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Experiences make the difference on Port Douglas famil

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Experiences make the difference on Port Douglas famil
It was a famil with a difference as we flew into Cairns one Friday lunchtime – two from Sydney and three of us from Melbourne: four incentive and meeting planners and a journalist.

As a Melbourne escapee, simply leaving the Melbourne chill behind was a great start, then being met at Cairns Airport by Rosie Douglas of Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef was a reminder of the personal touch you feel in Tropical North Queensland. It set the scene for a weekend, not of site inspections, but guided experiences.

We were Heather Lawson from CWT Meetings & Events, Karen Livermore from ID Events, Cynthia Foo from 212F, Maggie Holdsworth from FCM Meetings & Events and your correspondent. And our destination was Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas. As we swept in under the grand porte cochère, which was a hive of activity, there to greet us were the sales team with a cold beverage and an invitation to lunch.

Some familiar (famous) faces also arrived at the resort – Guy Grossi and Matt Preston to name just two – as our visit was timed to coincide with the weekend of Taste Port Douglas, the region’s food festival, now in its seventh year. We were excited for the culinary experiences that awaited. The Sheraton Grand Mirage was the hub of the event, featuring several interstate culinary stars.

After lunch overlooking the pool with our hosts, sales director Allan Horne, senior sales manager Matthew Sturt, and sales manager Emilie Festaz, we had some free time to settle into our king rooms with views of the lagoon, part of more than two hectares of pools on this 147 hectare resort, set alongside Four Mile Beach.

The breeze wafted the smell of the barbecue cooking something delicious as we walked to dinner in the resort’s new Lagoon House Restaurant. There we were greeted by a huge cocktail – a margherita in a whole coconut – and we followed the smells to find chef Jerry Mai presiding over an open fire where suckling piglets were almost ready. Mai’s Vietnamese heritage, with Thai and Cambodian influences, saw a huge pile of herbs spread down our table for 10, to be wrapped in rice paper along with the roasted pork. The chef explained all her courses, which were wine matched. Then dessert arrived – traditional Vietnamese fried ice cream. A great start.

Saturday dawned about 21 degrees, while back home it was 3 degrees. First up was breakfast on the deck at Feast then a 9am pickup by Back Country Bliss for a rainforest river drift. I’ve been offered lots of experiences over a decade of travelling most years to TNQ: reef snorkelling, helicopters, bungee jumping, cable cars to the tableland, Indigenous events and rainforest walks, but I’d never drifted through a rainforest.

Arriving at Mossman River, just outside the town of Mossman, we changed into full wetsuits with thermals and booties. As we walked into the river with a heavy duty air mattress under one arm, the chill made its way up our bodies until we were half submersed.

After safety briefings from our two guides we lay face down on the rafts, surfboard style and had to paddle upstream against a current that I’d estimate was at least 6-8 knots.  After that we got to drift face-up downstream watching the rainforest canopy enclose us from above.

I rode some rapids which on the international white-water scale of one to seven our guide informed us we had “just done a zero point five”. Great fun.

The rest of the day included lunch at Hemingway’s Brewery at the Port Douglas marina, time at leisure in a resort pool cabana, an hour of cocktails at Harrisons Restaurant and a Café Del Mar DJ session in the garden. Dinner in the rainforest at Flames of the Forest found chefs Ben Williamson, Bente Grysbaek and Charly Pretet had been slaving over more coals to slow cook a range of meats including duck. We had no phone signal in the forest but everyone was aware the Matildas were playing France. Our host, Mikala McDowall of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, was able to tap into a little known WIFI signal and whispered the penalty shootout score – 3-3, 4-4 – as we ate and drank, nervously. Our team got the scoop before it was announced to the crowd – now that’s service above and beyond expectation.

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