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Linked by a rainforest and sugar cane-fringed highway, these two spots with distinctly different personalities show two sides of Tropical North Queensland’s coin.
About 140 kilometres north of Cairns, Cape Tribulation is where the forest meets the sea. Actually, it’s where two UNESCO World Heritage-listed places come together in a magical way, so it’s the type of place where spending most of your time outdoors is a wise investment. With no mobile phone signal or Wi-Fi available once you make the ferry crossing into Cape Tribulation, it makes sense to be immersed in the natural wonders of the UNESCO-approved Daintree and Great Barrier Reef.
Millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest yet not nearly as famous, the Daintree Rainforest has something special for everyone from avid twitchers keen on a tropical bird sighting to water babies excited to swim with sea turtles, or thrill seekers in the mood for some super fun zip-lining. If there’s an adventure you need arranged, in Cape Tribulation there’s a whole host of passionate locals keen to make it happen for you.
While diving, snorkelling, jungle surfing and kayaking are all perfectly good ways to experience Cape Tribulation, a good old fashioned walk is one of the best ways to get acquainted with the unique wildlife and environment of the area (and as a bonus it doesn’t cost a thing to have a wander). A simple walk reveals everything from swampy mangrove systems full of twisted tree roots to a rainforest filled with graceful, electric blue Ulysses butterflies.
The Dubuji Boardwalk is an easy option at just over a kilometre and reveals many species including tree snakes, spiders, stick insects and bats. Because this walk is essentially a series of interconnected boardwalks, it’s the perfect introduction to the local environment and a great option for visitors without much time on their hands. A bigger challenge comes in the form of the Mt Sorrow Ridge Walk. Taking about five to six hours to complete the return trip, walkers are challenged with difficult terrain and an abundance of leeches who are fond of the lush environment and low hanging canopy. While annoying, leeches aren’t considered dangerous so walking with long pants or gaiters is recommended, as is taking plenty of water. Walkers who manage to get to the top are rewarded with unforgettable views at the lookout, especially on a typical Queensland sunshine-filled day.
While the thought of being surrounded by leeches, crocs, tree snakes and spiders may seem a little unsettling, this is the beauty of Cape Tribulation. It really is a world away from everywhere else.
If Cape Tribulation is the perfect place to drop off the map for a while, then Port Douglas is the place to be social. Popular with everyone from backpackers to honeymooners, retirees and young families, easy, breezy Port Douglas is one of those places that has a holiday vibe all year round. About 70 minutes’ drive from Cairns, Port Douglas’ proximity to the Great Barrier Reef makes it a great launching point for diving and snorkelling trips, yet many people head to Port Douglas simply to relax in a cosmopolitan spot with a distinct village feel.
While Macrossan Street is undoubtedly the hub of all things coffee, burgers, beer and brekkie, it pays to wander further afield. Over at the Reef Marina, a brand spanking new microbrewery offers something special for the discerning drinker in search of something more than a tinnie of XXXX. While there’s nothing wrong with Queensland’s iconic golden ale, Hemingway’s Brewery gives beer lovers a genuinely great selection of locally-brewed craft ales. From crisp pilseners to super hoppy IPAs, dark lagers, zesty ginger beers and beyond, the beers brewed at Hemingway’s are all inspired by stories of local legends who have helped to shape the face of Port Douglas over the years. Keeping this in mind, drinking at Hemingway’s is practically a history lesson – so get studying!
But it’s not all about eating and drinking in Port Douglas. While you may not have much spare cash to invest in art, it doesn’t cost anything to look at the colourful works of Indigenous art adorning the walls at Ngarru Gallery. From kaleidoscopic dot paintings depicting Dreamtime stories to more abstract contemporary works, this light and bright space isn’t the type of gallery where window shoppers are made to feel unwelcome. Instead, guests are encouraged to soak up the knowledge and beauty of the works on display, even if they’re not in a position to pay for one. With a collection of artefacts including sculptures, weavings and termite-hollowed didgeridoos, the gallery also stocks smaller items like jewellery boxes and cards, for those of us not accustomed to dropping five grand on a painting.
Over at Whileaway Bookshop & Café, visitors can buy a book and grab a killer latte at the same time. While many towns geared towards travellers serve up questionable coffee, Port Douglas has some solid coffee options, with locals and tourists alike gravitating towards Whileaway’s laid back charm and friendly staff (who are keen to pair you up with the perfect book to read while in town).
Whether you’re after books, brews or a little boutique shopping, Port Douglas has you covered!
Cape Tribulation has many outdoor adventures on offer, but the food experiences found in the rainforest aren’t to be overlooked either. Here are three ways to taste the tropics in Cape Trib:
Whet your appetite
Whet Café & Bar sits in a tropical rainforest setting and serves native fare like kangaroo, crocodile and barramundi, as well as a fierce curry that is so good it could come straight from the streets of India.
Marketed as ‘supernatural biodynamic organic ice cream’, the range of flavours at Floravilla Ice Cream Factory is very impressive. Choose from tropical favourites like passionfruit, mango and coconut, or go for something left field with a tub of Guinness-flavoured ice cream. Cheers!
Meat as Mason’s
Exotic meats are the order of the day at Mason’s Café. You can have wild boar, buffalo, emu or camel meat on your burger if beef is too pedestrian for your tastes.
After a long day exploring the reef, a good feed is in order. Here are two Port Douglas spots to make a beeline for:
A quintessential Queensland experience, the in-house cane toad racing comedy show held here nightly is a major drawcard for visitors. Six different types of steak and a range of fresh seafood seal the deal.
Rattle ‘n Hum
Warm and friendly, the low key Rattle ‘n Hum’s no-fuss classic pub menu and friendly staff make it a favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Try out Ocean Safari’s reef trips or ziplining with the Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours crew whilst in Cape Tribulation – the hostel can help you out with bookings.