AT Reader Jocelyn Pride heads to Port Douglas to chart the evolution of one of Australia’s premier holiday spots.

A Day in the Life of Four Mile Beach

 

AT Reader Jocelyn Pride heads to Port Douglas to chart the evolution of one of Australia’s premier holiday spots.
Images by Jocelyn Pride

Over the past 20 years, Port Douglas has been transformed from a sleepy village into a favourite holiday destination, not just for Australians but also international visitors. From May to October, southerners make the pilgrimage up north to escape the winter weather. Despite the metamorphosis that has taken place in Port Douglas itself, one thing remains unchanged, the central point, the beach. Four Mile Beach, an old-fashioned name for an old-fashioned beach.

Pre-dawn and the diehard nature lovers haul themselves out of beds in accommodation ranging from luxury to backpackers, discreetly tucked away behind palm trees and thick vegetation fringing the perfect curve of the beach. The photographers are rewarded with the sun rising over the Coral Sea, creating a kaleidoscope within each water droplet. Hues of light spread quickly over the shimmering sea and more people arrive to start the serious part to holidaying in Port Douglas: the constitutional walk or jog.

 

This is the time of day when the gym junkies trade a treadmill for the real thing. The hard-packed sand makes for the perfect surface as people of all ages, shapes and sizes – in groups and alone – create their own pace as they make their way along the beach. To achieve the whole length is the ultimate challenge for some; for others it’s simply the thrill of taking in the beauty of the surrounds. People bump into acquaintances and business colleagues, snippets of conversations making for interesting people watching.

 

By 8:00am a group of people have started to gather for the daily yoga class held at the northern end of the beach for a nominal charge. This is the idyllic setting to carry out the philosophy of yoga by balancing the mind with the body. Cyclists also start to make their way up or down the beach – one of the few stretches of sand in Australia on which people can do this. A safe place for young children to take their first wobble with or without trainer wheels, or for a grandparent to live the saying, “it’s just like riding a bike.” A determined young man balances six takeaway coffees in the basket of his bike and carefully makes his way back to his friends who’re setting up a lavish breakfast on the sand.

The sun climbs higher in the sky and more people arrive at the beach and start to spread themselves out for holiday entertainment. Although the patrolled northern end is the most populated, this beach could never look crowded. Even when every “no vacancy” sign is out and the restaurants in Port Douglas are bursting at their seams, there will always be plenty of space in this piece of paradise. Safety on the beach is also a reason why so many families holiday here, particularly in the winter months when stingers are unlikely to be present in the water. Protected by the reef, a gentle ripple is the most surf people are likely to encounter and the flat surface of the sand ensures no sudden dips and holes are hiding under the water. The absence of noisy motorised jet skis and the like is another highlight – ah, so much serenity!

There’s a variety of equipment available for hire, ranging from sun lounges, deck chairs, catamarans, sea kayaks, sailboards, boogie boards, giant tubes to bocce and cricket sets. You can even hire bucket, spades, footballs and chess sets! Everything is geared to simplistic, old-fashioned fun.

By mid morning and for the rest of the day, games and activities are happening all over the beach. Two games of cricket decide to join forces and become Victoria versus NSW. The rough outline of the MCG pitch is mapped out with a stick in sand, and any spectators quickly become fielders. It’s difficult to get a spin on the ball and hitting on the full into the water is definitely a six.

Further along the beach, coconut shells mark out the field for a makeshift rugby game and for a while the players even experiment with replacing the ball with a coconut. After several minutes they all collapse on the sand in peals of laughter, rubbing their sore muscles.

 

A magnificent sandcastle empire is starting to emerge close to the shore and the young architects are working at a furious rate. Teamwork is the key as buckets are packed tightly, turned out, smoothed down, decorated and above all admired.

Coconuts are easily found anywhere along the beach, however, cracking one open to enjoy the sweet nectar provides more of a challenge. A group of teenagers, intrigued by the art of this skill, sit around with several coconuts and spend hours inventing creative techniques – all to no avail. Watching an expert open one at the Port Douglas Sunday Market might be a better option.

There’s also plenty of action out in the water with the giant tubes providing the most entertainment. Just how many people can fit on just one tube? Young children experience their first try on a boogie board as tiny breakers roll softly onto the sand. Many people are swimming or just standing in the water, enabling the warm Coral Sea to gently caress their bodies.

Lunchtime sees a transition of people, some heading off to the many other activities Port Douglas has to offer, others staying on to continue their beachside relaxation. For those who stay, a pedal-powered shop shuttles up and down selling drinks, ice-creams and sandwiches.

A sea breeze springs up in the mid afternoon sun and this brings a different type of action. At the southern end of the beach, kite surfers dance their boards across the sea, using the breakers to lift and turn skilfully into the air. A crowd gathers among the palm trees to watch the excitement of this spectacle and the small kite surfing school set up on the beach entices first-timers looking to learn this relatively new sport.

The sun sets over the mountains, casting long shadows over the beach and turning the water to a purple haze. In the distance the fleet of tourist boats returning from the reef form a silhouette on the horizon. The beach is given over to the honeymooners and romantics at heart who sit sipping champagne, strumming guitars and watching as darkness descends.

Eventually the beach is deserted and the tide washes over the sandcastles and cricket pitches. Visible traces of the day disappear as the beach prepares for a new morning, but the memories will last forever. The children sitting on Four Mile Beach today will bring their children back in the years to come . . . and the beach will remain unchanged.

*If you’d like to submit a Reader Story to Australian Traveller, just email editor@australiantraveller.com. All submissions considered.

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