Just an hour north of Cairns, Port Douglas is the only place on the planet where two World Heritage listed areas lie side by side.
In one weekend you can tour the stunning ancient rainforests of the Daintree and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. There may even be time to ride the rapids of the crystal Mossman River before taking in a balmy night with a cocktail.
Here are some of the best ways to rejuvenate in Port Douglas.
SPOT A CROC
You haven't been to far north Queensland if you haven't spotted a croc. And there are plenty at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures - 3,500 in fact, if you include the crocodile farm on site where they're raised for their meat and skins. Meet Ted, the 5.3 metre croc, while cruising the wetland lagoon or get up close to Trinity, who came in from Cairns inlet after chasing water skiiers. More than 20 years ago, the site of this wildlife sanctuary was a wasteland but its operators have turned it into a viable natural habitat for species including threatened quolls, cassowaries, wombats, snakes and birdlife. You can spend hours here, being bowled over by the morning birdsong, enjoying lunch on the deck, feeding a wombat or cuddling a koala. Park operator Angela Freeman says its conservation efforts are significant amid increasing development. "What we've done here is really important, because some of the animals have got somewhere to go because no one else is providing another place for them." http://www.crocodileadventures.com/
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Forget buying a fat pig, how about the oil of a crocodile? The Port Douglas Sunday market is the kind of fair where you can smear some on your skin, although the smell may be a bit funky for some. The oil, extracted from the reptiles' fatty tissue, is used to treat and prevent a variety of ailments, not least wrinkles. If that doesn't appeal, how about a homemade mango ice cream, an arancini rice snack fashioned by real Italians or a handmade one-off ukulele? You can try one of the famous donuts (if you're too late, you'll miss out) or fresh vanilla beans direct from the local grower who loves a chat. And when you're all shopped out, seek divine inspiration at the neighbouring St Mary's by the Sea, a historic 1880 church perched on the beach, offering a huge glass altar window with breathtaking views of the Coral Sea. https://www.facebook.com/portdouglasmarket/
RIDE THE RAPIDS
Dive into the rapids of the Mossman River, about about one-and-a-half hours north of Cairns. Hop onto a giant inflatable river sled and be carried along by the fast-moving water. Enjoy the rushes and the quieter, peaceful moments as you drift along, absorbing the ancient rainforest and wildlife around you. This pristine stretch of water runs 30km to the Coral Sea and is home to more than 30 fish species. You can snorkel to marvel at the underwater wonderland or spot the lizards, rare birds, water dragons, turtles and even platypuses. "It's like a freshwater aquarium," says Back Country Bliss Adventure tour guide, Will. http://backcountrybliss.com.au/
DINE IN STYLE
Who would have thought bread and butter would be so delectable? The ash bread and brown butter at Harrisons restaurant at the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort takes things to another level. And that's before we even get started on meals. Award-winning chef Spencer Patrick's menu offers a nod to his British roots in a colonial style setting. Enjoy cocktails under antique chandeliers before feasting on crisp pigs ears with apple sauce, mouth watering sesame yabbie toasts splashed with chilli mayonnaise or whipped smoked salmon on crispbread. We enjoy the day's outstanding cut of beef, with truffled green beans, smoked mash and mustard. For dessert, it's a delicious pudding of hay (yes, hay) ice-cream, caramelised white chocolate and rainforest honeycomb. If hay ice cream doesn't tickle your tastebuds, try the pudding with local Daintree chocolate, salted caramel, crushed cookies and milk ice-cream (to share or not). Probably not. http://www.sheratongrandmirageportdouglas.com/harrisons
SAMPLE SOME BREWS
After a long day swimming the reef or trekking through rainforest, watch the sun go down amid the backdrop of the Daintree at Hemingway's Brewery. Here, you can relax on the sun-drenched deck, overlooking Port Douglas' Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina and feast on delicious seafood including fresh oysters and muscles. Chow them down with a selection of the brewery's own craft beers, which boast names such as Doug's Courage, Hard Yards and Kick Back. The gastropub is hosting a seafood extravaganza as part of Port Douglas Carnival, a showcase of free music, entertainment and the region's best seafood on Sunday, May 27. Billed as a party in paradise, the family-friendly event kicks off at noon and goes into the night. http://www.hemingwaysbrewery.com/
DIVE THE REEF
No trip to far north Queensland is complete without exploring the world's largest coral reef. And you may as well do it in style. The AquaQuest luxury yacht, launched in 2017, is equipped with modern fit-outs including a welcome hot shower and buffet lunch. Guides accompany snorkellers and divers at stops at Agincourt, Opal and St Crispin's Reefs in the outer reef, about 62km offshore. The heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, extending 2,500km along Queensland's coast. It's home to a variety of life, including 1,625 species of fish and six of the world's seven species of marine turtle. We are lucky to spot a reef shark lurking on the ocean floor and various other sealife including clownfish. Once the exploring is over, retreat to the mattress on the sun-drenched top deck and watch the world float by. https://www.diversden.com.au/
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Port Douglas is an hour's drive along the ocean-hugging Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns. Cairns is a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Melbourne, three hours from Sydney and two-and-a-half hours from Brisbane.
Port Douglas is just less than 70km from Cairns Airport and transfers are easily accessible. For airport transfers and transport around Port Douglas, check out Visit Port Douglas and Daintree, visitportdouglasdaintree.com.
STAYING THERE: The Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort offers an ideal base in Port Douglas, boasting five-star luxury and 295 guestrooms. It's the only beachfront property on Four Mile Beach and it's set amid tropical gardens, lagoon pools, an 18-hole golf course and private swim-out balconies in some rooms. Prices start from about $A350 a night.
PLAYING THERE: Port Douglas is the only place in the world that has two World Heritage-listed places, with the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforest at Daintree and Cape Tribulation. You can trek through rainforest, snorkel the reef, enjoy the sands of Four Mile Beach and check out Mossman Gorge's crystal-clear creeks.
For further activities, check out visitportdouglasdaintree.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree.