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Port Patch

December 17th, 2008

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Port Douglas, where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef

Port Douglas, a town of stunning contrasts where the Great Barrier Reef meets the Daintree Rainforest, may just be the ideal holiday escape.

Beach-lovers, thrill-seekers, hikers, bird-watchers, history buffs, travellers keen to explore coral reefs, and people looking for simple relaxation or keen to meet friendly locals will find the town has a lot to offer.

You can work on your tan while exploring the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding islands. Or if you don’t like the heat a 20-minute drive will take you to the lush, cool Daintree Rainforest, where it rains nearly every day.

There is also a plethora of activities to explore including helicopter rides, boat cruises to the Great Barrier Reef, walking through the Daintree rainforest, sailing, crocodile spotting, dining and shopping.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system and is made up of around 2800 individual reefs, ranging in shapes from flat platform reefs to elongated ribbon reefs.

A cruise onboard the luxury super-yacht the Galaxy I, which I was told hosted Kylie Minogue the previous day, takes me to the Great Barrier Reef. My destination was a small and deserted – expect for boatloads of tourists – island called Low Isles, which will soon fall into the hands of Tourism Queensland’s “best job in the world” winner.

When setting foot onto Low Isles I was greeted with glistening waters and hot sand, complete with a lighthouse nestled in its centre and light-keeper’s buildings. I prepared to scuba dive and take in the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, which has the world's largest reef system with 2800 individual reefs.

I swam with turtles and schools of brightly coloured fish in an underwater wonderland. Sharks and eels also made their presence known, but marine biologist Qamar Schuylertold said not to be concerned as they’re not dangerous to humans.

While eating lunch onboard the Galaxy I – with a spectacular view of the Low Isles where I’d just been snorkelling – my daydreaming was interrupted by excited calls as my ship-mates spotted turtles who were poking their heads out from the water. As if sensing they were drawing our attention their way, they’d swiftly duck back into the water, continuing this teasing routine throughout the day.

Exploring Port Douglas from the air

Being whisked away in a helicopter by Skysafari Personalised Air Touring gave me the opportunity to see Port Douglas from a whole new perspective.

The surprisingly smooth helicopter journey took me over Snapper Island, famous with locals for being shaped like a crocodile sunning itself, to secluded Castaway Island, a privately owned beach that’s so isolated that the only way to access it is by helicopter or boat.

After landing on a small clearing I walked through a lush forest until I came across a secluded beach with bright white sand, scattered coconuts and brilliant blue water – the name Castaway was definitely fitting.

When flying back over the town Bradley King, Skysafari’s Managing Director and my pilot for the day, said that during the helicopter tours most people can spot a crocodile from the river networks below.

My host at the beach-side Peninsula hotel had told me earlier that crocodiles breed in the Riverina and sometimes swim past the beach.

“Sometimes we get stray crocodiles in high floods, sometimes you can see them back-pedalling across the beach,” she said.

Throughout the rest of the helicopter ride my imagination ran wild as I tried in vain to spot a crocodile in the river below.

A cool change in the lush Daintree Rainforest

With locals insisting I check out the nearby town of Mossman and its famous gorge, located at the foot of the mountains of the Daintree Rainforest, I grabbed my partner and hopped on the back of a scooter to explore the town’s surroundings.

The dramatic temperature change from the beach to the rainforest was amazing – once I hit the mountains the sun’s heat was replaced with a penetrating coolness from the mountains and a fine sprinkling of rain.

I was surprised when, at the end of a twisting road up the mountains, I stumbled across busloads of tourists clad in swimwear. Eager to see where they were swimming, I walked down a narrow track until I reached Mossman Gorge.

Home to the traditional Aboriginal land owners the Kuku Yalanji people, Mossman Gorge is where the river meets huge granite boulders and creates ideal swimming holes.

It is part of the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, which spans 56,000 hectares and dates back more than 100 million years.

Doug Ryan, the Executive Officer of Port Douglas Daintree Tourism, later said that the Mossman Gorge is the second-most visited natural site in Australia, excluding the Great Barrier Reef.

I returned to my hotel room sunburnt and exhilarated. For now I had seen this town, from many different angles – by land, sea, air, and on the back of a scooter with the wind in my hair and the bugs in my eyes.

Fine dining

Port Douglas has more than 28 restaurants and cafes, with one of the standouts being the 56-year-old Nautilus restaurant, a favourite among locals. Tucked away in the surrounds of the rainforest, the restaurant is cosy, dimly lit and lived up to its reputations as a rare gem of an eatery.

As a vegetarian, I’m used to eating out being a challenge. Nautilus came up with some delicious dishes including vichy carrot agnolotti with caramelized coconut butter, and granny smith apple sorbet.

I also experienced part of the Carnivale tradition, which runs from May 22-31, when dining at the Sheraton Mirage for the Longest Lunch, a fine celebration of food and culture. The expertly-crafted deserts were definitely the standout of the meal.

A dip in the Peninsula Hotel’s pool capped my trip off, the perfect way to end an action-packed three days.

source: http://www.news.com.au/

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