The great win­ter es­cape North Queens­land

Feel the cold? Trop­i­cal Port Dou­glas is idyl­lic in the months when the days are short

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - with Ann Rickard

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.

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