Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Rainforest and The Reef

I've been in Port Douglas the past week - a place I've not previously visited.  It was a fairly last minute decision to go that far north - Mr Rosanna and I were both wanting a break and to feel the sun on our skin.  As much as I love Melbourne, winter is not my favourite season and I couldn't live anywhere colder than here.
Four Mile Beach
Me on the beach!
I'd heard mixed things about Port Douglas and have friends who prefer quieter spots like Trinity Beach and Palm Cove but I have to say I really enjoyed the place.  And while it doesn't have quite the same soul as Byron Bay, the modernity of Mooloolaba, the beach chic of Noosa or the unspoilt charm of Magnetic Island (which we visited last year), I do think if you want warm sunny weather and to be able to swim in the ocean, then Far North Queensland is the place to go during the Australian winter season.
And while there are some beautiful resorts along Port Douglas Road heading into the town, I always prefer being walking distance to both the beach and shops so somewhere close to the main drag - Macrossan Street - is your best bet.  Four Mile Beach is fantastic - I loved going for a run in the shade when the tide was out on a couple of afternoons as well as enjoyed a somewhat hot yoga session (take water and wear sunscreen) doing Yoga on the Beach which runs 7 days a week from 8 - 9 am for $15 a class - you need to bring a towel and watch out for high tide!  I met the lovely Cherie Rigby from Williamstown Yoga who happened to be doing her fortnightly teaching rotation that week (yoga teachers from all over Australia can do a 2 week stay up there as long as they commit to taking 6 out of the 7 morning sessions each week).  Yoga teachers from nearby Prema Shanti yoga retreat (which is run by friends of my bestie Jules) in the Daintree will cover Sundays.
Mobile Munch Buggy
My boys also loved the beach which was like a bath the day I left and there was enough surf on a couple of days to justify hiring boogie boards.  It's a somewhat different crowd up there - an older monied crowd who can afford to fly to Cairns then take the scenic but windy highway up to Port Douglas by bus or car and stay at a resort.  It was my first experience of seeing a mobile 'munch buggy' bring food and ice-cream to beach goers as well as seeing sun lounges with beach umbrellas for hire.
Sun lounges and umbrellas for hire
It has a more international, resort feel - a surprising number of French people were holidaying there plus Germans, Americans, British, Japanese and Scandinavians.  It's also very white bread, which is not surprising given it started its life as an upmarket tourist destination in the mid 1980s when Christopher Skase built the Mirage, however I saw only one indigenous Australian family the entire time we were there and by and large you don't see any Aboriginal locals until you visit nearby Mossman (the Mossman Gorge and associated Mossman Gorge Centre are staffed by local indigenous people and a real highlight of the area).
Buskers at the Sunday Market
Bally Hooley Train Station
Lady Douglas River Cruise

The boys looking out onto the river
Crocodile spotting under the Mangrove trees

There's lots to do in Port Douglas itself.  Our first full day fell on a Sunday so we visited the sprawling Sunday Market which has a bit of a hippy vibe about it that I liked.  The Bally Hooley steam train also runs on Sundays from the Port Douglas marina.  From the marina itself you can book tours out to the nearby reefs to snorkel or scuba dive as well as take a river cruise on the Lady Douglas paddle boat to watch crocodiles.  There's a Wednesday craft market and live music at the marina from 2 - 7pm - Mr R and I liked hanging out at Lure for a drink or an oyster or two and watching all the people come in from the boats and ferries.  You can also feed George the Groper fish at 5pm at On the Inlet which has fantastic views over the water to the mangrove trees as does The Tinshed where we had dinner one night.  We happened to be there when the monthly prawn trawler was in - you can buy fresh prawns straight off the boat - they've been caught and cooked in salt water and then snap frozen.  Yum!
Inside Lure looking out onto the marina
The Tinshed
Inside the Tinshed
Queuing for fresh prawns off the trawler 
Mr R and I also happened to be there for Rock the Yacht - a music festival held at the Port Douglas Yacht Club with live bands and the local radio station broadcasting from the club.  That was a real experience as it was mainly locals who attended this event - there was a lot more ink and even some dreadlocks to be seen - a very different crowd to the one at Four Mile beach!
Port Douglas Yacht Club
Four Mile Beach from Flagstaff Hill lookout
I can understand why Port Douglas is so popular for weddings - there's a beautiful little wooden chapel there called St Mary's by the Sea and you can also hire out The Sugar Wharf for your reception.  On our last Saturday night there, other venues such as Harrisons and next door Salsa were both booked out for wedding receptions.  You can drive or walk to the Flagstaff Hill lookout where you get a fantastic view of Four Mile Beach (we also took the opportunity to drive down exclusive Murphy Street where there are some pretty amazing houses and other accommodation).  Open air Nautilus restaurant, which celebrates 60 years this year, can be accessed from Murphy Street if you're a celebrity or don't wish to enter via Macrossan Street.  We ate at mainly family friendly venues including the Court House Hotel (behind it is Iron Bar where you can see Cane Toad races and behind that is the Central Hotel), Japanese at Sushi Port Douglas, pizza at Rattle N Hum (you can also dine alfresco at Chilly's Pizza), Mexican at the Port Douglas Surf Club right near the beach and pies from Mocka's Pies.  I picked up coffee from the Little Larder Cafe, which is right next door to the lovely little gift shop With Sugar.  Sadly we had no babysitters but had Mr R and I been given the opportunity for a romantic night out, both Zinc and Watergate looked beautiful.
The Sugar Wharf - Port Douglas - setting up for a wedding
The shops are a bit of a mish mash from high end designer and resort wear to lower end beach wear and more touristy shops, a couple of hippy shops, the book lounge and a couple of upmarket homewares shops.  Besides stopping in at With Sugar, I bought some handmade gifts from the newly opened Art Attack (selling art supplies and handmade art and craft by Port Douglas locals) down the market end of Macrossan Street and also popped my head into L'Arrte and Floral Edge as well as went into the Ngarru Gallery and Des Spencer Galleries to look at work by local artists.  During our week there I also did a Hatha Yoga class at Deep Yoga Studio run by Michael Joseph - a fairly flamboyant local yoga teacher and studio owner who reminded me of the pyjama king Peter Alexander (including having two dogs!).  The studio itself is a beautiful architecturally designed purpose built space and I was impressed with how it's been marketed in terms of its look, feel and functionality (all classes are booked online in the main) - Michael also teaches aerial yoga and does massage.
A furry friend at Wildlife Habitat zoo

