Hello 100% English speaking country. It is very nice to see you. Your food: pretty similar to what you find in America. The most exciting thing ever—nope. What we were in the mood for—absolutely.
No more wondering if a soup was a main course or appetizer. No more menus in complete Japanese. Much less asking each other “do you know what this is?” and hearing back “nope, but it is good.”
Don’t get me wrong, we loved Asia, but it was great to be someplace that was familiar…Well, mostly familiar. We are not on a vacation, but a holiday. You don’t watch your step, you mind your step. You don’t get in line, but queue up. After a thank you, it is not you’re welcome or no problem, but no worries (I’ve even been told no drama)…And of course, you drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right.
We’ve only spent a couple nights in Australia, but the people have been very friendly so far…Very casual. Also, I felt completely safe at our stop in Port Douglas – at least free from any dangers resulting from people.
Port Douglas is a small town located about an hour outside of Cairns (which is more of a somewhat big city). It has a main street (Macrossan) that is lined with restaurants and shops and takes about 15 minutes to walk end to end. It is hard to accurately describe the vibe of the city, but I’d place it somewhere in the range of artsy/hip to beachy. Either way, I’m glad we made the hour drive to Port Douglas from Cairns.
I’m also glad we rented a car. The cost was very reasonable, and it was just nice to have the freedom that having a car brings again. Driving on the left side of the road is not very difficult; I’ve done it a couple times previously in the Caribbean without issue.
What was much more difficult to get used to was driving from the right side of the car. I put on the windshield wipers just about every time I went to turn for the first day – but I don’t think I did it once over the last two days. Also, looking above to your left shoulder to check the rearview mirror is very different. There also were no less than 20 roundabouts on the way to Port Douglas; you get use to these very quickly though. All you need to do is yield to cars on the roundabout.
We really lucked out with the weather. Port Douglas is in the middle of a rain forest; we were there in the middle of the rainy season. Yet, we did not get a drop of rain…Again, lucky.
Being the rainy season, it is Port Douglas’s low season which runs through the end of January to the end of March. This was actually pretty nice, as nothing was too crowded. Some shops and restaurants were closed – but no place we planned on going.
There is plenty to do in the Port Douglas area; you could spend a week just diving (which would probably be best spent on a livabaord scuba vessel). There is also the rainforest, wildlife centers, and plenty of beautiful beaches and scenery. Here is what we were able to do.
This night was not really spent in Port Douglas, but on the airplane from Singapore to Australia. I guess this is as good of a place as any to include it.
We woke up early at 7:00 a.m. in Singapore to catch the Superbowl. Talk about weird…Rolling out of bed to watch the Superbowl. I went up to the club to catch breakfast during half time, but was back just in time to catch the power going out…
The Superbowl ended around noon our time, which gave us 4 hours to kill before we had to leave thanks to the late check out Diamond privilege. We packed than caught up on some computer stuff.
At 4:00, we checked out and caught a 30 minute cab ride to the airport for about $20 US…pretty cheap. Check in was very smooth at the airport, we were then directed to the Emirates Lounge because the Qantas lounge was undergoing renovations. This was perfectly fine as the Emirates Lounge was very nice and just about empty.
It included a wide selection of food and unlimited drinks/liquor. We decided to take advantage of this….Though, to be clear we did not go way overboard – our biggest sin (at least in my case) was neglecting to drink water. A couple of glasses of wine and some Baileys later, it was time to board the plane.
The Singapore airport is different in that you go through security at the gate. Each group of 3 or 4 gates had a screening area. While not a problem, I prefer the more standard method of clearing security.
We caught the end of business class boarding after clearing the security and made our way on the plane…Speaking of which, this was the A380 – the biggest plane in the sky. And it is huge. I walked both levels; you really get a feel for how big it is.
This first class hard product (seat, entertainment, etc.) is brand new and really nice. The seat was probably a little nicer than Cathay Pacific. Cathay Pacific had a slight edge in service, but that may have been because we had a full cabin of 14 on this flight in first class – vs. half full on Cathay Pacific. Still, don’t get me wrong – service was unreal. They even gave us a bottle of wine to take with us when we said we liked the wine.
After eating dinner on the flight, we had our beds made and tried to get a little sleep. It was probably around 11:30 p.m. Singapore time, which made it 2:30 a.m. Sydney time. The flight was due to land at 6:00 a.m.
We had enjoyed ourselves in the Emirates lounge and on the plane. I had drank a couple glasses of wine and some Bailey’s, and Alyce stuck with just wine. We weren’t hammered or anything, but we definitely took advantage of the free drinks.
On the flight over, I had made it such a big deal to drink water that I had no problems. Unfortunately, we had gotten lax with drinking water, and I think that was our main problem on this flight…combined with being awoken at what our bodies thought was 3:00 a.m….and – of course – the alcohol.
