Port Douglas, Wednesday 5 to Wednesday 12 June 2019

We had a week in Port Douglas staying at the Sheraton Mirage for our honeymoon way back in February 1991—this was a wedding present from Ian’s brother, Alan, who worked there in Security at the time. We then spent a week at Silky Oaks in Mossman where we met long time friends Bill and Diane Holloway from Canada. We have many fond memories of that fortnight in North Queensland at the start of our married life together. In November 2010, we enjoyed another week at the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas, but we also discovered another resort with a great poolside restaurant where we had some drinks and meals.

A couple of years ago we became owners of the WorldMark South Pacific Club, which owns resorts in Australia and overseas. The Club works by issuing vacation credits annually, and they expire if not used. The Club owns part of the Ramada Resort in Port Douglas, so early this year we booked a motel room there for a week to give us a rest from the motorhome.

As we did not expect the Ramada to be able to accommodate Dexter, we needed to find doggy accommodation for this period. We left it rather late to organise this—during the drive from Townsville to Port Douglas. We found that the only advertised dog boarding available in the Cairns to Port Douglas area was the K9 River Retreat in Kuranda. This was kennel-free boarding, and it looked wonderful, but we did not think it was possible to drive there and still end up in Port Douglas before sunset. Ian booked it for Dexter from the Thursday, which meant we would have had an interesting drive to Kuranda that day.

We still needed to find a place for Dexter to stay on the Wednesday night, so in desperation, Ian rang a doggie daycare place in Cairns—Pupstars Daycare and Grooming. Pupstars confirmed that they did not do overnight boarding, but we were put in contact with Kim, who is associated with Pupstars and minds dogs in her home. Relieved, we arranged to drop Dexter off at Pupstars with all of his things, and Kim would call in later to collect him. This is indeed what we did, and we continued on to Port Douglas, no doubt with Dexter wondering what had just happened.

We checked into the Ramada Port Douglas, and were delighted to find that it was the resort we had found in 2010. We had to park Matilda on the grassy reserve on the street as there was not a large enough space in the carpark. At the time this did not seem ideal, but in the end it was fine and we had no problems.

We did several trips unloading our stuff from Matilda to our hotel room. Ian then moved his bike into the staff bicycle parking area. The hotel room we stayed in had minimal facilities with tea and coffee only. Katie was disgusted as there were not even any biscuits to go with a cup of tea. Normally, we have stayed in WorldMark accommodation that is self contained. At Port Douglas, we felt we needed a break from cooking, and that we could either go to restaurants, or still cook meals in Matilda. For this trip, we were using vacation credits that would otherwise have expired before we left home.

After we settled into our room at the Ramada, we spoke to Kim on the phone. She has two Red Kelpies at home and said that they would be good company for Dexter. Her daughter Grace can also mind Dexter if Kim is at work. Dexter appeared to have settled in well at Kim’s home, and so we arranged for him to stay for the rest of the week.

Ramada Resort Port Douglas
Ramada’s poolside restaurant with trees growing through the roof
The pool

For readers who are not familiar with the State of the Origin games (maybe because they are unlucky to live in a country that is not Australia), this is an annual Rugby League contest between two rival Australian states—New South Wales (The Blues) and Queensland (The Maroons). The contest consists of three games, and every game is watched by most people in these two states, regardless of whether they are rugby league followers! Game 1 of the State of Origin between New South Wales and Queensland was scheduled for the first night of our stay at the Ramada. We decided to have dinner at the Ramada restaurant next to the pool to watch the game with other patrons of the Resort. Ian had a Hawaiian chicken schnitzel, while Katie had salt and pepper squid, which Ian mostly ate as the dish was too “salty” for her! We finished dinner earlier than expected, and retired to the comfort of our room to watch the game.

In the end, New South Wales lost to Queensland by 14 to 18 even though NSW played well in the first half. This has been the usual result over the last decade. For some reason, the Queenslanders seem to have more stamina to play the full game than NSW.

Our friends Grant and Jacqui from North Arm and Jacqui’s parents, Ron and June, had arranged to stay in Port Douglas for a few days to celebrate Ron’s birthday from the day we were to check out from the Ramada. We had briefly met Ron and June a couple of years ago, and even considered dropping in to see them at Yorkeys Knob, which is on the north side of Cairns. As we eventually did not have the time to drop into Yorkeys Knob on our way to Port Douglas, we were keen to catch up with them before we headed for Cooktown.

