By Samantha Carver
There’s no place like home; particularly if it consists of rainforests and tropical shores.
Now, you may already know that Far North Queensland is deemed ‘The Gateway to Paradise’. And yet, amidst the imagery of dazzling beaches that capture us on TV, there is a lesser known, but equally magnificent side to exploring Port Douglas.
Luckily for visitors, Far North Queenslanders are not only coming clean about their secret spots, but a few benevolent companies are even prepared to guide you there! Here’s your chance to spend a long weekend living like a local…
Start early. You won’t want to miss the mesmerising quality of golden light, quite unlike anywhere else. This will be your mantra of the day; Unlike Anywhere Else, Literally. Because you’ll be exploring the oldest rainforest on the planet. A millennium older than the Amazon, the mysterious Daintree is the emerald in Australia’s crown, with a kingdom of striking endemic wildlife.
Back Country Bliss Adventures pick up guests from their hotel, or you can self-drive and meet the crew in Mossman. They set off just after dawn to avoid the larger tours. One step ahead, you’ll have the towering forest and glistening water holes alone with a small group. The Back Country Bliss guides are locals and an absolute wealth of riveting knowledge; which they deliver with great Aussie humour. Along with the personable entertainment, you’ll be pleasantly stunned at their extraordinary agenda.
By land, by water, by Jungle Surfing
Some of the trees reach 44 metres, some of the shrubs date 120 million years. So it’s little doubt you’ll gaze with astonishment on a wooden boardwalk through this ancient woodland. And after your walk of prehistoric discovery, there’s the chance to further explore with the most dynamic way to see a rainforest; by soaring through its canopies! Jungle Surfing is flying through the Daintree on safe and elevated zip-lines, putting you at eye-level with unseen wildlife and views across the Great Barrier Reef. The activity welcomes guest from ages 3 to 113. And if bounding off branches is a little too racy, your guide has a batch of secret local rainforest pools and pristine beaches to visit.
After swooping through the jungle, you’ll be hungrier than, well, Tarzan swooping through the jungle. Delicious steak, barramundi, and vegetarian pasta are on the menu at the Heritage Lodge, as well as stopping off at Floravilla Ice Cream to indulge in creamy, tropical heaven. (Plenty of locals take the drive out here just for the Daintree flavoured cup, along with the Heritage’s outstanding river views).
Swimming at Heritage Lodge
In saying that, there’ll be many stunning swimming lagoons on your travels today, and one river that requires a boat. Bruce Belchers wildlife spotting cruise is going to show you a local feature and fixture up close; the Saltwater crocodile. Yep, you heard right. From the safety of your barge, you’ll actually spot these 4m living dinosaurs lazing on the banks! And with it, the voyage of a lifetime through a real Jurassic park!
As the day winds down, you’ve completed your first action-packed day in the Wet Tropics. You may feel spent, but it’s Friday, and if you’re living like a local, you’ll head to Barbados for a sunset cocktail. Sip a fruity creation with mountains framing the inlet, then finish the evening with a signature Yabby Linguini at Salsa Bar and Grill.
Today is all about meandering, and you’ll want to hire a car in order to drift! Thrifty and Avis in Port Douglas do great day deals, even if you’re coming from Cairns or Palm Cove. Rise early again, since a highlight of the day is driving into a sunrise north of the sugar-cane fields. The rich diversity between boutique Port Douglas and Mossman’s country town charm is wondrous, as are the unique markets waiting for you. Under the iconic Raintrees in Foxton Avenue, you’ll find a treasure of hand-crafted gifts, art, cakes and local organic fruits. Once you’ve mingled with the locals, head across the road to Raintree Café to meet Back Country Bliss Adventures for another one-of-a-kind experience. Again, by exploring with this company, you’re in for an adventure incomparable to any other; Australia’s only River Drift Snorkelling!
Set Adrift on Bliss
Listen close, because that sound you hear is an ambience usually heard only in dreams. Rainforest songbirds calling and a cascading stream is your soundtrack this morning, as you arrive at an exclusive river entry. By snorkelling and by sled, you’ll explore glistening natural aquariums that are positively teeming with life. The creek here is so crystal clear, you’ll have no problems gazing underwater at astounding blue-eyed fish, turtles and perhaps a water dragon. There’s even a few hidden bonuses; your expert river guide will teach you how to manipulate a flowing current forevermore, and the water, which springs from rain-clouds, leaves a silky rejuvenation to your skin and hair. It’s so pure the locals drink it, which would explain their enviable zest. Be sure to gulp some up over these magical 3 hours. Yet man cannot live on river water alone. So once this exceptional morning is done, stroll to the Beechwood Café for innovative flavours at yesteryear prices.
With a Saturday afternoon ahead, locals usually choose 1 of 2 options; lazing by the pool at QT resort, or wandering around the splendour of Mossman Gorge. If you haven’t seen the gorge before, I’d highly recommend a visit to this fairy-tale domain for its sun-speckled paths, whispering rapids, and mythological heritage.
Sleep in, or rise with the plentiful kookaburras. Either way, locals rarely miss the market on Sunday morning. Another market, you say? Yes, indeed. This weekly Port Douglas extravaganza is the hub and heartbeat of the town. It begins early and winds down after lunch, and differing from the quaint Mossman attraction, the Port Markets boast a whirling vibrancy with a stunning postcard backdrop. From the aromatic smell of Dutch pancakes, to mango chutney and handmade dream-catchers, the stalls here are an iconic must-do.
As the afternoon looms, why not opt for a few more lazy hours soaking up the tropical shores of Four Mile Beach? If you really feel the need for movement, you could always hire a paddle board, and if not, sun-loungers are on offer too. Then as the shadows grow into late afternoon, no self-respecting local would be caught anywhere but watching the sun set over the ocean at Rex Smeal Park. At the end of Macrossan Street, you’ll be mesmerised by a panorama that will make you pinch yourself!
Rex Smeal Park Sunset
And there you have it – how to spend a long weekend in the tropics like a local. Beware though, this lifestyle is catching, and since so many began where you started out, you could find yourself a permanent resident someday too!