Tropical North Port Douglas
North Queensland is beautiful. Miles of sandy beaches edged with palm trees, set against a backdrop of lush, hilly rainforest. It’s idyllic, almost. Since it’s Australia, the paradise is punctured by signboards describing the perils that may lurk in the water – “Warning! Achtung! Crocodiles inhabit these waters and may cause injury or death”.
We were hoping to get our first croc encounter on the drive up, which took us through the small town of Cardwell. The Lonely Planet practically describes streets lined with crocodiles, so we were pretty excited as we hopped out the car, listening out for the distinctive ticking of clocks and expecting to see hundreds of them sunbathing on the beach. We actually saw miles of pretty but deserted beach, and the locals laughed at our enquiries. Turns out you have to try a little harder than that to see crocs – though we wouldn’t be short on opportunities.
We ploughed on to our destination, the charming town of Port Douglas. Famous for reef trips, this lively resort town definitely caters to the more affluent end of the Oz tourist market. The ubiquitous backpacker hostels are still there, but nestled alongside a selection of independent boutiques selling ‘resort wear’, as well as restaurants decked out with fairylights.
We dined at the yacht club (naturally), and on the recommendation of our waiter we signed up for a lesson in stand-up paddle-boarding. It was described as a relaxing way of enjoying the scenery. However, we hadn’t factored in the crocodile warning signs on the beach. The first guideline definitely states, “Do not enter the water.” Um. That doesn’t sound good. The instructor offered considerable reassurance that “the water is way too cold for crocs, and they only head into the sea in mating season”, and pointed out the “wildlife check” ahead of us, consisting of two children, an instructor and a dog paddling up the shore, so we decided to proceed. We stayed downstream of the instructor as we entered the sea, and the fear of croc-infested waters was certainly a great motivator for staying upright. Once out in the deeper water, our concerns were forgotten as we focused on trying to wobble less and look a little more like elegant Pocahontas. There is definitely still work to be done on that front, but it was surprisingly easy, much simpler than surfing!
We spent the afternoon pottering around the lovely town centre in ‘proper’ holiday-mode, buying comedy hats and sunglasses, and popping a bottle of bubbly to watch the sunset. Followed by some more wine. And margaritas. And more wine… Port Douglas is fun.