Shore Thing

Aus­tralia’s Port Dou­glas caters to ev­ery whim – from wild ad­ven­ture to serene ro­mance. It’s the com­ing to­gether of all things en­chant­ing – where the rain­for­est meets the reef.

New Zealand Weddings - - TRAVEL - By MELISSA GARDI

From wild ad­ven­ture to serene ro­mance, it’s where the rain­for­est meets the reef.

Noth­ing beats a good hol­i­day, but when it comes to your hon­ey­moon, ex­pec­ta­tions are upped, and it’s im­pos­si­ble to know if the post­card- per­fect image of a place will de­liver all those essentials to take it next level. If the in­gre­di­ents to your ideal in­clude es­cap­ing to the trop­ics and ex­plor­ing the great out­doors with ease – while savour­ing those mo­ments of ro­man­tic seclu­sion – then head to Port Dou­glas: the beau­ti­ful pin­na­cle 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. En­thu­si­as­tic 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 ca­sual vibe of this coastal re­sort town makes it an easy place to re­lax. The main strip is friendly to nav­i­gate, 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 hol­i­day­mak­ers can make the most of nat­u­ral treat­ment and mas­sage ther­apy cen­tres.

Sure, get dolled up for a night out on the town, but by no means is there a dress code. As night thick­ens, so too does the town’s buzz, with din­ers and drinkers feast­ing on lo­cal fare. From breakfast at The Lit­tle Larder to din­ner at Water­gate, eat­ing out is part of Port Dou­glas’ fab­ric, com­plete with all the things you ex­pect ( but don’t al­ways get) in a pop­u­lar tourist spot: qual­ity food and good ser­vice. Pop­u­lar restau­rants such as Salsa and Finz are at the top of their game, and you’re bound to spot menus serv­ing lo­cal twists on a burger – think croc­o­dile and kan­ga­roo.

An ap­pre­ci­a­tion of community is most ap­par­ent at the week­end mar­kets. Op­er­at­ing for more than two decades, it’s chocka with mostly Aussie arts and crafts that fight for your at­ten­tion. While away the day in a maze of hand­crafted jewellery and boho fash­ion mixed in with colour­ful pup­pets and lo­cally made glass­work.

In a scene that’s typ­i­cally 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 sun­hats and sou­venirs, Hem­ing­way’s modern craft brew­ery sets it­self out from the crowd; its sea­sonal brews and wood fire piz­zas are a favourite for those want­ing to peo­ple watch against a serene back­drop. Don’t leave empty handed – re­quest your choice of beer and the bar­tender will can it on­site. If you’re af­ter cock­tails, head to the other end of the ma­rina, where Bar­ba­dos beck­ons loved-up cou­ples with plus- size lounge suites and an air of laid-back luxe.

Ac­com­mo­da­tions abound. When de­cid­ing to save or splurge, hon­ey­moon­ers are spoilt for choice – don’t be mis­led by Port Dou­glas’ pop­u­lar­ity

EN­THU­SI­AS­TIC SUN SEEK­ERS REVEL IN GOLDEN RAYS ALL YEAR ’ROUND AND PORT DOU­GLAS’ BALMY CLI­MATE WON’T DIS­AP­POINT.

AC­COM­MO­DA­TIONS ABOUND. WHETHER YOU ARE SAV­ING OR SPLURG­ING, HON­EY­MOON­ERS ARE SPOLIT FOR CHOICE.

with over­seas tourists – there are still plenty of op­tions for those want­ing a se­cluded ro­man­tic es­cape. 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 a per­fect base for those who plan on spend­ing most of their time out and about.

For those who want to be near the town cen­tre but not amongst it, QT Ho­tel (qtho­tel­san­dresorts.com) is where it’s at. With a cool sense of style, this 160-room ho­tel has retro stamped on ev­ery­thing from the ar­chi­tec­ture to the fur­ni­ture. The on­site bar and restau­rant can cater to al­most ev­ery whim. Be­sides rid­ing the larger-thanlife rub­ber duckies in the ho­tel pool or wan­der­ing through the wa­ter gar­dens over­flow­ing with lily pads and palms, take a breather from the crowds in your self-suf­fi­cient suite.

As part of the Ex­ec­u­tive Suite Col­lec­tion (ex­ec­u­tivere­treats.com. au), each prop­erty owner brings their own sense of leisurely 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 you can find shade from the sun- drenched pa­tio be­fore step­ping into a plunge pool. The ex­ec­u­tive chef kitchens will ap­peal to those want­ing to flex their cook­ing mus­cles, and if ro­man­tic din­ners in seclu­sion sound like you (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 ex­tra­or­di­nary eco-re­treat you’ll find great views, serene set­tings and in­sight into the en­vi­ron­ment by way of daily tours through­out the unique rain­for­est, wood­lands, man­groves, and marine coast. Each suite is set ei­ther amongst the jun­gle, in the trop­i­cal rain­for­est or high above the tree­tops with bird­like 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, and some of the 400 species of but­ter­flies and birds that live in the area. Be­cause Thala is si­t­u­ated on a pri­vate 145-acre head­land be­tween Carins and Port Dou­glas, it’s a play­ground for those who like to ob­serve the best of na­ture as well as those who want to get

out amongst it. Em­brace the jun­gle’s earthy beauty with one of the com­pli­men­tary wildlife walks or co­conut tours, where you’ll hear from well-versed spe­cial­ists on the lo­cal re­gion. And while it can be tempt­ing to co­coon in your love nest of a pri­vate suite, don’t miss the star gaz­ing nights, where on­site tele­scopes and binoc­u­lars give you a look into the South­ern Con­stel­la­tions, and the starlight dial is turned up to the max.

You’ll want to wake in time to en­joy the buf­fet breakfast. Trop­i­cal fruit and fresh pas­tries go well with lo­cal cof­fee and a view of Cape Tribu­la­tion, Dou­ble Is­land, World Her­itage forests and Great Bar­rier Reef. All the while, en­joy the sound­track of lo­cal kook­abur­ras – how Aus­tralian can you get?

Port Dou­glas’ scope for re­lax­ation stretches well be­yond where you de­cide to lie your head at night. Whether you’re more of a land crea­ture or sea lover, golden Four Mile Beach is a must. You can ac­cess it from one of the town’s main streets, and at the north­ern rocky head­land, get your heart pump­ing with a climb to the Flagstaff Hill Light­house to sur­vey the sur­round­ings from tow­er­ing heights: be­sides 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’s more than what first meets the eye with Port Dou­glas’ lively town cen­tre. Ex­plore for a half day or mul­ti­ple days, ca­su­ally snorkelling or scuba-ing, there are plenty of tours avail­able cater­ing to all types of trav­ellers. If you’re strapped for time, sail to the lower isles and outer reef in a glass-bot­tom boat run by Trop­i­cal Jour­neys (trop­i­caljour­neys.com), a tour which is nar­rated by a lo­cal guide. As you im­merse your­self into the crys­tal wa­ters, it’s im­pos­si­ble to pre­pare for the ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence of swim­ming along­side the 1500 species of fish, tur­tles, dolphins and rays; or how the hori­zon sparkles in the dis­tance as you glide through the crys­tal wa­ters. Ex­plore un­der­sea co­ral gar­dens that glow flu­o­res­cent as a back­drop to the sur­real marine life (ca­lyp­soreefcruises.com).

Hunter gath­er­ers will find the $200+ in­vest­ment well worth it dur­ing a seven-hour fish­ing trip across the outer reef. You’re bound to hook a va­ri­ety of fish, and they’ll be neatly wrapped up to be taken home. The best part is that it doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re stay­ing in a self- suf­fi­cient abode or a stan­dard ho­tel, most restau­rants in Port Dou­glas are happy to cook your fish to your spec­i­fi­ca­tions for a small charge (drag­onlady.com.au).

When you’re ready to come up for air, kitesurf­ing is pop­u­lar at the south­ern end of Four Mile Beach, and dare­dev­ils can soar against the sun- drenched moun­tains. If you’re good with heights, a he­li­copter ride will give thrill seek­ers an en­tirely dif­fer­ent, and some­what sur­real, per­spec­tive of the reef emerg­ing be­neath sparkling wa­ters.

Just north of Port Dou­glas, you’ll find the Dain­tree Rain­for­est, home to more plants and an­i­mals on earth than any­where else. A World Her­itage area es­ti­mated to be more than 135 mil­lion years old, you can hike some of the 1200 square kilo­me­tres or dip into Cape Tribu­la­tion or Dono­vans Beach.

Ro­mance, na­ture, seclu­sion, lux­ury, di­ver­sity, and two sets of World Her­itage sites to boot. If you’re search­ing for per­fec­tion in one place, it doesn’t get much closer than this.

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 in Cairns, rent a car for the scenic one-hour drive up the coast to reach your hon­ey­moon des­ti­na­tion: Port Dou­glas.

Far left Get your fix of seal­ife with Trop­i­cal Jour­neys.

Be­low Sam­ple the lo­cal craft beer at Hem­ing­way’s.

Bot­tom Be­come one with the wild at Thala Beach Na­ture Re­serve.

Right and be­low QT Ho­tel gives the last word on luxe with its retro styling and airy, spa­cious feel. Bot­tom right Roll from beach lounger to plunge pool at Ex­ec­u­tive Suites’ vil­las.

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