Australasia | Australia | Queensland | Wet Tropics | Port Douglas – Koalas, Kangas, and the Junk in Port Douglas
Koalas, Kangas, and the Junk in Port Douglas.
Here in the tropical north of Queensland is a peaceful small town that is the gateway to the Reef. Situated just a one hour scenic drive from Cairns, it is alive with the birdlife of Australia. Each evening at dusk, parrots swoop at high speeds through the sky, alighting on slender palm and other trees in the downtown area. They are joined by several other species that arrive by the flock load. Just as the parrots have finished their squawking and talking, bats begin filling the sky as they head out into the night for feeding. It is a busy time of day and rivals the madness that gets going around 8 a.m. each morning by the town’s human visitors and tourists who arrive by bus from the bigger center of Cairns. There is plenty of accommodation in Port Douglas, but the main airport is in Cairns, so most visitors to the area stay there. Hotels, like the Sheraton, and hostels like the Parrot Fish Lodge located very centrally in “the Port” are all of very high quality and there is a full range of accomodation in between. The people are friendly and there is a more than decent selection of restaurants and nightlife.
Port Douglas is just a few minutes from one of the wonders of the world visible from space; the World Heritage designated Marine Park known to all as the Great Barrier Reef. There are numerous options for getting to the reef everything from small sailboats to massive charter catamarans that carry up to 900 people where you are little more than a number, or as locals call the service, the cattle-maran.
Then there’s the Junk in Port Douglas. And she’s a beauty! Built in 1965 in Hong Kong, the Shaolin is an authentic Chinese Junk and traveling out to the reef on this boat is not to be missed. Leaving at midday and arriving back in port at sunset, the Junk is limited to just 12 passengers making for an intimate experience. Our skipper, guide, and all around charming guys, Ken and Josh, greet the guests and make us comfortable as we motor out to the Low Isles for some snorkeling. It is a beautiful, warm, and pleasant afternoon and I spend some time meeting the other guests and then just lazing barefoot on the deck watching for dolphins or other marine life on the way. As we approach the isles, two Osprey land on the masts of the main sail where the Jolly Roger is blowing in the breeze. Sea turtles swim beneath the surface next to the boat, surfacing and diving as we pull up to a moored glass bottom boat that has an almost 2 meter long Barracuda enjoying the shade.
Baguettes, a variety of fresh vegetables including olives, eggplant, and zucchini, feta and other cheese, and cold meats are spread across the outdoor dining table. Cold drinks are available including champagne and a selection of wines for an additional charge. As we eat lunch, marine life surfaces nearby and cruises silently beneath the boat. After lunch, we receive our fins, masks, snorkels, and stinger suits before boarding the glass bottom boat to head for the beach. Stinger suits are advised during and just as the wet season is ending to protect against jellyfish. Because of the Shaolin’s midday departure the other morning boats are leaving and we are left alone to enjoy the Robinson Caruso isle and it’s idyllic surroundings. Palm umbrella shades are available for those who just want to relax, but for most of us, we are excited to get in the water.
Seeing sea turtles is never guaranteed, and we have already seen a half a dozen from the deck of the boat. Just a few meters from shore, we spot one nestled in the reef. It sits peacefully for quite some time before moving on. Ken guides us around the reef, instructing us on techniques to insure we don’t touch or damage the fragile corals that take so many years to form. It’s a world full of brilliant yellows, blues, pinks, electric greens, and then there’s the fish of all sizes in vibrant Technicolor. It’s an even better experience than introductory diving as you can listen to Ken as he demonstrates how the marine life reacts when it senses the possibility of food or danger or just swim off on your own to explore. Giant Sea Clams a meter long clamp and grimace, life shrinks out of site into the large rock coral. The very large Barracuda is still lurking, but presents no danger, and we are lucky in seeing many more turtles.
Returning to the junk we enjoy fresh fruit, biscuits, and tea. Quietly, we sail away into the sunset.
Port Douglas is also nearby several other attractions, including being home to the award winning Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary. A leader in the field of wildlife immersion exhibits, Habitat rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and then allows them to live in genuine recreations of their natural environment. Boardwalks and footpaths are positioned to allow animals access to the people if they are comfortable, but keeps the visitors at a safe and respectful distance. The sanctuary participates in the Cassowary protection and awareness program. Highlights of a visit include breakfast with the birds, feeding the kangaroo (if they decide they would like to come on to the path), and photo sessions with the adorable Koala bears. It’s easy to spend an entire morning here.
On the road to Cairns is the Tjapukai aboriginal cultural park. Set up as a theme park, it contains a multi media theatre, and demonstrations of traditional dancing. They offer a dinner package “Tjapukai After Dark” that includes the main performance elements available, plus a fire building ceremony. The dinner is a standard bus and truck tourist affair, and a somewhat cheesy additional performance comes after the meal. Tjapukai owned by aboriginals, and a good quality gift shop is on site.
Qantas Air and other airlines service Cairns airport. Hotels offer free pick-up and a shuttle service is available for those staying at apartments units or hostels. www.whatif.com is a good source for three star and up bargain hotel bookings. Tour bookings in Port Douglas can be made at any hotel or visitor information centre.
Tomorrow, I leave for the sacred place of Uluru. And yes – I have finally sent those postcards.