Just some highlights - places that delighted and others that disappointed.
Flew with Virgin Australia. The flight was punctual in both directions but I must give kudos to the FAs on the outbound leg. A fellow passenger decided to vomit on boarding and the FAs, without batting an eyelid, donned gloves and set about cleaning up the mess as quickly as possible so boarding could continue. Unfortunately, it happened near our seat and the lingering odor made for an unpleasant experience. On the plus side, in return for having our olfactory senses abused for 3 hours, we were provided with ‘drinks on the house’ so all credit to Virgin and staff for handling the situation so well.
We opted for a rental car. We used Europecar at under $30 a day and were given an upgrade. Having heard so many horror stories, we furiously photographed each panel but we needn’t have bothered. Upon return, the rep gave the car a cursory once over and signed it off with no problems.
The main purpose of the getaway was to relax and unwind so we chose to stay at Thala Beach Lodge. Thanks to GW, Sunbird and Ellemay for recommending this place – it’s magnificent and perfect for what we wanted. I’ve posted a review so won’t go on about it here except to say that it’s a unique experience and we will definitiely return on our next visit.
Day on the Reef:
We went out with Aristocat
The day out was just over $200 per person.
For that we got pick up and return to our hotel, the trip to the Outer reef, visits to three different sites, all gear and equipment morning tea (muffins, cake), lunch (buffet) and afternoon tea (fresh fruit).
We went with this company after a recommendation and were not disappointed. The staff were friendly, but very professional, vigilant when swimmers were in the water and safety conscious. They provided flotation devices and life jackets for weak swimmers and took groups out around the reef for ‘show and tell’ lessons pointing out the different types of reef flora and fauna.
We only joined a group for a short time but they certainly knew their stuff and were able to answer all questions. The hot showers on-board were welcome at the end of the last swim when the wind picked up and it started to get chilly.
I did see Quicksilver loading up it’s 400+ passengers in PD and I was pleased there were only about 50 of us on our boat. Disappointment: we were out at low tide when the reef is almost exposed so we couldn’t snorkel over the reef and had to be satisfied with swimming around it.
Other big disappointment was that the whales were elusive on the day we visited. Aristocat has permission for swimming with whales – they lower a rope into the water and passengers can get in with the whales. Really disappointed we missed this opportunity.
We took a short trip to Mossman Gorge. With a car, this is just a half day or an hour or two on the way to or from the Daintree.
There’s a new car park since I last visited and they run buses to the Gorge – about $5 for the return trip. We decided to walk – it’s less than 2 km and fairly flat. The second part of the walk goes through some wonderful rainforest areas so unless one has mobility problems, I would recommend this option rather than whizzing through on a shuttle bus. The gorge itself is a wonderful place to refresh, cool down and have a swim in some icy water. It’s a lot busier than it used to be but still possible to find some nice secluded spots. Don’t leave your sandwiches lying around or the too tame Bush Turkeys will devour them in no time. Unfortunately, too many people have fed these birds in the past and they have lost all fear of humans (and they know we carry food in our packs!)
There’s a new visitors center at the car park so we decided to have a coffee. 15 minutes after ordering, I went to the counter (where they hadn’t started yet making my coffee) and changed our order to takeaway – ‘sorry, we’re very busy’ they told me.
There were at least 6 staff and we were THE ONLY customers! The coffee was undrinkable and the ‘fresh’ fruit salad was warm and starting to fester – both were thrown out – big disappointment.
Sailing at the Port Douglas Yacht Club. Turn up any Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm, put your name down on the list and go for a twilight sail with a local. It’s free, and a wonderful way to meet those who call PD home. The purpose of the afternoon is to raise money for the club so the expectation is that you will stay for a meal, buy a raffle ticket and, naturally, buy the skipper a beer or two. The food is typical club fare – substantial, not too expensive (about $20-$25 for a main) and of a pretty good standard. The location is fabulous – right on the river. OH went sailing while I kept myself firmly planted on the ground – sipping my wine on the banks of the inlet watching the sunset and waiting for the sailors to return. I don’t know who had a better time.
Day Trip to the Daintree
We took the advice of the hotel reception and got to the ferry early. The ferry fee is $23 return. I haven’t yet been able to work out if this money goes to the ferry operator or is, in fact, a National Park Entry fee. If the latter, then I don’t have a problem. If it goes to the ferry operator then it’s a serious rip off where similar punts in other places around Australia are subsidised by the Federal Government and are free.
There was no waiting and we were there well before the tour buses. Our first stop was the Daintree Discovery Centre. We were so pleased to have our own transport here as we spent a lot longer looking around than the tour buses. It’s a very well set up place with both audio information and a booklet to inform visitors about the different types of rainforest animals and plants. The staff are well versed and happy to answer any questions. I would suggest that visitors bring a picnic lunch here. The kiosk food is limited, expensive and not that good. There is a canopy tower that you can climb to get up to the tops of the trees and this is a wonderful place to sit and eat a picnic lunch among the rainforest birds.
Do bring binoculars if you have them. (another great thing about Thala – they lent us binoculars for the duration of our stay at no cost).
After the Discovery Centre we headed up to Cape Trib. It really is worthwhile stopping and taking some of the boardwalks along the way. One of our favorite stops was at Thornton Beach. The café there was a pleasant surprise as they had a good menu with a variety of imaginative food sourced from local products – and great coffee.
Daintree Ice Cream was a disappointment – very ‘bus tour’ oriented – line up, pay your money ($6 for the mandatory 4 flavors – no choices), eat your ice cream then go away. The ice cream was also not so great – hard and icy – which means it’s been re-frozen. And not even made of locally grown fruit – unless someone has figured out a way to grow blueberries in the tropics.
At $48 each one way for the train, we decided to drive to Kuranda. I’ve been on the train before and one assumes the mountains haven’t changed. Nearly $100 each for a train ride seems a bit OTT.
Kuranda was a huge disappointment to us. A tourist town full of tacky souvenir shops, overpriced cafes and a bunch of ‘theme parks’. The ‘Original Market’ is a shadow of it’s former self and most of the stuff on sale in the shops around town comes from China. Waste of a half day.
We called in briefly on the way back to the airport for a bite to eat and a quick look round. Should have allowed much more time and it’s on the list to explore next time. If you get a hire car out of Cairns it’s well worth a visit – only 5 minutes from the airport.
Some of the places we ate – an overview.
The Tea House in Daintree Village – loved it! Best Barramundi I’ve ever eaten and their fruit salad made of fresh jungle fruit like sour-sop and sapote is to die for!
Salsa PD – lives up to the hype in every way.
On The Inlet PD – great seafood in a fab location.
PD Yacht club – cheap and cheerful atmosphere in a divine setting.
The Court House Hotel in PD – good pub grub at reasonable prices. Get a table upstairs on the balcony overlooking the beach. Much quieter than downstairs.
Café Fresq in PD – great brekkie!
The Tin Shed – great location for a services club – right on the water. Good place to go if you like RSL type clubs. We found it too noisy – but then it was Friday night raffle night!
Ospreys at Thala Beach Lodge. Wonderful setting, fabulous views, great food and prices to match.
Generally, we found this a great time of the year to visit. No humidity, warm days, cool nights, no flying cockroaches or biting insects, no cane toads and clear blue skies. Fabulous time and made even better by the advice of the many on TA who have come before and who helped in our planning.