Long time contender on the must-visit agenda, Port Douglas remained an unchecked destination on my ever-growing list of places to visit. Blasphemous I know, given that this beautiful coastal town of Far North Queensland is less than a four hour direct flight from Melbourne, Australia. Even more blasphemous, given that the state of Queensland is always warm and an ideal Winteruption, compared to the other five contending states of Australia. And if you’re from the Northern hemisphere, then a visit to Queensland, commonly known as The Sunshine State makes even more sense. Temperate waters, balmy evenings, warm, sun drenched days, minimal fear of stingers and tropical storms, makes Far North Queensland the perfect Wintervention destination. Admittedly, I am Australian, so naturally I’m biased, and after last weekend justifiably so.
Fatigued, yet instantly revived by the heat upon landing, I felt the adrenalin akin to only a wanderlust, smitten traveller kick in. The kind of adrenalin that allows one to forget the sleep deprivation, the hours in transit, and every discomfort of economy class. Walking across the tarmac the endorphins and serotonin begin to surge, power enough to fuel a small village. My hair, instantly twice the size from the humidity, and my only thought, “Hello Port Douglas” and “Show Me The Coconut”. The effortless transfer from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas is attributable to the hospitality and well run concierge desk of The Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas. Invited guest of the hotel, to experience the relaunch of the $43 Million dollar newly refurbished hotel, I was raring to experience all that the region offered.
Check In: The Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas
The 60 minute airport drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is scenic and coastal, following the Captain Cook Highway. An avenue of palm trees announce the arrival when entering the resort’s driveway, whilst the white façade building triggers memories of my time spent in Hawaii. Welcome to the tropics. Simply stated, the new look resort is lovely. A contemporary fusion of relaxed island-luxe meets non-pretentious wealth. At least as a world traveller, that’s how it feels to me. It feels family friendly, and clearly caters to the discerning business traveller.
Concerted effort has been invested financially into developing a technology focused hotel. The result evident in tech-sensored room lighting and air-conditioners. Sensitive, and automatically responsive to the number of bodies in the room, the units adjust accordingly. The most obvious technology advancement is the hotel’s implementation of the new SPG Keyless entry system. An industry pioneer, offering the first truly keyless and mobile hotel entry option. The first of the Sheraton properties within the Asia Pacific region, the system uses Bluetooth technology via the SPG app (free to sign up). Allowing room access via a mobile, Android or iOS , smart watch or tablet, once loaded, a virtual key is transmitted from the reception desk, enabling guests to swipe in and out of their room. Security measures such as data encryption for privacy and photo ID upon check in is part of the process for safety. However for the anti-tech generation the traditional swipe access cards are still an available option.
Mozzing from reception after the preliminary introductions, I literally felt the tension ease from my shoulders (Disclaimer: I’m a Mother to young daughters, you feel my parental tension?), as I walked towards my room. No. Hurry. At. All. Why hurry when boardwalks overlook ice-blue colored lagoons, flanked by tropical palms and powder pink walls which pander to my fixations of all things feminine. Did I mention I’m a Mother to young daughters? Yes, now you see! Allow me this medicinal palm tree refuge. I made my way to my room, 1 of 294 rooms at the hotel. I opened the plantation shutters and quite literally squealed. If you followed me on Instagram Stories or Snapchat, you’ll know first hand I exaggerate not. This actually happened. I could continue to wax lyrical about the gold accents throughout the hotel, or the light filled interior of the Restaurant Feast, where I ate breakfast daily. Chefs waiting at interactive cooking stations, ready to cook my eggs just as I liked them, but a picture is a worth a thousand words, so enjoy the visual hotel tour below for yourself.
Rex Smeal Park
Morning one. I was relieved to discover that I did not dream the entire day before. I was in fact awaking in Port Douglas – the palm trees do not lie! In pursuit of the sun, I set out with Hubby at 5:45am before the sun arose to acquaint ourselves with the coastal town. I’m generally a good sharer in life, but when it comes to preliminary introductions with a new destination, I don’t like sharing. At least not at first. I always want to steal a piece of it for myself before the world awakes. Before tourists crowd the streets, and before the masses have emotionally taxed the locals. I need to feel the heart-beat of a place in it’s authentic sleepy state. This attitude of enlightened selfishness led me hand in hand with my husband during the wee hours of the morning, via the streets of Port Douglas towards Rex Smeal Beach Park. Shrouded in semi-darkness, save for the illuminated palm trees as we left the Sheraton Mirage grounds, we arrived within 45 minutes. I’d heard a rumour that the sunrise from this vantage point was beautiful. The rumour proved true. With distant views of the Anzac Mountains, pastel skies and still waters the 5am wake up was worth it. A quick stop in at the Coffee Club in Macrossan Street for the all-important coffee and we made our way back to the hotel on foot. This time we chose the scenic route home along Four Mile Beach.
Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach, as it’s name suggests, stretches for four miles, with unobstructed nature views, and white sand. Conveniently accessible from within many hotels, including the Sheraton Mirage. This beach is uniquely ideal for bike riding as the sand is well compacted, making riding possible. This stretch of sand is like 5th Avenue, New York in popularity, and every man and his dog were out by 8am enjoying a leisurely stroll along here. (Tip, come early to savour a piece of your own unobstructed paradise). If biking or walking isn’t your thing, we did spot a large yoga class prostrate on the sand, whilst ‘brave’ others swam in the beach clearly marked, “Crocodiles may be present in these waters”. Make of that what you wish, but if you’re a tourist you should definitely heed the signs. I certainly did, and opted to enjoy the stunning hotel pools instead, an easy feat given that the Sheraton have six on offer.
You should know, the International guests within my tour group audibly squealed whilst visiting this Sanctuary. Squeals of excitement, and delight as we were permitted the very rare privilege of holding a Koala. Squeals at the sight of wallaby’s and kangaroos within arms reach and most definitely heavy breathing at the sight of HUGE spiders suspended en-mass inches from our head via a walk way. The educational, yet entertaining tour at the Wildlife Habitat is unlike any zoo, or commercial animal attraction. Here, the welfare and rehabilitation of many of the animals are obvious in the attentive nature of the staff. An experience suited to adults and children alike, you will see a variety of birds, including a Cassowary, Mammals, Reptiles and a variety of other Woodland, Rainforest and Wetlands creatures.
Be sure to visit their website for a more comprehensive list of experiences.
Hungry? Thirsty? – Hemingways Brewery, Reef Marina, Port Douglas
Beer. No preservatives. Four Ingredients. Beer. Aha, now that I have your attention, let’s talk about this fabulous new, seven weeks young, addition to the Reef Marina. Summer’s song is in the air with the arrival of newcomer Hemingways Brewery to the area. Synonymous with good times and coastal-cool, this micro-brewery is the inspired result of two locals’ quest for a premium Queensland beer. A tale too many, a shared love for marlin fishing, and the conviction that life is all about “a good yarn”, saw the birth of what is and was my favourite place to eat and drink in Port Douglas. There’s something deliciously potent about the river views, the boats docked within the marina, the stunning color palette of turquoise furniture, and the all important food and craft beers. The food is fantastic. The service efficient. The beer…. you should try it!
QuickSilver Reef Cruises – Great Barrier Reef
On board Quicksilver’s Wavepiercing Catamaran so began my journey to the Outer Reef. 72 kilometres from Port Douglas my introduction to this bucket-list activity involved swimming in waters that is best described as an ‘other worldly blue’. No filter needed here. Eyes filled with wonder, a heart filled with pride, I gazed out at the Agincourt Reef and knew that I was within hallowed territory. The beauty is mesmerising. Uncertain about snorkelling, and intimidated by the huge, fat fish closest to the vessel, the lovely manager of Quicksilver Cruises, Meghan, literally took my hand and provided a one on one crash course for 30 plus year old babies (ie: me), on how to snorkel. Exceling in the customer service department, she then swam by my side patiently until convinced that I wouldn’t drown (this convincing may or may not have taken 30 minutes on my part). The time aboard, all inclusive of equipment, lunch, transfer and swim time, is one I’d repeat in a heartbeat, but next time I’d bring my whole family. Nobody should miss out on something so special and enjoyably novel.
Note: For safety, young children, or weak swimmers may be better suited to alternative snorkelling locations like Low Isles.
GBR Helicopter Tours
Airborne, overlooking The Great Barrier Reef from the comfort of a GBR Helicopter tour, a welling sense of patriotic pleasure kicked in. The iridescent blue of this Natural World Wonder left me quite literally in awe of the magnitude and unrivalled beauty of the Reef. An experience unlike any other, this 10 minute scenic flight was a sufficient teaser into a ‘Fly Out or Fly Back’ option that I will most definitely choose next time. On this occasion, I arrived via boat, speeding towards Quicksilver Cruises’ pontoon. Moments later, take off from the pontoon with a surreal view of the Reef below. These are the moments we live for. The helicopter seats 5 passengers, plus pilot. I felt safe and secure the entire time, testament to the OHS briefing, track record and professionalism of GBR Helicopter’s. The experience was a first for me. First time in a helicopter, and first time seeing the Reef. It will definitely not be my last, needless to say, “I’m hooked”. Hooked on the wonder of a region so unspoilt. A playground and gateway for every nature loving, adventure seeking, yogi and thrill seeker. Where Reef meets Rainforest, and the only place where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet. Frankly, I am quite literally hooked on all fifty shades of blue within The Great Barrier Reef and this idyllic Coral Sea town of Port Douglas, which I look forward to exploring again, sooner rather than later.
NB: Please note, this suggested activities list is by no means the full extent of the many experiences available within the region. Merely, it is a list of activities which I experienced firsthand and enjoyed. That being said, if time permitted, I would have loved to visit, Mossman Gorge, The Daintree Rainforest and the many markets on offer for that clichéd coconut and island food fun, but there’s always next time.
Note: This visit was during the last week of August, still Winter, but so beautiful and so perfect.