Paradise in our own backyard

From our Brisbane office we collect tourism information and images from the most exotic places on the planet, and many of us regularly travel to far away continents to see it all for ourselves. Due to our eagerness to see new places, we almost forget that we have some of the world’s most incredible tourism destinations on our own doorstep: the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest of Daintree National Park.

From Brisbane, it’s only a 2-hour flight to Cairns, which is the gateway to these world-famous, UNESCO-protected, natural habitats. I first visited this remote corner of Australia 11 years ago, to meet up with my old flame and travel buddy, who was working here as a dive instructor. Embracing living in paradise, we ended up spending 2 blissful years in Port Douglas. Last week, we returned for a brief holiday with my visiting family from the Netherlands. Their excitement reminded us of how special this part of the world is.

Long beach walks and leisurely meals

During endless walks along Four Mile Beach, which is particularly stunning at sunrise, we cracked open coconuts whenever we got thirsty. Port Douglas’ iconic beachfront remains unspoiled thanks to strict developing rules and, looking inland from the beach, all you can see is bowing casuarina trees and waving palm trees.

The pace is slower in Far North Queensland and locals and visitors alike enjoy leisurely meals in the outdoors. We ordered soft crab burgers for lunch and salmon fish cakes for dinner at scenic venues overlooking the inlet. My partner and I also spent many a night with our toes dug into the sandy carpet of the Beach Shack, an all-time favourite with the locals.

The magical appeal of the Daintree

Nothing has changed here, except that nearby Mossman Gorge now has a visitor centre with arts exhibits and a café, run by the Aboriginal residents of the surrounding Daintree National Park. This used to be our swimming hole of choice in summer, as the gorge has icy cold, emerald waters. There are no crocs there, but my family took us out on a crocodile tour on the Daintree River to spot the mighty “salty”. Solar Whisper boats allow for a low-impact tour with a knowledgable guide.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Our old friends from Quicksilver Cruises took us out on their giant catamaran to the outer reef in the Coral Sea. During a relaxing scuba dive we admired small marine creatures, including parrotfish and clownfish, and species as big as ourselves, such as Queensland gropers and giant clams. After lunch (fresh prawns, anyone?), we snorkelled along the Great Barrier Reef with the family. The breaching humpback whales on our way back to port were a nice bonus for an already perfect day.

Romance in the rainforest

A real highlight was the Flames of the Forest experience. This fully catered night out includes a lavish 6-course dinner under the stars with live music and free-flowing fine wines (a shuttle bus gets you back home safe). The eclectic menu, featuring mainly locally sourced ingredients, included kangaroo carpaccio and crocodile rillettes. Atmospheric lights enhanced the rainforest canopy of the Mowbray Valley and romance was in the air.

After browsing the Sunday markets in Port Douglas we drove back to Cairns via the Atherton Tablelands where we visited Barron Falls and the heritage markets of Kuranda in the rainforest.

Within no time the plane got us back to Brisbane, but the memories of this picture-perfect holiday will last a lifetime.


Watch our Expedia Cairns Vacation Travel Guide: