As Summer slowly draws to a close, one can hardly blame me for thinking about where I can take the kids to escape what is inevitably going to be a cold wet Melbourne Winter.
The exact thoughts were running through my head this time last year, so when a Jetstar sale popped up in my in-box I jumped at the chance to book some cheap flights to Cairns. The time had come to finally take my two kids to one of my favourite Australian destinations, Port Douglas.
The climate of Tropical North Queensland is brilliant in our Winter months. We headed up over the Queen’s Birthday weekend last June to arrive to sunny 28 degree days. This was my 4th visit to PD, but my first with kids, so I jumped on portdouglasuncovered.com to find some new ideas that the kids would adore.
Of course the first thing to consider is accommodation. On one of my earlier visits to PD (pre-marriage and with my now ex-husband!) we spent two nights at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort. At the time this was all we could afford, and we schlepped the other three nights in a budget place in town, but our minds were blown. This was ‘incredible’ and worth every penny. Today the Sheraton is surprisingly quite budget friendly, considering how fabulous it is, and is in my opinion simply the BEST place to take kids in Port Douglas.
Part of the impressive Marriott Bonvoy group, the resort is set on 147 hectares of lush tropical gardens running along Port Douglas’ famed Four Mile Beach, with the centre piece undoubtedly being their almost 5 acres of lagoon-style pools. These pools were hands down the kids’ favourite part of the hotel and we were lucky enough to have a swim-up balcony so the kids could practically roll out of bed and into the water!
I could go on all day about the amazing features of Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, so you know what, I will. There are some important things to consider when deciding where to stay in Port Douglas. The main town centre is set on a little peninsular divided by the sea and Packers Creek. There are lots of great little hotels through out the town centre, but the majority of the big resorts are located at the other end of Four Mile Beach. Sheraton on the other hand is located about mid way meaning access to all the restaurants, cafes and tourism hubs is so much easier with kids, and totally walkable. We took a gorgeous stroll back to the hotel along the beach after dinner one night, but a word of warning, don’t leave it too late as the tide comes right in at night and the beach disappears. We made it back just in the nick-of-time! If walking is not your thing, there is however a very handy bus.
Another benefit of the resort being set on 147 hectares of land is it’s huge, so beach access to the North and South of the resort is very limited. Besides people taking long walks along the beach, you don’t get anyone but hotel users on this section of the beach. The winter months are outside stinger season so the beach is a perfect place to swim and play. The beach is lined with draping palms trees, making you instantly feel like you are on a luxurious tropical holiday (you are!) and my kids had a ball making cubbies with dropped palm fronds and playing with coconuts.
Each morning I’d get up early and go for a walk on the beach. Sunrise through the trees is simply stunning and even walking through the grounds of the resort, whilst so many are still in bed, was so nice with the beautiful morning light filtering through the palm trees. Once the kids were up it was coffee time and time to hit the breakfast buffet. There were so many choices, much to the kids’ delight, and it was the perfect way to fuel up for the day’s adventures. marriott.com.au
Of course one of the most famous things in Tropical North Queensland is the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world. Along the coastline north of the Daintree River, the forest grows right down to the edge of the sea. We hired a car (there are heaps of places in town) and set off early to go check it out. After passing sugar cane fields and the town of Mossman the drive quickly turns to one of beauty. Stunning beaches to the right, equally stunning mountains to the left. Access to Cape Tribulation is made via a ferry crossing of the Daintree River which is great fun. There are lots of river cruises available on the Daintree River where you can go crocodile spotting, but we had a lot planned for our five day stay and decided the crocs could wait for another time.
Beyond the river you can stop in at the Daintree Ice Cream Company. Ice cream, gelatos and sorbets are handmade on site using classic artisan methods with exotic fruit organically grown and farmed in their orchards. Flavours change daily based on what fruits are in season, but expect some surprises like black sapote, rollinia, mangosteen and soursop as well as more expected mango, pineapple, coconut and macadamia.
Once we arrived at Cape Tribulation we took a walk out to the stunning beach. Crocodiles are very common up here, so swimming is off the cards, but a quick stroll in the shallows of this crystal clear water, where the forest meets the sea, is truly memorable.
The Great Barrier Reef
Of course no trip to Port Douglas is complete without a trip out to the reef. There are two main options here. The outer reef or the Low Isles. The outer reef is incredible, especially if you want to scuba dive, but for a family day out I can’t recommend the Low Isles enough. Being island based, not a floating pontoon in the middle of the sea, there is so much more for the kids to do beyond just snorkelling. Whilst there are plenty of big operators leaving the marina daily, but the boats are busy and the queues for lunch crowded, so we opted for a more personalised tour for our day at the Low Isles.
Bretto from Wind Swell is a one-stop-shop for all your water adventures in PD, offering snorkelling, standup paddle boarding, wakeboarding, foilboarding, tube riding and even spear fishing. Bretto’s private charters on board his fast boat are the perfect way to enjoy the day as a family as you get the whole boat to yourself. Upon arrival we spotted a family of small tiny reef sharks frolicking in the shallows. These creatures are harmless but provided some great entertainment to start our adventure. Next we were given a quick snorkelling lesson where the kids were provided pool noodles to help them float better, then we were off. Bretto led the way and knew exactly where to go to find turtles, stunning fish and also where not to go to help avoid other tour groups on some bigger boats.
After some fresh fruits and delicious rolls Bretto led us on a tour of this tiny islands. He knows plenty of its history and I couldn’t help thinking “I bet no one else gets this experience on with their reef tours”. Afterwards it was time for some SUP to get a different view of the reef. Gently gliding my board over turtles swimming below was simply incredible.
The waters surrounding all islands of this magnificent coastline boasts 150 different species of hard coral, which is dominated by 15 species of soft coral. Swimming amongst them are colourful tribes of parrot fish, angelfish, damsel fish, clown fish, trevally, rabbit fish, sweetlip, moon wrasse, fusiliers, giant 60-year-old clams and resident turtles – just to name a few!
For the afternoon, you can customise your itinerary and choose to do more SUP and snorkelling or opt for a session of adrenaline-fuelled water sports, choosing from wakeboarding or tubing. If you are an experienced kiteboarder, equipment will be on board for you to use, but Bretto gave Lachie a quick lesson on how to fly the kite from shore with a small trainer kite which was super fun! windswell.com.au
There are quite a few boat operators in PD that offer sunset cruises, the perfect way to spend an evening. If you’ve got pirate loving kids, you can’t go past The Shaolin, an authentic sailing junk boat. This boat is gorgeous, in all her wooden glory. The cruise takes you from the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, along Port Douglas waterfront and out into the Coral Sea. Once at sea the views of the local mountains with the sun setting behind are fabulous. The captain gave an entertaining commentary along the way as we sat out the front on the wooden bow and snacked on delicious Yum Cha and drank wine (well the kids had juice!). The first drink is included but more drinks can be purchased along the way. The Shaolin sails daily, leaving the marina at 5pm for a 1.5hr cruise. shaolinportdouglas.com.au
We were almost going to cancel this tour as by day four I had a really nasty head cold (I know, fancy getting a cold in the tropics), but I’m so glad I pushed through because this was honestly the highlight of my trip. Winding though the Daintree Forest is the Mossman River, and being too cold for the crocodiles it provides the most safe and picturesque location for some river rafting. Run by Back Country Bliss, this is an adventure like no other called ‘river drift snorkelling’. Think floating down through an ancient rainforest in the clearest, freshest water, on board an inflatable lilo, whilst also dipping under for some snorkelling adventures to find fresh water fish and turtles. backcountrybliss.com.au
Food and fun in town
My kids highly recommend the cane toad racing at the Iron Bar. Racing daily, these hilariously named toads, like Camel Toad, Jerry Springer and Pidgeon Toad, are released from a bucket on a special racing table and punters have to encourage their toad to make it outside the line using only a party-horn.
The Surf Club provides excellent food, all served in their open air dining area. They’ve got a small playground on-site to entertain the kids, but I let mine run over to the adjoining beach for a play as well. The food selection was fantastic, we actually ate here twice!
Be sure to drop by the Sunday market too. You’ll find arts and crafts, jewellery, fruit and vegetables, glassware, books, coffee, boats, and more. Runs every Sunday from 8am-2pm.
For more expert ideas and advice on Port Douglas make sure you check out portdouglasuncovered.com