I’m just going to say it – North Queensland was my favourite part of Australia, and Port Douglas just so happens to be the gateway to the rugged rainforests, sweeping beaches and vibrant reefs that these parts are known for. Sitting about an hours drive north of Cairns, and south of Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas has two wonders of the world right on its doorstep: the spectacular Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest. And these are just the tip of the iceberg of the fantastic things to do in Port Douglas!
Before these two wonders were discovered, Port Douglas was just your average fishing village that had seen it through the giddy heights of the gold rush and sugar exportation. That was until the great tourism boom of the 1980s occurred. It’s easy to understand why this happened! Not only is the weather amazing (if you get the right season!), but Port Douglas manages to find the perfect balance between adventure and relaxation. I spent my mornings scuba diving in the reef and zip lining across the rainforest before heading to the beach for an afternoon of relaxation.
You’re probably here because you’re planning a holiday to the tropical north, so I’m here to tell you about what to do, Port Douglas style!
- 1. Cuddle a koala at The Wildlife Habitat
- 2. Enjoy an Aboriginal cultural experience
- 3. Wine and dine on the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina
- 4. Walk the river path in Mossman Gorge
- 5. Take to the skies in a helicopter
- 6. Spot a crocodile in the wild
- 7. Complete the Great Barrier Reef Drive
- 8. Shop for souvenirs on Macrossan Street
- 9. Take a sunset balloon ride over Port Douglas
- 10. Bet with the locals on cane toad races
- BONUS: Free things to do in Port Douglas that will cost you nothing but time!
- BONUS 2: 3 day trips from Port Douglas (Including 2 World Heritage Sites!)
- Useful information about Port Douglas
1. Cuddle a koala at The Wildlife Habitat
North Queensland is known for its native animal species, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in Australia, or even the world!
Around town, there’s always something lurking – we saw loads of green tree frogs during the night and even a cassowary!
Female cassowaries abandon their eggs once they’re laid, leaving it to the dad to incubate the eggs and raise them! Be wary of any defensive cassowaries looking after their young, they’re not afraid of using their hard head or sharp claws if they feel threatened.
If you’re not lucky enough to spot these amazing creatures hanging around town, I’d recommend a visit to The Wildlife Habitat. The award-winning Wildlife Habitat is most well known for its interactive animal experiences which include Picnicking with Parrots and Cuddling Koalas.
PRICE: General admission: Adults $38, Kids $19, Under 4s go free.
2. Enjoy an Aboriginal cultural experience
Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation were originally settled by the Kuku Yalanji people, who have a very distinct culture from what you see in town today. Although I didn’t have time to fit any of these experiences into my trip, I heard great things about the tours.
The Kuku Yalanji people have a history with the land that dates back over 50,00 years. They’ve developed a deep respect with nature and the land, which you can learn more about on a tour.
Mossman Gorge was recently given back to its Aboriginal owners, who now organise tours to different cultural hotspots in Port Douglas. All guides originate from the Kuku Yalanji tribe and provide amazing insights into their culture, beliefs and general daily life. One tour, in particular, the Flames of the Forest, takes place during the evening. It includes a banquet feast, traditional dance performances (including the didgeridoo) and storytelling around a fire. The cost of the tour is about $230 and it lasts around three to five hours and includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, all-you-can-eat food and wine, and an evening of unique entertainment.
PRICE: $230 per person
3. Wine and dine on the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina
As a confessed foodie, I loved the part of Port Douglas that surrounded the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina. It’s full of seafood restaurants, swanky cocktail bars and cafes to suit almost any occasion or budget.
A few of my favourites included:
- Barbados Cocktail Bar – serving bespoke cocktails in waterfront cabanas.
- Lure Seafood Restaurant – specialising in fresh fish and Australian food.
- Hemingway’s Brewery – serving homebrewed beers on tap.
- Cafe Ziva – the best brunch menu in town overlooking Dickson Inlet.
4. Walk the river path in Mossman Gorge
Sitting in the middle of the Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge is an area of true natural beauty. You’ve probably seen the photos of crystal clear rivers, smooth granite boulders and lush rainforest, all of which are in plentiful supply in the gorge. I spent around half a day here wandering around the 2-kilometre rainforest loop (you can do this in about 30-minutes if you’re short on time!) and swimming in safe-river spots. Alternatively, you can opt for one of the Dreamtime Walk tours if you’d rather be led by a specialist (all of whom are from the Kuku Yalanji tribe).
