The great winter escape North Queensland
Feel the cold? Tropical Port Douglas is idyllic in the months when the days are short
WHEN I moved to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne in 1992 I thought Queenslanders were having a joke when they told me they felt the winter chill.
“Are you mad?” I said more than once in June, July and August when somebody said they had a problem getting out of bed on cold winter mornings.
When you were newly arrived from Melbourne and used to morning temperatures barely moving up from minus, a Sunshine Coast winter morning felt positively balmy.
That was then. This is now.
I am the first to moan about our winter blues. It’s the thinning blood, you see.
As soon as the end of May is nigh and darkness befalls each day at 5pm it is time to reach for thick slippers and hot water bottles.
I never thought I’d ever say “I have to escape the Sunshine Coast for the winter.” But it is so.
Port Douglas, sassy, tropical and warm, is perfect during winter.
The debilitating humidity has gone, the temperature averages about 25, the sun is still shining brightly and darkness doesn’t descend until 6pm.
I have come to Port (as the locals call it) to trial the town as a place for future winter retirement. In forthcoming years I may caravan up here, join the grey nomad pilgrimage north every April-May, but for now, I want luxe.
As I sit by the pool at the Freestyle Resort in Port’s Davidson St, with the sun on my back and the warm pool water within toe-reach, I am feeling unbecomingly smug. Winter might make its official presence in just five days but it feels like the height of summer here, without the sticky clothes and frizzy hair. Bliss.
The billion or so dollars’ worth of yachts and boats in Port’s Reef Marina make you feel like a rich person, even though you don’t own one. You can always get on board for a charter or a day trip out to the Reef or Lowe Isles – almost as good.
Port’s Macrossan St is not crowded but has enough people to make you feel alive, and there is always the comfort of knowing the cane toad races at the iconic Iron Bar Hotel will be there if you feel like placing a bet. At On The Inlet, George the Groper (weighing 250kg) pops in around 4pm every day to delight afternoon drinkers. On Sundays, Anzac Park comes alive with hundreds of market stalls, manned mostly by locals selling their craft.
At Freestyle Resort – within easy walking distance of the town – the tropical vibe in the luxuriant gardens lets you know you are way up north. Plants that attract the beautiful Ulysses butterfly abound in the garden. Watching for a flash of luminous blue butterfly wings is a tropical thrill. Lush growth surrounds Freestyle’s salt-water pool, itself surrounded by a moat with floating Monet-style water lilies. It’s hard to move away.
Freestyle’s self-contained kitchens mean you don’t have to eat out every night, although you will want to. There is fresh seafood waiting at 2 Fish restaurant, and at the always-busy Salsa Bar, owner-chef Bill Conway is sending out pulled-pork filled piquillo poppers that make you want to stay in Port forever.
Four Mile Beach is just a couple of hundred metres across the road from Freestyle.
And a long walk on the clean sand with the palms swaying and the Coral Sea lapping is enough to convince anyone with an aversion to winter that a move up north is deserved.