Port Douglas – Queensland, Australia

In late May we headed to Port Douglas in Northern Queensland to catch up with some friends who have moved up there and to have a family holiday with Laura, Paul, Ashleigh and wee Taj : )

Our friends Kim and Graham who are originally from the UK but who have spent some time living in NZ decided to make Newell's Beach their home in July 2016.  Newell's Beach is located about 20 minutes north of Port Douglas.

It has been years since I have been up that way so it was nice to re acquaint myself with the area.  Kim is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to all things travel so she had some good tips and also showed us a few of her favorite spots.  The first one was a walk in the Mossman Gorge.

Mossman Gorge forms the southern sector of the renowned Daintree Rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest was World Heritage listed in 1988 and is the last remnant of the oldest surviving rainforest in the world. Here visitors are afforded a rare chance to revel in its beauty and take in every aspect of the Daintree region.  The Daintree Region is an area of ancient tropical rainforest containing one of the most complex ecosystems on earth. Spanning 120,000 hectares, the Daintree Rainforest is the largest portion of tropical rainforest in Australia.

The region contains over 135 million years worth of heritage making it a worthy inclusion on the World Heritage list. The listing has also aided in the fight to preserve the area for many generations to come.

The Kuku Yalanji people are the Indigenous inhabitants of the land and have a history dating back 50,000 years to the earliest human occupation of Australia. They are true rainforest people, living in complete harmony with their environment. It is part of them and they are part of it. Their traditional country extends from south of Mossman to Cooktown in the north, and Palmer River in the west.

The Mossman Gorge is steeped in history and legends that have been passed down through the generations of the Kuku Yalanji.

One of their greatest legends is a tale about the striking backdrop to the Gorge – Manjal Dimbi. Manjal Dimbi is the most prominent of all nearby mountains. Roughly translated, Manjal Dimbi means "mountain holding back". According to Aboriginal dreamtime stories, the large humanoid rock represents Kubirri, who came to the aid of the Kuku Yalanji when they were persecuted by the evil spirit, Wurrumbu. Kubirri holds back the evil spirit, who is now confined to The Bluff above Mossman River, Manjal Dimbi has been anglicised to "Mt Demi" and Kubirri is known as the "Good Shepherd.”

After our walk in the Mossman Gorge we took a drive to Silky Oaks which is a luxury eco lodge that sits high above the crystal-clear waters of the Mossman River and is enveloped by the lush Daintree Rainforest cloaking the steep mountain sides from the riverbanks.  A cocktail and high tea were in order – what a lovely spot.

We awoke on our second day to tropical rain – it was fair pouring down.  After a leisurely breakfast we took a drive to Tranquility Falls – a waterfall nestled in the rainforest which has a great swimming hole.  We were hoping that the rain would abate but it didn't – we wandered to the falls but none of us found swimming particularly appealing!  We drove back into the Daintree Village to have a coffee while the boys played a quick game of pool.  The rain had stopped by now.

That afternoon Kim and I drove into have a look around Port Douglas while Steve, Graham and Mark (Graham's nephew from the UK) played pool in Mossman.

We had a couple of great dinners with Kim, Graham and Mark.  It was good to see them and to see where they are living – frogs, cane toads, snakes, crocs and all : 0

We left Kim and Graham's early on day three and headed to Cairns Airport to pick Laura, Paul, Ashleigh and Taj up.  We hadn't seen Taj since December so we very much looking forward to seeing him.

On our way back to Port Douglas we called in to Chill Cafe in Palm Cove for breakfast – it was delicious and just what everyone needed.

