A Weekender's Guide to Port Douglas
This tropical far north Queensland town is a stone's throw from two World Heritage-listed marvels.
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If you've ever wondered what it's like to wander through a 135-million-year-old rainforest or swim inside the biggest living thing on Earth, then get yourself to Port Douglas. This palm-fringed, 3500-person town found 70 kilometres north of Cairns is made for tropical adventurers. It's the gateway to not one, but two, World Heritage-listed marvels: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Plus, if you know where to go, you can start your day with a good coffee and end it in a hatted restaurant.
From pristine beaches and bountiful wine regions to alpine hideaways and bustling country towns, Australia has a wealth of places to explore at any time of year. We've partnered with Tourism Australia to help you plan your road trips, weekend detours and summer getaways so that when you're ready to hit the road you can Holiday Here This Year.
While regional holidays within Queensland are now permitted, some of the places mentioned below may still be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please check websites before making any plans.
EAT AND DRINK
Let's start with coffee. At Origin Espresso, pull up a cushion-topped beer keg and order a signature blend or single origin. Either way, the coffee beans are roasted in-house. If a lighter brew is more your thing, pop around the corner to Sparrow, which serves Allpress blend alongside locally made Duke's Doughnuts. For a slightly more substantial brekkie, head to The Little Larder for smoothie bowls, cheeseburger jaffles and veggie breakfast burgers.
For lunch (or dinner), ask any local where to eat and they'll send you to Salsa Bar and Grill. Its diverse menu takes cues from many cuisines, so expect to enjoy everything from crab dumplings to coffee and chilli rubbed kangaroo. Meanwhile, at relative newcomer Melaleuca, you can expect a menu that heroes local ingredients — think tree-smoked Wonga barramundi and slow-cooked Bungalow pork belly — which you can enjoy al fresco in the courtyard under a canopy of mango trees.
And you're spoiled for choice when it comes to sundowners. Start with a visit to craft brewery Hemingway's on Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina for a pint of its much-loved 7th Heaven Tropical Ale. Then, head to the other end of the marina to Barbados to enjoy cocktails and an antipasto or seafood platter as the sun sets. For a more casual approach, check out The Courthouse Hotel or Ironbar — the latter, a rustic, saloon-style joint is legendary for its (almost) nightly cane toad racing events.
As the steamy climate starts to take effect, you'll get a hankering to set sail. Tropical Journeys will pick you up at your hotel and cart you to Reef Marina to board one of its Calypso vessels. As you pull away from the mainland, relax on a day bed on the roomy top deck while watching the Robinson Crusoe-esque Low Isles pass by. The boat will drop anchor for a bunch of lengthy snorkelling sessions at Agincourt or Opal — or both.
These are two of the Great Barrier's healthiest, liveliest and most colourful sections and, if the Reef has long loomed fantastical in your dreams, you won't be disappointed. You'll be swimming among giant clams, rays, green turtles, hundreds of fish species and exotic coral formations that look like mythical cities. Tropical Journeys is a local, family-owned company, so you can expect to be treated like a mate, rather than a nameless member of a tourist procession.
Make your next stop Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest. To give you a deeper understanding of the extraordinary beauty surrounding you, we recommend booking a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk. After a traditional smoking ceremony, your local Indigenous Australian guide will lead you into a magical forest while sharing Dreamtime stories. You'll get to source and taste bush tucker, learn how to make soap from leaves and see ochre painting in progress, before finishing up with bush tea and damper. On the way out, spend as long as you like beside the spectacular Gorge, where a waterfall plunges into a cool, rushing river.
Back in Port Douglas itself, reserve some time for wandering through the town's small shops and boutiques — particularly Tamar Store and Ngarru Gallery, home to an excellent collection of fine Indigenous art. You should also spend at least one evening picnicking in Rex Smeal Park, watching the sun set over the water behind a row of dreamy, silhouetted palm trees. For casual strolling, running and sunbathing, there's Four Mile Beach, which looks its most majestic from Flagstaff Hill Lookout. And keen walkers should definitely do some more exploring in the Daintree, be that along accessible Kulki boardwalk or by conquering the five-kilometre Cape Tribulation to Emmagen Creek trail.
Port Douglas is packed with resorts. For all-out luxury with your special someone, nab one of the two-person bungalows at Thala Beach Nature Reserve — you can take your pick of a room overlooking the coral sea or positioned within a eucalypt forest. Staying here also includes a number of complimentary experiences such as wildlife and stargazing tours and private access to the two-kilometre Oak Beach.
If you're with a bigger group, check out Pineapple Pete's Beach House, which is located just a four-minute drive from the town centre. Not only does this beautifully styled beach house have an excellent (and memorable) name, but it's also located a three-minute walk from Four Mile Beach. It also has four air-conditioned bedrooms, three bathrooms and a huge outdoor area with a barbecue, heated pool and backyard games.
Whether you're planning to travel for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, Holiday Here This Year and you'll be supporting Australian businesses while you explore the best of our country's diverse landscapes and attractions.
Top image: Tourism Australia
Published on May 29, 2020 by Jasmine Crittenden