Port Douglas is a beautiful coastal town an hour north of the popular destination of Cairns. The town had the tropical vibes of Hawaii, mixed with the relaxing and small-town feel of Florida. It’s home to Four Mile Beach and is close to the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation beach, and the Great Barrier Reef. The only downside is that during the summer in this entire region of Northern Australia, the ocean is not swimmable because of highly deadly box jellyfish. There was a small netted area on Four Mile Beach, but the water was quite warm and felt more like a bath than the ocean.
My first day in Port Douglas, I went on an intro to scuba diving tour with Poseidon, a boat under the company Quicksilver. My instructor was Quebec-an and so much fun to dive with. His instructions were very clear and digestible. I genuinely thought I would have difficulty getting used to scuba diving, but it felt so natural and relaxing. We geared up and practiced some emergency situations — like if we run out of the air from our tank or get water in our mouths while trying to breathe underwater — both on land and just under the water’s surface. Once he was confident in our abilities, we let go of the rope and swam off into the ocean. He guided us along the coral reefs and tropical fish. The Great Barrier Reef is a sight to be seen, but it’s sad to see how much damage the reef has received. A lot of the coral is bleached and dead. I heard from other divers that it’s very apparent the reefs are not as alive as they were only ten or fifteen years ago. Nonetheless, I am happy I got to experience its beauty before it no longer exists.
For our second dive, one of the deck crew joked there were two large sharks in the water — or at least I thought he was joking. As soon as I jumped in, I noticed a school of large red snappers swimming around along with a reef shark. As instructed, I grabbed the rope that we use to slowly descend into the ocean — about 10 feet from the shark. Luckily, I snorkeled with sharks in Hawaii and was actually really excited to see a shark at the Great Barrier Reef. However, this shark was definitely feeding because he was being very shifty. At one point, he came literally within an arms distance of me and I had to let go of the rope to give him some space. In my video blog, all you see is the shark go off screen to my right, since I was in fight or flight mode. Sharks don’t want to attack us, but I wasn’t about to get mixed up while he was feeding.
My favorite dive of the day was our last one, at a reef with a pinnacle of coral that schools of fish hang around. It was really beautiful and relaxing to swim around the pinnacle, with the fish surrounding us. I also really loved the one dive we did while it was raining. As we slowly swam by the sea's floor, we looked up and watched the rain drops hitting the water's surface. It was quite beautiful and surreal to see the rain from that perspective.
The most surprising thing about scuba diving was how tired it made me. On the hour-plus boat ride back to Port Douglas, I fell asleep on the rooftop deck. They say the pure oxygen dehydrates you, so if you ever scuba dive make sure to drink lots of water!
The next day I took a tour with Daintree Discovery Tours into the Daintree Rainforest, the largest tropical rainforest in Australia and the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the world, thought to be 165 million years old. The land was recently given back to the Aboriginals, the native people of Australia, through a United Nations lawsuit.
Our day consisted of visiting Mossman Gorge, the Daintree Rainforest, a crocodile cruise through the Daintree River, Cape Tribulation beach, lunch in the bush, tasting tropical fruit ice cream, a riding an old Land Rover Defender to a secluded waterfall spot in the rainforest for a swim. My favorite part was swimming in the waterfall because it was so quiet and beautiful. The flora in the rainforest was just spectacular, with ginormous tropical plants everywhere. By the waterfall, there were also lots of friendly fish and turtles that someone has definitely been feeding because they were not afraid of us at all! Earlier in the day, we also spotted a white-lipped tree frog, the largest frog in Australia, which was really neat. As for the crocodiles, this time of year they mostly sit at the bottom of the river until they have to come up for some air. We spotted one through the trees, which you can see in my photos below.
One of my favorite things that I did while in Port Douglas was a short, beautiful walk through the tropical forest along the coast from Anzac Park to Four Mile Beach. It's a quiet path that overlooks the turquoise water. It leads to a great viewpoint of Four Mile Beach and then the path goes down to the beach itself. I happened to do the coastal walk during golden hour as the sun was going down, which made the palm trees glow. When I reached Four Mile Beach, thousands of tiny crabs were digging holes and kicking up little sand balls onto the beach. It was an adorable site and created a cool, textured effect all over the sand.
