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Known simply as "Port" to locals, Port Douglas offers almost as broad a range of outdoor adventures as Cairns, but in a more compact, laid-back setting. In this burgeoning tourist town there's a palpable buzz, despite tropical haze and humidity. Travelers from all over the world base themselves here, making excursions to the north's wild rain forests, the savanna and wetlands west of Mareeba, and
the Great Barrier Reef. Varied lodgings, restaurants, and bars center on and around Port's main strip, Macrossan Street.
Like much of North Queensland, Port Douglas was settled after gold was discovered nearby. When local ore deposits dwindled in the 1880s, it became a port for sugar milled in nearby Mossman until the 1950s. The town's many old "Queenslander" buildings give it the feel of a simple seaside settlement, despite its modern resorts and overbuilt landscape. The rain forests and beaches that envelop the town are, for the most part, World Heritage sites—so while Port continues to grow in popularity, the extraordinary environs that draw people here are protected from development.
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Traveling north, Cooktown is the last major settlement on the east coast of the continent, sitting at the edge of a difficult wilderness. Its...