Port Douglas, Australia - A family hot spot

Inspiration:

We went as an extended family for a long over-due family vacation- 2 Grandparents, 3 couples and 4 grandchildren (aged infant to 8 years)

Getting there:

We flew into Cairns airport and hired cars for the short drive to Port Douglas around 1 hour. There are many flights in and out of Cairns from all major cities in Australia.  

Many people also use Port Douglas as a stop as they drive up or down the East coast of Australia.

Local Knowledge:

Port Douglas is one of many locations located along the North-Eastern coast line of Australia that runs parallel to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, The Great Barrier Reef. The Barrier Reef along with the many islands dotted around it are a massive tourist attraction to the area.

Words of Wisdom: 

Port Douglas has a reasonable sized supermarket and othernecessary services pharmacies, etc, although they are a a fair bit more expensive than in Cairns. So if you have time, it might be worth stopping in Cairns to buy some of the things you might need. Getting around Port Douglas would be difficult without a car, there is a taxi service but not many. Most places are within walking distance of the main street, but if you need to get anywhere quickly you will 

need a car. There are places to see within day-trips of Port Douglas, so if you fly in from Cairns, consider hiring a car rather than getting a shuttle bus or other to Port Douglas

Where to Stay: 

Port Douglas has a huge variety of accommodation options from low cost back-packer hostels, 5 star hotels and boutique B&Bs. We stayed at The Sheraton as The Sheraton has a reputation for being very family friendly. The Sheraton rooms were quite dated when we stayed there (2014), however I’m aware they have more recently completed refurbishments which have apparently breathed new life into the property. The facilities at The Sheraton are excellent, especially for children. The large pool/lagoon provides a safe but beach style place for kids to play. There is also direct access onto the beach - some people swim at the beach, however it should be noted that crocodiles and dangerous jellyfish can be an unwanted hazard. The buffet breakfast at the Sheraton is excellent and whilst the restaurants are adequate, there are some really great options in Port Douglas that I would suggest. There is fitness centre and golf club associated with the Sheraton. 

Both are a little dated, with the gym especially in need of some new equipment. The golf course is fun and a highlight is the resident crocodile in one of the lakes – added incentive to not hit in the water

What to do:

Scuba Diving: If you don’t have your SCUBA certification, planning a holiday to Port Douglas, or anywhere along the Barrier Reef, is a great incentive to go and get it! Its no secret that the reef has suffered due to human impact and whilst the diving is still excellent, it may not stay that way and they may look at further tightening up on access for tourists. We booked a days diving with Blue Dive. It was a full day out on the water with everything included. My wife and I had an instructor with us, which is something I always prefer when diving a new location. 

The large boat had many people including sightseers,  snorkelers and experienced scuba divers – with a guide we felt totally looked after the entire time. Without a doubt, the most complete way to experience the reef is scuba diving. You can get a pretty good look at some of the shallower areas by snorkel and mask, but the underwater world opens up the further you go. This dive was the first time I had taken a recently purchased GoPro with me – I really enjoyed being able to capture what we were seeing. 

From talking to other divers and the instructor, it certainly sounded like the 2-3 day “live-a-board” dive tours that allow you to spend more time out there and visit more remote areas of the reef are the best way to scuba dive this area. We simply didn’t have the time, however it has been added to the list and would be well worth looking into if you want to spend more of your time diving.

Yacht Charters:

For people looking to experience the reef, but also have an amazing family experience, I strongly recommend chartering a yacht for the day. It is not a cheap exercise, however when spread across a family it can be economical and the experience was an absolute highlight for everyone in our group. The yacht took us all to an island where everyone could walk around, the children could paddle or experiment with snorkeling and the adults could snorkel deeper or simply relax in sun. We also snorkeled off the back of the anchored yacht with several reef sharks and giant trevally - an amazing experience.

The crew provided a gourmet lunch and were a great help making sure all the children had a fun day.

I think if you are visiting Port Douglas as a large group or family, definitely consider this! We booked through the same company that arranged our Scube Diving, Blue Dive and I couldn’t speak highly enough of how they managed everything from booking to helping the last person off the boat!

Crocodile Tours: 

Tours leave from the marina and take you up the estuary.  It’s a pleasant

Eating:

There is a huge variety of dining options in Port Douglas. As would be expected, seafood lovers will stay happy, with most restaurants having numerous options on the menu. We ate at the following:

Chilly’s Pizza – We had to wait a long time (was during peak holiday season) for our take away pizza, but it was worth it! Really great pizza – we actually went twice it was so good!

LanternFish on Macrossan St serves really good fish and chips. I can definitely recommend the Moreton Bay Bugs!