Anyway, we woke up at 5:00 a.m. with about 50 minutes left until landing. I believe the term I used was that we felt like absolute ass. I’m not really even sure what that means, but I think it accurately describes the way we both were feeling. I asked the stewardess for 2 or 3 bottles of water; she said they only had enough left to give me one – but they could refill it. I guzzled that down, but we had already started the landing descent so that was all I got.
Upon landing we made our way to the baggage claim and got our bags. Getting through immigration and customs was very easy – other than how we were feeling. Had the opportunity presented itself, I would have thrown myself into oncoming traffic.
We rechecked our bags and caught the bus to the domestic terminal. There, we had access to the Qantas business lounge, which we found to be far nicer than US domestic lounges – featuring several hot breakfast options. Regardless, the only thing I was interested in at this moment was water. I found it and literally drank 4 glasses at the fountain. I brought one back for myself and Alyce and began to feel more human. I also ate some toast which helped. By the time we boarded the flight to Cairns, I was not feeling all that bad; Alyce seemed to be slower to recover.
The flight to Cairns was uneventful. Qantas has a very nice domestic business product – big leather seats with footrests.
Our bags were some of the first off the plane, and went to get the keys to our rental car. The Hertz guy was friendly, gave me some maps, and made sure I knew how to handle roundabouts (yield to vehicles on the roundabout). The car we were given was a Toyota Aurion; I guess it was something in the range of a Camry or Corolla.
As mentioned previously, driving in Australia was not too difficult. Getting used to driving from the right took a second, but there were no problems otherwise. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas itself is pretty easy. You just make your way from the airport to the main highway and go left. An hour later, you’ll see a sign that says turn left to get to the town of Port Douglas.
That said the drive was very scenic. It was through some very hilly coastal terrain. Lots of winding turns with a beautiful beach appearing past the corner. Unfortunately, all the twists and turns were not doing Alyce’s stomach any favors, but she survived without any “mishaps.”
We had a little trouble finding our apartment upon arriving. It is listed as being on Macrossan (the main street in Port Douglas). However, the entrance (and the address) are located on the street that intersects Macrossan. After a couple passes, we were able to find it.
We stayed in a vaction rental in the Port Douglas Apartment complex. A couple that lived there and managed the property was there to greet us. They were very friendly and helpful throughout the stay.
The apartment was pretty basic but was fine for us. It had a couple ceramic burners for cooking, a refrigerator, a bedroom, bathroom, and a little balcony. It was fully “self servicing” which wasn’t a problem, but it did make you realize exactly how much is provided for you at full service hotels.
The one bummer about the apartment (and it was not that big of a deal) was that you could not access the wifi from your room. Oddly, I got a very good signal right outside the apartment door. Also, I was able to set Alyce’s phone up as a wifi hotspot for internet later that night (using an Australian SIM), so we ended up having access in the room.
Alyce took a little nap once we got to the room – I think that helped her feel better. I caught up on some internet and lugged the bags up to the room. After she woke up, we then walked Macrossan street from end to end, which took about 15 minutes one way. We passed by a grocery store while walking; after getting back, we got the car and went and did some grocery shopping for the first time in almost a month. It was nice to feel sort of normal buying groceries.
We ate dinner at Zinc restaurant located across the street from our apartments. It was a neat spot and the food was good (though nothing spectacular)…Really I enjoyed just having a good old fashioned steak and potatoes. After dinner we walked back and went to bed.
We woke up pretty early to catch our boat for diving the Great Barrier Reef. We dove with Calypso, whom I had read good things about. I was also considering Poseidon, but their boat was out of the water for repairs – so the decision was easy.
The boat was about a third full, which gave us a lot of room and made everything not too crowded. If the boat would have been completely full, I could see it being pretty crowded.
The ride out to our dive sites on Opal Reef was about an hour and a half. The ride was little rocky – but nothing too bad. Our dive guide said we would be hopping in just after the engines were cut, and he was not kidding. We were waiting in the back of the boat with our gear on; as soon as the boat was hooked to the mooring, we hopped in.
Diving at the Great Barrier Reef lived up to the hype. We saw more coral on one dive than we had on all of our previous dives combined. Each little piece of coral had all kinds of life on it. You could just watch one piece of coral for 20 minutes and be entertained. There were also fish all over the place.
We did three dives with Calypso, each was capped at 45 minutes. Our first dive maxed out around 18m, but the second and third dives were a good bit shallower. We probably could have stayed down two hours on the second and third dives before running out of air; we were back on the boat with ¾ of a tank of air.
Calypso did a good job with the dives; they were very safe. Each diver had to sign in on the big board on the boat after each dive. Also, there was a complete head count on the boat prior to leaving each site. That said, I think Dive and Relax in Thailand still was the more impressive dive outfit.
After the dives, we had a nice relaxing 90 minute ride back to Port Douglas.
