Friday, July 3, 2015

The Rainforest and The Reef Part 2

Four Mile beach, Port Douglas
Once again, Mr Rosanna and I decided to head up far north this year for a break, which was well-timed given we were all sick before we went to Port Douglas.  And while we were more adventurous last year when we were there, this year we spent more time mooching around Port Douglas itself while we rested and recovered.
Me at Four Mile Beach
Mantra Heritage lagoon pools at night
We stayed at the Mantra Heritage this time and I have to say, it is in a great location if you don't mind being a bit further away from the beach (10 minutes walk).  It's right next to Coles and there's entrances both out to Macrossan Street - the main street in Port Douglas (where all the shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs are located) - and behind in Warner Street, which makes walking to the Marina or Sunday market extremely easy and close.  There's also secure undercover parking downstairs if you hire a car like we did and Origin Espresso, which does fantastic coffee and burgers is also a hop, skip and jump away.  If you do go and stay somewhere further away, it's worth doing an online supermarket shop before you arrive so you don't have the hassle of having to go grocery shopping after an arduous day of travel - Port Douglas is an hour away by car from Cairns.

The Mantra Group own a whole lot of resorts up in Port Douglas, and indeed around Australia, and I have to say their styling is spot on - the rooms are all very 'now' and the Mantra Heritage has two fantastic heated lagoon pools along with a built in BBQ and undercover dining space - the pool up the top closer to Warner Street is warmer than the one below, which is deeper and more private.  With both pools, you can actually book 'swim out' rooms that have decks leading straight out to the pool although I wondered about privacy and noise as much as they are convenient if you like to swim.  Our room also had some quirky design issues like the wardrobe being in the ensuite bathroom and the bedroom being completely internal so pretty dark inside with no windows just shutters out to the main living area.  There was also no dishwasher, and no oven (which made cooking pizza interesting) in the kitchen with limited crockery and cutlery although we still managed to cook every second night.

We were on the top level facing Warner Street with a big enclosed balcony with shutters looking out onto the Mobil service station (which is currently being re-built) and other shops but it was surprisingly quiet and a lovely spot to sit in the afternoon reading books and magazines (or wrestling in the case of my kids) or dining al fresco at the big table.  It was also handy being able to just duck out the back when it came to visiting the Sunday market or catching the Bally Hooley steam train from the marina.

At the wharf end of Macrossan Street, you'll find St Mary's by the sea chapel and this time we ventured inside to have a look.  I think weddings there would be absolutely spectacular as there's a window out to the sea from inside and the nearby Sugar Wharf to hold your reception (or the two lovely restaurants down that end of town in Harrison's and Salsa Bar and Grill on Wharf Street).  Indeed, while we were there, there was a wedding party being chauffeured around town in Beautiful - the two-toned mint green and vanilla Kombi van, which was just gorgeous!

Chai tent - Sunday Market
There are also a couple of new restaurants  as you walk to the marina, which looked lovely, including Seabean and Siam by the Sea on Wharf Street.  The marina itself feels a bit like a ghost town inside the complex and I think retail in general is pretty quiet there.  It's the boats out to the reef for snorkeling, sailing and fishing which are busy - Lure Restaurant is still in a great location at the marina and we also did dinner out again at The Tin Shed which overlooks the water and has one of the best sunset views at Port Douglas.  Dinner out at The Courthouse Hotel is also a great local thing to do although I think if you can book an upstairs table in their balcony dining area, it's a lot more quiet and refined.  We didn't get a chance to do any fine dining (note to self: it's a good thing to go with grandparents or other families next time) but kids eat free before 6pm at Zinc Restaurant and Watergate has a $10 kids menu from 5.30 - 6.30 pm if you feel like splurging.
View from The Tin Shed
Port Douglas marina

