Man Vs. Queensland
Published 03 August 2012
Port Douglas is Australia’s epicentre for adventure and action sports, but beware the creepy crawlies and fast-approaching bumps, reports Ian Neubauer.
Allow me to begin with a little-known fact about Port Douglas: it has the cleanest tap water in Australia. Why? Because it comes from nearby Daintree Rainforest, where World Heritage status ensures its rivers and creeks are protected from interference for eternity. As a result, the water requires only minimal levels of treatment chemicals like chlorine and copper sulphate. “Are we all happy with Port Douglas’ finest?” is a typical comment from waiters at fine-dining restaurants like Salsa and Two Fish, just two of dozens of eateries, bars and luxuriant hotels that make Port Douglas the Hawaii of Australia – a tropical paradise that can be lazy and low-key or action-packed and adrenaline pumping as the visitor desires.
Port Douglas is the urban centre closest to the Great Barrier Reef, with Low Isle Reef only 16km offshore. One of the best ways to see it is on the Reef Sprinter – a 15-seat motorboat based at Marina Mirage. “We’re going to get you to Low Reef in 15 minutes,” says skipper Steve Sherwell. “How? The moment we clear the marina we open with 600HP. Take your hats off and place your bags under the seat. Anything you’re not holding onto will be blown away. All good? You’ve been warned.” After arriving at the reef, passengers spend 90 minutes snorkeling in the warm blue waters among a plethora of marine life including black tip reef sharks, which, while posing no threat to humans unless provoked, the sight of the largest two-metre specimen will, in Sherwell’s words, “get you blowing bubbles”.
On the other side of the Port Douglas headland is Four Mile Beach, where individuals partaking in WindSwell Wind and Water Sports’ stand-up paddle board class are required to sign a disclaimer with this irksome heading: “Are you aware that deadly marine jellyfish inhabit these waters?” But it’s just a formality, according to owner Bretto Wright: “It’s a bit windy today so we’re not likely to bump into any box jellyfish. Though a few mud geckos like hanging around this spot. Crocodiles, I mean.” Before launching into the water, participants are required to don full-body ‘stinger’ suits and shoes made from a blend of flexible high-tech fibres. They are then led to the water’s edge for a 10-minute introductory lesson, after which it’s sink or swim. And while the aim is to remain standing up – and out of reach of jellyfish – falling into the water is part and parcel. “My rule is if you’re not falling off, you’re not trying hard enough,” Wright says.
An hour’s drive south of Port Douglas is Barron Gorge National Park. There, Shawn Forster of Raging Thunder takes boatloads of tourists on inflatable rafts down the gorge’s frothing white-water rapids. “Today we have about 80 megalitres of water pumping through the gorge every hour, which translates into grade 3-4 rapids,” he says. “The highest commercial white water rafting in the world is grade 5. Anything higher than that is a death wish.” The river systems of tropical North Queensland are nesting grounds for crocodiles, though they don’t like fast-flowing water and are rarely around these parts. But following recent flooding, a four-metre crocodile was spotted at a once-popular swimming hole at the base of the gorge, with signs now warning visitors to stay out of water. “Rafting here isn’t risk free,” Forster says. “There are logodiles, rockadiles and crocodiles. You have to watch out for all three but you only have to worry about the last one.”
Every Thursday morning at 6:30am, Thor Stovell of PD Bikeworks sets off on a weekly bunch ride from Port Douglas’ Macrossan Street to Moybray, some 15km to the south. There’s no charge to tag along but you need to bring your own mountain bike – or hire one from the store. “Anyone with any sort of fitness can come along and enjoy the ride,” Stovell says. “We can also show you a few techniques like how to distribute your weight and navigate rocky hills.”
The route follows the Captain Cook Highway past Craiglie then turns inland along a series of firetrails that cut through sugar cane fields. A few kilometres later it joins a graded dirt road that leads to the Bump Track – a frighteningly steep, rock-strewn mountain path built in the nineteenth century to cart gold to the coast. The scenery is fantastic – as are the spills. One rider in our group ended up face down in the dirt after hitting a large rock on the return leg of the ride “coming off second best and looking for a Band-Aid afterwards.”
“There are logodiles, rockadiles and crocodiles. you only have to worry about the last one.”
More bush-bashing is on offer at Daintree Station, a 420-acre adventure park in the Whyanbeel Valley, 30 minutes north of Port Douglas. Visitors can explore on foot, on horseback or on Honda quad bikes as part of guided two-hour ‘Jungle Rumble’ tours. The two-hour tour commences with a 15-minute induction class before progressing to a motocross track that takes in sharp inclines and muddy bogs. If the group looks confident, they’re led to the third and final stage of the course in a rainforest setting featuring creek crossings, gangly exposed roots and overhanging branches that tend to catch onto quads in front of you and flick back with force. Participants are guaranteed to get muddy and possibly come off – an eventuation that cost me the skin off one of my elbows.
For a thrill like no other, visit the AJ Hackett Centre at Smithfield, home the only bungy jump site in Australia. My body and mind are at ease as I climb up the tower and am strapped into the harness. But when I’m helped onto the ledge I break out into a sweat and breathing becomes a labour – every molecule in my body is telling me to pull back. Before logic gets the best of me I just let go, falling ungracefully towards the ground as the world spins around me. Moments before impact I’m flung back into the air then left to dangle like a pendulum until the ground crew get a hold of me. Bungy is not something I’d ever do again. But like 400,000 others who came before me, I can say I did it; I overcame my fear.