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, 3000-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.
Harrisons by Spencer Patrick
EAT AND DRINK
If you choose to spend the night at Port Douglas's QT, head for dinner at Bazaar, the resort's onsite restaurant. As the name suggests, it's a bit like a marketplace, laden with international flavours. If, within the first five steps, you've avoided overloading your plate with king prawns, oysters, lobster and crab, then you're more self-controlled than us, and can move onto curries with house-made condiments, smoky barbecue pork ribs, salads, soups, fresh breads, cheeses, house-cured meats and so much more. Despite the variety, the quality is consistently high. Try to claim a seat on the verandah, overlooking the lily pond.
Managed to drag yourself away from the buffet? Make your first stop Harrisons by Spencer Patrick, the only hatted restaurant in Port Douglas, which you'll find in the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort. The distinctively tropical menu is big on native ingredients — so, go roasted barramundi with garden peas, clams, scallop and lemon butter or Atherton yabbies with house-made linguini, capers, chilli, parsley and pangrattato. Arrive early for a cocktail, too, between 5pm and 6pm daily, it's aperitivo hour, which means negronis and spritzes are only $10.
Origin Espresso, Peter Saw
Ask any local where to eat and they'll send you to Salsa Bar and Grill, another champion of tropical culinary potential. Crocodile sausage appears in the creole jambalaya and tableland red claw crab in the linguini pepperincino.
Meanwhile, for coffee, there are two reliable options. At Origin Espresso, pull up a cushion-topped beer keg and order a signature blend or single origin. Either way, the Four Mile beans are roasted in-house. If a lighter brew is more your thing, pop around the corner to Sparrow, a coffee bar attached to Ahoy Trader, a retail space specialising in beautifully designed objects and clothing.
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 the good ship Calypso Snorkel. As you pull away from the mainland, relax on a day bed on the roomy top deck, watching the Robinson Crusoe-esque Low Isles pass by. The boat will drop anchor at the Outer Reef 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 treated like a mate, rather than a nameless member of a tourist procession. If snorkelling's not what you're after, try a sunset sail instead.
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, 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. If you want to see the Daintree Rainforest from higher up, you can also explore it via zipline. One company that offers these adrenalin-pumping day tours is Jungle Surfing.
Back in Port Douglas itself, 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. And the quirkiest, most fun of them all is QT. Walking into the open plan lobby, you'll pass a row of retro bikes (free to use) and a canary yellow pool table, back dropped by a wall of fedoras, before laying eyes on a lagoon-style pool. Bags the cabana on its own private island, then send your travel buddy off to order a cocktail from the poolside bar.
The QT's 170 rooms have had quite the signature design treatment. Expect bucket loads of light and luxe, white sheets, contrasted with bold, striped valances and polka dotted cushions. You'll be tempted to steal the pineapple-printed bedside lampshade. But don't. You can buy one if you really want to. For extra space, book a one- or two-bedroom villa with a pool-facing balcony. And, if you have any spare cash to splash, do get a massage at SpaQ.
Jasmine Crittenden travelled to Port Douglas as a guest of QT.