It’s that time of year when the magic of the holiday season, with a sprinkle of nostalgia thrown in, lifts our spirts – we come together, cherish the memories, and laugh about the good times. To coin the phrase, “things aren’t like they used to be”, is not something we hear too often around here, for while we have moved with the times, the old kids on the block, our tourism pioneers, are still here.
Take a trip down memory lane and see for yourself, just how far we’ve come and yet, stayed the same. There are still the locals as warm as the tropical breeze, buildings no higher than a coconut palm, stunning unchanged natural beauty, laid back watering holes, plus the iconic locations like Four Mile Beach and Rex Lookout that have filled the photo albums for decades. So, sit back, relax, and be inspired to holiday like it’s yesterday.
Quicksilver Cruises was founded in 1979 with one vessel, a catamaran, which took guests to the Low Isles, the first commercial trip to these idyllic coral cays. Back then Port Douglas was a small fishing village but just a few years later in 1983, Quicksilver pioneered Australia’s first true Outer Barrier Reef cruise, travelling right to the ribbon reefs at the outer edge of the Continental Shelf. Today, Quicksilver has a fleet of the most advanced Australian made cruising vessels and is committed to sustainable environmental practices and ongoing conservation of the Great Barrier Reef for future generations to enjoy.
Pic: Former US President Bill Clinton visits the Reef, 1996
Largely credited with putting Port Douglas on the map, the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Port Douglas was grand beyond measure with an opulence only one would find in the eighties. It is set amidst more than 100 acres of tropical gardens and boasts an 18-hole golf course, gym with lap pool at its Country Club, and almost five acres of saltwater lagoon pools. It was opened in 1987 and has long been a mecca for the rich and famous, hosting presidential visits and A-list celebrities over the last three decades - think Leo Di Caprio, Mick Jagger, Kylie Minogue, Bill Clinton and most recently Kim Kardashian. A recent $40 million renovation has returned the 5 star hotel to its former glory, but it hasn’t lost its charm, with touches of pink, the resort’s signature colour, throughout. Also retained from the decadent eighties is the seafood buffet offering as much as you can eat of scampi, prawns, and crab.
Pic: The Lagoon Pools are as iconic as the long list of celebrities who have stayed at the 5 star resort
The Lady Douglas paddle steamer straddles past and present with her old-world charm and friendly hour-and-a-half cruises down the calm waters of Dickson Inlet. She began life here at Port Douglas in 1989, delighting those on board with views of crocodiles and other wildlife and educational and entertaining insights into the port town’s history and the local flora and fauna. Even those not on board are usually thrilled to see this grand vessel cruising by. Guests receive a complimentary drink and nibbles. There is a choice of cruise times so check ahead.
Pic: Take in the sights of Port Douglas on the Lady Douglas...she has been paddling in these waters for over three decades
A keen favourite with Australian and international visitors for the past three decades is the Wildlife Habitat, which began its rich history as The Rainforest Habitat on the site of a former Port Douglas sugarcane paddock in 1989. Originally a bird and butterfly sanctuary, growing conservation awareness saw it develop as a place to display and interpret the wildlife and flora of Tropical North Queensland, in particular the Wet Tropics region. It achieved Australia’s first Advanced Eco Accreditation in 1998 and today the Wildlife Habitat is considered a world leader in immersion exhibits, where guests can interact with Australian animals in their recreated natural environments – Wetlands, Rainforest, Savannah, Nocturnal and Woodlands habitats. Guests can also breakfast with the birds, lunch with the lorikeets, feed a kangaroo, take a selfie with a koala and even swim with the salties – crocodiles, that is - with only a sheet of perspex separating them from these modern-day dinosaurs.
Pic: Olivia Newton John visiting the Wildlife Habitat on holidays in Port Douglas
A popular local haunt is the Court House Hotel built in 1878 on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf streets, and a much-loved survivor from Port Douglas’s early days as a port for the inland gold rush. Originally the Buchanan Family Hotel, it was renamed the Court House Hotel about 1879. If the walls could talk, what stories of wonder would we hear, of fortunes won and lost, love and romance, hope and despair, and celebration and sadness concerning the many generations that holidayed and played, over-nighted or conducted business at this grand old pub. The Townsville Bulletin published a report from a Northern Herald Port Douglas and Mossman correspondent in October 1907: “A most remarkable chicken has been hatched at Mrs Crosbie’s Court House Hotel, Port Douglas. It has four perfect legs, and three wings.” These days chicken parmy is a favourite staple on ‘the Courty’ bistro menu, along with burgers, seafood and steak. The pub is a good spot for live music and has a sports bar.
