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Port of Call
When it comes to vacationing in Australia, Melbourne and Sydney usually top the list. But there's more to the country than city life, great food and coffee.
The town of Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, an hour's drive away from Cairns, may not come to mind immediately but there is plenty to do.
For one, it is closest to the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest reef system, which stretches for over 2,000 km off the coast of Australia. The Reef has been severely affected by rising water temperatures, which makes visiting it even more urgent now.
More than a third of corals in the central and northern parts of the reef have died, according to researchers. A large percentage of individual reefs suffer from coral bleaching, where too warm water causes corals to expel algae living in their tissue and turn completely white.
But there is still much to be seen, if you head out to the very edge of the Barrier Reef. The easiest way to get there is by taking a Quicksilver cruise, which offers a full-day tour out to Agincourt Reef.
The Agincourt reefs are a small group of reefs running parallel to the Continental Shelf, and recognised as the most pristine eco-systems in the reef's environment. Just two kilometres beyond the outer edge of these reefs, the sea floor drops away to where the water is more than 500m deep. The clean, clear water from the deep ocean washing over these outer barriers helps promote the prolific growth of corals and supports spectacular marine life for which they are famous.
There are the usual options of scuba diving, snorkelling or helmet diving, to find Nemo. Those who want to stay dry can go into the semi-submersible which takes them one metre underwater to see the reef. But to fully appreciate how vast the Reef is, visitors will need to go on a helicopter tour.
Port Douglas is also home to Mossman Gorge. Located in the southern part of the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park, the gorge is one of the few places in Australia that visitors can gain an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the indigenous population and their connection to the natural environment.
On the Dreamtime Walk tour, an Aboriginal guide will take visitors through the gorge and regale them with stories of being chased by wild birds and how certain plants are used as medicine. Partake in a traditional smoking ceremony, visit a sacred ceremonial site and tuck into bush tea and damper to end.
While a visit to the Wildlife Habitat animal sanctuary may sound more suited for kids, it also appeals to those young at heart. The attraction is home to the cassowary, an endangered flightless bird with a population of less than 4,000 in the wild.
Since you can't go to Australia without hugging a koala bear, head to Wildlife Habitat - one of the few places in Australia where you can actually do that.
For local fare, head to Hemmingway's Brewery, located on the Reef Marina.As its name suggests, Hemmingway's brews six types of beer from pale ale to dark lager. From the food menu, go for the steaks. The beef comes from cows that are not only fed on grass, but on spent grain too.
Port Douglas offers a variety of accommodation choices, from apartments to beach houses.
The story goes of how the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas brought attention and luxury to the otherwise sleepy town, when it opened in 1987.
The hotel recently revamped, with room interiors reflecting the resort's sophisticated yet relaxed persona, featuring warm tones complemented by crisp, fresh textures and furnishings, inspired by the tropical north Queensland surroundings.
The resort also has its own private access to the Four Mile Beach, a popular stretch among local residents for their morning runs, and to catch the sunrise.
With the average temperature around 26 degrees Celsius, Port Douglas' warm tropical weather makes it an ideal year-round destination.
The writer was a guest of Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas.