Ballina and Port Douglas go head-to-head for the title of best regional destination. Port Douglas is where you can be lazy or adventurous. On the edge of Four Mile Beach, anchor your acrylic umbrella in the sand; snorkel the Great Barrier Reef or hike the Daintree Rainforest. South of the border in Ballina, you can see two castles, a maze, macadamias, hinterland and a handful of beaches.
So, which of these two great regional towns is the best to visit?
Test 1: The Drive
Ballina is a two hour drive south of Brisbane, winding through koala habitat and colossal mountainsides along the Pacific Highway. After passing the fixed speed cameras at the Byron Bay turnoff, stop at the designated tourist observation point at the top of the hill and get out of the car to admire the view. It’s the perfect Instagram point, with completely uninterrupted, panoramic views of the golden sand lapping into the deep blue coast. Turn to the west to see dozens of emerald mountain peaks sprouting out from the Ballina Byron hinterland. Thirty minutes south along the road, take the Ballina turnoff at the crossroads of the Ballina Bypass built in 2012. Not a road trip to be missed, driving to Ballina is a delightful awakening. Is there another drive as satisfying?
Port Douglas could be Ballina’s perfect rival. The Cairns to Port Douglas drive is framed by mist capped mountains and coral dancing through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s nothing short of amazing, earning the impressive title, the “Great Tropical Drive.” To begin, start driving north of Cairns along the scenic Captain Cook Highway. Winding along the Coral Sea coast through the Wet Tropics World Heritage area and past unspoiled tropical beaches, an unsurpassed one hour journey unfolds. After arriving in Port Douglas, opt for the economical shuttle bus services or even hire a bike to get around. Shoes are optional in this laidback town.
Winner: Drive to both and enjoy the scenery along the way. We vote Ballina.
Test 2: Beaches or Rainforest
Summer brings ideal swimming temperatures, but it’s the cooler months when Ballina reveals its secrets. West in the Hinterland is one for Harry Potter fanatics. Don’t leave without visiting Amaze ‘n’ Place. It’s a hedge that took 15 years to plant, grow and prune into a human size maze of dead-ends and twisting corridors leading to secret gardens. Back in Ballina, walk along the beaches to discover sheltered coves, bakeries dotting the shoreline and some of the world’s finest surf breaks along Ballina. Lennox Head overlooks the coast and this is where you’ll want to be sitting to watch the annual humpback whale migration from May to October.
North of the border, Port Douglas is hands down the best spot to see the whales between June and September. Aristocrat is one of the authorised operators who conducts regular whale watching tours each year. Hot this summer has been people visiting the Great Barrier Reef. With the future preservation of the reef currently making news headlines, now may be the best chance to see the coral while it still glitters on the ocean floor. For those who love hiking, misty mountain peaks and the echoing whispers of rainforest budgies, you’ll want to park in Port Douglas and head for the Daintree Rainforest.
Winner: The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest are magnificent and can’t be beat. Port Douglas.
Final verdict: We’ll throw the tie breaker over to you. Which is your favourite and why?
About Lauren Bremner
Lauren is Best Western Australasia’s Marketing Communications Manager, based in Sydney. When she’s not using her love for NRL as an excuse to fly around Australia armed with her red and green binoculars, she’s visiting her hometown in Brisbane and planning her escapades to Australia and New Zealand’s most ideal points on the map. With a fascination for all things hotels, airplanes, opera ghosts and holidays, Lauren has a taste for the theatrical (she has a Lois Lane action figure on her desk, touched Henry Cavill at the Superman premier, and got retweeted by Russell Crowe last year). She loves good old fashioned hospitality, stemming from family bloodlines running up and down the aisles of Australia’s aviation industry. “Coffee, tea or me?” Sit down with a cuppa and join Lauren as she brings us the real stories behind our Best Western hotels, capturing why each one is so different from the next, and introduces us to the people behind the scenes working to bring your hotel dreams to life.