Pic: The Court House Hotel has been a larger than life presence on this very corner for over 140 years
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is one of the oldest running tourist attractions in the region. It began in 1934 as a teahouse, soon after the opening of the Cook Highway from Cairns to Mossman. Local legend has it that old Pop Evans entertained motorists at Hartley’s Creek by feeding Charlie the resident croc while scones cooked in the wood stove. It became the first place in Australia to breed crocs in captivity. Crocodile conservation at Hartley’s Creek Zoo attracted interest, leading to the protection of wild crocodiles in 1974. Sadly, Charlie passed in 2000, succumbing to cancer after 65 years as a star attraction. In 2002 the new Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures opened 500m south of Hartley’s Creek at Wangetti, providing authentic crocodile experiences in a sustainable eco-attraction. It has continued to grow over the past 20 years and offers visitors up close wildlife experiences and displays.
Pic: Do you dare feed a croc at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures?
They say the proof is in the pudding, but it is surely in longevity if not the famous chocolate souffles. One local and international fave that continues to delight and grow in reputation and popularity is the Salsa Bar & Grill, which opened in Macrossan Street in 1995 with a fresh, colourful Californian approach. A few years later it moved to an elegant Queenslander in Wharf Street where it perfected its signature style. The relaxed Queensland vibe is what it is all about, bringing together tantalizing flavours based on local produce. Cue ultra-tropical fruit cocktails, divine food, and a casual glam, fun and vibrant atmosphere. The idea for Salsa came in 1994 after owner and co-founder Bill Conway headed north in his Ford Falcon searching for the perfect seaside town to make his mark. Incredibly, Bill still runs the pass, with no plans of slowing down. Book early if you want to dine here.
Pic: The iconic Queenslander, which is home to Salsa Bar & Grill on Wharf Street
It’s been a Port Douglas institution since 1969 and for good reason. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of a tasty, well-made pie. Mocka’s Pies & Bakehouse prides itself on making everything from scratch on the premises from quality ingredients. Its legacy dates back to the 1950s when Mocka’s mum Belle sold her pies out of the historic Central Hotel. Maurice, as his mum called him, took over her recipe and started Mocka’s across from the pub in Macrossan Street. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Mocka’s Pies & Bakehouse is a multi-award-winning eatery and one of Port’s most loved food destinations offering pies, bread, sandwiches, pastries and handcrafted cakes, and freshly roasted coffee – and yes still with their tried and tested family recipe.
Pic: Mocka's Pies owner Nigel Quinn. Image supplied by David Leith.
Renowned as one of Australia’s enduring luxury resorts, Silky Oaks Lodge offers a stylish interval amid the natural and timeless beauty of the Daintree Rainforest. It opened in 1985 after Moss and Theresa Hunt bought the 80-hectare block and, under the stewardship of P&O Resorts, rose to set the benchmark for luxury in the Daintree Rainforest. Nearly four decades later Silky Oaks Lodge has treehouse-style suites offering contemporary comfort in an ancient landscape. In 2019 it joined the exclusive list of Baillie Lodges around Australia, undergoing a $20 million refurbishment, further enhancing the lux. The Treehouse Restaurant overlooking the Mossman River offers a modern Australian styled menu with an Asian influence that incorporates traditional indigenous flavours using seasonal regional produce.
Pic: One of the 40 luxury treehouse-style suites at Silky Oaks Lodge
BTS Tours, formerly known as Bloomfield Track Safaris, have been conducting guided excursions into Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest since before World Heritage listing of the Queensland Wet Tropics. The first tour is part of local history as it took place in November 1984, just two weeks after the politically tempestuous and controversial opening of the road that established the first coastal link to Cooktown known as the Bloomfield Track. These days BTS Tours focuses on the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. The professional guides share their expert knowledge, gained over 30 years in the Wet Tropics environment that continues to delight, in an informative, relaxed and fun way.
Pic: Coral Coaches bogged at Cape Tribulation, *this picture is not affliated with BTS Tours. Image supplied by Lawrence Mason.
At Cape Tribulation, Mason’s Store is the local ‘corner shop’, built by a pioneering family with their own roots deep in the ancient rainforest. Opened in 1977, Mason’s Shop and Bottleshop is the oldest retail business north of the Daintree River. It sells everything from footwear and towels to bread, milk, meat and alcohol, and local produce. It offers a booking service for local tours and its own tours. Near the shop and excellent café is a freshwater swimming hole, full of native fish but free of crocs and stingers.
Pic: Mason's original homestead at Myall Creek. Image supplied by Lawrence Mason.
The Daintree Discovery Centre, an innovative and small footprint rainforest interpretive centre north of the Daintree River, opened in 1989 as the Daintree Rainforest Environmental Centre at Cow Bay. Ron and Pam Birkett built the centre to fill a gap in interpretive information about the rainforest. Today, the award-winning centre features a 23-metre rainforest canopy tower, spectacular aerial walkways and boardwalks, informative audio guides in eight languages, rainforest reptile and native fish displays, children’s audio guides and displays, a mini theatre, interpretive centre and coffee shop.
Pic: The original entrance of the Daintree Discovery Centre, which is now the Interpretive Centre at the expanded attraction. Image supplied by Daintree Discovery Centre.