On Thursday, we extended our stay at Ramada for one more night, making a total of seven nights, with no need to change our room. We then drove around Port Douglas to see what had changed since 2010. In short, not much! We drove Matilda to the northern end of Port Douglas Beach near the Surf Club and found a top parking spot opposite the beach. It was a grey, windy day, and there were not many people around. For a late lunch, Ian cooked a Thai style chicken chow mien inspired by Jacqui. It was so relaxing on a cloudy day to eat our lunch inside Matilda, well out of the wind and occasional shower, with a view of a serene beach almost all to ourselves!

Matilda parked opposite the beach
A grey day at the beach, but the lifesaver remained on the lookout for idiots in the rough water
Thai style chicken chow mein

One of the characteristics of WorldMark South Pacific Club properties is that owners are invited to attend an “update” on the club early in their stay. Vouchers and wine are usually offered as enticement, but these “updates” are really sales pitches designed to sell you more vacation credits. Our meeting with one of the sales representatives was held on Friday morning. We have 12,000 vacation credits, and we were strongly urged to buy more to bring our total to 20,000 and enable us to enjoy more privileges. However, we are happy with what we have, and dug our heels in for over two hours. We spent the rest of the morning writing up our blog. Ian took the opportunity to practise his guitar and uke, strumming in our hotel room. Ian’s playing has improved tremendously through much practise, while Katie’s playing has relapsed through lack of it!

Ian playing his guitar

On Friday night, we slummed it by having dinner at the Ramada restaurant. Ian could not resist the crocodile (spring) rolls—they were OK, tasted unsurprisingly like chicken.

Risotto and crocodile spring rolls

We still felt slack on Saturday, so we had breakfast at the Ramada restaurant where Ian became intrigued with a pancake making machine. He made the trip’s second Canadian breakfast of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

The latest must-have kitchen gadget—a pancake machine

We spent much of Saturday morning exploring the shops in the town centre. We bought a hat each,  had a drink in the Rattle ‘N” Hum. Ian checked out a bottle shop and found some local beer on offer, which he just could not walk past. In Matilda, while parked with a view of the river, we cooked lamb cutlets and served them with an Italian salad for our main meal of the day. Ian tried the Hemmingway XPA and was pleased to find it very hoppy—excellent! It just couldn’t get much better. Back in our motel room, Ian played more guitar and uke.

We sprang out of bed relatively early on Sunday morning and drove to the Port Douglas markets. We found a great parking spot, then a coffee van that used locally grown coffee beans, and then a brekkie van where we enjoyed egg, bacon and avocado rolls. We lapped up the market life.

The river looking upstream towards the Marina
Good to see local coffee—from Mourilyan, near Innisfail
Top breakfast from this van

The market was large and has a variety of stalls selling produce specific to North Queensland such as paw paw, dragon fruit, sugar cane juice, custom jewellery, sun dresses, etc. We bought lots of sugarcane juice from Bruno, who has been at the Port Douglas market for many years—we think we bought juice from him in 2010. Sugarcane juice must really be the nectar of the gods!

Bruno the sugarcane juice man

Katie bought Ian a T-shirt with a Big History theme, while Ian bought Katie one that depicts Star Wars Meets Abbey Road. Ian taught a Big History course to the University of the Third Age in Maitland last year—this is a short history of everything since the Big Bang!

Ian’s new Big History T-shirt

Katie went to a Sunday community worship service at the cute little St Mary’s by the Sea church. Meanwhile, Ian conducted research into tropical beverages at Hemingway’s Brewery at the Marina.

Katie coming out of St Mary’s by the Sea
Hemmingway’s tasting paddle
Tasting notes

Ian’s research had an interesting result. As usual, the tasting paddle was organised to taste the beers in an increasing order of hoppiness (very similar to happiness for a lover of pale ale), with the 5th beer being the XPA, which is called Doug’s Courage. Ian was surprised that the taste of the XPA from the tap in the paddle was nothing like the same XPA he bought in cans the previous day.

Apparently, Hemmingway’s at Port Douglas has been so successful, that the owners have opened a brewery in Cairns, and now most of the beer is brewed in Cairns. The waiter was not able to say which beers were brewed where. Ian was not able to get an explanation of why the XPA was so different between the tap and the cans.

We had lunch at the Court House Hotel, where Ian finally got a chance to have an “original” XXXX Bitter. Unfortunately, it came in a stubby rather than out of the tap. Ian remembers when this was the most popular beer in Queensland, but now that title goes to XXXX Gold light beer. It had been many years since he had tried XXXX Bitter, but felt that the current offering in the stubby had changed, not for the better. For lunch, Ian thoroughly enjoyed a Coral Sea(food) curry, while Katie picked at a lovely Vietnamese chicken and prawn salad and took most of it away.