The Central Hotel does a pretty good chicken parmagianaand is great for large groups, including children. Its very much pub fare! They do a trivia night once a week, which was also pretty good fun.

The Ironbar has cane toad races, live music and authentic Australian cuisine like kangaroo burgers. This is ok for a night out, but they only let you go to the toad races if you are having a meal…….and the steaks are not great!

Salsa Bar and Grill – In my opinion the best place to eat in Port Douglas! It’s a little more expensive than some of the other restaurants and cafes, but the food is fantastic! Its really nicely set up as well, a really enjoyable meal for lunch or dinner! I had a kingfish dish which was amazing!

2 Fish Restaurant– The service here was quite slow and the food only ok. The menu didn’t have a great variety either. Pass.

Lure Restaurant – Fantastic for an afternoon of tapas and drinks. Do great sharing dishes and pretty well priced.

Fresh prawns – Can get fresh seafood directly from the fishermen at the harbor. Strongly recommend a bag of freshly cooked prawns to take home! Cheap and as good as a prawn will taste. We had a night family night at the hotel in the villa with a huge bag of fresh cooked prawns and take away fish and chips that was just superb!

The restaurants at the Sheraton were quite pricey for dinner meals, so we chose to eat at the places in Port Douglas.

Favorite must do:

Spend a day going out to an island. Whether it is as a young couple or a large family group, spending a day on a chartered boat; visiting a remote island, snorkeling with sea turtles and enjoying the ocean is amazing. There are a huge number of options and companies offering these services. Do your research and check the reviews carefully. We could not have recommended Blue Dive any higher. They were a touch more expensive but had much better reviews and they were worth every cent! If you are going to splurge a little on your family holiday to Port Douglas, spend it on this.

Favorite must see:

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Whether its by air (helicopter flights take tourists out over the reef), snorkeling or scuba diving, being able to witness this massive living eco-system is incredible.

If you haven’t got a PADI certification, try and get one before travelling to Port Douglas. Otherwise, you can do your course through companies there, (you will be limited on the depth you can dive).

Number 1 travel tip:

Port Douglas can be quite expensive and crowded during peak holiday seasons and especially during school holidays. If you don’t enjoy crowds, I would recommend avoiding these times. Conversely, if youre travelling with kids, the atmosphere during these times can be a real boost. Choose wisely depending on your situation.

5 word travel:

Great Barrier Reef - Sun - Fun.

Excess Baggage: 

Consider insect repellant as a necessity, not an option. The sand flies and mosquitoes can be unrelenting!

If you are looking for a beach holiday where you can sit on the beach and swim in the ocean, think twice. The beach at Port Douglas is often plagued with box jellyfish (painful stings), can have a strong under-toe and can be frequented by crocodiles. Swimming pools are recommended. The pool at the Sheraton is a large lagoon with beaches for kids to play.

 

Contributor   : Andrew
Nationality    : Australian
Instagram      @andrewmarty_
Age Group     : All ages
Gender           : Male
Travel Style   : Family
Destination   : Port Douglas, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Date                 : September 2014.

 
 

Auckland, New Zealand - 2 day stop over

 

Contributor  : Andrew
Nationality   : Australian
Instagram     @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40
Gender          : Male
Trave Style    : Leisure
Destination   : Auckland, New Zealand. 
Date               : July 2016. 2 days

 

Inspiration:

We flew into Auckland en route to Bora Bora for our honeymoon, however it is also the most common entry point for international travellers visiting New Zealand, either to explore the North Island by car or even head south to the world class skiing and adventure "hot spots". Whilst Auckland can be a destination of its own, we found that a stop over of a couple of days is definitely worth-while if you are travelling through.

Getting There:

Auckland International Airport receives flights from many destinations including USA (LA, Houston, Honolulu), Japan, China, Dubai, Thailand, Australia and several Pacific Island nations. The airport is a little way out of central Auckland and there isn't really a direct public transport route to the city. There is a skybox service that costs $18 and takes you via 2 different routes to the CBD. The road between the airport and city can get quite congested with traffic and there isn't a direct motorway. Taxis are available but quite expensive. It would certainly be wise to keep this in mind when you re booking your accomodation and airport transfers. If your hotel offers a free airport shuttle, it is a significant advantage in Auckland. We did find a taxi company that was much more reasonably priced than the others - Discount Taxis Ltd (phone: 5291000), they were polite, prompt and clean.

Where to Stay:

We actually stayed over in Auckland on the way to and from Bora Bora, and chose quite different options for each.

