Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Port Douglas – at the Reef Marina where sitting in the mud is considered normal.

24-26 September 2016

Marinas are not our favourite places. We’d always rather be anchored up somewhere ‘On the hook’ rather than paying at times exorbitant amounts of money for the dubious privilege of having neighbours  two metres away. However marinas can be convenient providing opportunities to refuel and take on fresh water easily, get your washing done as well as reprovision without having to a transport everything back and forwards via dinghy. They are also normally a secure place to leave your boat unattended when need be so we consider marinas to fall in the 'sometimes necessary evil' category.

It's easy to see why tourists would be attracted to Port Douglas' natural charms.
After a great stay at Low Isles with Karen’s brother Russell and his wife Tania on board, we needed to drop them back to their car at Port Douglas. As we were also keen to have a look around the town and pick up some fresh fruit and vegies at the Sunday markets, we planned to spend Saturday and Sunday nights in port. There is anchorage space past the marinas in the river but it was quite crowded when we had looked a few day previously so we decided to bite the bullet and booked a berth in the Reef Marina for the two nights.

As can be seen in this Google Earth image, the anchorage up river at Port Douglas can get crowded.
We had made the most of our time on the water with our guests so didn’t arrive at the marina until late afternoon. We came in on a making tide about two hours before the high. We found our allocated berth without a problem, secured the boat then collected our swipe passes from a small wall safe next to the marina office door. The office is only staffed from 08:30 am to 05:00 pm on weekdays and 08:30 to 12:30pm on Saturdays and any arrival outside those hours has to be prearranged and prepaid.

The location of our berth in Reef Marina, Port Douglas.

Karen with Our Dreamtime in the marina at Port Douglas
After seeing off Russell and Tania we made the most of the marina facilities and enjoyed looong, hot showers before a nice BBQ dinner on board and relatively early night after our big day snorkelling the reefs of Low Isles.

We arose Sunday morning keen to explore this tropical tourist mecca. Port Douglas has an interesting history of boom, bust and boom again. The township was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River. The Post Office opened on 1 September 1877 with the town growing quickly. At its peak Port Douglas had a population of 12,000 and boated 27 hotels. With the construction of the Mulligan Highway it serviced inland towns as far away as Herberton.

When the railway from Cairns to Kuranda was completed in 1891, the importance of Port Douglas dwindled along with its population. A cyclone in 1911 demolished all but two buildings in the town and had a significant impact. At its lowest ebb in 1960 the town, Port Douglas was little more than a fishing village with a population of 100.

In the late-1980s notorious investor Christopher Skase financed the construction of the Sheraton Mirage Resort. Skase later fled Australia broke and in disgrace with creditors left chasing hundreds of millions of dollars but the Mirage Resort lived on providing the base for a fast growing tourism boom sustained to this day.

In November 1996 United States President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton chose the town as their only holiday stop on their historic visit to Australia. When dining at a local restaurant they witnessed a couple's wedding certificate. Bill obviously liked the place as he came back as a private citizen for another holiday after his Presidency was over. During that return visit on 11 September 2001, the ex-President was again dining at the Salsa Bar and Grill, a local restaurant, when he was advised of the 11 September attacks. He returned to the United States the following day.

Port Douglas' most famous holiday makers. (Image from web)
Our first stop was the markets in search of fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the farm. Produce sourced this way always lasts much longer on the boat than that found in supermarkets. It has not spent days or weeks in cold storage before being displayed in chilled cabinets.

We always prefer to buy produce from farmers markets when possible. Port Douglas had a good range to choose from.
Although the vast majority of goods on offer at the very large weekly markets was clothing and souvenirs targeted at the tourist hordes, we were very pleased with the range of locally grown, very fresh tropical fruits and other produce available. We were able to fill our carry bags with enough to last for quite a while on our coming journey back south along the coast. It was only a couple of blocks back to the marina so we got it all back to the boat and stowed away before heading off for some more exploration.

The Sunday Markets in Port Douglas are very popular with the tourists.

There's no shortage of alternative lifestylers up this way.
A stroll down the main street revealed a busy retail and café/restaurant precinct with a mix of new concrete and glass structures interspersed amongst more than enough early 20th Century timber buildings for the town to have retained its typically North Queensland character. One thing we don’t need is any more ‘Stuff’ on the boat so we were strictly window shoppers. Karen certainly enjoyed wandering in and out of the various boutiques and souvenir shops though and the knowledge that his wallet was unlikely to be opened  made the exercise much less stressful for Rob.

Port Douglas' St Mary's by the sea is certainly one of the more picturesque churches we've seen.
The view through the window behind the altar is spectacular.
We then had a very nice, well priced lunch at ‘The Combined Club’  located with a large deck built out over the water. It was a very pleasant spot to enjoy a few cold drinks and bite to eat while watching the boats come and go.

This may sound ludicrous but we followed lunch by enjoying a very relaxing afternoon back in the marina doing our laundry. You see the marinas amenities, including the washers and driers, are located in the same building as Hemingway's Boutique Brewery that overlooked our finger. Here’s how it worked.  Sort the clothes, stick them into the washing machines, throw in a few gold coins (too many gold coins actually) and hit go. Head for the bar for 24 minutes. Back to the laundry to switch everything into the driers, stick in a fistful of gold coins again and then back to the bar for ninety minutes. Back to the laundry. Driers are crap and clothes still damp. More gold coins and back to the bar for another 90 minutes. They even had live music playing. Excellent. An hour and half later and it’s back to the laundry. Damn! The clothes are dry. Fold them up and into the laundry bag and ‘Oh Look. It’s time to go back to the boat and watch the footy semi-final on TV. Life is good!

Not a bad place to do our laundry.
We planned on making the short hop back over to Low Isles mid morning for another afternoon of snorkelling before moving on to Batt Reef the following day.  There was no rush so we had a little sleep in and a leisurely breakfast before beginning to get the boat ready to leave mid morning. Weren’t we surprised when we looked at the depth gauge and discovered it read 1.1 metres. This presented a problem seeing as we draw 1.5 metres. A quick look over the side revealed we could see very clearly the mud bottom that our keel and rudder were buried almost half a metre into. We’d had been off the boat during low tide the previous day and hadn’t realised just how ridiculously shallow the berths in Reef Marina are. Now we weren’t going anywhere until the tide came in.

No good can come of this when we need a minimum of 1.5 metres to float.
At low tide the water on our marina finger was only a metre deep. Circled is a propeller we spotted laying in the mud on the bottom. We expect the presence of crocodiles has dissuaded anyone from jumping in to get it.
Depending on the marina, you are normally supposed to check out by 11.00am so Rob headed for the office to find out what the story is. Sorry about that said the woman on reception and told him they recently had the marina dredged but not into the berths so once we backed out there would be more depth between the fingers. Yeah right. There wasn’t much chance of backing out when even our prop was sitting in the mud. We guess expecting to have a berth with enough water to float in for $64 a night for our 42 footer was expecting too much.

It was three o’clock before we eased away from our berth with just 10 centimetres (4 inches) of water under the keel until we got out into the dredged area. The nice T-Bone lunch we had at the pub while we were waiting for the tide to come in was at least some compensation for the snorkelling time lost at Low Isles.
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