Looking for a romantic tropical escape that’s close to home, yet still as enticing, adventurous and spectacular as its overseas counterparts, without the lengthy travel? Then welcome to Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, Australia.
Touted as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is situated just one hour’s drive north of Cairns Airport and is a spectacular natural wonder. There is a myriad of things to do in this gorgeous part of the world with its pristine turquoise waters, adventurous snorkeling tours, romantic seaside dining and rainforest allure. No matter what you want to discover and experience, rest assured that an air of relaxation and tropical vibes will immerse your senses the minute you step off your air-conditioned transport and into the wonderful warmth of palm tree lined Port Douglas.
HOW TO GET THERE
– FLY: Flights from all capital cities into Cairns. Then a one hour airport transfer to your hotel or resort. Double check the rate of your hotel’s transfer against a cab company. You’ll find that the hotel transfer is often the most cost effective, for two way travel.
WHERE TO STAY
– QT PORT DOUGLAS: Read our review of the resort here.
WHAT TO DO
– ROMANTIC & ADVENTURE SAILING:
SAILAWAY – Dreaming of jumping aboard a luxury vessel headed for the crystal clear blue waters of the Reef, whilst you sip champagne, munch on canapés and feel the ocean spray gently mist across your face? Perfect! Then Sailaway is the one for you. Take a tour on board their luxury catamaran to the Low Isles – we recommend the Afternoon Tour, as this includes a most spectacular Sunset Cruise as part of your return trip to Port Douglas. Be a bit daring and sit on the catamaran netting at the bow as refreshing ocean water splashes up with the movement of the vessel.
The best part of this trip is that seasickness will be kept at bay as you cruise to the Low Isles at a leisurely pace. The tour includes lunch and refreshments (one complimentary alcoholic beverage, all others are charged extra), plus a trip to the Low Isles with snorkeling around the marine reserve. We were lucky enough to witness remarkable sea turtles, lulling sting rays, overly-curious bat fish, startling star fish and magically colourful parrot fish. Visibility, although good for the season, is still quite low compared to further out in the Reef, so keep this in mind when snorkeling around Low Isles. There is quite a bit of sediment, but that does not detract from the spectacular amount of wildlife that you will witness. You will be provided with snorkel, goggles and fins and can swim wetsuit free. Be sure to take a guided snorkel tour so that you may fully understand what you are experiencing and learn a bit about the delicate eco-system of the Low Isles coral cay.
Sailaway also takes smaller numbers on their cruises, so you’ll be assured personalised service with a small group of relaxed vacationers.
To book with Sailaway, please visit: http://sailawayportdouglas.com
GREAT BARRIER REEF SNORKELING:
WAVELENGTH – There are a few big-business-trawler-type vessels that advertise tours out to the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, their impact on the environment cannot be ignored, so with that in mind, we strongly recommend you book a Great Barrier Reef snorkeling or scuba diving tour with a smaller, more reputable tour company run by marine biologists. Not only are these tours more environmentally friendly, with staff that innately understand the Reef’s delicate eco-system, they will also provide a much more personalised experience for you. BLUSH Romance recommends Wavelength – we found them to be the best in terms of what they offered – a variety of exclusive spots out on the Reef where you are free to swim without the restraints of platoons or other such unnatural man-made structures built out on the Reef by some of the larger companies. Wavelength was also one of the first Advanced Eco-Accredited operators in the country and co-founders of the Eye on the Reef Program, one of the largest Reef monitoring programs in the world. What better reason to support them!
If you are prone to seasickness, or even if you aren’t, we would recommend sitting up top with the captain, so that you may have a 360 degree view of the ocean and horizon, helping to keep any nausea to a minimum as you speed your way to the three snorkeling spots: Opal Reef, Saint Crispin Reef and Tongue Reef. What you encounter here is truly breathtaking, and will feel like you have entered into your very own watery adventure dream. Taking the plunge into the blue and discovering this magical underwater landscape of coral, fish, invertebrate, reef sharks, turtles and giant clams is a once in a lifetime experience and a definite big tick off your bucket list. Nothing can compare to swimming with your beloved out in the Great Barrier Reef; it is intimate yet other-worldly at the same time.