A little drive away is Moonlight Cinema at QT Resort - a relatively new, upmarket resort which also has its own day spa and restaurant.  We loved Wildlife Habitat zoo - a fantastic sanctuary divided into three different spaces where you could wander amongst the animals and walk along boardwalks.  There was a lot of wildlife up there, which you didn't have to pay for - a colony of bats lives at Port Douglas and you can see them flying every night at 6.30pm in their hordes from the sports ground.  I also came extremely close to stepping on my friend Jake walking back to our resort from the marina - the closest I've ever come to a wild snake - a bit too close!
My friend Jake the snake
We had a car the whole time we were there and it was great for driving to the beautiful Mossman Gorge (on the one rainy day we had) which is stunning and I loved looking at the Aboriginal art in the Mossman Gorge Centre after we got back from our walk.  You take the shuttle bus from the centre when you arrive to the Gorge (or you can walk the 2km) where you can see the falls and/or go on a bush walk circuit (we only walked to the falls given the rain).  Rain jackets and umbrellas are a good idea if you go to Port Douglas and get rain (you can also buy $3 ponchos up there), insect repellant and anti-itch cream like Soov is also recommended if mosquitoes like you as they do me.

Rainforest where it did rain (a lot!)
We also had a relaxing drive through fields of sugarcane out to Whyanbeel one morning where we visited Hoglund Art Glass and met glass artist Marie Simberg in her shop front/studio and Mr R bought me one of her beautiful Eclipse vases as a belated birthday present.  In Whyanbeel, there's the brand new Sweet Farm Tours where you can find out about both cocoa and sugar cane which I think would be worth going to if you're spending more time there.  The High Falls Riverside restaurant was closed so on our way back to Port Douglas we stopped in at The Junction cafe in Mossman for lunch - a really cool retro-inspired cafe next door to a second hand shop also selling retro homewares.  There are also some great looking Art Deco and other buildings in Mossman itself like the Mossman Butchering Company and Queenslander weatherboard houses.
Mossman Gorge

Sugar cane fields out to Whyanbeel
Sugar cane train
Had we had more time, we definitely would have done a snorkelling tour out to the Low Isles as well as headed north through the Daintree Forest and up to Cape Tribulation.  I also think Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands down south would be worth visiting next time we go, as well as spending a day in Cairns itself.
Mossman Butcher
Queenslander house - Mossman
Port Douglas does have a different feel up there in the Wet Tropics, different again from Townsville and Magnetic Island which feel more Mediterranean.  Far North Queensland with its mangroves and crocodiles, sugar cane and snakes is a real experience.  Will we go back?  The answer is a definite yes because I think when it's winter in Melbourne, you have to go that far north to experience true warmth on land and in the water.  And I think the best part of a holiday like that is the opportunity to get back in touch with yourself, doing the things that you love doing as well as seeing and doing new and different things that you normally wouldn't do at home.  The trick is to continue doing some of those things when you get back home instead of saving it all just for the holidays.

And now that I'm back in Rosanna, I'm not too sad.  Spring is around the corner and life begins again!

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