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Living in Port Douglas (The Reality!)

This post was written and titled “Living in Port Douglas” when we were planning our great escape. We lived in Port Douglas. we owned, still own, a beautiful house there, but we left to travel the world. We’ve been travelling a very long time now, that’s just how things worked out. Port Douglas is a great place to live for the right kind of person, of course. If you’re here looking for a guide to living in Far North Queensland, this might not be it. This post is about our experiences of living in Port Douglas and why we left. Read it, we hope you find our story of leaving for new adventures interesting and we do talk about life in Port Douglas and the tropics.

I had no idea Google would rank us so highly for this topic, I had no idea my fledgling travel blog would become the huge global resource and success it is today. This is a personal post in the midst of a thousand travel guides.

We left Queensland and it was a life-changing, amazing decision. Today I’m updating this post from Vietnam, we’re living here right now, we’ve also lived in Romania, and London and visited around 50 countries since shipping out of Port.

Port Douglas Dickinson Inlet Travel Blog
The inlet. It’s ridiculously beautiful, as much of Port Douglas is.

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Living in Port Douglas.

Port Douglas is a tropical paradise to many, but is living in Port Douglas as good as it sounds? Realities of living in the wet tropics and that relaxed tropical vibe. Back then I wrote the following.

“With all this planning and talk of leaving to start new adventures, I’ve forgotten to mention that we’re already in what many would consider Paradise, a dream holiday destination. We’re up here in the tropics, living in Port Douglas, Australia. Four Mile Beach is a short walk away, we practically live in a rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef is on our doorstep.

So why did I want to leave? It was mostly because I have the soul of a nomad and always have, staying put isn’t for me and I craved the freedom I’d tasted as a younger traveller exploring the wider world.

We’d  been living in Port Douglas for almost 5 years so tropical living had lost its shine and became our normality. The worries, problems and difficulties of daily life got in the way, as they do anywhere.

I lost sight of the good stuff while I was busy cleaning and paying bills. I needed new adventures, new cultures and climates so we resolved to leave, packing our lives into backpacks, scooping up our then 6 and 8 year old kids and heading off into the sunset.

Port is lovely, but we’d done it, it was time for something else.

Realities

The reality is that living in Port Douglas isn’t the same as being a holiday maker. There was little that wasn’t expensive for us because we were trying to save for our travels rather than have a holiday blow out.

The climate and isolation can be challenging in Far North Queensland and there was only so much simple life I could take.

I missed London and the wider world. I love that through life we grow and come to know ourselves better. What’s right at one time in our lives may not be right in two years or even two months time.

Since leaving over 5 years ago we’ve spent the best part of 2 years living in a remote village in Romania, nothing could be simpler or more isolated, yet we loved it. It was right for us at that time.

I’d suffered badly from culture shock since relocating to the southern hemisphere. That was a surprise.

You wouldn’t expect that when switching between two countries that seem so similar as the UK and Australia, particularly when I already knew Australia and Australians pretty well. I’d already married one.

But there are cultural differences between the UK and Australia and becoming an expat is never a seamless transition.

Four Mile Bach Port Douglas Astralia
A view of four mile beach. This hill is a great challenge for me as a runner and the views are spectacular.

When we first arrived I was blown away by the spectacular wildlife. Now, I’m used to the giant green tree frogs in our garden, spotting the odd snake,  looking at rainbow lorikeets and cockatoos from my windows and seeing the occasional cassowary in the rain forest.

The crocodile we see hanging out on the river bank is just part of the scenery.

It’s so pretty, we’ve got a tropical beach to walk on and I can see the mountains from my garden. I took the photo above, I can go to that spot any day and see the mountains that are our backdrop, falling away to the bluest blue sea. Somehow, it has become the view on the way to the supermarket.

I need to wake up and smell the frangipani.

We’ve had opportunity to explore more of Australia with the boys, they’ve been to Sydney, Perth and Canberra, know Queensland pretty well, from Cooktown in the North, down to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

We’ve had some brilliant camping trips, on the coast and inland, up on Lake Tinaroo, where it’s safe to swim with no fear of crocodiles or marine stingers. We’ve been to rodeos, watched bull rides, camped in the bush at a 3-day Aboriginal dance festival, patted endless kangaroos and koalas, seen wild pigs, sea turtles, enormous grouper and dolphins.

