Over the past ten years or so, Port Douglas in Far North Queensland, Australia, has been a fixture in my annual travel schedule.
Most who have been up north will understand why — while Port is undeniably a tourist mecca, it still has about it the sleepy, languid, comfy feel of a country seaside town.
After having to set aside an opportunity to work for a media company in Shanghai (thanks COVID-19, no, really, thanks so much), I decided that I would do the counter-opposite. Unable to thrust myself into the hustle-bustle of one of Asia’s most exciting metropoli, I would instead move to a small town and try it on for size.
This is how it played out.
From urban jungle to near-real jungle
Before the job offer in Shanghai came along, I had been contemplating a move to Queensland, although not to Port Douglas but rather Brisbane, the state’s capital city.
I’ve never REALLY been a country small-town boy type. Not because there is anything remotely disagreeable about living in small towns but rather because I love the buzz and energy of cities — the “brimming with possibilities” feel of living in urban landscapes.
Of course, there are the downsides to inner-city living as well such as pollution, over-crowded everything and everywhere, and attitude, which means you occasionally need to flee the city to catch your breath.
This is precisely what prompted me to go to Port for the first time around 2007 or 2008, alongside my general travel curiosity and love of tropical climes.
Despite a first bumpy journey to get there (the coastal drive after arriving in Cairns can be a little hairy, particularly at night when the shuttle driver is fanging it up the twisty-turny highway and you’ve had a beer on the plane and not much to eat), it was love at first sight.
And after that initial journey, I have returned every year bar one since.
My connection grew even stronger in late 2019 when I worked on a local mayoral election campaign in a comms role. Even though I undertook my duties remotely, throughout the campaign I was deeply immersed in the daily goings-on of the Douglas Shire as I worked with my candidate to help get him elected (and he was, woohoo!)
This, alongside itchy feet that had been denied their Shanghai adventure and the difficulty of living in the city of Melbourne during one of the world’s most arduous COVID-19 lockdowns, provided more than enough impetus to move north.
So I did.
Like slipping into a comfy sweater. Or swimming trunks, maybe.
Having been to Port a dozen or so times meant that I knew the town well, already had a couple of contacts there and had used them to help organise a three-month lease so I could just arrive and get settled ASAP.
Which I did, even after the rigours of air travel in the time of COVID and a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine (but I ate well, so yeah).
Within just a few days, in my truly nomadic way, I had settled into Port and it was already home.
Even after the stressful year COVID-19 has thrown at so many, particularly in a town like Port where tourism is what keeps many in work, the locals were as friendly as ever and I immediately felt welcome and part of the tight-knit community.
Beach walks (and swims!) became a daily occurrence (bliss), I picked up a little work with the local newspaper and even jumped into directing a production for the local theatre company — a production of Steel Magnolias, no less.
In other words, it all was going swimmingly.
That is, at least, until I was hit and hit hard by the dreaded bug.
A rolling stone
No, not COVID-19: The travel bug.
I’ve had it and had it bad since my first overseas trip when I was 19.
Living in a small town like Port, as glorious and friendly and calming and wonderful as it is, sadly only irritated that bug more.
Because as much as I loved how easy it was feeling the community wrap its welcoming arms around me and accepting me as one of its own, the smallness of the town and how remote it is meant the travel itch was worse than ever.
Conversely, living in a large city, even one you are familiar with or have lived in all your life, I feel helps satisfy that itch a little due to the ability to visit suburbs or places you’ve not been before. To head to new cafes or restaurants that have opened. Hear the voices and accents of visitors from all over the world. Go to more performances, galleries, events.
Don’t get me wrong — life in Port has been amazing. I can totally understand why people do the sea or tree change and never look back, and Port is as good a place as any to do it.
I have no regrets about the three months I lived here —I am almost 100% certain there will be other opportunities for me to spend extended time here in the future.
It’s with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to Port.
And I absolutely encourage anyone to try small-town life at some point.
But this cheeky monkey is super excited at the prospect of inhabiting the urban jungle again.
One of my fave childhood tunes to go out on