We then carried onto our accomodation at the Pool Villas in Port Douglas which were very nice.  A refreshing swim in the hotel pool before we ventured back to the Mossman Gorge to do the walk.  You catch a bus from the Vistor's Centre to the start of the walk and the last bus back leaves at 5.30pm.  We had just over an hour to do the walk which is about 3km so plenty of time.  The swimming spot is towards the end of the walk so I decided to take a dip – it was about 5.25pm.  We fast walked the last 200 metres to see that last bus pulling out – we ran after it waving but it didn't stop.  We waited about ten minutes thinking maybe there was one last bus but no so we walked the 4km's back to the car – luckily it is pretty much all down hill and we didn't have Steve with us who would have moaned the whole way : )

The next day we decided to do a food and wine tour – there is an organised one you can do but unfortunatley they don't accomodate babies so we did our own one after some valuable input from Kim.

First stop was Kuranda which is a village in the rainforest where you find lots of art, tropical handicrafts and jewellery by local artisans. I had a wander down to the railway station where both the train and the Skyrail from Cairns come in.

Kuranda was first settled in 1885 and surveyed by Thomas Behan in 1888 in anticipation of development that would accompany the arrival of the railway. Kuranda Station is one of the earliest stations to be built in Australia. The current railway station was completed in 1915 using standard concrete units, and is one of the oldest remaining examples of its type in Queensland. Tourism started in Kuranda in 1930 when the first tourists arrived by train.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway opened in 1995 and is a world first in environmental tourism which takes you over Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest canopy and deep into the forest. The cableway is 7.5 kilometres long.

Next stop was de Brueys Boutique Winery where they specialise in tropical fruit wines, liqueurs and ports. We did a full tasting of all the wines, liqueurs and ports and they were very nice. The winery itself grew mangoes but acquired the other tropical fruits from local growers. There was also a whole rafter of turkey's who gobbled every time someone spoke to them. They provided good entertainment for Taj while we were tasting : )

We then went to the Mt Uncle Distillery who produce premium spirits and liqueurs. However, we were there for lunch rather than tasting this time. The Bridges Cafe and Restaurant came highly recommended and it didn't disappoint. They also have a few animals that you can visit like alpacas and donkeys.

The perfect after lunch treat is coffee and chocolate so the next stop was Coffee Works who are the original boutique roasters and chocolatiers of Tropical Australia. You pay an AU18 entry fee which allows you to try as many coffees, teas and chocolate flavours as you like – heaven! Luckily they were closing within the half hour or we could have been quite ill! They also have a coffee museum which was interesting – coffee has been a vice for many centuries : )

The Coffee Works museum is the result of Ian Bersten's lifelong passion with coffee.

Ian Bersten, a commerce graduate of the University of New South Wales, began roasting coffee in a small shop in Sydney in 1968 and was the founding director of the large coffee roasting company Belaroma, in Sydney. He sold his remaining share in the business in 2008.

Ian Bersten is an entrepreneur, writer and inventor. He has invented a coffee roaster, coffee brewer, coffee hoppers and a coffee grinder. In more recent times, he invented the Chaicoffski gourmet coffee and tea brewer. Ian has written four books, the most famous of which is in every serious coffee roasters library, Coffee Floats Tea Sinks. Ian also initiated a chocolate shop in Willoughby in Sydney in 2005 called Chocolate Genie.

Bersten's passion and his ability to speak 5 languages led him to dedicate 37 years of extensive research, including countless trips across the globe visiting vaults and historical archives to trace the origin, history and evolution of every style of coffee maker.

His attention to detail and insistent demand for facts, led him through the Patent Offices in Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the USA. He then went on to source and collect over 2000 significant coffee and tea making treasures dating back to the early 1700s. Coffee World is the culmination of Ian's life's work, and is the largest and most significant collection of its kind in the world.

Rob and Annie Webber, the owners of Coffee Works, have been in the coffee roasting business since 1988. Rob and Annie were casual collectors of antique coffee machines themselves. Ian's book Coffee Floats Tea Sinks was used as a reference book for purchasing around 400 antique coffee items. Rob and Annie purchased Ian's collection in 2005 and Coffee World was created in 2007. Prior to this, the larger parts of the Bersten collection were stored in cardboard boxes in a warehouse in Sydney and even Ian himself had not viewed the entire collection on display in one place.

