SUNNY SIDE UP

Come fly with us to the sun-kissed Aussie town of Port Dou­glas. MELISSA GARDI in­vites us along on her coastal fam­ily hol­i­day

Little Treasures - - TRAVEL -

Once you’re a par­ent, the recipe for a per­fect hol­i­day is sim­ple. Of­ten the in­gre­di­ents start at sleep and end at sun­shine –who wants to spend time and money on a fam­ily trip only to re­turn home more weary and sleep-de­prived than be­fore you left? It’s im­pos­si­ble to know if the post­card-per­fect im­age will de­liver all those fam­ily es­sen­tials that will make the trip some­thing ideal to es­cape to, in­stead of some­thing to es­cape from. But if your ideal get­away in­volves the trop­ics and ex­plor­ing the great out­doors with ease, then head to Port Dou­glas: the hotspot of Aus­tralia’s Far North. Af­ter an hour’s drive north from Cairns air­port, you’ll ar­rive at Port Dou­glas’ chilled-out cen­tre. It’s where lush rain­forests and ex­otic birdlife meet white sands and the leg­endary sev­enth won­der of the world, Great Bar­rier Reef – the only liv­ing thing vis­i­ble from outer space. Sun seekers revel in golden rays all year round and Port Dou­glas’ balmy cli­mate won’t dis­ap­point. It’s got that sense of end­less sum­mer magic as vis­i­tors graze through the streets on ev­ery­thing from sights and sounds to shop­ping. The chilled-out vibe of this coastal re­sort town makes it an easy place for the fam­ily to re­lax. The main strip is friendly to nav­i­gate with a pram, and ca­sual is where the mood is at. Bou­tiques and gal­leries stand along­side herb and health stores: Port Dou­glas has a holis­tic side, and hard­work­ing par­ents can take turns mak­ing the most of the well­be­ing and mas­sage ther­a­pies. Once the sun sets, the town’s buzz turns up a dial – din­ers and drinkers feast on lo­cal fare and there’s plenty of quiet ar­eas for those early-to-bed. Early ris­ers will find de­li­cious pas­tries (and cof­fee) at Mocka’s Pies while din­ing out­doors at The Lit­tle Larder lends it­self to messy eaters. Port Dou­glas gives you the chance to join your lit­tle one in try­ing new solids – you’ll spot croc­o­dile and kan­ga­roo on lo­cal menus. An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of com­mu­nity is most ap­par­ent at the week­end mar­ket. Op­er­at­ing for more than two decades, it’s chocka with Aussie arts and crafts. There will be plenty for the en­tire fam­ily as you wan­der the maze of hand­crafted jew­ellery and colour­ful wooden crafts mixed in with pup­pets and lo­cally made glass­work. In a scene that’s known for fam­ily out­ings and boat­ies, the updated ma­rina, or ‘Ma­rina Mi­rage’ as it’s known, wel­comes all walks of life. Amongst the tourist shops over­flow­ing with sou­venirs, Hem­ing­way’s mod­ern craft brew­ery stands out from the crowd; its sea­sonal brews and wood­fire piz­zas are a favourite for fam­i­lies want­ing to ca­su­ally dine against a serene back­drop.

