Port Douglas, Queensland Travel Guide and Things to Do: Nine Highlights
THE SINGLE NEIGHBORHOOD
Anzac Park is a nexus of the primo pleasures of Port Douglas – a palm-fringed park by the Coral Sea, a picture-perfect whiteboard chapel, a beautiful old hotel and restaurants serving up chic meals. Treat yourself to the Headland Walk at sunset, arriving just as the trees on Macrossan Street begin to sparkle and the crowds get active. Gorgeous.
THE ONLY HOTEL
Christopher Skase put Port Douglas on the map with this 295-room resort that was famously “Pixie pink.” After 25 years (and a $43 million refit in 2016), the Sheraton Grand Mirage has been made whiter and lighter, but still retains its Queensland swagger. It has two acres of turquoise lagoon (53 rooms have balconies with plunge pools), a super slick restaurant called Harrisons (run by Marco Pierre White’s sidekick Spencer Patrick), and a golf course designed by Peter Thomson. It also faces 500 meters from Four Mile Beach – so you can go from glamorous resort to wave-tickled idyll in just a few steps. Rooms from $300 a night. See marriott.com.au
THE SINGLE BAR
The Port Douglas bar scene is truly a thing of many splendours. You can hang out at the Iron Bar, mingle with the botox n’ Blahnik brigade in Barbados, and even pretend you’re in 1930s Havana at Jimmy Rum’s Mixing Lounge (opened by James Gorman, producer of Sniper with Tom Berenger). Should I choose one? Damn, go to the courthouse. This grand old Queensland pub (1878) is all sea air and good weather. Nice rooftop bar too. See ironbarportdouglas.com.au; barbadosportdouglas.com.au; jimmyrums.com; courthousehotelportdouglas.com.au
THE ONLY RESTAURANT
Another tough choice, but Salsa perfectly embodies that “throw on the Gucci heels and live it” ethos. Spacious dining room with a cooling breeze and comforting views? Yes. Exuberant and slightly ridiculous cocktails? Yes. The waiter is clearly having as much fun as you? Yes. It also shows complete respect for seafood – think grapefruit-lime oysters, sliced and “flame-kissed” tataki salmon belly, and red claw linguine (a signature dish that graces the menu. for 26 years). See salsaportdouglas.com.au
THE UNIQUE CULTURAL CENTER
For a village of just 3,500 people, Port Douglas is quite the festival town. In October, against all odds, the community came together to take over the headlining food festival Taste Port Douglas with chefs like Philip Johnson (E’cco), Adam Wolfers (Gerard’s Bistro), Ben Williamson (Agnes) and Laura Sharrad (Nido/much-loved Masterchef finalist). A long lunch under giant fig trees, a Harry Hawker Food Village by the Sheraton lagoons, gourmet golf and masterclasses galore, reminded everyone how fabulous festivals are in the tropics. Everything will be in place in 2022 with the Hot & Steamy LGBTQI+ festival in February, Carnivale (starting the tourist season) in May and Taste Port Douglas in August. See visitportdouglasdaintree.com
THE SINGLE BEACH
Frankly, you could throw a misdirected Mango in any direction and hit a beach to die for. But why bother when you have Four Mile Beach? Although a misnomer, it is still very long at 3.5 kilometers and ridiculously empty. At the end of Port Douglas is the small Lighthouse Cafe which offers coffee shots from 7am; at the other end is a river mouth; and in between is a palm-fringed swoosh from South Pacific tropes.
THE SINGLE DISH
Adrian Friend and his family have been selling coconuts in the Port Douglas Sunday markets for 20 years. Pick a fresh coconut for $8 and drink it. Adrian will then crack the nut open and attack the flesh with a homemade drill bit. When fluffy and moist, he adds naturally ripened organic banana (so sweet it tastes like caramel) and tops it with coconut blossom nectar that looks a bit like honey. Questions? See portdouglasmarkets.net
THE SINGLE VISIT
For an intimate, convenient, and thoughtful reef excursion, try a half-day Sailaway cruise. You will leave Douglas at 1pm aboard a beautiful catamaran with just 32 other adults and a marine biologist for company. Snorkel the fringing reef off the nearby Low Isles (165 species of coral and turtles galore), take a glass-bottom boat tour, and explore the island with its 1878 lighthouse. After sailing at sunset, you are back at 6:30 p.m. Lunch, afternoon tea and drinks are included for $283 per person. See sailawayportdouglas.com
THE SINGLE VIEW
Logically speaking, it should be the endless beauty of the beach and mountains offered by the Headland Lookout. However! For a somewhat unusual perspective, take a peek inside St Mary’s By the Sea. The small white Catholic chapel in Anzac Park was built in siding in 1881 before being moved to its present location among the palm trees of Anzac Park. View? Well, that comes courtesy of a substantial window in the wall behind the altar overlooking the Coral Sea. Uniquely, he invites congregations to fill their souls with vision as well as dogma. See stmarysbythesea.com.au
ONE MORE THING
There is a strange connection between Port Douglas and 9/11, as the city knew something big had happened moments before the rest of the world. Bill and Hilary Clinton were on vacation, having a drink at the Iron Bar on Macrossan Street. Suddenly, security guards took the former first family onto a waiting plane, and the road to Cairns was sealed off. Spectators will remain puzzled until television screens begin to show the vision of the first smoking tower.
Max Anderson was a guest at the Sheraton Grand Mirage.