Lead by your trusted marine biologist guides, you will never feel like you are in danger as they ensure every one is comfortable with their surroundings, allowing more adventurous individuals and couples to swim out to the edge of the coral cliff, or keeping close to others who do not want to stray far from the boat. However, once you are in the water and following the weaving path of a school of parrot fish, you will loose any inhibitions you had; even seeing a reef shark moving elegantly below will not cause panic, only an appreciation for these unique creatures and a cementing of respect to keep out of their way…
Lunch is served between the sites and before you know it, you are back in the water and enjoying the company of an overly curious giant Maori Wrasse named Angus. Don’t let his big lips frighten you, he just wants to say a fishy hello.
You will be required to wear a supplied wetsuit on this tour, as sunscreen and other body moisturisers damages the coral – another example of Wavelength endeavouring to minimise the human impact on the Reef’s ecosystem. There is also no alcohol allowed on board, which is the furthest thing from your mind when you are being blown away by the majesty of the Reef. It is also a safety issue and something you can enjoy when you are back in Port Douglas, toasting to your magnificent day out in the Great Barrier Reef.
To book a tour with Wavelength, head to: http://www.wavelength.com.au
WHERE TO EAT
NAUTILUS – Prepare yourself for one of the most fantastic dining experiences in Port Douglas. Nestled high amongst the tree tops, Nautilus is set amongst a rainforest canopy and is quintessential open air dining, with an uninterrupted view of the starry night sky. Complete with high-backed leaf shaped wooden chairs, twinkling fairy lights and rainforest foliage, it creates a magical atmosphere that is matched by its staff’s attentiveness, the restaurant’s exceptional menu and it’s 60 year old history that has managed to adapt to modern cuisine offerings, so that nothing about this restaurant is stagnant.
You may choose from the following menus: A La Carte, 5 or 7 course Chef’s Tasting, Dessert and Vegetarian options. If you want to splurge and really get into the spirit of it, then opt for the Chef’s Tasting Menu with matching wines, which includes such gems as: grilled local Painted Crayfish with fennel puree, heirloom tomato and asparagus panzanella, wabiko and a lemon citronette; crispy skin Pork Belly with heirloom tomato salad, Granny Smith apple gel, red onion and sherry vinegar jam; Lamb Cutlet with pumpkin puree, cardamom and tamarind jus, sautéed beans and coconut bread crumbs; ginger Crème Brulée with biscotti and candied orange.
Or the A La Carte Menu which covers most of the Chef’s Tasting, but has other larger plated inclusions such as: the infamous Nautilus whole Coral Trout dusted in light Asian spices then shallow fried with green paw paw salad, Thai caramel sauce, chilli jam and nahm jim; Citrus Risotto with chargrilled tiger prawns and bisque, rock seared scallop (it literally comes out on top of a scorching hot rock – it’s phenomenal), steamed black mussels and grilled baby squid with garlic, chilli, parsley, basil and lemon oil. The staff are well versed in the menu and local produce and are more than happy to accommodate to your dietary needs, including pregnancy.
This restaurant is a breath of fresh air (quite literally) and is well worth the visit. Bookings are essential, and may we recommend booking for just before dusk, so that you may watch the sky change colours as the sun goes down and the candles begin to be lit. Uber romantic!
Head here to book at Nautilus: http://www.nautilus-restaurant.com.au
OSTERIA PADELLA – Osteria Padella (otherwise known as the Laboratory of Rustic Cuisine) is one of those little gems you come across every once in a while, if you are lucky enough (and hungry enough) to wander off the beaten track of well-worn tourist restaurant fodder. A quaint and charismatic Italian Osteria (or ‘simple Italian restaurant’), it offers diners a true rustic food experience. Hailing from Milano, the owners fuse traditional family recipes of both the north and south of Italy with fresh local produce to produce a classic menu that is as comforting as it is delicious.
Mother and daughter team, along with head chef Mauro Maneti, have created a welcoming ambience that consistently provides knock-out food – a literal taste of Italy in the tropical north of Australia – and it works harmoniously. With a menu that includes: handmade Pappardelle pasta with lamb and mushroom ragout; gnocchi with tomato, ricotta and crumbed olives; whole baby Barramundi cooked in ocean water with white wine, clams, cherry tomatoes and herbs; grilled eggplant with basil, crumbed goat’s cheese and tomato; dark chocolate profiteroles; and orange cream filled cannoli. Couple these dishes with a Prosecco, Aperol Spritz or red wine whilst sitting out front overlooking the tree-lined water’s edge and you’ll want to return again and again. It is the simplicity of the meals that make them so charming, as each ingredient is given the chance to shine.
Bookings or walk-ins welcome at Osteria Padella. Visit: http://www.osteriapadella.com.au
ON THE INLET – Initially coming across this over-the-water restaurant when venturing out on a sailboat, we managed to track down On The Inlet and were instantly happy that we did. It serves local fresh seafood and is a must for a quick lunch time bite or a romantic sunset evening watching the boats sail in. The staff and owners are friendly and catch the fish themselves, so there’s no denying the freshness of what is on offer. The barramundi with pink grapefruit, fennel, rocket salad and lemon butter sauce is as refreshing and tasty as it sounds, whilst the chilli salt Calamari with crisp asian salad, fried shallots and nahm jim sauce was tender and delicious. Washed down with a crisp Sauvignon or a cool beer and you’ll never want to leave.
Walk-ins ok for lunch, bookings recommended for dinner at On The Inlet:
PLACES TO VISIT
MOSSMAN GORGE – Mossman Gorge is a truly spectacular place, located in the southern part of the breathtaking Daintree National Park, it is a part of a magical tropical rainforest, steeped in the legends of Aboriginal culture and storytelling. Walk over the suspension bridge through the heart of the rainforest towards the entrance to the Gorge, where you can swim in the crystal clear, yet chilly water. Mossman Gorge is a dangerous swimming spot however, and only strong swimmers should enter the water. With strong currents, large boulders and quick running water, there have been cases of fatalities and you must abide by the swimming recommendations on the day, which will be advertised outside of the Tourist Centre. If you are a strong swimmer and/or the conditions are perfect for a swim, then it is an opportunity not to be missed – even if the water is very cold! A quick dip in the pure waters of the Mossman with your other half is a glorious experience and will bring you very close to nature. The fish here are also very curious, so they’ll want to come and have a look at what you’re up to, but they are harmless.
Make sure you buy a shuttle bus ticket from the Visitor Centre (a two-way ticket) and jump on the shuttle that comes every ten minutes up to the rainforest. Take some time to reflect and relax at the Gorge, and feel all your stress melt away.
SAINT MARY’S BY THE SEA – This gorgeous white chapel built in 1880 is located by the seaside, amongst palm trees looking out towards the turquoise ocean. After being moved from another location to where it sits today, Saint Mary’s by the Sea has been fully restored and is non-denominational (save for the beautiful statues of Jesus and Mary that stand on either side of the altar). The interior is simply divine (pun intended) and exhibits a huge glass window behind the altar, which offers breathtaking views of the Coral Sea and rainforest clad mountains in the background. With stained glass windows, traditional wooden pews and a church bell, it is one of the most stunning little chapels by the sea!
Whether you would consider it for your wedding or to renew vows, anytime spent within the walls (and the exterior) of this beautiful building will lift your spirits and fill you with love, all whilst the bell tolls and the warm salt water breeze sways in the towering palms. True tropical wedded bliss!
For more information on Saint Mary’s by the Sea, head to: http://www.portdouglasweddings.com.au/St-Mary’s