The word ‘resort’ must have been coined for the palm tree-fringed town of Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland. And not just for the manicured golf courses, seemingly endless Four Mile Beach, and a plethora of spas. It helps, of course, that the Great Barrier Reef is a quick zip or sail away from the marina and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest cradles the town. But we reckon it’s mostly because, up here, relaxation is treated as a Very Serious Sport. If you’re headed to 'Port' (as the locals call it), chances are you’re in need of a cocktail and a sun lounger. If you should want to fill your days with more than the pool bar menu during one of your weekend breaks, try this 48-hour Port Douglas itinerary on for size.
Fly into Cairns, hire a car and drive one hour north on the winding and impossibly scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive. Don’t forget a stop at Rex Lookout for sweeping views back towards Cairns with booming green mountains tumbling into the Coral Sea.
Depending on the weather, you might catch paragliders as they’re lifted from the headland and ride the thermals like an albatross.
The truth is, you can hardly go wrong with wherever you choose to get a l'il shut-eye in Port Douglas.
The town and immediate surroundings have it all, from the sheer indulgence of being pampered in the lavishness of a fully-serviced international resort like the Sheraton Grand Mirage or Pullman Sea Temple, to luxury private homes with Executive Retreats. Spots like Freestyle Resort and Mandalay Beachfront Apartments, are perfect for family beach holiday getaways, and Port Douglas Backpackers and Tropical Breeze Van Village provide all the mod cons for the budget traveller.
No matter where you prefer to lay your head, when it comes to planning the perfect Port Douglas holiday, the options are as plentiful as the thread count. From 5-stars to sleeping under the stars, you'll find Port Douglas accommodation to suit your style and budget.
These days, you ain’t hip unless you have a craft beer to your name, and ever since Hemingway’s opened the doors to their Hamptons-esque microbrewery, bar and restaurant at the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, the locals have been saying a silent ‘thank you’ prayer to the beer gods.
Utilising the pure waters of Mossman Gorge, the team currently have ten signature brews with names like Pitchfork Betty’s pale ale (named after a rather infamous local publican), and Hard Yards American dark lager (named after the treacherous Bump Track that provided the only road in and out of Port during the gold rush era). If you ask them nicely, they’ll show you through the temperature controlled brewing room.
The best way to sample them all is with a tasting paddle which includes all ten Hemingway’s brews!
Order some share plates (we can vouch for the onion rings and duck wings!), or something from the grill to share. The spent grain from the brewery finishes off the grass-fed beef from Julatten, just up the road.
If you want a beer to go, they offer growlers and, more impressively, crowlers (giant cans) sealed with C02.
Suitably fuelled up for the day, let the shopping adventure begin! Start with a second coffee at Sparrow Espresso and a leisurely stroll down the way to Wicked Willies, the village's long-standing and most fabulous jewellery store, specialising in unusual, quality gemstone jewellery and beads, freshwater pearls, and sterling silver.
Check out Ngarru Gallery for some high-end indigenous art, then loop back to pick up a sweet or savoury treat for later at Mockas Pies (50 years old and still kicking strong in the pastry field!). If your 48 hours coincides with the weekend, the markets in Port Douglas and Mossman add to the experience with unique and handcrafted goodies found only in this northern corner of paradise.
If shopping ain’t your bag, there are plenty of great cafes to choose from on Macrossan Street. And as it's a well-known fact that Port Douglas is the most northern suburb of Melbourne, you can be guaranteed the coffee quality is spot-on. If a butt-burning walk is more your speed, head up Flagstaff Hill for cracking views over Four Mile Beach and the town itself.
The Great Barrier Reef is beckoning, and there are plenty of options for a half-day jaunt from the marina.
Sailaway and Calypso both have a half-day Low Isles tour, which gets you there in under 30 minutes and allows plenty of time for snorkelling over the incredible coral and underwater life, or watch it all from above in their glass-bottom boat.
For something a li'l different, and if you have a whole day to spare, jump aboard the authentic Chinese Junk ‘Shaolin’ for a sail under the red sails to Low Isles, with snorkelling included. They also offer a lunch cruise and sunset sail.
If you’re more interested in crocs than clams, the gorgeous Lady Douglas riverboat will take you through the unspoilt mangrove channels of Dickson Inlet in search of the prehistoric reptiles, with plenty of other wildlife spotting opportunities.
Hands up who doesn’t like eating? Yeah, we thought so. With more deliciousness in Port Douglas than you can shake a sugar cane stick at, food lovers will rejoice with all the choices. Salsa Bar & Grill with its local tropical produce and killer cocktails is popular, while La Cuchina takes a very convincing trip to Italy via the tropics. Seabean Tapas & Bar is the perfect spot for Spanish-inspired snacks and sundowners, while Zinc takes it up a notch in a town where seafood is king.
A short 15-minute drive out of town will find you at the striking Mossman Gorge Centre, where Kuku Yalanji traditional owners share the stories of this banu bubu (water place).
On the Dreamtime Gorge Walk, we start with a smoke cleansing before proceeding on the 90-minute tour, where we're given an accelerated bush tucker and traditional medicine lesson.
We see the strangler figs that inspired director James Cameron’s epic movie, Avatar, spy a teeny bearded dragon (which incidentally are forbidden to eat for the Kuku Yalanji people), and learn about the Daintree Nut. “It tastes like a mix of almond and coconut,” our guide Tom tells us.
Tom runs his hands over a log, spongy with fine green moss. “We use this as a baby nappy, baby bed, and we put it on a fire to stop mosquitos.”
As he touches and smells and explains his way along the pathway, we realise Tom knows every tree and leaf and brush turkey that calls this patch of the Daintree Rainforest home. He demonstrates with traditional clay paints. “Ochre is more valuable than gold,” he explains. “White is spirits… black is death.”
After we sit mesmerised by the rushing water over giant granite boulders and prepare to leave this magical place, we follow Tom’s lead and put the call out to thank Mother Nature for handing it over to us, with a call of “madja madja”.
Dreamtime Gorge Walks run five times daily and are a wonderful precursor for visiting the Gorge waterholes and walking platforms independently.
What better way to end a quick getaway jaunt than with a full tummy. The Central Hotel and The Tin Shed are excellent spots in town for something a little casual, while St Crispins takes in the tranquility of paradise as it overlooks the lagoon and the sprawling greenery of the Mirage Country Club golf course.
And with that, 'til next time Port Douglas.