The best part about Port Douglas is definitely watching the sunset from Anzac Park. I spent almost every afternoon laying in Anzac Park, watching the sun turn the sky purple as it set. When I look back at Port Douglas, I will always remember those sunsets. As my Chilean friend, Pablo, once told me when he looks at something beautiful he takes a snapshot with his mind and reminds himself that this moment is his. I made sure to remind myself of that as I watched my last sunset from Anzac Park, soaking in every last streak of golden purple light.
Watch my video blog from Australia:
My photos from Byron Bay hardly do the town justice. Yes, I will admit that it was not the most photogenic beach town I’ve ever visited. Still, there is an ambiance about the place that within two days has you completely hooked.
This little surfer town is one of the most chill places I’ve ever been too. Everyone walks around barefoot. It doesn’t matter if they’re at the grocery store or eating in a restaurant, they’re barefoot. There are hardly even crosswalks. People just walk across the road when they feel like it and expect the cars to stop. Half the residents are sporting dreadlocks and piercings, the other half look like they popped out of a Roxy advertisement. The style is contagious, seeing as I first showed up in my usual casual-sport attire, and left with a pair of bohemian pants and Reef sandals. I got the pants at Byron Bay’s first Sunday of the month market. The market was filled with all kinds of craft vendors, artists, live music, food trucks, and refreshing fruit juice popsicles.
I booked my stay in Byron Bay with Wake Up. Wake Up is easily the nicest hostel I have ever experienced. It’s modern and clean, with a beautiful beach house vibe. The common areas are fantastic. There is a huge enclosed patio area with picnic tables, a cute indoor area with bohemian carpets and wooden stumps for stools, and no shortage of balconies situated within the palm trees. The hostel itself is just steps from the beach. By far the best part about the hostel though was the incredible amenities. Everything was free — surfboards, bikes, yoga classes, and shuttles running all day to and from the center of town. They even hosted events like a free wine and cheese night every Wednesday. Every person that I met there that had no itinerary ended up extending their stay a few more days or even a few more weeks. I would have done the same, had I not already booked my flight to Cairns.
My first morning in Byron Bay, I went with the hostel to the Cape Byron Lighthouse for sunrise. Yes, the hostel even shuttled us to the top for free at 5:15 am. It was so overcast that morning that we did not see one ray of sunshine. I ended up going back to the lighthouse another morning and was lucky enough to see a beautiful sunrise. The morning of the successful sunrise, I walked the trail down from the lighthouse through the tropical woods and along the coastline back to the hostel. It passed through the most eastern point of mainland Australia, the less touristy and more quaint Wategos beach, and Fisherman’s Lookout.
Bryon Bay is known as one of the best surf spots in the world. It’s home to three of Australia’s top surfers. And so I had my first ever surf class in Byron Bay with Soul Surf School. I walked along the flat beach to their shop in the center of town, listening to the waves and watching the happy dogs run by. The surf lesson was a blast. I have always been terrified of surfing. Something about the combination of waves, murky ocean water, rip currents, and surfboards make my heart stop. But my instructor, Kyle, made the experience super easy and fun. He even brought along his adorable puppy, Bean. I caught on relatively quickly and surfed heaps of waves. By the end of the two hours, I was incredibly sad to have to leave the water. When we were driving back into town, I just looked out the window with the biggest smile on my face, realizing how much I loved this place.
Most of my days in Byron were spent relaxing in the hostel’s common areas, on the beach, or biking into the town to grab a bite to eat. We also spent a lot of time at the Treehouse Cafe next door to our hostel. It was a quirky spot open all day and night, serving everything from coffee and avocado toast to pizza and beer. The cafe has a fun, covered outdoor seating area with an eclectic assortment of retro chairs and tables.
At night, most people go out to the bars in town for live music. One night, we all went to reggae night at a local beach bar. It was more like reggae mixed with hip-hop and house music, which was really fun. After the show, we walked on the beach back to the hostel, under the beautiful starlit sky. Aside from the lighthouse in the distance, the beach was pitch black and the sky was clear so we could see millions of stars. We were walking along the misty coastline when we realized the sand has bioluminescent plankton. As we scraped the sand with our feet, the tiny plankton sparkled. It was a magical experience.
Byron Bay is a place I could call home, at least for a little while. It’s the kind of town you come to when you need a break from the fast-paced world we live in today. In just a few short days, I felt recharged and energized for my next adventure — Port Douglas.
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!