Recently I holidayed for ten days at Port Douglas:
Port Douglas is about 70 km North of Cairns, nearby the Daintree Rainforest and with the Great Barrier Reef reasonably close off shore. The town is basically a tourist town with a good range of shops and restaurants (my favourite being the surf lifesavers club that abuts the beach), a marina for the many tour boats, and a beautiful beach:
The beach is named “4 mile beach”, and the name is apt. The township is at the Northern end, with hotel resorts nestled behind the palm trees. There’s no tacky high rise sky scrapers, rather the beach is cusped by palm trees with many coconut trees. The beach faces East; in the afternoon the palm trees provide some shade up above the high water mark. It’s also a very flat beach, so the area between high and low tide area is quite vast and firm; so firm that people hire mountain bikes to ride along the beach.
This time of year the water temperature is warm ! (above 20 C). The beach is pretty safe to swim in, and has a flagged area that is patrolled by surf lifesavers. As you enter the beach from some of the access tracks you will find bottles of vinegar on a post next to the track: this is for use to relieve the pain from stinger bites. Luckily stingers (jellyfish etc) aren’t that common in August; they are more prevalent in the summer wet season. Apparently the surf life saving club also has a stinger enclosure, making it safer to swim during stinger season.
Apart from lazing on the beach and swimming in the lovely warm waters, there’s plenty more to do. There’s kite surfing and catamarans for hire ( i didn’t find any sailboards even though it is well suited ). And of course there’s all the tour boats that take you snorkelling or diving around the Great Barrier Reef. The first of which we embarked on was the Wavedancer :
The Wavedancer is a large catamaran sail boat, that sets sail to Low Isle. (approx 15 Km NE of Port Douglas). Low Isle is a tiny island with a light house on it:
The tour ferries you to the island which is the base camp for the snorkelling. Low Isle is in the inner reef, and has a larger percentage of soft corals than the outer reef. Soft corals thrive where nutrient levels are higher (be it natural or human induced such as run off from land/agriculture); they are called “soft corals” because they don’t form the hard calcium deposits that the Hermatypic corals do. They are still spectacular, and the home for many fishes and other organisms. From above the water they look pretty plain looking especially at low tide:
But once you dive in and start swimming around the reef you get to see it is very vibrant.
There’s a mix of soft and hard corals:
And it’s much more colourful under the water than from above. Apparently even more colourful at night, but sadly I didn’t get around to doing one of the night tours.
One of the big attractions of Low Isle is the giant sea turtles.
Back on the island I spotted a sea eagle and its nest:
A couple of days after snorkelling at Low Isle, we boarded another Quicksilver tour boat, but this time to the outer reef aboard the Silversonic. The outer reef, Agincourt Reef is about 70 km NE of Port Douglas, so a fast boat is an advantage in getting there. The outer reef has amazing visibility with most places averaging visibility of 20 metres or more.
I decided to scuba dive for the first time in my life. They walk you through the basics, suit you up and then make sure you can do a couple of simple things such as inflate your buoyancy vest, clear your mask and swap mouth pieces in the water. When I first got in the water I was holding onto a rope just a few feet from the surface, waiting to go through the preliminaries. This was the toughest time for me, as something kept telling me I was going to get a lung full of water and that I should swim to the surface immediately. I didn’t, I stayed, and that instinctive fear soon subsided. Within minutes I did the emergency mouthpiece exchange drill, and from then on I had confidence I wasn’t going to breathe in water and the rest was sheer fun.
Although scuba diving the reef though is a lot of fun, there’s also lots to see snorkelling. The outer reef is teaming with fish:
These guys were everywhere:
Surgeon fish (Acanthurus lineatus ?) :
Giant clam. Amazing blue and aqua colours inside.
Parrot fish and foxface rabbitfish (?)
Brain coral ;)
Above the shallow reefs there were fishes getting swept back and forth with the current and wave action:
But even more were ducking in and out of the reef:
The “rock star” of the reef tours was “Nemo”, as in “Finding Nemo”, the clown fish (or anemonefish) that live in sea anemones. The fish are protandrous hermaphrodites that can exhibit sequential hermaphroditism: that is they are born male, but can turn female in the absence of any female. There’s usually one female per anemone, but many males. When the female dies, the dominant male takes her place:
Apart form the ocean, there’s other things to see around Port Douglas such as National parks like the Daintree. South of Port Douglas is the Barron River and Barron Gorge National Park. Any easy way to see the rainforest is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway:
The skyrail overlooks the Barron River:
and the Barron Gorge:
You can also catch a scenic railway train. Both the train and skyrail go to Kuranda. We caught the train down, but we could smell brakes or something most of the way. Might have been nicer to catch the train up the gorge and skyrail down.
North of Port Douglas, is Mossman Gorge:
A bit further north is the Daintree River. This is overlooking the Daintree River as it meets the sea:
It’s a lovely river that has large floods regularly. Surrounded by mangroves nearer the sea, and mostly privately owned rainforest inland :
you can tour the Daintree river by boat for an hour or so, and play spot the salt water crocodile in its natural environment (just say no to crocodile farms <g>) .
Can you spot the croc in this photo ?
And another :
You also have to look up as there’s tree snakes amongst other things :
Take the car ferry across the Daintree River and you can then drive sealed road as far as Cape Tribulation.
There’s plenty of boardwalks into the rainforest.
Vegetation in the rainforest includes lots of creepers and vines:
And some trees have huge buttresses (they’re shallow rooted):
And there’s lots of epiphytes especially epiphytic ferns:
Cape Tribulation is a lovely little cove:
At the entrance to the beach is a warning sign not to swim in the water due to crocodiles: (yet people do)
Port Douglas really is a lovely place, with so much to see and do. I could have happily stayed a couple more weeks. And this time of year, the weather is perfect.