We’re yet to see a whale up here, we really should get out to the Great Barrier Reef again this whale season.

Sugar Wharf
This is where we go fishing. The old sugar wharf on the inlet. Could it be any prettier?

We grow bananas, papayas, kaffir limes, jack fruit, and all the makings of a seriously good green curry in our garden.

I love my garden. I remember sitting in our little house in London dreaming of growing more, now, living in Port Douglas, I have a tropical garden full of new and amazing produce and I’m still not content to stay. We were picking passion fruit yesterday, they are delicious still warm from the sun. In season we can pick up wild mangoes from the ground. I don’t think I’ve ever had mangoes so sweet and perfectly ripe.

All this isn’t enough to keep me here.

Christmas in the tropics is nothing like it was back home, I miss my parents, the tree is fake, it’s too hot, too light, we don’t have turkey and roast potatoes, there is a lot to get used to for any expat. Instead we have a few days in my husband’s 5 star resort hotel, luxuriating in the pool, cocktail in hand. Being a chef’s widow does have its perks.

But, you know what? This year, our sixth topical Christmas, I’m starting to get the hang of it, it feels good, different, but not bad. There is a certain coziness about being in the house in the air-con, looking at the Christmas tree twinkling away.

Living in Port Douglas. Dinner on the inlet.
Beautiful prawns and wine at sunset on the deck of the Combined Club, Port Douglas.

The boys are growing up surrounded by the miracles of nature, frogs, lizards, dazzling blue butterflies, fruit bats and lorikeets are there to be enjoyed and wondered at.

They can roam the bush, the beaches and rain forest trails. They can swim in the sea when there are no crocodiles or stingers about, failing that, swim in a lake or an icy cold stream .

Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef  is a very rare treat, it’s expensive, but when it happens it’s spectacular.

We have kayaks, my eight-year-old can paddle his own now, we can take them out and look at the coral on a calm day. We go fishing and actually catch fish big enough to eat. We caught a stingray once, you never saw two boys more excited.

I’m sure, when they are older, they’ll look back on living in Port Douglas as a happy and adventure filled time.

And tropical weather, boy is that interesting!  One of the hazards of tropical living is cyclones. We’re yet to see a serious one, we were in Sydney when Yasi came through because we ran away. Luckily she wasn’t too devastating in Port.

A tropical storm is just amazing, you never got so wet. It’s wonderful to hear the frogs croaking their appreciation as the first raindrops fall.

How can I not want to stay in Port Douglas?

There must be something wrong with me to not want to stay here, surely? Why would I want to leave? I don’t work, the boys don’t go to school, it sounds idyllic even to me.

The problem is, I can’t sit still and I know I have choices. Port Douglas is an amazing and beautiful place to live but I need to be out there in the wider world, exploring and experiencing new places and cultures. I’ve got that travel bug real bad. Owning a house and being tied to a mortgage clips your wings. I feel trapped. I thought it was what I wanted but now it’s not.

But that’s good, how do we know what we want if we don’t try a few options for size? I can do something about it, I made this trap, I can unmake it. We all have options.

I have one more plan, for now, to take full advantage of where we are at the moment and squeeze every drop of enjoyment out of  living in Port Douglas. We can pretend we are travellers here in the tropics, which I suppose we are, in a way, and enjoy tropical living like the tourists do. I’m getting my tropical mojo back for our last few months in paradise.

This post was written before we left to travel the world in 2012, we didn’t once returned to our house in Port Douglas for almost eight year. We continued to travel and had no plans to return. A travelling life suits us well as does my new career as a travel blogger. Leaving was the best decision we ever made, a first step into a way of life we never dreamed possible. Eventually we had to go home after travelling, it was tough, but OK. Our plan was to leave again but then COVID struck, devastating the travel industry and forcing us to change everything again. We hope you enjoy Port Douglas, it’s a beautiful spot for a visit as holidaymakers. We have full guides to the Port Douglas and Cairns regions on our website, see the posts below.

The platypus pond at Tarzali Lakes
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See Wild Platypus at Atherton Platypus Park, Near Cairns.
visiting game reserves in south africa with kids. rhino at Hluhluwe umfolozi game park
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Game Reserves in South Africa With Kids

Nicole

Saturday 17th of October 2020

Great blog. Thank you Alyson. I’m reading this at midnight with my toddler sleeping next to me on our first night out of 3 in Port Douglas. Like you I struggle to stay put in the one place for too long. I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me and I’m not meant to go from place to place .. especially now I have a child.

