From mar­kets to Mocka’s pies, Port Douglas wows the palate

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - Susan Kuro­sawa

THE north­ern Queens­land re­sort town of Port Douglas is hum­ming on a Sun­day morn­ing. From the lit­tle white St Mary’s by the Sea chapel, its win­dows open to warm breezes, wafts the rous­ing sounds of the choir stir­ring up the con­gre­ga­tion at the morn­ing ser­vice.

But be­yond this holy precinct’s palms and bright flower beds, things are al­to­gether more sec­u­lar. The ad­join­ing Anzac Park is the set­ting for a lively mar­ket each Sun­day from 8am to early af­ter­noon. Like Topsy in Un­cleTom’sCabin , it has grow’d be­yond recog­ni­tion. From its orig­i­nal few stalls de­voted to lo­cal pro­duce and art­work, the mar­ket now strag­gles from the Wharf Street road­side to Dick­son In­let, curv­ing around stately but­tress figs and um­brella trees. It be­gan in 1998 with a pro­viso from the lo­cal coun­cil that it be a ‘‘ cot­ters’ mar­ket’’, with all goods made or grown by stall­hold­ers and their fam­i­lies.

There is still a hand-hewn and com­mu­nity-based feel but many of the stalls are more pro­fes­sion­ally or­gan­ised than those I re­call from pre­vi­ous vis­its. Th­ese are sturdy white-canopied struc­tures, well set up with fold­ing chairs and pic­nic lunches for the ven­dors.

There’s much to catch the vis­i­tor’s eye, from hand-painted shirts and sarongs to T-shirts daubed with bright blue Ulysses but­ter­flies and trop­i­cal paint­ings and col­lages by lo­cal artist Cara Stevens. Or­ganic lip balm, Thai mas­sage, hair­braid­ing, jaunty gar­den gnomes in over­coats flash­ing their pink-painted wil­lies, pots of bougainvil­lea and stre­litzia on the flour­ish­ing plant stalls . . . such is the var­ied range.

With a new em­pha­sis on self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion in Port Douglas, many vis­i­tors to the mar­kets are look­ing be­yond the eclec­tic arts-and-crafts to pro­vi­sions for hol­i­day apart­ment kitchens. They want good, cheap lo­cal pro­duce, with few food kilo­me­tres un­der its belt. Shop­ping bags are quickly filled with sun­shine-yel­low pineap­ples from Ma­reeba (a lowly $2 or $3, de­pend­ing on size), bush toma­toes freshly torn from the stalk, spiky red dragon fruit (which looks more lus­cious than it tastes) and hy­dro­ponic rose­mary, chives, lemon­grass, basil and pars­ley from hill­top Ku­randa, near Cairns.

With a week’s cater­ing in mind, fam­i­lies are stock­ing up on jars of Ga­garra honey in flavours such as blue gum, iron­bark, grey box and macadamia; pop­u­lar, too, are snack pack­ets of dried pineap­ple strips and plump slices of pre­served mango. But­tery lit­tle macadamia nuts, from the Won­da­ree plan­ta­tion on the Ather­ton Table­lands, come in var­i­ous guises, from bis­cuits to bags of loose nuts, avail­able lightly salted or hick­ory smoked, coated with honey or smooth choco­late.

The fresh drinks stands — lit­tle more than ta­bles set up at the rear of open-tray utes — do a roar­ing trade in sug­ar­cane, co­conut, orange and pineap­ple juices. At an old­fash­ioned ice-shav­ing ma­chine, a chap wrings a han­dle with a huff and a puff and the sliv­ers fall into cups where top­pings in flavours such as sar­sa­par­illa are spooned over the ice.

But for a sat­is­fy­ing lunch, one must ven­ture a few steps afield. Port Douglas’s main thor­ough­fare of Macrossan Street, just across Wharf Street, is an eat­ing pa­rade to ri­val Noosa’s Hast­ings Street. It’s all here, from Thai and Ja­panese to pub grub and mod Oz. And what isn’t on Macrossan it­self is just sec­onds re­moved: the two best off-Macrossan restau­rants are Nau­tilus, an oa­sis on a hill that has been Port Douglas’s most fa­mous restau­rant for decades (climb up from Macrossan through a tor­rent of green­ery), and seafood spe­cial­ist 2 Fish, around the cor­ner on Wharf Street.

Ac­tor Tom Hanks, re­cently in town to film the Steven Spiel­berg minis­eries The Pa­cific , has been spot­ted at Macrossan Street’s laid-back Ta­ble 41. Young chef-towatch Matthew Wild, for­merly of By­ron at By­ron re­sort at NSW’s By­ron Bay, is wow­ing din­ers at the bar-tapas-bistro hot spot, Bistro 3 on the cor­ner of Wharf Street.

But I have a busy af­ter­noon and must eat on the run. Mocka’s Pies, which started pas­try-mak­ing in 1969, is such an in­sti­tu­tion that there is a coun­cil sign point­ing to its new lo­ca­tion.

Mocka’s is now on Grant Street; join the queue and pay $4.50 for a pas­try cas­ing of com­bos such as beef and peas, steak and kid­ney or cur­ried lamb. Back on Macrossan, I eat my Mocka’s as I walk to my rental car; the street is full as mar­ket­go­ers file back to their hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion. Th­ese days, there’s an Asian flair to pro­ceed­ings; ser­viced units with brands such as Omkara, Sabaya and Man­dalay are fast re­plac­ing clas­sic Aussie names us­ing coral, mango, tea tree and other trop­i­cal totems. (Good to see signs for a lazy lizard and a rusty pel­i­can sur­viv­ing amid the mix.)

I’m old enough to re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment of road hol­i­days, spot­ting mo­tel signs an­nounc­ing such thrilling in­duce­ments as tele­vi­sions, wa­terbeds and din­ing rooms open un­til a naughty 8pm. Th­ese days, it’s all spas, private plunge pools and food-fu­sion fan­tasies.

Fish and chips on the pier is a stayer, though, as are those Mocka’s pies and sausage rolls. Pass a jar of that new­fan­gled mango rel­ish to spread over the bat­ter or pas­try and a glass of Shan­non­vale black sapote port to toast the trop­ics.

www.queens­land­hol­i­days.com.au

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