Named in honour of John Douglas, the former premier of Queensland, Port Douglas is a small town of about 4,700 inhabitants found 70 km from Cairns. Previously called “Terrigal” or “Island Point,” the city was named one of the “100 Best Towns in Australia” by Traveller magazine. Many pass through Port Douglas on their way to the Great Barrier Reef or the Daintree Rainforest but rarely take the time to delve deeper into this fascinating city’s rich cultural history. If you’re planning a Queensland holiday, add Port Douglas and a tour of its most historically significant sites to your travel itinerary.
A Brief History of Port Douglas
The area now known as Port Douglas was like any other sleepy Australian town until gold was discovered on the Hodgkin River in 1876. Soon afterward, prospectors flooded the area in search of fortune and glory. By 1882, Port Douglas replaced Cairns as the chief exporting city for tin and gold. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t last and Port Douglas began a steep decline by 1885. The 1970s saw a resurrection of sorts in the area, as tourists flocked to Port Douglas each holiday season to enjoy the beautiful beaches, quaint shops and spectacular views. Today, Port Douglas is still considered one of Queensland’s top tourist destinations, especially to travellers looking for a less hectic route to the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Bally Hooley Steam Railway
The name “Bally Hooley” might sound distinctly Irish, which is fitting because legend has it an Irish immigrant provided the unusual name for this section of track along the Mowbray Valley. Several years ago the name “Bally Hooley” was given to the vintage steam locomotive that shuttles tourists and locals between Port Douglas and the Marina Mirage station each Sunday. The track was constructed in the late 19th century and used to transport sugar cane from fields near Port Douglas. The track is open seven days a week, but if you truly want a historically accurate experience, wait until Sunday and enjoy the hourlong trip to the Marina Mirage station.
North Australian Hotel
Constructed in the late 19th century, the historic North Australian Hotel was first owned by a European immigrant who came to the Gold Coast during the gold and tin rush of the 1870s and 1880s. The popular destination was originally named the “Reefer’s Arms” in honour of the port city’s association with anything gold-related. A major tornado damaged much of the structure in 1911, but during the subsequent years various owners reconditioned the building. Today, the site is a historically accurate way for you to imagine how exciting life must have been for the people who travelled to the area in search of gold.
Flagstaff Hill Lookout
Aside from Port Douglas’ quaint atmosphere, many flock to the area for one reason: the town’s impressive ocean views. Grab a comfortable pair of shoes before attempting to visit the Flagstaff Hill Lookout, because it is a jaunt to reach the site. Found on the eastern end of Port Douglas, the Flagstaff Hill Lookout was erected as a site to signal the arrival of ships, and as you take the return trip down Murphy Street, you can see the original flagstaff that was waved to alert locals of a vessel’s return.
The Former Port Douglas Court House
The former site of the Port Douglas court house on Wharf Street was transformed from a vacant, unused space into a museum by the Douglas Shire Historical Society in 1993. Of note in the structure are several pieces of documentation dealing with the controversial case of Ellen Thompson. In 1887, Ellen Thompson became the only woman ever legally hanged in Queensland after she was convicted of murdering her husband.
Port Douglas is a beautiful town, but before you get too attached, it’s important to research the cost of moving to this picturesque area on the Queensland coast. Real estate prices in the city have skyrocketed over the past few years, so keep this in mind while planning a Port Douglas holiday because once you arrive, you might not want to leave.
About the Author: Stephanie Murphy is a guest blogger and frequent traveller to Queensland. She makes it a point to visit Port Douglas whenever she has the chance.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons