1. Wildlife Habitat
You can't visit Australia without cuddling a koala, holding a baby croc or petting a tiny joey. Wildlife Habitat offers it all. There, you can see the cassowary, huge scary crocodiles, beautiful native birds each with unique personality, interact with friendly kangaroos and wallabies and, if you're up for it, have your picture taken with a non-venomous python. Highly recommended by the nearby Sheraton Mirage Resort as part of their new '1-Hour Gems' concept, aiming to connect guests to their destination through local experiences.
2. See the reef from the air ...
This once-in-a-lifetime trip may feel like the fastest 10 minutes you have ever experienced but it is worth every second. GBR Helicopters' knowledgeable flight crew will give you a great commentary as the aerial views of the Great Barrier Reef take your breath away. The colours and patterns you see below will blow your mind while you glide 150 metres above Agincourt Reef — one of the most beautiful outer ribbon reefs, and just one small portion of the 2300km stretch of this incredible natural wonder.
3 ... and see it from the sea
Hop aboard Quicksilver's newly equipped boat and be transported to Agincourt Reef in just over an hour. To get the most out of the fascinating pristine ecosystem, take a semi-submersible tour and get up close to sleepy turtles and sharks, go on a guided snorkelling tour with a marine biologist, or scuba dive for a more up-close encounter with an abundance of fish. Between June and August, you might be lucky enough to spot humpback whales with their calves. If you don't want to get your hair wet, you can don an ocean walker helmet, allowing you to dive at 4.5 metres. The fantastic staff will not only take pictures of you in your striking helmets and lycra suits, but will happily help snorkellers fit masks and fins, and even get into the water to assist those less confident swimmers.
4. Local lunch
Hemingway's Brewery has drawn inspiration from Port Douglas' rich and sometimes colourful history to create its specially crafted beers on site. It is a welcome surprise to have healthy, fresh, gourmet local produce served up with your craft beer tasting platter, and you can dine on the outdoor deck overlooking the reef marina. The tapas and barbecue style dishes are delicious, from sweet potatoes with smoked baba ganoush, herbed pea salad, green rice fried prawns and mouth-watering buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto. The local cows are on a diet of the spent grain — a by-product of the brewing process — bringing an element of quality and sustainability to the restaurant's menu.
5. Dine under the stars
Nautilus Restaurant's outdoor dining experience is like no other. Tucked away down a hidden pathway, you'll discover a romantic dinner setting under a canopy of rain forest and stars. The vibe is elegant but relaxed and the tasty 'Modern Australian' menu sources only the freshest produce from the bountiful coral sea and surrounding fertile land.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Cairns from Auckland between March and October.