Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Bar/fly: Port Douglas

If you want a dinkum Aussie drinking experience, you can't do better than Port Douglas, says Kurt Bayer, even if locals are scarce.
T-shirts tagged with 'Central Hotel - Est. 1878. Where the locals still meet', are for sale behind the bar. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
T-shirts tagged with 'Central Hotel - Est. 1878. Where the locals still meet', are for sale behind the bar. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

After his third shot of whisky, chased with a frosty-glassed schooner of VB, the native shook his blonde mullet.

"Na mate, good for ya. Doesn't boon anymore either. You know when it boons on the way down? Yeah, no booning anymore. It's good, no boon."

He denied having Scottish origins.

"Purebred 'Straya me, mate."

And when asked why his whisky is served in a tumbler rather than a shot glass, he smiles, adjusts his black wraparound sunnies, and plants a scuffed black boot on the bar rail.

"Otherwise I spill it, don't I. Gotta look after myself."

When my mobile rings, I sheepishly apologise and tell him it's my wife in New Zealand. I have to answer, and confess I'm in a pub.

"Hello darling," I say, before my new cobber shouts over, "Tell her you're in the whorehouse."

After explaining that I was not in fact in a house of ill repute, we agree to speak later.

My new mate, meanwhile, has laughed his arse off outside.

Too hot for me out there. I survey my surroundings. Doors and slat windows open, whirring fans purring.

Don McLean tinkling American Pie, kitchen staff harmonising, "the day the music died ...".

Jugs of still water sit untouched, unloved, on the bar, so still and untouched that bubbles seep to the sides.

Keno on dedicated TVs for the hopelessly addicted, a silver gecko jerks across the ceiling, framed Australian rules shirts on walls, elderly couple supping cider and slapping down dominoes.

T-shirts tagged with "Central Hotel - Est. 1878. Where the locals still meet", are for sale behind the bar - $20.

A classic Australian drinking experience. Fair dinkum.

Uneven wooden floors, cussing, no fussing, stick around for the fisticuffs. All in good fun. Love it.

I thought I was drinking well, but even with cold beer poured into an iced glass, it's approaching tepid by the dregs.

"Another, mate?" barman Deej asks.

"Great Northern Super Crisp Lager, if you would be so kind."

Dished up, he asks for $4.50. Happy hour.

"How often do you do happy hour?"

"Every day mate. 4pm 'til 6pm."

"Happy two hours," I say, feeling it already, plainly.

"Yeah. And we do another one, 9pm 'til 10pm." By jeez, by jingo. Worth sticking around for.

There's a Black Caps v India cricket match being replayed on the tele.

Even though I watched it live two nights ago, I can hardly take my eyes off it.

Captain B-Mac finding form, lacing sixes over extra cover, Indians bungling in the field. I'm nervous, even though I know we win.

I shake out of it.

"Hey Deej, is this Great Northern beer local?"

"Well, they say it is, but it comes from just south of Brissy."

"So, just a few thousand Ks away then?"

"Um, yeah."

(Fact check: It's actually brewed in Cairns, 70km away.)

That one disappears, Deej knows the drill.

Another. I consider changing things up and plumping for a Cascade Premium Light, but I'm too slow. Next time, Deej.

Boy, stand-up paddle boarding, it transpires, sure is thirsty work. But not as much as kite surfing in fringe cyclone winds, apparently, as my instructor Bretto (note the obligatory Aussie 'O' added to end of his Christian name) explained.

"Mate, you should've been here yesterday," he said as we idled over the calm inlet of Four Mile Beach a few hours ago. "I was 60 feet in the air."

Four Mile Beach, a favourite with Hollywood actor dude Matthew McConaughey after he hung out there while shooting a terrible film, Fool's Gold.

Locals of "Port", as they lazily coin it, are proud of it though.

The big-time star drank right here, I'm told, reminding me of the plaque I once saw in a Madrid bar that said: Hemingway did not drink here.

Another local rolls up. "G'day mate, can I have a schooner of VB, please?"

"Sure can," Deej says, pouring.

"My lucky day then," punter says, slapping down a five, "Keep the change."

Uh oh, the mulletted shot-chaser returns.

Same again.

Shot in tumbler, bang. Slurps on his beer chaser.

"So, you're not Scottish, but you're local?" I ask, in the absence of anything else to say, as he's just staring at me with a sideways grin on his unshaved dial and making me nervous.

"Na, nobody's local in this town mate," he says. And he's right. I've been here 48 hours and not met one yet.

They're from all over Australia, migrating here by chance, liking the climate, the relaxed tourist vibes, the abundant weed supplies.

"Na, I'm from out west. Perth.

"Had to leave. My ex was a nutter. Proper psycho. I knew she'd never leave town, so only thing left was for me to f*** off. It's all good here, but."

I can see its charms.

"Paradise, eh," I offer, with a slur.

"Oh yeah, it is but it's not but. No one gets rich here. Lifestyle town."

Lifestyle. I like lifestyle. And yes, I do want another. Thank you, Deej. True professional that one. Forgot to change to Cascade. Next time.

"So, what do you do here? Work on the reef boats or something?"

"Kebab shop, few doors up. When I'm not rudely distracted by these young, tanned European things in bikinis. They actually walk around like that," he says, shaking his head, mullet-mane swaying.

But he gets by, he assures me.

"You see, there's a mango tree outside the shop. Must be three thousand mangos in it. I watch the ripe ones fall to the ground, these young things walking past, and I think to myself, hey this ain't so bad."

Ain't so bad, indeed.

"Get us both a round, Deej. Hey, you local?"

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Major airlines connect daily from Auckland to Brisbane and Sydney, from where local carriers go to Cairns.

Grab a schooner: The Central Hotel Port Douglas is at 9 Macrossan Street.

Kurt Bayer travelled as a guest of Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree.

- NZ Herald

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