Plonked right on the coastline of the Coral Sea in Far North Queensland, the town of Port Douglas is nestled between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, creating a perfect spot for your tropical adventure. About an hour’s drive north of Cairns, Port Douglas offers a backyard for some of the world’s best-loved stretches of coastline and hinterland all in one. And though it might be an adventure packed playground for some, for others, the town is a laid back natural wonderland and vacay spot that travellers everywhere have come to seek out.
Locals refer to Port Douglas simply as Port, and like the gentle hint of its after-dinner namesake, this breezy township along Queensland’s tropical coast is a welcome holiday escape. It splashed its way into travel brochures in the mid 80’s when flashy businessman, Christopher Skase developed The Sheraton Mirage, stamping Port Douglas as Australia’s upmarket resort getaway. It’s now home to three major resorts that back the beach, together with golf courses and a marina. Though some of the gloss has since worn off, the influx of eco-lovers has helped Port Douglas settle down into a relaxed township and gateway to Australia’s famed natural wonders.
Here’s your best ways to explore Port Douglas.
4 miles, a million adventures
Curving south of the town centre, the stretch of sand and the uninterrupted ocean views make 4-mile beach the drawcard of Port Douglas, even if it is 4 kilometers not miles. Pressed alongside the township at the northern end of the beach is the Port Douglas Surf Life Saving Club where the broad views are surprisingly natural and unencumbered. Pristine waters and bleached fine sand are home to sun seekers everywhere. Whether you’re keen to explore the nature trails or simply lay a picnic blanket on the grassy bluffs to watch the world go by, it’s barefoot luxury at its best!
Covering around 1,200 square kilometres, the Daintree is a part of the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed so there’s plenty of day tours to choose from to explore its beckoning wilderness. The trees sing with the chatter of birds and the flitting of rainbow butterflies creates a rich ecosystem that soars from ancient roots into a deep blue sky. Day tours take in the renowned Mossman Gorge, with an easy guided walk and optional cruise along the Daintree river. The boat cuts through the mangroves and abundant river life, sailing towards a gently setting sun.
The old world charm of a scenic train journey blends beautifully with the placid pace of rainforest and village life. The Kuranda Train & Scenic Railway is an unforgettable 1 hour and 45 minute journey. Winding its way at 300 metres above sea level it rides along the mountainous range from Cairns City to Barron Gorge and the whimsical village of Kuranda. Full of old world character, the Kuranda Scenic Railway captures the pioneering spirit of early Australia.
From Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef Drive heading north to Cape Tribulation is a few hours of magnificent road trip beauty, with the Wet Tropics Rainforest on one side and the reef on the other; at times the way the road hugs the coast it’s as if you could wind down the window and let your fingers dip in the cool water. Other than dive head first into its depths, there are plenty of ways to appreciate the Great Barrier Reef. To really experience its vastness, day cruises, luxury sailing or chopper ride are always on hand.
The underwater coral gardens are a silent wonderland and with subs and wall to wall viewing on day cruises, there’s nothing you can’t experience up close. Tour operators have become savvy enough to genuinely cater for everybody. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to boat hires, snorkeling and diving tours, each one taking you on an underwater journey that is truly sublime. Through the glass you’ll see turquoise and lime colored corals, little nemo and angel fish darting around curiously and maybe even a reef shark.
Adventures are not reserved for the young. The real adventure holiday is about that of the spirit, where we gather reflective experiences that connect us to our world. For the true adventure seeker, the northern tip of tropical Queensland is an abundant playground. Twilight beach walks, lazy days poolside or journeying by train or river cruise through the age-old rainforest lets you explore Port Douglas at the gentle pace of a tropical holiday.
Discover more of Queensland’s tropical escapes on Fitzroy Island.
While many international travellers head to Australia for the dusty orange desert drives, or the frothy waves of its signature surf spots, it’s also a nation famous for taking its coffee very seriously. Everyone’s new favourite coffee, The Flat White, originated from Down Under, and you can be sure to find a hipster coffee connoisseur on many a street corner. The Secret Traveller at 1 Cover has hailed pretty much every Australian as a coffee snob, but where is it that locals find the perfect brew? If you’re travelling around New South Wales, then we’ve got you covered. Here is our hand-picked selection of the best coffee shops.
Reuben Hills – This quaint coffee spot in Surry Hills serves a delicious brew, not least because of the shop’s unique relationship with their growers. Their owner Russell Beard has scoured the world for the best beans to serve up in his shop, so that every cup made up is rich with international flavours. Specialising in Central and South American brews, they host ‘cupping’ sessions every Saturday at 10am.
Brewtown Surry Hills– Another popular spot in the Surry Hills area, Brewtown offers a selection of African and guest coffee beans, as well as a neat but well-chosen wine list. The few tables in this spot make it a sought-after place, but if you can squeeze in then be sure to pair a cup of coffee with one of their delectable baked goods.
