Sheriden Rhodes finds a colourful and comfortable place to enjoy life like the locals do in Port Douglas.
As much as I love resorts, with their lagoon pools, 24-hour room service and kids club, my first preference is a holiday house. I can lose myself trawling the net looking at all the possibilities; imagining myself on that deck, in that king-size bed and in that kitchen (not doing any cooking, mind you).
The Artist's Houses, a selection of holiday rentals in Port Douglas, with their bohemian chic design, married with my romantic fantasy of how a Far North Queensland sojourn should best be enjoyed.
We holidayed first at the Artist's Beach Cottage last year, a charming white one-bedroom weatherboard cottage filled with colourful art and op shop finds, exploring the resort town through the eyes of the owners Nina Gonsglaves, an artist, and chef Matt Wild. When the couple told us they were transforming a 1960s house into their third holiday rental in the town they've called home since the '80s (when Christopher Skase reigned), a quick drive-by was enough to seal a return visit.
Fleeing a bitter winter down south that arrived late but dug its heels in, we fled north last month for a blissful week-long stay. The newly-opened Artist's Beach House is a rambling five-bedroom home that celebrates old-style tropical living. With its gunmetal-grey and crisp white weatherboard exterior, wooden shutters and breezy ambience, the house begs you to kick off your shoes, slip on a kaftan and enjoy G&Ts on the upstairs deck overlooking the towering rainforest and paperbark trees.
Pineapple and palm tree wallpaper, mismatched furniture, a reading room filled with magazines and books, plus a sweet children's room overlooking a mango tree, are just some of the features. The house is not luxurious in the sense that everything is modern and high-tech; the upstairs airconditioner was too noisy to use and paint was peeling off the floor of a bathroom. But when it comes to character and the chance to live like the locals, look no further.
A side gate leads onto a path to Four Mile Beach, which is terrific for walking and swimming, fringed with coconut palms. It's where locals gather for sundowners, exercise their dogs or do morning yoga classes. Not that I needed a class. I practised yoga in the upstairs bedroom, the bi-fold windows open onto the backyard with its saltwater pool, Ulysses butterflies flitting through the bamboo grove.
With temperatures hovering around 26-27 degrees, we take up Tina and Matt's suggestions: dining with our feet in the sand at the nearby Beach Shack on their Sri Lankan chicken curry, coffee at Origin Espresso and breakfast with the birds at the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary. We mosey around the Port Douglas market on Sunday, buying wooden flutes from a man with a king parrot on his shoulder.
Most days however we head for the friendly town of Mossman, a scenic 10-minute drive through the cane fields. Despite having Four Mile Beach on our doorstep, our favourite swimming spot is found on the road heading towards Silky Oaks Lodge in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. We swim here almost daily and each time it feels practically baptismal.
Afterwards we tuck into smashed avocado with feta and poached eggs at the retro-styled Junction Cafe, where the welcome is warm and the coffee good.
On our last night we dine at the Treehouse restaurant at Silky Oaks Lodge, overlooking the fast flowing Mossman River below.
The writer travelled and stayed at the Artist's Beach House at her own expense.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger Airways fly direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Cairns. Port Douglas is about an hour's drive from Cairns Airport on the Captain Cook Highway.