48 hours in Port Douglas
The word ‘resort’ must have been coined for the palm tree-fringed town of Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland. And not just for the manicured golf courses, seemingly endless Four Mile Beach, and plethora of spas.
It helps, of course, that the Great Barrier Reef is a quick zip or sail away from the marina and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest cradles the town.
But we reckon it’s mostly because, up here, relaxation is treated as a serious sport. If you’re headed to “Port” (as the locals call it), chances are you’re in need of a cocktail and a sun lounger.
If you should want to fill your days with more than the pool bar menu, try this 48-hour Port Douglas itinerary on for size.
Fly into Cairns, hire a car and drive one hour north on the winding and impossibly scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive. Don’t forget a stop at Rex Lookout for sweeping views back towards Cairns with booming green mountains tumbling into the Coral Sea.
Depending on the weather, you might catch paragliders as they’re lifted from the headland and ride the thermals like an albatross.
2PM: Check-in at Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort
For the last 20 or so years, there’s been a bit of an embarrassing secret hidden behind the dunes along Four Mile Beach.
What once was a beacon of lavish excess and luxury had fallen into a salmon-pink ’80s hangover. Like shoulder pads. Or a really bad mullet.
In short, the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas was just all wrong, but an extensive $43 million refurbishment has whisked it through customs into the 21st century, and ‘chic’ is the only word to describe it.
The salmon has been toned down, the two hectares of saltwater lagoons (yes, really!) have been refreshed with an Icelandic blue undertone, and 26 poolside cabanas have been installed.
In the rooms, driftwood timber tiled floors create a harmonious base for a colour palette of crisp white and pale grey, punctuated with timber furnishings and rattan light shades. Make this your playground for your stay (if you can get in… it’s tres popular right now!).
6PM: Local brews and chews at Hemingway’s
These days, you ain’t hip unless you have a craft beer to your name, and ever since Hemingway’s opened the doors to their Hamptons-esque microbrewery, bar and restaurant at Port Douglas Marina in August, the locals have been saying a silent ‘thank you’ prayer to the beer gods.
Utilising the pure waters of Mossman Gorge, the team currently have six signature brews with names like Pitchfork Betty’s pale ale (named after a rather infamous local publican), and Hard Yards American dark lager (named after the treacherous Bump Track that provided the only road in and out of Port during the gold rush era). If you ask them nicely, they’ll show you through the temperature controlled brewing room.
The best way to sample them all is with a tasting paddle – which includes five Hemingway’s brews and one feature beer from a guest brewery. When we visited we sampled an Ostra Vez from Sierra Nevada, brewed with prickly pear cactus.
Order some share plates (we can vouch for the onion rings and duck wings!), or something from the grill to share. The spent grain from the brewery finishes off the grass-fed beef from Julatten, just up the road.
If you want a beer to go, they offer growlers and, more impressively, crowlers (giant cans) sealed with C02.
8AM: Boho breakfast
After a dip in one of the 13 pools at Sheraton Mirage, you could dominate the buffet breakfast, or take a 20-minute wander along the beach into town to fuel up at Betty’s Bohemian Cafe.
We love the lace and peacock chair decor and superfood-infused menu with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
9AM: Shopping on Macrossan Street
Suitably fuelled up for the day, let the shopping adventure begin! Start with a second coffee at Sparrow Espresso and browse the racks of Ahoy Trader, where you’ll want to buy every one of artist Jai Vasicek’s ceramic crosses and wall tiles (he may be based in Byron Bay these days but Jai spent a chunk of his childhood on a yacht off Port Douglas).
Work your way down the street until you hit Pebble on Wharf Street – a cute cafe-slash-boutique with lashings of driftwood, white muslin, and Cool Earth Beads that are designed to be soaked in water and refrigerated to beat the heat of a Tropical North Queensland summer.
Loop back to pick up a sweet treat for later at the Hungry Hummingbird Treatery (near Coles), home of the Cake Baked in a Jar, amongst a table laden with other more-ish goodies.
If shopping ain’t your bag, there are plenty of great pubs to choose from on Macrossan Street, or a butt-burning walk will take you up Flagstaff Hill for cracking views over Four Mile Beach and the town itself.