My favourite shops and cafes there all seem to be combined - some of the best include homewares shop With Sugar, which has The Little Larder cafe next door as well as florist/gift shop Floral Edge with Betty's Bohemian Beach Cafe, which is relatively new, next door.  Other interesting shops include homewares shop Pebble on Wharf Street with its sister accessories store Twig on Macrossan Street - both do beach chic really well with their whitewashed interiors and nature-inspired goods.  Whileaway Bookshop Cafe is a great place to buy a new book and grab a coffee and has the newly opened The Mexican next door, while other interesting shops include Art Attack with Roar cafe inside, Coffeeworks and Studio 49 Artisan Gallery and Art Cafe housed in the former school house (although it was closed when I tried to visit) on the hill off Murphy Street offering some great views looking down the street.
Personalised gift wrapping at With Sugar
Studio 49 Artisan Gallery and Art Cafe

View from Studio 49
My favourite cafe/shop that had just opened was Ahoy Trader and Sparrow Coffee.  It's the second Ahoy Trader store (the original is in Byron Bay) by Jai Vasicek who is known for his beautiful tile crosses and wall tiles (which you can buy locally at Romulus and the Gypsy in Ivanhoe) - the store is beautifully merchandised with some great brands including By Charlotte jewellery and Lightly homewares along with Vasicek's own designs.  Sparrow Coffee is also really cool - I loved the turquoise La Marzocco coffee machine and I think they'll give Origin Espresso a run for their money in the coffee stakes.
Coffee at Origin Espresso
Sparrow Coffee
I managed to get a few runs in on Four Mile Beach and went past people doing Yoga on the beach, which runs 7 days a week every morning from 8 - 9 am for $15 per class.  Teachers from the nearby Prema Shanti yoga retreat in Cape Tribulation run the classes during the school holidays.  Deep Yoga has also expanded to include Deep Whole Foods and The Deep Retreat and it was walking distance from the Mantra Heritage along with Port Douglas Yoga held in the Saltwater building on Macrossan Street.

The boys were really lucky in that the world's largest inflatable waterslide was also up in Port Douglas over the school holidays so they had great fun one morning sliding in the sun.  We also once again visited immersion zoo Wildlife Habitat, which is worth doing if you are an animal lover - feeding the kangaroos and wallabies is a real highlight as well as breakfasting or lunching with the birds, which we loved.  While we didn't go out to the reef due to the weather and our children being prone to seasickness, we did go on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway on the one overcast day we had in Port Douglas and it was spectacular.  It's well worth doing if you don't mind driving nearly all the way back to Cairns to catch the cable car to Kuranda and back.  Kuranda is worth a day trip - it's a hippy town in the mountains which was probably a bit too touristy/commercialised for my taste but it was lovely to see some of the indigenous Australian locals there and Aboriginal culture.  Take a jacket and wear closed toed shoes if you go as it gets cool inland.  There is also a fantastic scenic railway through the rainforest to Kuranda from Cairns but given it's a two hour trip one way, it makes for a long day if you do a return trip.

We spent our last night in Port Douglas at Moonlight Cinema which is held at the upmarket QT Resort and it was a beautiful night watching the bats flying against the evening skyline as the sun went down.  If you go, I'd buy tickets online in the morning as there were some disappointed movie goers who turned up only to find the Pixar movie 'Inside Out' had sold out.

Port Douglas isn't the most diverse of places to go - it's full of predominantly Anglo-Saxon Australian families and baby boomers from the south, and international tourists and backpackers, seeking sunshine and warmth during the coldest months of the year in Australia.  The most interesting thing I saw during the time we were there was this lovely Dutch lady (below with the cowboy hat, white headphones and coloured flag) who was dancing (literally) to the beat of her own drum on Four Mile beach as well as doing a bit of flag twirling and ukulele playing to boot.  As I've said before, I think if you want true heat (high twenties) you need to go that far north over the Australian winter or else go overseas.  It's been a shock to the system returning to Rosanna during what is traditionally the two coldest weeks of the year from early to mid July, but given I'm a winter baby, I'm sure I'll get over it.  There's lots going on over the next few weeks and months right here in Melbourne and I look forward to sharing more with you.  Stay warm!


  1. Hi Ryan - I think it was more of a cultural adventure than anything else :-) - if we go up again I'd actually like to explore more of the Daintree. Thanks for stopping by!