Taking a trip down under, Elaine Lavery explores what she deems the greatest wonder of the world in Port Douglas, Queensland
The term ‘heaven on Earth’ is not one that Otwo would use without prior consideration, but that is exactly what this writer found in the small town of Port Douglas. From Brisbane it takes a short flight to Cairns, Queensland and an hour-long drive northwards along the beautiful scenic coastline to get to this Australian haven.
The town occupies a unique position, wedged between two world heritage sites; the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. You won’t stumble across anything remotely similar in your day-to-day life. With many graduates and young careerists taking a year or more out to work in the Land of Oz, Port Douglas should be top of the list for getaways. Even better, if you are in any way adventurous or outdoorsy, set up there for a season and ‘live the dream’.
Never mind seven, there are about forty-nine wonders of the world nowadays, but one of the original and most deserved is the Great Barrier Reef. It is composed of over 2,900 reefs and 900 islands, including the famous Whitsundays. Unfortunately, climate change and other human activity are having detrimental effects on the reef’s continued existence. However, snorkelers and scuba divers are still allowed to explore it under tightly controlled regulations.
You don’t have to be qualified to dive on the reefs, as most of them are quite shallow by diving standards (fifteen to thirty metres). A well-trained guide will get you up to speed in a matter of hours. To use another cliché, which has never been more apt, diving in these waters is like ‘floating on air’. With the water temperature being warmer than the beaches, there is no need for bulky hooded wetsuits. A light protective suit suffices, and is used more to protect the reef than you as the sea life is generally harmless – plenty of Nemo-like clownfish swim in and amongst the vibrant coral, as well as an unusual looking objects called ‘sea cucumbers’, which also happen to be a Japanese delicacy.
You’ll need more than one visit to the Reef, if time allows, as diving in different locations will expose you to the varying corals and marine life along the 2,000 kilometre stretch – no two areas will offer you the same experience. The almost glorious tropical weather doesn’t exactly make this a trial however. During the summer months it is also possible to swim and snorkel with the curious Dwarf Minke whales who have made the ribbon reefs in this area home.
Spend another day taking a guided 4×4 tour through the rainforest, accompanied by one of the many fervent tour guides. The Daintree Rainforest houses more rare or endangered plant and animal species than anywhere else in the world, and a visit will allow you the opportunity to see some organisms so threatened by extinction that they can only be found here. If you’re not already sick of nautical fun, river tours along the great Daintree River are also offered within the rainforest. Crocodiles, snakes and rare birds such as the cassowary, a large flightless bird who is a direct descendent of dinosaurs, are all to be seen on these tours.
Sunday mornings offer a ‘Cotters Market’ down in Market Park, which can be found adjoined to Anzac Park, between Dickson Inlet and Wharf Street. Everything on sale at the market must be hand-made or grown by the stallholders or their families, with strict rules against mass-produced products. With something of a carnival atmosphere, it’s a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday morning.
In this tropical climate, the peak season for tourism is May to September, with forty degree heat and humidity. Naturally, rain is commonplace in the rainforest, however, bizarrely enough; it tends not to fall elsewhere. As I said – paradise.