August to October is an ideal time to take a short break in Tropical North Queensland. We recently made the easy trip to Port Douglas for a long weekend, where we revelled in the sunshine and laid-back vibe, and the chills from a 'southern-state' winter were a million miles away.
It seemed like everyone we met was either on holiday, sailing in or sailing away, or just another long timer who passed through town years back, and never left! I can see why they stayed … Port Douglas has all the charm of a sleepy fishing village and the sophistication of a world-class destination in one delightful package. It boasts a really relaxed lifestyle, with great accommodation options ranging from budget backpackers to five-star luxury and boutique hotels. Plus you'll find palm-fringed beaches, fabulous restaurants, great pubs (with live music and cane toad races putting you firmly in North Queensland territory!), and an abundance of stunning natural natural attractions including three of Australia's most prized assets right on its doorstep – the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest.
We filled our days and nights with a whole lot of adventure and exploration whilst also tapping into that potent source of relaxation for which Port Douglas is so loved. A day trip travelling past the sugar cane fields of Mossman to Mossman Gorge was a real highlight, journeying into the lush rainforest on a Dreamtime Gorge Walk with our delightful indigenous guide Tom. Learn about traditional plant use and bark shelter huts, marvel at towering ancient trees and the lush rainforest canopy, hear tales and stories by a crystal-clear waterhole, and take part in some ochre painting. And, be sure to continue on to the popular Gorge Circuit for a refreshing dip in the pristine waters of the Mossman River.
For romance, you really can't get much better than a sunset sail aboard the luxury Sailaway catamaran, heading out of the marina past yachts, old prawn trawlers, and multi-million dollar seaside homes, glass of Champagne in hand. Lie back on deck, cuddle up, and watch the sun set in spectacular fashion over the mountain ranges. We were rewarded with an incredible show of twilight colours across the sky, and returned back to shore windswept and swept away, ready for a night out wining and dining in town.
And no trip to Port Douglas would ever be complete without a trip to the Outer Isles of the Great Barrier Reef aboard the imposing wave piercer Quicksilver. Enjoy a buffet lunch on the floating platform before snorkelling or scuba diving on the renowned Agincourt Reef at the very edge of Australia's continental shelf. We were lucky enough to share the water with a turtle on our visit, exploring the rich coral beds together surrounded by neon-hued fish, iridescent starfish and giant clams … one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. And for the ultimate of holiday memories, take to the sky aboard a helicopter for a bird's eye view of the extraordinarily colourful underwater world below. It's an experience you won't soon forget!
It's a scenic 70-kilometre drive from Cairns Airport along the winding Cook Highway. Hire a car to make the most of your visit – there's good reason this is classic driving holiday country – passing cane fields and soaring cliff tops with panoramic coastal views, quite the teaser to what lies ahead when you reach your destination.
Port Douglas is a foodies' heaven, with a focus on fresh seafood and some of Queensland's finest restaurants serving up Modern Australian cuisine in a relaxed, tropical setting. Plan ahead and book a meal at the renowned Salsa Bar & Grill – it can be booked out weeks in advance! We also had a great meal at local favourite Zinc Restaurant, while the colonial-style house and lush gardens at Harrisons is totally conducive to intimate dining.
We stayed at the new Ramada Resort which has just unveiled a massive 7.8 million dollar refurbishment. Our one-bedroom apartment was complete with kitchenette, and you really feel like you're in amongst the rainforest here with lush melaleuca gardens, the call of birdsong all around, and a series of timber walkways leading guests to free flowing waterways and ponds where you can feed the resident barramundi. The tropical pool is perfection, and there's a fantastic day spa where you can totally bliss out.
There are plenty of boutiques and great art galleries in town, but if you're here on a weekend, make the most of the outdoor Port Douglas Markets, held every Sunday down by the water's edge at Anzac Park. Locals come from all over the Far North to sell original arts and crafts, jewellery, clothing, fruit and vegetables and homemade foods, plus there are street performers and buskers to add to the creative atmosphere. Be sure to try Fruit Poop, a blended concoction of frozen exotic fruits. It's delicious!