.
Road – Port Douglas is 70km north of Cairns via the Great Barrier Reef Drive (otherwise known as Captain Cook Highway)
Rail – QLD Rail to Cairns Station (then shuttle bus or self-drive to Port Douglas)
Air – Cairns International Airport
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