(Travelled: Jan ’16)
This is part 2 of my Port Douglas snap shot which goes through the local attractions we experienced. For any information on Port Douglas Travel, Accommodation, Weather, or Food, click here to see Part 1 of this article.
Market – We went to the market at the end of Macrossan Street the first morning we were there, which was a Sunday. It was interesting looking around at the local fare and seeing what was happening in that part of the world. It’s custom to wear sandals and thongs, but there was mud here due to the recent rain, so beware. You’ll be obliged to buy something, just for the hell of it, just as I did with my body crystal and our shared mango drink (where else in the world do you buy mango drink from people who grow them in their backyard and then turn it into liquid in front of you?)
Summary: Nice to check out if you’re there on a Sunday for a bit of a stroll, but don’t lose sleep if you have other things to do either.
Breakfast with the Birds – An event at the Wildlife Habitat Centre, you can do either breakfast or lunch, but we opted for breakfast and arrived to a cold and hot assortment of breakfast foods, sitting amongst a large outdoor canopied area where birds suddenly appeared, or watched you from nearby trees! It was certainly an experience and something different, and if you have kids, (or a big kid who likes birds, *ahem Hubbie*) you can get up close and personal, talk to the experienced staff there, and take photos too.
Just don’t go too close, please. I’m not saying it’s not allowed, there were just some visitors there who were asking for it as they shoved their big-ass lens camera into the black cockatoo’s field of vision and then DIDN’T get bitten. Unfortunately. Have some respect for these creatures and hang back. You have a big-ass lens, don’t you? Use it.
Following this we decided quite spontaneously to join the Rainforest Walk – this was fantastic! Again, it was fun for baby girl, and the other big kid lover of birds as well as me because hey, I like hearing about these different animals and learning about their way of life, and our guide that day was fantastic, enthusiastic and very informative, making the experience all the more interesting. We saw a Cassowary bird, which baby girl fed watermelon to, an experience that has stayed with us all since, especially her! And got to meet and fly along with many cheeky parrots.
Of course you don’t have to join a tour to check out the wild habitat there. At the conclusion of that tour we went to see some crocs (and one giant one!) on our own walk, and then we concluded with a bit of a shop in the retail section before leaving. Our tickets to the Breakfast with the Birds meant that we could also come back once more for free, which was a great offer, but we didn’t take it up. We had much more sight-seeing to do!
Summary: A great experience for kids and bird-lovers alike, and quite informative too. Eating and being in the same room as the birds is an interesting concept, so I think this is one you have to do for something a bit different and memorable.
Mossman Gorge – If you were looking for paradise on earth, this is where you would find it. In particular, in the swimming hole within Mossman Gorge.
But what… ‘Hole?’ ‘Swimming Hole?’ That is the worst description I have ever heard to describe the beauty I came across that day there. And yet, that is how it was described to me. ‘Hole’ is nothing close to, nowhere near enough a word to describe this paradise. In fact, a hole is as far away a description to describe this paradise as literarily possible (did I just make up a word?) Here are some photos (which do no justice to the real thing):
We came to the Mossman Gorge centre, having heard about the ‘swimming hole’ there, with that Rainforest being the one we chose because quite simply, it wasn’t too far from our resting point, and we wanted to make the most of our time. In another trip, we might do the Daintree as well (as well as the Mossman again!) but this trip we had to be time-efficient. At the centre, where there is a retail shop, café, and plenty of walkers refuelling or getting ready to set off walking around the rainforest, we purchased a ticket to board the bus that took us into the heart of the Rainforest, which was about a 5-10 minute drive. Many people did this too, coming with towels… Hmmm. The ticket specifically said “NO SWIMMING!”
We had no idea where we were going as we arrived at the destination, but we exited the bus and followed the towel-holders into the rainforest, amidst towering trees and walking on plank-like bridges. The lady at the retail shop had told me it was a minute’s walk to the swimming hole, and yet it was more like 5. Difficult only because I was carrying a tired baby girl in my arms.
But she sure woke up when we got there.
In the gentle slide as the earth dipped down towards the water’s entrance, there were people everywhere: amidst trees far back, along this sloping slightly muddy path, and then, in and amongst the beautiful and pristine waters. It ranged from people decked out in swimwear and the tiniest of bikinis, to people who had like us, not been prepared for an all-in-body-water experience, and had just come with shorts and thongs.
It was magical. Truly mesmerising. I took off baby girl’s dress and let her immerse herself in just her singlet. What the hell. She only had the best time of her life (well one of, we are pretty cool parents). I was happy I had on my high shorts, and took off my thongs, wading in the cool water up to my knees. We stood. We watched. We breathed. We took in everything, and I was moved to tears.
Everyone who was there, was doing just as we were. Just being. All these people, ranging from the littlest of tots to the oldest grand-dads, were there, with accents from all over the world, and they were, just still in the water, wading or relaxing from a distance, and taking in the beauty that is Mossman Gorge.
