Port Douglas is an idyllic tropical destination and gateway where two heritage listed sites meet. It’s a city that knows its best assets come plucked straight from its prehistoric origins, including a heaving rainforest and reef, which locals are eager to share with visitors.
A guide to Port Douglas
This ancient rainforest is the traditional country of the Kuku Yalanji people. For an estimated 5,000 years, the Indigenous people of the Daintree have been coexisting with the environment and imbuing the land with dreaming. Referring to the rainforest as ‘Madja’ (elder), the Kuku Yalanji are the custodians of invaluable knowledge of the prehistoric flora and fauna. The Daintree is full of sacred sites and you can experience some of these with permission, or seek out an Indigenous-led tour.
The present-day location of the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council was originally a mission set up by Lutherans on the Bloomfield River and is now a reclaimed area next to the sacred Wujal Wujal waterfalls. The Walker family run walking tours to a 40-metre waterfall, which has been accessible to non-Indigenous people since 2003. Wujal Wujal means ‘many falls’ in the Kuku Yalanji language; the adjoining waterfalls are for women from the community only, but the public fall is a staggeringly beautiful landmark to observe and pay respect to.
Lawrence Mason has conducted over 2,500 tours through the Daintree. His popular Mason Tours 4WD journeys go for a half day (along the Bloomfield Track) or a whole day (to Cooktown) with an Indigenous Guide Walk as an optional add-on. Mason’s family has lived in the rainforest for generations and his knowledge of botany, folklore, traditions and gossip is impressive. His 144-hectare property houses a café where you can sample spiced croc and juicy emu burgers, breadfruit chips and jackfruit – the ‘vegetarian’s pulled pork’. There’s a pristine creek on site that is croc free, and you can pay a small donation to swim in the clean, jade water among jungle perch and cheeky turtles. With butterflies flitting above, it’s a refreshing way to cool down after a day of roaming through the humid forest.
Head to Jungle Surfing for an exhilarating whizz through the tree-tops. Let the expert guides strap your harness into a series of canopy-skimming wires and fly between lush platforms. It’s an adrenaline high but also filled with more botanical facts and perspectives then you can poke a stick at.
Finish up an enriching day in the Daintree at one of the cabins at Cape Trib Beach House Resort. Here the focus is on spending time with other humans and nature rather than your social media feeds; with cabins set back from the secluded beach amongst monstrous fan palm leaves, you have little choice but to soak it all in. Have a beer at the onsite Tides Bar & Restaurant, meet some characters and try to spot fireflies in the darkness.
You can emerge from the trees and be hovering above vibrant coral in under an hour with Ocean Safari Tours. Based in the Daintree, the tours jet you to two separate slices of the Great Barrier Reef in 25 minutes. Before you know it you’re snorkelling above a bustling, technicolour world of turtles, gentle reef sharks, giant clams and kaleidoscopic fish. All snorkelling gear is provided by the crew and the smaller boat (maximum 25 passengers) means a more intimate underwater experience.
If you’re looking for land-based friends without the risk of being eaten by them, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is a short drive from Port Douglas. All of the animals you have seen only on warning signs are here. Our favourite was being up close to the wonky, sassy cassowary. Of course, the safest way to encounter an Estuarine or Freshwater crocodile is behind several other people and behind layers of glass and steel – Hartley’s lagoon has regular boat trips where you can be inches away from those snapping mouths as they jump from the murky waters.
The town comes alive every May with Carnivale. Stay at the pastel-tinged, luxury QT Port Douglas resort and you’re a short skip away from the action (that’s if you can be tempted away from the relaxing poolsides and plentiful buffets of their in-house marketplace Bazaar). Carnivale runs May 26-28 in 2017 and parades the best in food, wine, music and arts that Tropical North Queensland has to offer. Highlights include Spiegeltent cabaret shows, a headline spin from Ben Lee and the signature ‘Paradise on a Plate’ long lunch that takes over the lush, glimmering views of Rex Smeal park with a table laden with local chef created gems