On the way there we decided to go 5 star and stayed at Hotel Sofitel Viaduct. This is a fantastic location in terms of being close to a lot of the popular tourist features and within walking distance of the marina and shopping districts. When booking, request a water facing room, as these have much better views than the ones facing the bus terminal. The room service menu and quality was fantastic. The fitness centre was fantastic with a gym, heated pool and sauna. One thing we did find a little strange was that it had a very French theme, with staff offering welcomes in French - its not something i have noticed the other Sofitel properties despite the French ownership.

On our way back, we had a late overnight stop and decided to go with a low-cost nearby option. We stayed at (>>>>>>>) and found it to be really comfortable. It had free airport shuttles and the rooms were really comfortable. It is quite a way out of the city, with its advantage being the convenience to the airport. The rooms are relatively small, but very suitable if you are wanting to stay close to the airport for a night.

What To Do:

Auckland is not a great walking city, particularly in July when it can be pretty chilly close to the water. But in general, it doesn't have an area that has a host of tourist attractions, sites and places to eat all in close proximity.

The Waterfront and Viaduct area, known as the Wynyard Quarter, is a great place to spend a morning or an afternoon. The marina is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and when you see huge fleet of yachts, you can quickly appreciate where Auckland gets the name "City of Sails". The Maritime Museum is really interesting and worth visiting - auckland has a rich and proud maritime history, from the Maori fishing boats, through to their achievements in America's Cup yacht racing. I couldn't understand why entry was free only for local residents, as I always think places should be encouraging tourists to visit their attractions. That said, I was happy to have paid the $25 entry fee for the hour or so walk around. There Wynyard Quarter also has some nice children play areas, sculptures and a fish market. The fish market was closed when we went (Saturday morning), so maybe check the opening times if you are keen to go to this.

Queens Street is the main shopping area and whilst it doesn't compare to the shopping districts of some of the bigger cities in the world, its still a nice walk up from the water near the viaduct to the top near the (>>>>>>). Unfortunately there aren't really a lot of nice cafes or restaurants along Queen St, which is a shame. The shops are mostly mid-range casual stores, but if you have a few hours to spare its not an unpleasant walk. 

A really nice area to visit in Aukland is Ponsonby. The main street has a few boutique shops and there are several nice restaurants (Mekong Baby) and cafes (Dizengoff). I would suggest coming here for breakfast and a morning walk along the strip of boutique shop.

The Sky Tower is a popular tourist attraction in Auckland, offering 360 degree views of the city and surrounding area. There are several price options, but we just went for the observation deck, which was $29. You can choose to walk around on an outside platform or even base jump from the tower. The views give a really good perspective and you can see quite a distance on a clear day. From the observation deck you can watch people jumping from the floors above. Compared to some other city observation decks around the world, Auckland as a city is quite small and without a skyline that compares to larger cities, so don't be too devastated if you don't get here.

Where To Eat:

There are a large number of restaurants around the Wynyard Quarter. We were actually really surprised that several of the restaurants were closed around the Viaduct on a Saturday evening and there was very little atmosphere. Admittedly it was in july and quite cold, but it was strangely quiet. We went to one of the restaurants, Danny Doolans, and left not long after - the service was really poor to the point we just got frustrated and left before even ordering. The North Wharf has the best variety of restaurants and we ate at Pescado Tapas Bar and it was really good. Would definitely give this a visit - very casual spanish style with good range of drinks! There were a couple of other places close by along the North Wharf that also looked quite good - Live Fish and Urban Turban might be worth a try!

If you visit Ponsonby, definitely think about going for breakfast at Dizengoff. I have an unashamed bias towards Melbourne when it comes to cafe breakfasts and this place is on par! The menu is very trendy and has a wide range. Importantly the coffee is really good, which to be honest, wasn't easy to find in Auckland. I had the eggs benedict, salmon and avo and it was good, but the best was the side of mushrooms - whatever you rode get the side of mushrooms in the gravy, its incredible! I know a few places are going with the "no wifi" and suggesting it encourages people to eat and socialise, but for travellers, its a big negative! They also didn't have brown sugar or water on the tables which I found odd. Overall, this was a really great start to the day, very enjoyable.

We also had breakfast at 21 Viaduct Cafe on the water, just near the Sofitel. The food was ok and the coffee passable. To be honest, unless you were in a rush, I would make the effort to get out to Ponsonby and go to Dizengoff!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you are staying near the Viaduct/Wynyard area, make a point of visiting the Information Centre! We met a lady called Michelle and the advice she gave was all absolutely spot on. It will definitely help you make the most of your time and decide what best suits your interests! She knew a lot about the local architecture, points of interests and p;aces to eat.

5 Word Travel:

Well worth a quick stopover