12PM: Slip into Carribean mode with lunch at Barbados
Warning: Sinking into one of the shoes-off, cushioned lounge booths at Barbados is moving into dangerous territory. If you have the entire afternoon to spend here (highly recommended) order large on the cocktails and watch the boats come and go from the marina while the sun turns the sky to sherbert.
But if you’re just dipping a toe in for lunch, order a large sashimi platter loaded with fresh catches, dunk some salt and Szechuan squid into Thai sweet chilli dipping sauce, and vow to return for sundowners later.
By the way, if you’re gaga for the decor, slip around the corner to their store Martinique to invest in some island style for your home.
2PM: Hit the water
The Great Barrier Reef is beckoning, and there are plenty of options for a half-day jaunt from the marina.
Tropical Journeys have a new half-day Low Isles tour, which gets you there in under 30 minutes and allows plenty of time for snorkelling over the incredible coral and underwater life, or watch it all from above in their glass-bottom boat.
For something a lil’ different, and if you have a whole day to spare, jump aboard the authentic Chinese Junk ‘Shaolin’ for a sail under the red sails to Low Isles, with snorkelling included. They also offer a lunch cruise and sunset sail.
If you’re more interested in crocs than clams, the gorgeous Lady Douglas riverboat will take you through the unspoilt mangrove channels of Dickson Inlet in search of the prehistoric reptiles, with plenty of other wildlife spotting opportunities.
AM: Mossman Gorge Tour
A short 15-minute drive out of town will find you at the striking Mossman Gorge Centre, where Kuku Yalanji guide Tom is just one of the amazing traditional owners sharing the stories of this banu bubu (water place).
We start with a smoke cleansing before proceeding on the 90-minute tour, where Tom gives us an accelerated bush tucker and traditional medicine lesson in his stunning backyard.
We see the strangler figs that inspired director James Cameron’s epic movie, Avatar, spy a teeny bearded dragon (which incidentally are forbidden to eat for the Kuku Yalanji people), and learn about the Daintree Nut. “It tastes like a mix of almond and coconut,” Tom tells us.
Tom runs his hands over a log, spongy with fine green moss. “We use this as a baby nappy, baby bed, and we put it on a fire to stop mosquitos.”
As he touches and smells and explains his way along the pathway, we realise Tom knows every tree and leaf and brush turkey that calls this patch of the Daintree Rainforest home. He demonstrates with traditional clay paints. “Ochre is more valuable than gold,” he explains. “White is spirits… black is death.”
After we sit mesmerised by the rushing water over giant granite boulders and prepare to leave this magical place, we follow Tom’s lead and put the call out to thank Mother Nature for handing it over to us, with a call of “madja madja”.
Dreamtime Gorge Walks run five times daily and are a wonderful precursor for visiting the Gorge waterholes and walking platforms independently.
1PM: Order the Reuben at Little Larder
Back in town, head for the locals’ favourite sandwich shop, Little Larder, and don’t go past the Reuben on rye.
This cute little cafe also brews their own kombucha.
2PM – Check into QT Port Douglas
The QT Port Douglas will always bring a smile to your face, with its sunny disposition and very Port Douglas resort vibes.
As soon as you spot the white mini Moke and pastel cruiser bikes at reception, and meet the staff dressed in their spunky green pants and suspenders, you’ll start to understand what the QT brand is all about.
If you’re visiting in spring, check out the Moonlight Cinema schedule to watch a movie under the stars on the lawn next door.
3PM: Spa treatment at SpaQ
Book yourself in for some ‘me time’ at the fun and cheery SpaQ. You don’t have to make your mind up about what treatment you’ll have before you arrive, either.
Simply book yourself in for a block of time, then you can go with whatever takes your fancy when you arrive and pop on your hoodie robe (just like Justin Bieber did at the QT Gold Coast).
7pm: Dinner at Bazaar
Cap off your Port Douglas rendezvous with the best kind of food coma.
Bazaar at the QT is what they like to call an ‘interactive marketplace’, which basically means you can eat yourself stupid with made-to-order dishes on top of the sumptuous buffet spread, starting with fresh seafood from the region, and ending with crispy churros.
Wear your stretchy pants.