We ate dinner that night at Salsa. The food was good – probably better than Zinc the night before, but nothing spectacular again. We had kangaroo meat for the second night in a row. We enjoyed it; it was something like a lighter beef. Following the meal, we drove back and went to bed.
We started our 3rd day at Port Douglas with some French Press coffee in the room, then proceeded to the Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat to see the park and have breakfast with the birds. I went back and forth on doing breakfast with the birds. It was only an extra $13 a person over the park entrance for a full breakfast, so we ended up doing it.
The breakfast was ok – probably better if you eat bread/pancakes/that type of stuff – but not excellent. I’d say it is definitely worth it if you are going to go somewhere else to eat breakfast, but probably not if you would just skip breakfast or eat something small you already had at your apartment.
The Wildlife Park was definitely worth the visit. There are lots of animals and free guided tours…well they’re included with your admission. We saw tons of birds, held Koalas, and fed kangaroos/wallabies. It was one spot where you can check off many of your Australia animal must do’s.
We got our fill of feeding the kangaroos (and Alyce had enough of the geese), so we made our way back to the apartment. We made some calls home and caught up on some internet while waiting for our ride to the helicopter.
Helicopter rides are generally incredible…and incredibly expensive. This ride was both as well – especially the incredible part. I debated whether it was worth it, but I’m happy we did it. I don’t know when (or if) we’ll ever be back to the Great Barrier Reef, so we had to make the most of it while we were there.
Seeing the Reef from the sky was a completely different experience than riding out to it on a boat. The views are unbelievable, and you really get a scale to just how large the Great Barrier Reef is.
We started off riding over the Daintree Rainforest. This was really neat; Alyce compared it to Jurassic Park. Then we headed out to sea for the highlight of the ride – the Great Barrier Reef. The pictures came out pretty good, but they do not come close to doing it justice.
Our pilot/tour guide was named Ryan; he was very friendly and knew a lot about both the rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. He even pointed out the spot on the reef where Steve Irwin was stung by a Sting Ray and died. He also explained all of the training needed to become a helicopter pilot (roughly 2 years and $70,000) after I asked him about it.
The company was SkySafari. I’d highly recommend them. They were very, very safe as well as being both fun and professional. Again, the ride was not cheap, but worth it in our opinion.
Ryan drove us back to our apartment, while talking to us more about Australia. We said good bye then went up to clean up before dinner.
This night we ate at Harrison’s. This food was our favorite in Port Douglas without a doubt. We liked just about everything a lot, and Alyce said the outdoor atmosphere reminded her of Anguilla (in the Caribbean). Afterwards, we made the short drive back and went to bed.
The last day in Port Douglas, I left kind of open – so we slept in. It was needed and nice. I did want to see the rainforest, so we spent the afternoon in Mossman Gorge. This is an area in the rainforest that has elevated walkways and great views of some streams.
Entrance is free, though you do have to spend $5 for a ride on the shuttle bus to the site – or you can walk for free, which I don’t recommend as it is uphill and (literally) on a the road the buses drive on. The locals were pretty upset about this in my research as you used to be able to drive right up to the park for free a year ago. Either way, it was definitely worth it.
The walks included some great views of the streams, which are completely Croc free so plenty of people were swimming in them. We did not wear our “costumes” (bathing suits) so we did not swim, but it did look pretty refreshing. Mossman Gorge was a good way to spend half a day, but it is probably not enough for a full day. A full rainforest day would probably be better spent driving to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest.
We had our only dinner reservations of Port Douglas this night at Thala Beach Lodge’s restaurant, Osprey’s. The lodge itself looked very nice; I had looked in to staying there but it was a little over our budget for this stop. The restaurant was in a great setting, overlooking the sea and some hills.
The food was very good too – probably not as good as Harrison’s but the second best of the stop. Dinner at Thala was a great way to cap off the stop at Port Douglas. After dinner we went back to the apartment and packed.
I’ll save my concluding thoughts on Australia in general for when we leave Australia after our final stop, but I’ll share some quick thought on Port Douglas.
Port Douglas was a great stop; definitely worth the hour drive past Cairns, IMO. The town was a smaller, more intimate town. Serious divers will probably want to do a livaboard boat, but most others will probably be happy staying in town. I will admit that I was a tad jealous of livaboard boats when we were riding back from diving, but the timing did not work out for us so I didn’t even bring up the subject to Alyce.
The reef was great. Diving it was quite the experience, but – for the first time ever – I felt like the snorkelers got it just as good. The reef is so shallow that the snorklers are able to see almost as much as the divers.
The food in Port Douglas was good too, and Alyce seemed to like the shopping options. As an added bonus, you could probably walk to many things if you did not rent a car…Though I still think having a car is a good idea.
So to conclude, we liked Port Douglas. It is a great spot for daytrips to the reef and has many other things to do. They people were friendly and appreciative of the tourists who traveled there to holiday. I consider Port Douglas to be another successful stop.