And you know what I felt in that moment? I felt so damn proud to be Australian. This amazing country of ours had a rainforest and a special slice of paradise that people from all over were coming to see. I felt so blessed, and I still do. I think what made the moment even more special was the fact that we had come not expecting anything – all I thought we would do is wade in the water. That’s it. We waded alright. But we stepped into precious beauty and untold magic when doing so. It gave me chills, and when I think about it, I still get goosebumps.
Summary: If you can’t tell from my short essay on Mossman Gorge – GO THERE. Your children will love it, and so will you. And yes, there are signs and things that say ‘do not swim’… so I’m not telling you or endorsing you to swim. Just use your damn common sense. (If you see a fin or tentacles or jagged bits popping up through the water, run).
This place will remain in my heart forever more.
4 Mile Beach – Another find. I said Mossman Gorge is like paradise on earth, right? Well if you’re looking for heaven on this planet, you need not go any further than down Macrossan street until you hit water. And then just thank me later.
This was another unexpected ‘Wow’ moment. I think we had had many difficult moments with a tired and under-slept baby girl, so to not know how great it would be only to then discover that this beach was unbelievably unreal, was another very happy moment for all.
I was told by many people before coming to Port Douglas that you cannot swim in their waters due to creepy water creatures. I thank God that I did not listen to any of those people. I mean, we got accommodation with a pool in case, but still, I’m so happy we did it our way.
See that? That is netting. It stretched fairly wide, meaning it kept out all nasties – crocs, jellyfish and sharks! Those were the creatures actually listed on a board at the beach, advising swimmers to beware. So if you want to have a pleasurable swimming experience, possibly the nicest of your life, then go ahead, swim safely within the large net. But if you like to live on the edge with risk of being stung/bitten/eaten, then by all means, BE MY GUEST.
Swimming in the netting did by no way diminish our swimming experience. It was clean, it was safe, and the water was exactly the same as the water that wasn’t protected by nets – just without the scare factor. Oh, did I mention this?
28 degrees my friends. Read it and weep.
I loved this beach, and my only regret is that we didn’t have more beach days. We spent about 3 hours here, getting here early on a Tuesday morning before 9, grabbing an umbrella’d chair to leave our stuff (you need to pay though, it gives you a few hours) and then soaking up the incredible Port Douglas Sun, Surf and Sand.
My repetitive thought during our time there? ‘Take it in, take it in, take it in…remember this moment.’
I don’t need to sell you anymore on it, do I? Just in case:
Summary: Go to 4 Mile Beach. Parents and children alike will LOVE it.
Calypso Half-Day Great Barrier Reef Tour – We had really wanted to see some of the Great Barrier Reef, but neither hubbie or I being scuba divers or snorkelers or having even tried it before in any capacity, we wanted a beginners version. We ended up going with Calypso only because our first choice, travelling to and spending a day at Quicksilver’s platoon, was booked out. With Calypso there was a half-hour boat ride to an island where there was either the choice of taking a glass-bottom boat ride to see the coral and underwater creatures, or do some snorkelling around the island. The option of either or with no real emphasis on having to snorkel, sounded great to novices such as us.
We had a bit of a ‘misunderstanding,’ we’ll call it, on trying to book the Calypso half-day tour. They had cancelled on us a previous day due to choppy winds, which means the boat does not go out and there is no tour. Our hotel owners advised that we should just arrive at their offices nearby where the boats are docked, the morning of when we wanted to go, because at least then we would be able to know if we could go. Booking in advance didn’t seem to help any extra, because we could just as easily be cancelled on. This was advised by both hotel management and apparently, Calypso too.
We went on Tuesday morning, the day before we were meant to jet off back to Melbourne. I ran into the office to buy tickets, while hubbie waited with baby girl in the car. Upon running in and seeing other people come in with tickets, I asked if we could book the half-day tour for that morning, only to be told by a girl behind the counter that they were all booked out for that session. I despondently asked if they had an afternoon availability, and she said they were completely booked out for that one too. Their next availabilities were for the following day, but knowing we would be on a plane the next day, I walked away.
Hubbie was there as I left the store, having come in with baby girl, being sure that I had already bought the tickets. After telling him what the lady had told me, he got fired up. He went in, asking the same question of the girl, and when he got the same answer, he told her that we had in fact been told to come in last second because Calypso had cancelled on us the day before. If we couldn’t book in advance due to fear of cancellation anyway, but we couldn’t rock up last minute either because everything was booked out, then how the hell could we organise this freaking tour?
(He didn’t say that word for word, but that way sounds better).
You know what she said?
“There’s just been a cancellation for the afternoon tour, I can book you on that one.”
This, literally 2 minutes after she told me there was no availability for the afternoon tour.
I paid, and we left. And all was good. After all we ended up at 4 Mile Beach that morning and had the most incredible time. We had lunch, and then went off to do this bloody tour.
