Port Douglas

Closer than any other Australian town to the Great Barrier Reef and nearer the Equator than Fiji or Tahiti, it is no surprise that the town of Port Douglas has been attracting visitors with its tropical allure for over a hundred years.

Once a tiny fishing village, Port Douglas is a picturesque township characterised by old fashioned charm amidst wide shady streets. These streets house a wide choice of visitor accommodation, restaurants that range from sidewalk cafes to the five star award-winning experiences, art galleries, quaint shops and a teeming Sunday market. A world away from the everyday, Port Douglas has no traffic lights, no parking meters and no plans to install either

Situated just 70 kilometres north of Cairns along what could be described as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country, the little fishing village has come of age to cater for the world's leaders and film stars who crave this idyllic corner of Australia to relax and unwind.

First established in 1877 after the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River, Port Douglas grew quickly, and at its peak had a population of 12,000 residents and 27 hotels; and thrived on tin, silver, sugarcane and logging for cedar trees. The dray teams and stage coaches that serviced the goldfields made their way from the Port, down the beach (now Four Mile Beach) to the 'Four Mile' mark which is now called Craiglee. From there they continued over 'The Bump' and then onto the goldfields. It was the primary port for Mossman sugar mill to ship its sugar to the southern cities.

The town had a series of names from its early beginnings - known as Terrigal, Island Point, Port Owen and Salisbury. it was finally named Port Douglas in honour of former Queensland Premier John Douglas.

When the Kuranda Railway from Cairns to Kuranda was completed in 1891, the importance of Port Douglas dwindled along with its population. A cyclone in 1911 demolished all but two buildings in the town.  By 1960 the town, then little more than a fishing village, had a population of 100. In the mid-1980s, tourism boomed in the region with the aid of the late Christopher Skase, an investor who financed the construction of the world-class Sheraton Mirage and Marina Mirage shopping precinct and marina (now known as The Reef Marina).

Today the township's relaxed seaside village ambience blends harmoniously with vibrant tropical style and sophistication. It is this laid back quality that has captured the heart of many an international traveller. Five star or three star, the appeal does not discriminate, and 'Port', as it is affectionately known, has become a popular base from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforests.

More than 100 tours depart from Port Douglas, ranging from cruises on the largest and best equipped catamarans and coaches to the very personal experience of travelling in smaller diving, fishing and four-wheel drive adventure treks. Popular destinations include one of the wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef, which is essentially a giant living organism - home to thousands of species of fish, coral, molluscs and sponges - and the World Heritage listed rainforests of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. The splendour of Bloomfield Falls, Mossman Gorge, the Tropical Tablelands and Cooktown are accessible on day trips from Port Douglas.

In May each year, the iconic tropical port celebrates with the annual Carnivale when the region becomes a living postcard of tropical culture. It is a time when visitors and locals join in and celebrate life in the tropics, its pleasures, weather, culture, art and cuisine with 80 restaurants ready to showcase their talents in this tropical paradise.

This first Carnivale was originally a concept conceived by local identities, Mike Burgess and Moss Hunt, to stage a seven day yacht race from Port Douglas to Lizard Island with a Carnivale to be held in Port Douglas to celebrate the start of the Yacht Race.

The Carnivale side of things really went forward whilst the yacht race in the original plan didn't eventuate because the winds at that time of the year were not conducive to racing north although yacht racing has become an integral part of the ongoing Carnivales.

The mainstay of Carnivale and by far and away the most popular events are the Macrossan Street Party, Beach Day, Food and Wine and Seafood Extravaganza. They have always been the crowd drawers and Carnivale will always be structured around these popular events with various events added in different years.

It is ten days of fun, sport, competitions, arts, culture, and performances followed by the spectacular street parade - floats, street theatre, entertainers, buskers, bands and a fireworks spectacular. Out on the water there is the Cairns Centre Clipper Cup, the Outrigger Championship, or the Combines Club Carnivale Fishing Tournament for a chance to win part of the Pot.

The cosmopolitan nature of Port Douglas also makes the town a bountiful shopping venue, where local artwork, fashion, iconic Australian clothing, opals, pearls and fine jewellery are all available in abundance, and reaching the shopping district takes just minutes from any of the resorts.

The main street of the town, Macrossan Street, is an eclectic mix of art galleries, boutiques, stores and restaurants. Like its spectacular surroundings, Port Douglas has so much to offer and a stroll down the main street could take hours or in fact days! It is a very different world to the southern cities of Australia, and similarly the fashions of Port Douglas reflect the casual but elegant style of the town. It is a locale where preferred styles reflect the same sense of fun and relaxation as guests are likely to experience while moving about town.

Should you be in 'Port' on a Sunday, then the seaside Sunday markets, established at this northern end of town beside the famous St Mary's Church, are a relaxed and quaint way to meet the locals whilst enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and natural surrounds. Of course, an attractive shopping experience is not Port Douglas' only drawcard.

A swimming lagoon is planned for this end of town beside the old sugar wharf, and when completed will be a wonderful drawcard to cool off in the tropical heat.

Activities in 'Port' include two golf courses, hot-air ballooning, sailing and snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef and walking through the ancient and mystifying Daintree rainforests.  The rainforest is not far away. Just a short drive north of Port Douglas through the canefields, backed by rainforest clad mountains, Mossman Gorge, adjacent to the town of Mossman, is the closest point of entry to the Daintree National Park. Here easy tracks and boardwalks give way to wonderful experiences within the age old, pristine rainforest - the perfect place to cool off on a hot day.

At the end of an exciting day perhaps on the Daintree River, snorkelling on The Reef, or walking through the age old rainforest, Port Douglas provides a wonderfully hedonistic environment in which to relax by the pool, luxuriate in a massage or to relish exotic cocktails on a balmy tropical evening while dining at one of the area's many fine restaurants.

Port Douglas is very fortunate to have attracted some of the finest chefs in the country who have decided to make this paradise their home.  Whilst it may have been a 'sea change' for them, it is a most wonderful indulgence for the visitor to be able to experience these taste sensations for the palate.  Dining is alfresco at many of the fine establishments, or in air-conditioned comfort, or .... even in the rainforest! 

This is what holidays in the tropics are all about!  Combining eco-friendly attractions with balmy days that dissolve seamlessly into cool tropical evenings under velvet starry skies - the relaxing Port Douglas experience is as refreshing in reality as it is sensually seductive. Nowhere else does simplicity seem so satisfying.

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