Coffees of the World

All coffee growing countries of the world have a grading system for their green coffee beans. Obviously, the higher the grade, the better the quality, the greater the demand, the higher the price. There are 2 species of coffee plant grown commercially worldwide: Robusta and Arabica.

Robusta is a more robust plant in every way. It is tougher, higher yielding, has double the caffeine content and can grow right down to sea level. Quality and flavour of Robusta coffee is very inferior to Arabica coffee. Robusta sells for less than half the price of quality Arabicas on the world market. Robusta is used to make instant coffee. It is also used extensively by large commercial coffee roasters who blend Robusta with low grade Arabica coffees to produce coffees to compete on price rather than quality.

Arabica is higher grown and better quality coffee. Within the Arabica species there are approximately 20 different varieties of coffee, all with different characteristics.

Only 10% of all the Arabica coffee grown worldwide is of a quality to be classified as 'A grade' or speciality coffee. High grown Arabica coffee of this quality commands premium prices and is only sought after and used by speciality coffee roasters such as Coffee Works.

Key indicators used by all countries to determine the grading of their green beans ready for international sale are – the colour, size and density of the green bean and the presence or lack of impurities and imperfections found within a sample batch of green bean. Cupping quality is established by cupping roasted coffee samples to determine the presence of unpleasant and undesirable flavours or taints.

Coffee Facts

What does the coffee tree look like and where did it originate? Coffee is a subtropical plant with evergreen leaves. It originated as an under story plant in the highland tropical rainforests of Ethiopia. Coffee bushes can grow to 30 feet in height, but they are kept pruned to 12 feet for mechanical harvesting.

Where does coffee grow around the world? In a subtropical belt bordered by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Which species of coffee is grown in Australia? Arabica only.

How long does it take for a coffee bush to bear it's crop? 5 years from planting.

What is the life span of a coffee bush? 50 years plus.

When and how do the fruit form? Trees flower and fruit once per year.

How often do trees flower and fruit? Flowering occurs about 6 weeks after harvest in October / November. Coffee flowers resemble that of Jasmine. They are a beautiful white and slightly perfumed and last about 1 week.

When is flowering and what do the flowers look like? Coffee sets its fruits after flowering. The fruit begin as small green buds and take 8 to 9 months to ripen to a cherry red colour. The coffee bean roasted at Coffee Works is the seed from the centre of the coffee cherry. Each coffee berry contains 2 seeds.

How are coffee tree planted? From seedlings which can be grown directly from seed. It takes 18 months from seed to seedling ready for planting. Seedlings are planted in rows with 3 metres between rows and 1 metre between trees within the row. From planting it takes 5 years for a coffee plant to bear its first crop.

How is ripening of the cherry controlled in Northern Queensland? Growers purposely stress their trees immediately after harvesting by withholding irrigation and stressing the trees for 6 weeks. They then irrigate the trees heavily to make them flower uniformly.

At what time of the year is the Australian coffee harvest? Harvesting of ripe red coffee cherries occurs between June and August depending on the season.

What is the preferred method of processing Arabica coffee and why? Wet processing which gets better quality and hence better prices.

How much coffee does each tree bear? From every mature tree you can expect to get 1 to 2 kilograms of roasted coffee.

How much coffee is harvested per hectare? This varies from year to year but on average 1.2 tonne.

How much coffee is grown in Australia? 200 tonnes per year.

What percentage of the Australian crop in grown in Northern Queensland? 90%. There are twelve farms in the area. The only other place where coffee is grown in Australia is Northern New South Wales (NSW) where the land holdings are much smaller. It is hand picked there and therefore extremely labour intensive. There are about 70 farmers in Northern NSW and they produce about 10 tonne per year.