Look, in a nutshell, it was alright. Upon embarking we took off our shoes, and were encouraged to just get a scuba suit and flippers, because ‘what the hell, you might as well.’ This actually excited us as we had never snorkelled, but one of the instructors implied he could show one of us while the other was with baby girl, and vice versa.
I admit I was a bit scared but excited. I was going to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef?!
The boat ride up was beautiful. Travelling all that distance, going through all that water at high-speed, was amazing. This was a boat ride to the low isles. Basically I think that means that this is the outskirts of the Great Barrier Reef, you’re not in the thick of the coral and all the underwater fish as if you would be if you travelled further in. It was still beautiful. We listened to instructions on board about how to wear your equipment and operate it, and it appeared we were the only ones who were there primarily to see the glass-bottom boat, apart from one other couple, but even they snorkelled in the water later, a little.
The glass-bottom boat was ok. We saw a few things, and I still enjoyed it, but I really think you need to be in the midst of the Great Barrier Reef to see anything really good. I wasn’t in complete awe or anything dramatic like that. Upon completion we went back to where the main boat had docked, wondering if now someone could show us how to scuba. There was an American girl instructor, a guy also her age instructing, and an older, perhaps 40 year-old instructor. He had been our tour-guide on the glass-bottom boat as the rest of our group went scuba diving off the main boat and towards the island. We hadn’t actually docked at the small island for some reason, I can’t remember why but there seemed to be a genuine reason for it. The guy who had implied he could show us to scuba, suddenly decided that he and this American chick would now jump on the glass-bottom boat and take it as a pair to the island, because they wanted to try and get some photos of a turtle or something. And then they were off, clearly with their own personal intentions, and Hubbie reckons his intentions were extremely personal, saying he obviously had the hots for the US chick and wanted to go alone with her. Leaving the 40 year-old instructor with us.
This instructor was good. He was just shitty. You could tell. He was shitty that the two young ones had left, leaving him on board the main boat with Hubbie, me, baby girl and another couple. The guy from the other couple was more confident heading out into the water, whereas the girl stayed back, closer to the boat. They had both at least scuba dived before. We hadn’t. We had been told by the young instructor that we could watch him. He went off because his head was leading him. But not his top one.
The older instructor gave us tips here and there, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was shitty, trying to be professional. I don’t blame him really. Everyone else was off either scuba diving and instructing the rest of the group, or cosying up and trying to get lucky with a colleague.
Both hubbie and I, at various times, with a few half-arsed tips from the 40 year-old instructor, jumped into the water, staying close to the boat, dunking our heads in and trying to breathe through the breathing apparatus. That was not bad, it was the water flooding into the part protecting our nose which made it difficult. It was a few minutes at best, but we could still say “We snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef!”
I was a bit disappointed that no one had taken the time to show us properly – they certainly had ample opportunity, but were busy making personal plans or were just upset. I didn’t want to focus on it, seeing as everything else about where we were was amazing, but even the girl from the other couple whispered to me later that Quicksilver’s tour of the Reef was much better, especially being a beginner. She had been on that one before, being a not-so-confident scuba diver herself, and said it was far superior to this Calypso tour. I told her we had tried to book but we were too late! Hearing her thoughts, and also criticism of the way some things were done there, only confirmed to me that there were many parts of this tour that could be improved upon.
Very small provisions were offered after all of that, some were free like fruit, and some payable like alcohol. The ride back to the docks was a quiet one, everyone happy to watch the surf spray up from beneath us, taking in the beautiful scenery that is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and getting decent colour in the hot afternoon sun.
Summary: I enjoyed the experience and the location – the tour itself with Calypso, not so much. Many things could be improved upon, for example the professionalism. It was $120 per person, so there was value for money… but nowhere in the brochures did it say ‘Expert snorkelers only!’ so it wasn’t too much to ask for a little assistance for snorkeller virgins such as ourselves. Fortunately with baby girl being 2, she got in for free. It was a 2-5pm tour, and there is also a morning one, starting about 7ish.
If you don’t want to spend the whole day snorkelling, or out at the Reef, and you have some clue as to how to snorkel, well maybe you won’t mind the Calypso tour. That’s the only way I would recommend this tour, if you fulfil those above requirements. Otherwise, based on our personal experiences, I would NOT recommend it. Plus, I didn’t mention that the guy who was chasing the US chick was also arrogant. Just saying.
If you can spare a whole day at the Great Barrier Reef, and whether you are experienced or not, I believe Quicksilver’s trip to their Platoon where you spend the day there, is the best place to go. It’s the one I’d be recommending, and I haven’t even been, but I will, next time we go. Just book it in advance!
So concludes our Port Douglas trip in a rather large nutshell. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions for anyone wanting some more information about any part of the trip, so please drop me a line if you plan on visiting this part of the world in your near future.
And if you weren’t planning on going to Port Douglas, I hope my experiences have inspired you to perhaps give this tropical paradise a go at some point, or maybe it will motivate you to seek out your own version of paradise, whatever or wherever that may be 🙂 Happy travelling.