Prized for being a gourmet getaway as much as an A-lister’s holiday spot, you only have to spend five minutes at The Ironbar hotel in Port Douglas to hear a story or two about local encounters with Hollywood superstars like Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, and Tom Hanks.
Not to be outdone, the town has also been given the presidential nod. Nautilus Restaurant is rumoured to have a framed photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton dining there mid-term, while waiters at Salsa Bar and Grill will tell you how the former president was interrupted midway through a fish dish to take an important call on September 11, 2001.
DAY 1: PORT DOUGLAS
8AM: BREAKFAST AT QT BAZAAR
If you’re staying in Macrossan Street, then the good thing about Bazaar restaurant at QT Port Douglas is that the three-kilometre beach walk will work up the perfect big brekkie appetite. The vibey crowd at QT do mornings so well, this place is worth walking for.
So how do you describe the menagerie of flavours on sale here? Well, imagine an Asian hawker centre with a European twist. It’s like one bustling marketplace with cured meats hanging from the rafters and food stations serving freshly made smoothies and piping hot doughnuts – among the usual suspects like made-to-order bacon and eggs. In other words, it’s pretty legendary.
9:30AM: KUKU YALANJI CULTURAL HABITAT TOUR (TIDE TIMES DEPENDENT)
Want food from the source? Then kick off your shoes and join Linc and Brandon Walker as they sweep you into their ancestral home for a spear-fishing trip to remember.
Walk the mangrove swamps and tidal flats on Cooya Beach and collect molluscs, crabs and cockles using little more than a spear and your bare hands. Remember, whatever you catch you get to taste later, on the balcony of their aunt’s house – served with a splash of native chilli sauce.
This is a no-frills tour, but one that will leave you with a greater appreciation of the culture of Australia’s first people.
Tip: Make sure you call ahead as tour departure times depend on the tide times.
1PM: CROC PIE AT MOCKA’S PIES
This cheap and cheerful bakery located in Grant Street, just off the main road, has reached legendary status since selling the first pie some 30 years ago.
The pies are certainly not gourmand but they’re hearty and meaty and at just a smidgeon over five bucks a piece, they certainly won’t break the piggy bank. Less adventurous foodies can always opt for the old-fashioned beef and chicken if they don’t want to try the croc or ‘roo pie.
Tip: If croc pie is on your bucket list, get there early as they sell out fast.
3PM: SEE (SEA)FOOD WITH REEF SPRINTER
You’d be laughed out of your social media account if you headed home from the Great Barrier Reef without taking least one selfie with Nemo. So, for those short on time, Reef Sprinter is a fast and furious way to snorkel the inner fringing reef around the picturesque Low Isles, just 15 full-throttle minutes from Port Douglas.
The covered rubber duckie jet ride takes you out and back in two hours and includes at least 90 minutes of snorkelling around some of the prettiest bombie sites anywhere on this planet.
Don’t for one moment think you are shorting yourself on significant creatures either. While there, I spotted giant purple clams, a swathe of graceful soft corals, colourful angel fish, a few clownfish, and a one-metre reef shark that had me dog paddling back to the boat faster than Kieren Perkins.
In this town, there are two places to see and be seen at sunset. The first is On The Inlet, a casual seafood noshery that gets my vote for the best laksa outside Asia. Here, the 5pm bell is a clarion call to George, a 250kg giant Grouper that pops to the surface for his nightly feed. At four times the size of the average woman, this fish has no signs of leaving his post (And, why would he? He’s on a free nightly buffet here.)
The other spot is the Court House Hotel, a grand old dame on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf Streets that serves up chilled North Queensland bitter with a side of live music. For best views, pop upstairs and watch the sun set over the neighbouring park.
7PM: EVENING DINING
This is food town and there are a myriad of places to try. For a night out with a fairytale tone, dig into the budget and head for Flames of the Forest (pictured) to dine on native game meats while sitting under the rainforest canopy and listening to tribal tales.
For something fancy and close the the action, Harrisons (feature image at top of post) is the big name-dropping venue, bagging Port Douglas’s only chef hat and serving up French cuisine in a stunning Queenslander.
A little more casual, but no less delicious is the downtown cheerful Italian restaurant, Bel Cibo.
DAY 2: MOSSMAN
9AM: THE JUNCTION CAFE, MOSSMAN (12 MINS, 8 KM FROM PORT DOUGLAS)
Let’s do the time-warp again! Head back to the 1950s in this kitsch café located in the tiny sugar town of Mossman. Drink your coffee from mismatched vintage tea cups, splashed with milk from cows just up the range.