The major diseases affecting coffee are Coffee Rust and Coffee Berry Disease. These diseases are spread in the form of spores carried by the wind. Australia and Hawaii are the only two countries free of these diseases.

Temperatures below 7 degrees and above 33 degrees slow growth and reduce coffee production. Coffee bushes are highly susceptible to frost.

A viable size plantation is about 40 hectares and it costs about $1.4 million to establish a commercial coffee plantation. With hand picking one person can harvest about 12 kilograms of green coffee beans per day. Machine harvesting enables one person to harvest 8 tonne of green coffee beans per day.

After sampling lots of coffee and tea and an excessive amount of chocolate it was time to head back to Port Douglas.

The next day Paul, Ashleigh, Taj and myself went for a drive to the Daintree Discovery Centre which is north of the Daintree River which we had to cross via car ferry.

First up though we needed some sustenance so we visited the Floravilla Biodynamic Icecream factory where they make over 26 flavours capturing the essence of the local ingredients to make their unique range. It seems strange to have an icecream factory in the middle of a tropical rainforest but it works. They use biodynamic and organic ingredients – the milk is sourced from Mungalli Creek Dairy who use biodynamic farming techniques. The icecream was delicious – I had the signature icecream simply called Daintree Rainforest – it contained lemon myrtle, coconut, ginger, Daintree organic vanilla, kale and spirulina. OMG it was perfect.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is a window into the workings of the rainforest from the plant life to the bird, animal and insect life. They have different areas focusing on the different aspects. They also have an aerial walkway and 23 metre canopy tower allowing you to get into the canopy of the rainforest. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much wildlife – the ranger we met said that it can be a bit hit and miss depending on the time of the day. The centre itself is extremely informative with lots to see.

The Daintree is one of the few places where the rainforest meets the reef, but it is its antiquity that sets it apart. It is the oldest intact lowland tropical rainforest in the world. Thought to be around 180 million years old, it is truly one of Earth's most precious, living treasures. The Amazon rainforest is only though to be 7 million years old.

Around 120,000 years ago, consecutive ice ages occurred. The rainforest contracted and expanded and animals either adapted to the conditions or disappeared. The Daintree region, which sits in within the Wet Tropics, became a refuge for ancient and unique plants and animals.

Within this refuge many species were able to live without reason to change and their descendants today retain many of their primitive characteristics, some dating back 110 million years.

The plant diversity and structural complexity here is unrivalled anywhere else on Earth. It includes 12 of the 19 primitive flowering plant families and represents the origins of many of Australias most familiar flora. The Wet Tropics represent a major stage of the Earth's evolutionary history – almost a complete record of the evolution of plant life.

The wet tropical rainforests of North-East Queensland contain the richest fauna diversity in Australia. The region, which represents less than 0.1% of the Australian continent by area, contains:

20% of Australia's bird species

35% of Australia's frogs, marsupials and reptiles

65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species

Even more important is that over 70 animals and 700 plant species found in the Daintree Rainforest are endemic to North East Queensland.

One bird that we were all very keen to see was the Cassowary. I had never even heard of this bird before my visit to the Daintree Discovery Centre. They are a keystone species, which means they are vital for seed dispersal in the rainforest. Described as living dinosaurs, these ancient birds began to evolve around 60 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when non-avian dinosaurs were the dominant animal life on Earth. More than 150 rainforest plants rely on them to spread their seeds, especially the large fruit species.

Fully grown female Cassowaries stand at 1.8 metres tall and weigh over 60 kilograms. Mature males are much smaller at 1.5 metres and about 35 kilograms. Cassowaries tend to be solitary. They are quite territorial and will defend their local patch if threatened. In fact, mature birds only tolerate each other during mating. However, they avoid confrontation wherever possible and generally announce their presence by making a deep rumbling sound. Fruit makes up 99% of the Cassowary's diet, with the other 1% being mostly insects, snails and fungi.