When it comes to park­ing the pram and pulling out the por­ta­cot, there are dozens of fam­ily-friendly op­tions. If you’re want­ing to be cen­tral, book a room at Club Trop­i­cal (club­trop­i­cal­re­sort.com.au). While self-con­tained stu­dios are avail­able, be­ing in the heart of Port Dou­glas makes it an ideal base for the first one awake to take a townie stroll with bub. For those who want to be near the cen­tre but not amongst it, QT Ho­tel (qtho­tel­san­dresorts.com) is where it’s at. This 160-room ho­tel has retro stamped on ev­ery­thing from the ar­chi­tec­ture to the fur­ni­ture. The on­site restau­rant can cater to every whim. Be­sides rid­ing the larg­erthan-life rub­ber duck­ies in the ho­tel pool or ex­plor­ing the wa­ter gar­dens, take a breather from the crowds in your self-cater­ing suite. As part of the Ex­ec­u­tive Suite Col­lec­tion (ex­ec­u­tivere­treats.com.au), each prop­erty owner brings their own sense of style to multi-bed­room lux­ury vil­las, lo­cated just five min­utes out­side of the town cen­tre. They fea­ture am­ple in­door/out­door liv­ing space, lo­cal art, and daybeds where your baby will have plenty of shade from the sun-drenched pa­tio be­fore play­ing in the plunge pool. The ex­ec­u­tive chef kitchens make it easy to pre­pare every type of meal, although if you’re want­ing some­thing spe­cial (with­out the clean-up duty) you can or­der meals to be de­liv­ered. Sur­rounded by World Her­itage for­est, it’s all about the great out­doors at Thala Beach Na­ture Re­serve (tha­l­abeach.com.au). Through­out this eco-re­treat, the en­tire whanau can take in the views by way of daily tours through the unique rain­for­est, wood­lands, man­groves, and ma­rine coast. Each suite is set ei­ther amongst the trop­i­cal rain­for­est, or high above the tree­tops with views stretch­ing across the Coral Sea. You’re bound to spot lo­cals – an­i­mals that is – from the musky rat-kan­ga­roo to the red-eyed green tree frog. Be­cause Thala is sit­u­ated on a pri­vate 145-acre head­land be­tween Cairns and Port Dou­glas, it’s a play­ground for the en­tire fam­ily. Bub can even learn how to dance to the sound­track of lo­cal kook­abur­ras! Port Dou­glas’ scope for re­lax­ation stretches well beyond where you de­cide to lie your head at night. The golden Four Mile Beach is a must, which can be ac­cessed from one of the town’s main streets. At the north­ern rocky head­land, put baby on your back and get your hearts

pump­ing with a climb to the Flagstaff Hill Light­house to sur­vey the sur­round­ings from tow­er­ing heights: be­side the east­ern end of Port Dou­glas and Mow­bray River, the beach ex­pands to the foothills towards Black Moun­tain. Given its prox­im­ity to two World Her­itage ar­eas – the Great Bar­rier Reef and the Dain­tree For­est – there are plenty of tours cater­ing to all types of trav­eller be it by foot or boat. Sail to the lower isles and outer reef in a glass-bot­tom ves­sel run by Trop­i­cal Jour­neys (trop­i­caljour­neys.com). Show and tell bub about the 1500 species of fish, turtles, dol­phins and rays that come into view un­der­neath the boat. And a game of tag will en­sure that both you and your part­ner can snorkel the sparkling sea (ca­lyp­soreefcruises.com). Just north of Port Dou­glas, you’ll find the Dain­tree Rain­for­est, a World Her­itage site es­ti­mated to be more than 135 mil­lion years old, and home to more wildlife than any­where else. Hike some of the 1200 square kilo­me­tres or dip into Cape Tribu­la­tion or Dono­van’s Beach. There’s bound to be plenty of firsts for the en­tire fam­ily in Port Dou­glas. And with­out a doubt you’ll all take home the best sou­venir: an amaz­ing feel­ing of a sun-kissed es­cape.

The lo­gis­tics When to go

While be­ing in the trop­ics lends it­self to wet­ter sum­mers, tem­per­a­tures soar in Fe­bru­ary and the peak sea­son ex­tends from May through Septem­ber

How to get there

Air New Zealand (airnz.co.nz) flies di­rect from Auck­land In­ter­na­tional Air­port to Cairns every week, Thurs­day to Sun­day. Fly­ing from else­where in New Zealand? Cairns is still within easy reach, with just a quick tran­sit in ei­ther Bris­bane or Sydney. Upon your ar­rival, rent a car for the scenic one-hour drive up the coast

You’re bound to spot wildlife! The World Her­itage For­est is home to 400 species of but­ter­flies and birds. It’s great to teach your lit­tle ones about the won­ders of na­ture

Ex­ec­u­tive Suite Col­lec­tion

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