The menu is simple with all the usual breakfast and lunch suspects, but it’s on their blackboard where the chefs like to show off. Think slow cooked pork belly, green pawpaw and calamari salad and house-smoked ocean trout with orange, fennel and tamarind dressing.
The Junction Cafe is open 7am till 4.30pm Monday to Friday, and 7am till 12pm Saturday.
10AM: JANBAL GALLERY (4 MINS, 700M)
There’s no food here, but you can feast on traditional art. Local Kuku Yalanji man, Binna, is both artist and curator at Janbal Gallery in Mossman. Aside from his brilliant creations – all up for sale – Binna also hosts painting classes where you can create inspiring dot art on a local bean pod.
Tip: Binna is hearing impaired and all art classes must be booked online in advance.
10.30AM: SWEET FARM TOURS
Old MacDonald may have had ducks and cows on his farm, but I don’t recall him singing about sugar cane and cocoa. At Sweet Farm Tours, Gerard Puglisi, a fourth-generation farmer will tell you anything you want to know about life on a Queensland cane farm. Spend an hour with him – and his 1800 cocoa trees – and tap into more than 90 years of family farming knowledge.
Touch cocoa pods, learn why cocoa and sugar work well with cane, and then taste one of the end products – chocolate from Daintree Estates. The farm is located on the edge of the Daintree Forest and is open from Tuesday till Saturday 9:30am – 4pm.
12:30PM: TREEHOUSE RESTAURANT, SILKY OAKS LODGE (5MINS, 3.1 KM)
If you consider yourself a bit of a refined Tarzan, and you’ve already got your Jane, then Silky Oaks Lodge in the heart of the world’s oldest rainforest is the lunch venue for you. Chill out on the wide verandas, try crocodile soufflé and absorb the tranquility of the Mossman River, knowing these natural spring waters have taken millions of years to bubble up.
If time permits, squeeze in a swim in the river as Julia Stone did recently, or thoroughly relax with a spa treatment at the resort’s Healing Waters Spa. Just remember this place is pretty swanky and you have to dress to guest standards. That means no flip flops and smart attire is essential for lunch and dinner.
3PM: MOSSMAN GORGE CENTRE (5 MINS, 3 KM)
If it was good enough for Brangelina’s brood, then it’s good enough for you. Join local indigenous guides for a 90-minute Dreamtime walk through the spectacular Mossman Gorge and connect with the lives, culture and beliefs of the world’s oldest living people. Enjoy bush tea and then check out the artwork created by the local artists.
Open from 8am – 6pm, guided tours are 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 3pm daily.
7PM: 2 FISH
If you are going to spend a few days in a one-time fishing village, then it makes perfect sense to dine in that village’s best fish restaurant. And when you are in ‘Port’ (as the locals call this town), that restaurant is arguably 2 Fish, located in the Coconut Grove Complex in Macrossan Street.
Dine in the breezy alfresco space or head inside to feast on seafood so many ways. There’s tiger prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, blue swimmer crab with pipi linguini, and my personal fave –spotted trout reef fish coated in crispy beer batter and served with chunky chips.
DAY 3: FOOD TOUR
9AM: BRETT’S OUTBACK TASTING ADVENTURES
No more venturing alone. Today, prepare your waistlines!
Brett’s Outback Tasting Adventures do all the coordination so all you need to bring is an empty stomach as you start your day at Tjapukai for Indigenous interpretation of jams, fruits, and damper and then head on to De Brueys Winery, Mount Uncle Distillery, Coffee Works and Emerald Creek Ice Creamery.
The tour ends on a high note with Brett and the team squirreling you off to a secret farm just past the termite mounds for a platter of Gallo Dairies’ cheese and a choice of wine from Queensland’s Sirromet Winery or the local Great Northern Bitter.
Due to the alcoholic content, this is an adult’s-only trip and costs $159, all inclusive. The tour operates Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am to 5:30pm.
7PM: THE LAST SUPPER
Want to leave this magical place with a bang? Then do it the Matthew McConaughey way and tuck into a steak before partying hard at the rustic Ironbar in the centre of town. Mr McConaughey spent his 37th birthday here while filming Fools Gold and rumour has it he shouted the entire bar. That’s not expected. But sheesh, you would certainly make a friend or two.