Luxury and simple pleasures in glorious Port Douglas

Port Douglas inlet

It's a tough life in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland.

The giant humphead parrotfish stared through the glass of my black plastic snorkelling mask.

His wideset lidless eyes locked into mine in a spontaneous undersea staring contest that seemed to last minutes as he wiggled glorious blue and purple fins, hanging suspended as smaller fish darted around us.

When he lost interest and went back to audibly munching algae off the coral reef, I followed a green turtle's graceful stroke through the clear warm, water back to our boat - and a waiting glass of champagne.

It's a tough life in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland.

Operators of the charter boat Enterprise, Sally and Rod Sherlock, left Melbourne's corporate world 21 years ago for their little slice of coastal paradise and haven't looked back.

Their 17m cruiser, at the ultra-luxury end of the market, operates out of Port Douglas' Marina Mirage and caters mainly to celebrities and CEOs as well as the occasional romantic determined his marriage proposal will be a story for the grandkids.

Barramundi, atlantic salmon carpaccio and Moreton Bay bugs come with opulent surrounds, exemplary service and a fresh sea breeze as the Enterprise wizzes out to the outer Great Barrier Reef or Low Isles coral cay at a cruising speed of 25 knots.

In fact, there's an awful lot of luxury to be found all over the rainforest-meets-reef Port Douglas region.

Thrust on the map by the infamous developer Christopher Skase, who built the Sheraton Mirage complex in the 1980s, "Port" has more than its fair share of flashy boats, resorts and golf courses.

The main street, Macrossan Street, is home to swanky boutiques, funky bars, chic galleries, classy eateries and cashed-up national and international tourists.

Yet the town, 70km north of Cairns, has mainly avoided the beachfront high-rise development that has plagued coastal hot-spots further south on the Queensland coastline.

Its neighbours - the Daintree, Cape Tribulation National Park and Mossman Gorge - don't do its reputation any harm, either.

And the natural beauty of the area can be enjoyed by those on a more moderate budget too.

Four Mile Beach is truly like stepping into a postcard, with palm trees dangling their fronds over the peach-coloured sand and coconuts dotted along the water's edge.

The best bit? At 11am on a Saturday, about 2km from the main drag, I was one of only about six people on the beach and with not a deckchair or garish beach tent in sight.

For most of Australia, the Far North clearly seems a little far off the beaten track.

But with Virgin Blue and Qantas both offering daily flights from many Australian cities to Cairns International Airport, just a scenic one-hour drive away, it's practically on the doorstep of most capital cities.

The Port Douglas Reef and Rainforest Carnivale, held annually in May, is an ideal time to visit the town weather-wise and brings something extra to the trip with a series of wine and food events, performances, art exhibits, a parade and a family beach day.

But at any time of year, Port Douglas is an idyllic setting to marvel at our underwater companions - or eat them. Story by Jane Bunce SMH



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