Diving into the wet tropics and meeting some characters on the way

Ready to jump in … snorkellers on board AquaQuest.

Ready to jump in … snorkellers on board AquaQuest.

We’ve descended into Mossman Gorge, just a few kilometres west of Port Douglas in Far North Queensland.

Our guide, Chris O’Dowd of Venture Deeper (www.venturedeeper.com), talks of annual rainfall that’s measured in metres rather than centimetres, and, appropriately enough in one of the planet’s wettest places, it starts to drizzle.

I can see why it’s known as the ‘Wet Tropics’ and why he’s provided us with umbrellas.

The Port Douglas promotional literature sprukes it as one of few places where two World-Heritage-listed phenomena — in this case the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef — come together.

But until Chris’s passionate explanation, I hadn’t realised just how related and interdependent the two were. It was one of those light-bulb moments when you get a grasp of just how special the place is, and why locals and many visitors treat it with almost religious zeal.

The following day we have a taste of Port Douglas’s other magnet, with a speedy 60-kilometre voyage to the outer Great Barrier Reef on the classy new motor cruiser AquaQuest (www.diversden.com.au), which specialises in snorkelling and diving trips to places such as St Crispins and Agincourt Reefs.

A colourful underwater world greets divers and snorkellers on the Great Barrier Reef.

A colourful underwater world greets divers and snorkellers on the Great Barrier Reef.

Anything that its crew lacked in religious zeal is made up for by sheer youthful exuberance in their work — “how can you call this work when it’s so much fun?”

Look, I’ve never been one to don scuba gear and descend to the depths, and my indulgence in snorkelling fun has seen better days, but reports from others in our group indicate the extreme quality of their experiences — the helpfulness of guides, the transparent nature of the water and the abundance of colourful marine life.

Just sitting on the boat, having a few wines and watching one of the world’s great wonders is compensation enough.

Not that you have to necessarily walk on the wild side or venture onto the ocean to find plenty to do in Port Douglas.

 Wildlife Habitat’s General Manager Clare Anderson with a rescued glider.

Wildlife Habitat’s General Manager Clare Anderson with a rescued glider.

Examples of that are provided by the passionate staff at Wildlife Habitat (www.wildlifehabitat.com.au) which has a sanctuary for injured animals as well as an interactive zoo, and by John Morris at Choo Choos (www.choochoosatstcrispins.com.au).

John has ‘rescued’ a number of vintage trains, once used to lug sugar cane, and incorporated them into a tourist operation that also features several dining experiences and a cruise through the jungley mangroves along the local river on board The Reef Mariner.

Definitely looking the part … Tom Poritt, steam-locomotive driver at Choo Choos.

Definitely looking the part … Tom Poritt, steam-locomotive driver at Choo Choos.

And the Port Douglas adventure doesn’t begin or end with the town itself or the surrounds.

The drive of about an hour from Cairns Airport along the Captain Cook Highway and Port Douglas Road (better known locally as the Great Barrier Reef Drive) is a spectacular one that threads its way between the coast and lushly forested mountains which at times threaten to engulf it.

After Chris’s talk of the tall trees forming their own clouds I appreciate the return journey even more than the one there.

It’s a drive that promises much and delivers in spades.

Dining wise, Port Douglas is obviously a haven for lovers of seafood — and the prawns and fresh reef fish are to die for.

 Linguine with fresh prawns … a delight at Salsa.

Linguine with fresh prawns … a delight at Salsa.

I devoured the food at places such as 2Fish (www.2fishrestaurant.com.au) and Salsa (www.salsaportdouglas.com.au), but it was pipped by the first night’s salvo at Hi Tide by the Beach (www.hitide.com.au).

Bernard Korte, the new chef, has a rare ability with flavours, something that is amply shown in a dish of grilled snapper served with a combination of mashed and steamed root vegetables.

For general information visit www.visitportdouglasdaintree.com.au 

John Rozentals was a guest of Port Douglas Daintree Tourism.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop