Its an over cast day. The girls did not get their shopping fix in Cairns so everyone is in agreement – Port Douglas here we come.
Port Douglas was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold. It grew quickly, and at its peak Port Douglas had a population of 12,000 and 27 hotels. When the Kuranda Railway from Cairns to Kuranda was completed in 1891, the importance of Port Douglas dwindled along with its population. A cyclone in 1911 demolished or severely damaged all but seven residential buildings and 4 commercial buildings, including the Wharf buildings (rebuilt), the Courthouse (rebuilt), the Catholic church (rebuilt) and Chinese temple (not rebuilt). At its nadir in 1960 the town, by then little more than a fishing village, had a population of 100.
In the late-1980s, tourism boomed in the region after investor Christopher Skase financed the construction of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort. It was following this development that Port Douglas had a rebirth with the town doubling in size during the tourism months. Hence the girls excitement – shops and more shops.
Something it does not wish to be remembered for is that on 4 September 2006, television personality and conservationist Steve Irwin died at Batt Reef, off Port Douglas, after a stingray barb pierced his heart during filming of a documentary.
Arriving in Port Douglas we went to the waterfront and then onto the hill behind the centre of the town which provides an excellent view of the residential part of the town to the south. Shrouded in mist and low cloud, the view of the cove and beach edged by tropical growth gives a picture of a slumbering paradise. This is far from the truth. It is only Covid restrictions and business closures that give it that impression – generally it is bright and busy.
The Island Point Lighthouse stands on a short ridge below the lookout. The modern version replaced the weatherboard version which had been blown over in the 1911 cyclone. It still operates today but as an automated lighthouse. After leaving the lighthouse we walked back to our car in the park by the foreshore. An old weatherboard building stood before us – here was the courthouse rebuilt after the 1911 cyclone; testament to the village that has grown to be a town once again.
We drove around to that beach we had seen from the lookout. Kicking our shoes off we strolled out onto the sand to look back at the hill. Scaling the hill and only visible from the beach is a walkway and stairs to take you up to the lookout. From there the path circumnavigates the hill past the lighthouse and in the the courthouse park. Just thinking about that walk made us hungry – lunch beckoned. Our journey had brought us to the local surf club. The inviting deck with views to the beach and the cove was appealling, so we walked in and ordered lunch. It was a bit of deja vue. I felt I was here before – not in another life. But the previous time 20 years or more ago I was alive in Port Douglas. And the food tasted just as old – we ordered a bucket of prawns which probably came from the frozen stock when I visited 20 years beforehand. The redeeming feature was they had Tooheys Old on tap.
I was unable to deny them any longer and we headed for the shops. There are two parrallel streets of shops running sideways up the base of the hill and all competiting for the tourists’ attention. Of the 27 original pubs there are probably half a dozen. The Iron Bar caught my eye as its decor is intended to do and like bees to the honey pot patrons packed the place. The southern Mississippi style joint beside it is a renovated accomodation hotel and the contrast is dramatic. To remind us it was spring the crab apple tree in the centre of the road was blooming magnificently much more so than the shops which appeared neglected and sad. So we strolled on shop after shop and even the ladies got bored with it so we gave up and went home.
I am buggered as to what people see about Port Douglas. Sure the reef is close by if you have a boat, there is a nice beach but I prefer something with a rolling surf, no box jellyfish or salty crocodiles, and there is a marina full of boats of all sizes but little else to see.