Salty, fried prawns gaze lovingly at my lips. My stomach has overdosed. I heroically swig back a mouthful of pinot gris to temporarily stun my appetite. Gripping the prawn's tail, I munch through the crispy shell, eyeball and all.
Licking the sea salt and chilli from my lips, I've tipped from full to sick, but seriously, that prawn was divine.
Resting in tropical Queensland, Port Douglas is blessed with a Pacific Island-like climate and a backyard consisting of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.
It's also a dieter's worst nightmare, particularly in May when the town's annual Carnivale serves up some of the top dishes in the region.
Today I'm at Sassi, one of the many impressive restaurants of Port Douglas. An eccentric Italian couple cooks up simple but delicious dishes from their homeland. Tony Sassi demands your gaze with his thick, black eyebrows, Italian looks and deep voice. His wife, Di, is also mesmerising with her short, slick hair, high cheekbones and a ballerina's physique.
But the best is yet to come. As I leave the restaurant, Tony breaks into That's Amore to say farewell. My heart cries while my stomach threatens to explode.
The Carnivale events are a sure giveaway to the overarching theme: Longest Lunch, Palates of Port, Food Wine and Seafood Extravaganza. It's best to leave the Weight Watchers plan at home. If you do need a break from eating, join in the Carnivale street parade, play a round of golf or take part in the beach day.
For many, the culinary highlight comes at the Carnivale's Longest Lunch, hosted at the five-star Sheraton Mirage. About 300 people gather in a marquee for almost five hours of eating and drinking. Celebrities are known to helicopter in for lunch.
Yet there is one guest of honour that always draws a few squeals. Gertrud the snake greets guests by wrapping her scaly body around your neck and flexing hard. She does have teeth, and yes, she does kill her prey through strangulation. However, her keeper insists that wrestler neck-grip is just a way of saying she likes you. I'm not convinced.
This year's Longest Lunch menu includes beef fillet with lemon myrtle butter, yellow beans and coffee. For fish lovers, try the oven-baked barramundi with vanilla and lemon beurre blanc. Did I mention there is a platter of desserts including white chocolate cheesecake and lemon and lime creme brulee? It's enough to make you loosen your belt.
Sheraton Mirage head chef Klaus Keller says from the fish to the rosemary, the chocolate to the vanilla, all ingredients are sourced from Queensland suppliers. Reality TV can be partly to thank for the local flavours.
Klaus says shows like MasterChef Australia are increasingly putting the pressure on chefs to be clever in their cooking.
"People are more interested in ingredients and where those ingredients come from. It's a good thing for chefs – it's a great challenge."
But Port Douglas Carnivale is not all about eating. Another popular activity is "spot the celebrity". I advise taking a walk and counting how many celebrities you see. You can reward yourself with a dessert for every positive identification.
Claudia Schiffer, Olivia Newton-John, Pink and one of those teenage boys from Twilight have been rumoured to visit occasionally. Even Lady Gaga apparently snuck into town for a boat cruise recently. Former American president Bill Clinton has also popped by twice. Luxury yachts, multimillion-dollar homes and sports cars set the scene. Yet, despite the glamour and top cuisine, this is still an Aussie town at heart.
Some shopfronts appear jaded as the paint fades in the sun. Maxi dresses and flip-flops are a staple fashion statement. You can pick up an Australian flag or glittery jandal-shaped magnet at one of the many tourist shops.
You're not on a Pacific Island or sailing in Monaco. This is Australia. It's slightly disheartening to hear the ageing waterfront mall is being bulldozed to make way for luxury apartments. The old-style centre adds character to the town. Like many tourist destinations, Port Douglas must find the balance between modern luxury and Australian spunk.
For the latter, you can't go past the Saturday markets. Set beneath the raintrees, this local market is a bit of a best-kept secret. Bizarre tropical fruits, home-made chutneys and jewellery tempt shoppers.
At one stall, under the thick arms of the yawning trees, an elderly woman leans back against her plastic chair. She sells homemade relish or a bag of scones for $2.50. You won't get a price like that in an upmarket cafe.
It may not be as scrumptious as the crispy prawn from Sassi, and she won't serenade you with Italian songs, but her little stall is really what makes Port Douglas special.
Port Douglas Carnivale runs from May 18 to 27 with a menu of appetising food and wine. The emphasis is on "paddock to plate" with chefs competing for diners' appetites. For more details, visit carnivale.com.au
Marika Hill visited Port Douglas courtesy of Tourism Queensland.
The traditional Italian dishes flavoured with a little Chinese inspiration are incredible. Sample Tasmanian salmon, squid ink risotto or spaghetti puttanesca. Bellissimo.
Sassi Cucina, 9 Grant St, sassi.com.au
Don't be fooled by the plastic seats. The taster plate of coral trout will blow any battered fish out of the water. Try the coral trout fillet with provencale sauce, pesto, chorizo sausage and pesto relish.
2 Fish, Shop 7/20 Wharf St, 2FishRestaurant.com.au
The ideal celebrity-spotting location and a chance to taste modern Australian fare. Actors Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson reportedly relaxed here with cocktails while filming Fool's Gold in town.
Watergate, 31Macrossan St, watergateportdouglas.com.au
An espresso martini with a side of caramel and meringue roulade is the best sugar hit in town. That's enough to keep me happy, but apparently there are also great mains.
Wharf St, bistro3.com
- © Fairfax NZ News