In fact, I’ve been journaling about owning my own home in the next 12 months on the Sunshine Coast. I moved there in June this year, leaving Melbourne just before the second wave hit. Don’t I feel lucky I got out .. in the nick of time. But even in the SC I felt a sense of homelessness. Not knowing if it’s my home .. but deciding on there because it’s paradise.

Having now been in Cairns for over 3 weeks on a 1 month ‘semi holiday’ I’ve been wondering can I live up here and now in Port Douglas .. I ask the same question. Hence why I’ve stumbled across your post. I’ve always done this .. everywhere I go loving it and asking could I live here.

Reading your post makes me think maybe being the nomad I am, I’m not meant to settle. I’m meant to be a world explorer and lead my son into that life too?? How do we ever know we are going there right thing??

Would love to meet you while I’m in PD ... are you open to that?

Alyson for World Travel Family

Saturday 17th of October 2020

For sure, shoot me an email. I'll be cycling around town, early, shout if you spot me.

Steve

Saturday 19th of September 2020

Great blog. My wife and I are moving to Redlynch Valley in Cairns in April 2021 but we also have a two-bedroom unit in Port which we have been holidaying to for a few years now. We'll use that on weekends away from Redlynch.

Alyson for World Travel Family

Saturday 19th of September 2020

Great, good luck with your move Steve. We've been in lockdown in Port Douglas since March. It's been a big life shift for everyone.

Hamish

Thursday 27th of February 2020

Hi Great bit of info. I myself am from New Zealand but been OE for 25 years and been based in Asia for many of those. I lived down south in Australia for some years but never really felt it suited me and on my trips up north is where were I felt I could stay. Now much older and feeling a bit burnt out of the fast pace of Asian cities I am looking at buying a home in Port Douglas. There are many reasons for that as I love nature and all the thing you described. Secondly I just completed building a 17m catamaran to circumnavigate in. I have been thinking Port Douglas would be a great home base to do that as well. I like you would need to travel in time I am sure but the cat would let me do that. I found your blog making me think so thanks.

jan

Monday 6th of August 2018

Hi, I lived nearly 60 years in Townsville North Queensland. I'm a traveller too and it is difficult to travel from up there. Well you can fly from Cairns to Japan easily and quite cheaply which we have done, although I've never tried connecting onwards from Japan. For a while we could fly directly out of Townsville to Bali and New Zealand but those days are over now. We've recently moved to the Sunshine Coast of Queensland which is close enough to Brisbane to make travel easier. One of the things that we found annoying when flying north from Townsville to Asia or Europe was the necessity to fly south to Brisbane, wait around for a connecting flight and then fly straight back north again. We love Port Douglas. It is great for a holiday - but probably not to live!

World Travel Family Team

Monday 6th of August 2018

Totally! We used to drive straight down to Brisbane for the airport, 24 hours door to door. Which was annoying, but...do-able. Such a shame there aren't more flights out of Cairns. If it hooked up with KL or Bangkok it would only be good for local tourism but I guess airport fees cut out Air Asia. We're back in Port this Christmas, we're all sort of intrigued as to what that will feel like. Hoping to see more of Australia, I've never been to Darwin or Kakadu, maybe a big old road trip, and of course hop over to Bali, more of Indonesia, Borneo, various things we want to do that aren't too hard from Port Douglas. But first....Everest :) and maybe Tibet.

Romina

Thursday 5th of October 2017

Wooow what an amazing story. It’s 3:17am in Switzerland researching life an PD as I have a temporary job offer at a hotel and seriously...I have the travel bug as well. I’ve been in switzerland for 7 years and I need the warmth the beach and an English speaking country ;) however after I’ve read your story I’m thunkin Australia could be a good option but perhaps PD would not be so good if I go alone and it’s only full with families. What do you think? I would only move there for half a year and then come back to Swizterland...

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Thursday 5th of October 2017

There are lots of migrant workers passing through Romina, loads of them. Lots of backpackers too. Did I say it was only full of families? I don't remember saying that, I'll check. My husband employed all manner of youngsters travelling and working the hotels.

nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.