Sample Coffee St Peters– This suave warehouse space in the south of the city offers the rare occurrence of coffee roasted in-house. The smell of this place will blow your mind, and the atmosphere will make you feel at ease while you enjoy your caffeine fix. Pair your drink with something from their unique seasonal menu, which changes every two weeks to ensure it’s always up-to-date.
Bun Coffee, Byron Bay– After going for a surf, be sure to head to Bun Coffee. They provide a selection of international and Australian coffee beans, and after 14 years of practising their own secret recipe, you can be assured this will be the perfect post-surf refuel.
Cassiopeia Coffee, Blue Mountains– There is nowhere more idyllic than the Blue Mountains, and the perfect place to watch the world go by in this great destination is Cassiopeia. Just a few minutes from the Three Sisters, these guys roast their coffee in house to ensure it is of the highest quality. They’ve got a few shops in The Blue Mountains National Park and surrounding areas, including Windsor and Springwood.
This is a guest post. For more on getting out and about in Sydney, discover the perfect weekend here!
The golden hour
When the tour guide assembled us all for our Hunter Valley Balloon Flight and said no chit-chat on board, for a moment my curiosity was sparked even more; would it be too loud, too shaky, too windy to hear? But half an hour aloft and riding effortlessly across the breeze I understood why; taken in by the expansive Hunter Valley skyline and gentleness of hot air ballooning, there is simply little to say. Except perhaps “excuse me” to the passenger across from you, so you too can click the ultimate landscape shot or selfie. Against a backdrop of balloons bobbing on a crest of wind, who wouldn’t be clambering for the best photo-op. With a swag of happy adventurers soaking up the experience, it was best appreciated in silence.
Catching the breeze
There are plenty of cheesy words though to describe the serenity and exhilaration of ballooning, but the thrill of the flight is best felt in the quietness that comes from breathing in the air at 3,000 feet. Strands of mist lay carpeted through the valley, settling like thin clouds on the floor below. Weaving beneath and through the Eucalypts, rising just enough to let the light in.
To one side, facing into the sun, four or five balloons yo-yoed in the pale orange light. On the other, a clear blue sky stretching to the horizon with familiar towns, like small blocks, packed neatly below. Farmyards and empty paddocks, vineyards lined with clusters of trees, thin charcoal roads bending over the hills, and us, taking it all in. Sometimes the balloon dips so low, you feel you could touch the tree tops.
Sunrises, for all the effort they take to see, never fail to reward. And ballooning at dawn takes some effort. The convoy of tourist vans, loaded trailers and balloon baskets peel into the assembly point. The crew busily check the weather conditions and agree on the field of departure. A weather balloon is released and when it’s course is chartered, the trucks and trailers scatter in response and it’s all go. I don’t know that I’d given any thought to how big a hot air balloon might be: certainly not from the ground while its being inflated.
I’m sure I’d never thought about what a 55,000 cubic litres of air, 30 metre high balloon of colourful nylon might look like, as the hot blasts of propane give it shape. Now I know, the scale is overwhelming. Standing in the middle of a field where 6 or 8 balloons are being inflated is like a dress rehearsal for an opening night show. Bolts of bright fabric twisting and turning as the air shoots in, crew with ropes and trailers and an audience, like paparazzi, clicking every moment. Curtains raised, balloons aloft!
Time to fly
There are plenty of times throughout the year to enjoy the experience of a Hunter Valley Ballon Flight; September to November when the wild flowers are in bloom, February to April with cooler breezes and low lying mist and some say that the even winter sunrises are still spectacular. Pokolbin in the Hunter is 2.5 hours north of Sydney and heart of wine country, with over 150 vineyards spread across the regions countryside. Thanks to the wonderful crew at Balloon Aloft for a truly memorable morning.
How to reach the Hunter Valley from Sydney, see here.
Like to read more about exploring the Hunter Valley? Check out our Tour Guide Tips here.
“On some days the haze that settles low across the city, blurs even the outlines of Delhi’s iconic monuments. The familiar shape of India Gate with its etched sandstone bricks is hardly visible in the grey-brown smog. The Green Clean Delhi signs posted along main roads belie the incentive to breathe in clean fresh air every day. And yet, in the jumbled hub of central Old Delhi, is the newest addition to the cities’ green clean inspired movement, Sunder Nursery.”
Tall, lithe and toned, adorned in gold and glitter, parading like a Demi God in slow deliberate steps, he stretched his long limbs through the crowd. Expressionless and yet full of statement, everyone stopped and turned.
There is little to say about this statuesque, impressive icon of Mardi Gras. I’m still a little lost for words, except to say that this man embodied sheer perfection in stardust. I’m sure people were praying. It is possible he could have sparked a revolution. And isn’t that the point? Mardi Gras is an inspiration, and an invitation really, for everybody to live their most flamboyant lives. Certainly their best ones. And here was the beacon; in the words of lady liberty, “Give me your tired, your weary…yearning to breathe free.”
From behind the scenes, some of the impromptu and surprise moments best capture the spirit of the Sydney Mardi Gras 2019.
Let the parade begin!