Going troppo

I’d imagined Port Douglas would be like Byron Bay, only hotter. In fact it is more like Double Bay gone troppo.

Built for well-heeled tourists, the town is composed of man-made tropical gardens, tourist accommodation, shopping and eating places — and day spas. There is one petrol station, hidden in a back street. The petrol is cheap; the accommodation is not. The range of designer and exotic clothes was vast, and surprisingly inexpensive for their quality.

At half the price of the Peppers Day Spa, we had a fantastic long massage each at the friendly Port Douglas Day Spa in the main street, near Paddy’s Irish Pub. I highly recommend this Spa: instant results.

When I returned to the waiting room, all pink and relaxed and oily, a man seated there said, ‘I hope I come out looking as beautiful as this young woman’. He wouldn’t believe I was nearly 60, and I wouldn’t believe the owners hadn’t paid him to sit there and say such things.

Painted my toenails hot pink for the first time in 30 years after that!

The many restaurants seemed dear to me, and were astonishingly lacking in even token vegetarian options. Seafood is big, of course, and Emily made the most of that.  Daytime — the coffee, the whimsy and the background music at the buzzy Re-hab in the main street is great.

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On the third night we discovered ‘Gone Bananas’, and fell in love with its unique indoor rainforest atmosphere, its cheery and efficient staff — and its fabulous food. Great value for its very reasonable prices — we’d have thought so at higher ones.

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Tropical mountains

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Up there beyond Cairns they have spectacular mountains looming close to the coast. Like my own mountains, they too are often shrouded in mist – and mystery.

There is a sharp contrast between the well-used flatlands of sugarcane, cow pastures, and, increasingly, housing estates.

Head up into those hills, dodging the little sugarcane trains whose tracks meander over the paddocks and across the roads, and there is sudden primeval rainforest, too steep to have been cleared.

We peeked in at the edges of the World Heritage Mossman Gorge, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Daintree River, where signs warned us of crocodiles and tourist buses and adventure tour 4WDS flowed as abundantly as the water.

My friend Emily last came here 40 years ago, when Cairns was but a tiny village and there were nought but a few dirt tracks to threaten the Daintree. I guess this is Progress.

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The Woman wallows in Luxury

 My friend Emily won this trip for two to Port Douglas as a result of purchasing pyjamas for her husband, my old mate Ken, when he was in hospital. Sadly, he didn’t get to wear them for very long.

At his wake, Emily had invited me to join her on this trip, and many months later, here we were — two aging but sparky battlers, swanning about as if they were born to it, at the very expensive Pepper’s Beach Club.

Our room was actually a suite, very posh — and tasteful — which don’t always go together. Only nine months old, it felt like it had been designed for better things, as there were a surprising amount of glitches in maintenance. And a most disappointing meanness: all goodies were extra, like real coffee with your breakfast.

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Five star suite – half a star breakfast

In the delightfully situated open dining area by the fake lagoon, each morning we faced a truly boring packet cereal, tinned watery juice, greasy spoon option breakfast. I’d imagined tables groaning with tropical fruits, but here we groaned and the baked beans were the safest bet.

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Our suite had a full kitchen – stainless steel, of course – and a full laundry, in which I faced the most annoying washing machine ever invented. I put the clothes in and searched long and hard for a hollow for the washing powder. I eventually found it, but only by reefing out a whole section of the machine.  I poured soap powder into the hole and replaced the part. How stupid! Obviously designed by a man! ETC.
Then the dumb machine kept going straight to ‘dry’ – wouldn’t let me select anything else but times!

Yes, you know why: it was a dryer. The washing machine was beneath it.
Sometimes I think I should just stay on the mountain. I can’t keep up with these new-fangled androgenous machines.

From the far side

For once I am looking down on cloudland instead of up or across. Only it’s not my cloudland, for I’ve flown to far north Queensland for a four-day holiday, to keep my friend Emily company. The things you do for friends!

Once my nervous system settled down from the take-off, I could kid myself it was all just a passing panoramic picture and I wasn’t really up here in a man-made, man-maintained, flimsy, fallible metal thing, pretending to be a bird.

Then I could marvel at the extraordinary topsy-turvy cloud world below.

There were flat cloud lakes, fields of clouds raked like Japanese pebble gardens, with now and then a tall cloud ridge rising above them. Rarely did the world below intrude, like this dark mountain ridge like a man waving – ‘Hey mountain woman, what you doin’ up there?’

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Once we were nearing the Whitsundays, the sea blues changed to aquas and greens as the coral reefs appeared.

It seemed as if every island of any size had developments on it, and the tiny white darts of boat wakes were plentiful.

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I was spared the Qantas idea of vegetarian food because we forgot to tell them about my inability to eat the beef or chicken options. I could at least have the coffee, but since I didn’t put my glasses on to open the sugar sachet, I flavoured it with black pepper and had to ask for another. Darn nuisances, these vegos!

Landing at Cairns was as scary as landing anywhere else: I hate the feeling of uncontrolled speed after the bump of re-connection.

Cairns felt warm and looked overdeveloped, but we only saw it through the windows of our airconditioned limo as the driver whisked us off along the narrow coast road to Port Douglas. Life can be very hard at times.