Cassowaries usually breed from June to October. The female generally lays about four eggs in a sheltered spot directly on the forest floor. The male then incubates the eggs for about 50 days. Once the chicks have hatched, he then takes sole responsibility for rearing them for up to 16 months.

The latest study lists the number of Cassowaries in Australia's Wet Tropics to be around 4000.

The next day Paul and Ashleigh travelled down to Cairns to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. That meant we were in charge of Taj for the day. Laura was on hand for the main duties, one of which was nappy changing 😂😂

We walked into Port Douglas as there was a big craft market on as well as a concert for kids being performed by the LaLa's. We thought that sounded like a bit of Taj but when we got there he proceeded to sleep! Laura and I didn't think we would get much out of the LaLa's so we went for coffee instead. Along the way we saw a mechanical life size elephant and again Taj slept through all the excitement.

However, he did wake up for a trip on the Bally Hooley Steam Railway line.   The coal fired train takes you from Port Douglas to Choo Choo Cafe just around the corner from where we were staying. There are a couple of trains that make the journey and these were the last trains used by the Mossman Sugar Mill to haul sugarcane to the Mill before switching over to diesel.  The historic track has been in existence for over a century. 

We spent the afternoon relaxing and then waited for Paul & Ashleigh's return. Unfortunately there was a serious accident between Cairns and Port Douglas closing the road which meant they had to take the inland road which doubled the travel time. Taj was great all day but was super excited to see his Mum and Dad when they finally got home about 7.30pm.

On our last day in Port Douglas we were lucky enough to go out crocodile spotting with our friend Graham. He skippers a boat called Solar Whisper that does wildlife spotting tours on the Daintree River. The boat is powered by solar and electric engines when there is not enough sun. The tide was quite high but we were fortunate enough to see 7 crocodiles. We even got to see the big daddy of his part of the river called Scarface. He is huge and got his name due to the number of scars he has on his face as a result of lots of fights with other crocodiles.

There are two species of crocodiles in Australia, the Saltwater and Freshwater species, and only the "salties" inhabit the Daintree River. It's scientific name is Crocodylus Porosus and its habitat ranges throughout the Indo Pacific regions.

Although history suggest the animals to be very big, the largest crocodiles seen in Australia these days would be between 5 and 6 metres. The Daintree River has a population of about 70 adult crocodiles, the largest being the males at about 5 metres. The females reach about 3.5 metres, and there are many juveniles and hatchlings.

The population is described by the experts as being low density, and that is because of prolonged hunting over many years. By 1974 the numbers were dangerously low and legislation was introduced to protect them. The numbers have come back slightly to the present sustainable level and they are still breeding successfully.

They breed during the summer by laying many eggs in a large composting mound which they construct. The eggs are incubated for three months until they hatch during the Wet season. There is about a 30% hatching rate. The hatchlings are 20cm long and stay with the female for several weeks or months before dispersing. If one or two survive, nature has been successful.

Some of the predators include goannas which will dig into the nest to take the eggs, while fish, sharks and birds attack the hatchlings. For safety while fishing, hatchlings move along the edges in the shallows catching prawns, crabs and small fish. The larger crocs have a staple diet of fish and crabs although they are opportunistic and great scavengers.

After the boat cruise we said goodbye to Graham and headed back to Tranquility Falls. It was a lovely day today so no excuse not to go swimming. Only Paul and I enjoyed a swim – the others thought it was too cold. Compared to NZ fresh water swimming holes it was tropical : )

That night we enjoyed a lovely meal at the Beach Shack which is a neighbourhood restaurant not in the heart of Port Douglas. It was set outdoors with a sand floor. The food was lovely so would highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.

We had an early start the next morning to get back to the airport in Cairns and to go our separate ways back to our respective homes. It had been a great few days and I really enjoyed exploring what the area had to offer which is a lot. There are a lot more boutique food producers in the Tablelands that we didn't get to visit so we'll put that on the list for next time.



This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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