XXXX Bitter—the Original, but not the same

We drove to the Marina and found empty shops and the place devoid of tourists, apart from Hemmingway’s and another restaurant facing the river. We spoke with a lady in a shop from which we bought some stuff back in 2010. She said that the last couple of years have been very poor, with very few tourists. We can remember back in 1991 when the Marina was part of the Sheraton-Mirage Resort, and it buzzed with visitors, especially people from Japan.

We had a rest day at the Ramada on Monday. Ian had a touch of the trots, probably due to the previous day’s seafood curry. However, by the evening, Ian was feeling good again, and we decided to have another dinner by the pool. Ian just could not go past the goat curry, which was one of the specials on offer and triggered happy memories of his trek in Nepal, while Katie had a huge battered mackerel with chips and salad.

During our week at the Ramada, Kim updated us on Dexter. He was getting along well with the Red Kelpies, and Kim managed to get Dexter to accept wearing a coat. Later, Dexter also had a new doggie friend that looks like a Labrador cross. He made himself at home with Kim’s daughter, Grace.

Dexter in a tartan coat with his new Red Kelpie friends
Dexter with Kim’s daughter, Grace, and another doggie friend

On Tuesday morning, Ian played more uke and guitar. He was getting pretty good at the songs he got from Rob in the Gold Coast. He could play some of the songs on both instruments.

We met up with Grant and Jacqui, and Jacqui’s parents Ron and June, for dinner in the Court House Hotel on Tuesday evening. Everyone liked Ian’s latest science-based T-shirt and Katie’s new Star Wars Meets Abbey Road T-shirt. Ian steered clear of the seafood curry and chose the relatively safer option of a steak, while Katie again ordered the Vietnamese salad.

Ian explained that we had not been very adventurous while at Port Douglas for the past week. We did not even venture from the town. Ian spent a lot of time playing his ukulele and guitar in our motel room, and has mastered many of the songs he received from Rob in the Gold Coast. However, one song that he could not get out of his head was The Green, Green Grass of Home, which he was singing and playing on both the uke and the guitar. It was actually becoming a serious problem, and Ian was having sleepless nights as a result. He mentioned this to one of the staff at the Ramada, who very kindly arranged an emergency appointment for Ian with her GP. We went to see the GP, and explained that Ian could not get The Green, Green Grass of Home out of his head, even when playing other songs. The doctor told Ian that he had a condition known as Tom Jones’ Syndrome. Ian asked if it was common, and the doctor replied, “Its not unusual…” (Adapted from our good friend John H in Melbourne.)

The six of us had a very convivial evening. After dinner, Ron gave us a bag of large mandarins from his garden to enjoy on the rest of our trip. We also expected some grapefruit from Grant’s overproductive grapefruit tree, but there was some excuse about baggage limitations on the plane.

Grant, Jacqui, June, Ron and Katie after dinner. Katie Is wearing her Star Wars Meets Abbey Road T-shirt with four Stormtroopers using a pedestrian crossing.

After having lazed around in Port Douglas for a week, Ian took the Trek mountain bike for a ride early on the last morning, Wednesday, north along the beach to wake up Grant. Grant was already up, so Grant and Jacqui grabbed bikes from their resort, and the three rode off and found coffee at The Little Larder. The coffee was good. They then rode south along the beach, and Grant and Jacqui accompanied Ian back to where Matilda was parked.

Brilliant morning for a beach ride on the Trek. No idea who the other rider is—he is just there for scale.
Jacqui and Grant on bikes on the beach
Grant and Ian preparing to do some trick riding

We packed up Matilda, checked out of the Ramada, and headed south to Cairns. We stopped on the way at the famous Rex Lookout for some happy snaps. We had another brief stop at Ellis Beach to eat our red dragon fruit that we bought the other day at the market. Dragon fruit is the fruit of a type of cactus, and we saw lots of it growing on the Sunshine Coast—even Grant has some growing up fence posts. We were more used to the white dragon fruit that is more common in Asia, but the red one was refreshing too.

The Rex Lookout on the Captain Cook Highway between Port Douglas and Cairns, looking south
Red dragon fruit

We navigated to Kim’s work place, and we met Kim for the first time. Clearly, she had fallen in love with Dexter and the feeling was mutual. Sadly, we had to relieve her of Dexter, and we drove off to our next adventure in Cooktown.

Kim with Ian and Dexter, next to Matilda

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