PORT DOUGLAS was founded in 1877 as a port town for the goldfields but its prosperity diminished in the 1880s after Cairns was chosen as the terminal for the rail line from Kuranda and Mareeba. To add to it’s woes, the port was destroyed by a cyclone in 1911. About seventy years later in the flashy 1980s, Christopher Skase saw the potential of Port Douglas with the beautiful 4 mile beach, as a holiday resort town. After his company built the first luxury resort, the Mirage, many more investors were attracted to the area resulting in more multimillion dollar resorts, a golf course, heliport, marina, shopping complex, and an avenue of palms lining the main road from the highway being built. In 1991 Skase filed for bankruptcy and fled to Spain from where the Australian Government was never able to extradite him to repay the reputed debt of $172 million!
The small town continues to thrive as a lovely tropical holiday resort full of boutiques, holiday apartments, fine dining and café style restaurants on the pavements and terraces along a kilometre stretch sandwiched between the marina, full of expensive yachts, and the beautiful four mile beach.
The drive from Wonga Beach to Port Douglas was a very pleasant short drive in the sunshine along the coastal road fringed by nice small beaches where we stopped frequently to admire the scenery.
Not much else to comment about this short trip except the sign advertising horse poo. We decided to give it a miss as Mike had just scraped off the free poo residue from the road that sprayed up onto the front of our caravan during our drive to Wonga.
It was strange setting up camp again so soon after we had pulled out of the last caravan park, having been used to many hours of driving between previous stops. Since leaving Wonga beach it has been sunnier and less humid.
During lunch we realised why the northwest of WA have so few flies - they all come to Port Douglas on holiday! Thankfully only a couple came visiting to welcome us at lunch time before flying off elsewhere. The caravan park we stayed at is a few kilometres outside Port Douglas among the sugar cane plantations. It is a pretty caravan park with staghorns and other ferns growing in the crevices of the palm tree trunks. There are also many other varieties of tropical plants dotted around the property which adds to the attractiveness of the park. During the day we could hear the cane harvesting machines working away in the plantations but they were not too noisy and quite interesting to watch.
While Perth was freezing with zero temperatures at night, we had a minimum of 21C! Being in a caravan with so many windows to open including four vents in the pop up part there was enough air flow for us to be able to sleep. Port Douglas is closer to the outer reef of the Great Barrier Coral reef than Cairns so there are a multitude of companies offering snorkelling or scuba diving lessons here. After picking up so many pamphlets about the boat snorkelling tours at the caravan park reception, we were totally confused so we headed into town to the wharf to investigate further. It is a pretty drive along the palm lined wide street with all the luxury resorts and hotels scattered along the road. Being such a small town, we easily found the wharf and the office of the company in whose tour we were the most interested. The guy in the office whose maternal grandmother was a Dunn, convinced us with the help of a video and his easy going manner to book and pay for his “ultimate Snorkelling Adventure Tour” for the Saturday. We then had plenty of time to wander around the wharf and up the short main street to the four mile beach. It is very much a holiday resort town with holiday apartments, resorts, hotels, cafes and fine dining on pavements and terraces. It reminded us a little of the new area of East Perth along the river. The rest of the street was full of boutiques selling bathers, sarongs and sundresses. Also of course the usual souvenir shops and banks for people to get more money out to spend! Our new neighbours told us the main street is new and identical to the main street of Noosa another holiday town further south in Queensland. The first afternoon was enough time to see and get to know the town leaving us the next day to enjoy the beautiful four mile beach. The weather was perfect with just a gentle breeze and 26C water temperature making it easy to go into the sea for a swim. Being low tide the waves were lovely and the wide sandy beach with no rocks or sea weed was perfect for a pleasant long beach walk. At high tide this wouldn’t be possible as we could see the waterline reach right up to the coconut palms. After walking a fair way along the sand (not quite the whole four miles!) we went the 50 metres up the sand to sit in the shade of a coconut tree to eat our bananas and enjoy listening and watching the waves lapping the beach.. There were so many coconuts under the tree and we found a perfect one, which still contained the coconut milk, to take back to the caravan. Mike did a great job opening it with the tent hammer and the pure white flesh was very delicious.
We are surprised how there are coconuts scattered everywhere along the beach and in the parks yet we haven’t seen any for sale. We presume people just pick up what they need, get them out of the husks themselves as we had done, or just can’t be bothered with them. After returning to our car, within an hour we met up with two separate families of South African tourists who were making use of the world cup extended South African school holidays to get away and explore Australia. We suspect they may be on a scouting expedition looking for alternatives to their present home situation. Our visit to town ended with a short drive up Flagstaff hill for a bird’s eye view over four mile beach and the ocean. We enjoyed the very noisy Kookaburras around the caravan park as we had missed listening to them while further north up in the Daintree Forests. In the evening we talked to a young family from Frankfurt who know the small town of Alsfeld where Heidi and Heinz live. We shared our mango port and Tilsit Tableland cheese and spent a very pleasant evening with them. On the Saturday after a very light breakfast we set out for our snorkelling adventure.
The fast half hour speed boat ride out to the inner reefs at 40 knots (80kph), bouncing over the waves, was exciting but a bit bone jarring. It was so much fun snorkelling over the coral amongst the fish
. We were amazed at the many different types of beautifully coloured coral and it was so peaceful just floating above it all watching the fish of all shapes, sizes and colours doing what fish do. It was over all too quickly but it was just long enough for us. Another fast trip back to port, a quick change out of the wetsuits and we walked to the wharf to find the fisherman who sells prawns from his trawler at the weekends.
A short way down the jetty we found the boat and bought a kilo of cooked prawns to have for dinner that night. All the exercise and fresh air had made us hungry so we sat and enjoyed fish and chips dished up in a cardboard cone at one of the quayside cafes.
Another trip up Flagstaff hill to take a photo was made as we had left our camera behind on our last visit.