5. Take to the skies in a helicopter
While most people choose to visit the Great Barrier Reef from the water, there’s actually another option that I discovered during my travels to Port Douglas – a helicopter ride! The reef extends over 2,300kilometers and taking to the skies is the perfect way to grasp the sheer size of it.
Helicopter rides start from $400 for a ride across the Low Isles of the reef. I didn’t get the chance to do this, but the photos I saw looked spectacular and if budget allows, I definitely recommend doing it for an unforgettable experience!
6. Spot a crocodile in the wild
As you get closer to Port Douglas, you might notice more signs warning you against swimming in the sea or particular rivers due to a large population of crocodiles. With such a dense population of saltwater and freshwater crocs in the area, I found that this was the perfect place to join a croc spotting tour along the Daintree River.
The Daintree National Park is home to over 70 crocodiles that called the Daintree River their home. Some males grow to be five or six meters!
TOP TIP: I travelled with a company called The Crocodile Express, with tickets costing $30 per person. The bonus of travelling with this company is that they will give you a second cruise for free if you don’t spot any crocs the first time around.
7. Complete the Great Barrier Reef Drive
The Great Barrier Reef Drive has been voted as one of the best coastal routes in Australia, second to the famous Great Ocean Road. It’s a 140km route that stretches from Palm Cove (which sits just south of Port Douglas), all the way to Cairns, winding through mountains dense with rainforest, and along the Coral Sea. I didn’t actually plan to do this drive, it just naturally fit into my East Coast itinerary. Chances are it’ll be the same idea for you.
TOP TIP: Don’t miss the chance to stop off at Rex Lookout for incredible views over Wangetti Beach.
8. Shop for souvenirs on Macrossan Street
Macrossan Street is the main road that runs through the centre of town and leads to the marina. It’s packed full of stylish boutiques, independent eateries, local art galleries and cafes. It’s more than likely that you’ll be walking down Macrossan Street every day to get something. If you enjoy window shopping or searching for things in artisanal boutiques, this is the road for you!
9. Take a sunset balloon ride over Port Douglas
If you can stir yourself awake at the ungodly hour of 4 am, then you’ll be able to enjoy a hot air balloon ride over this part of Queensland. It’s one of those bucket list items that you won’t regret ticking off in Port Douglas.
While the sun rises behind the green rainforest, the kangaroos are just waking up and the turquoise ocean is as still as it can be, creating the most magical reflections. You can choose from 30-minute or one-hour rides. Personally, I went for the longer one, simply to make the most out of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
TOP TIP: If you’re celebrating an anniversary or popping that all-important question to your special someone, HotAir can organise a super special balloon ride for you and your partner.
PRICE: From $300 for an early morning, 30-minute ride.
10. Bet with the locals on cane toad races
Okay, bear with me, I found this slightly bizarre too! Cane toads were once so abundant in Queensland that they began to develop sports using them. One such sport was the cane toad races, a tradition that still remains today.
Cane toads are such a common occurrence in Queensland, that they’ve become the state’s cultural icon!
In Port Douglas, the Iron Bar holds regular cane toad races. During these, you can bet $5 on one of the cane toads in the bucket, and watch as they race to the finish line. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but it’s the taking part that counts – right?
BONUS: Free things to do in Port Douglas that will cost you nothing but time!
1. Watch the sunset from Four Mile Beach
If you were told that Port Douglas was home to one of Australia’s best beaches, would you visit? Of course, you would!
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to set foot on the much-talked-about Four Mile Beach, a beach that sweeps (you guessed it!), 4 miles along the bay.
Backed by kilometres of ancient rainforest, Four Mile Beach is said to be one of the only places in the world where the rainforest meets the ocean. We decided to take an early morning stroll along the beach, and later came back to watch a pretty unforgettable sunset from Flagstaff Hill, but the possibilities are truly endless with what to do here. We saw people sunbathing, swimming, windsurfing, rock pooling and even a sunrise yoga class taking place!
ATTENTION: North Queensland’s waters are home to saltwater crocodiles (year-round) and stinging jellyfish (October to May). If you do fancy a dip in the sea, make sure you stick to the designated swimming areas that have been set up with stinger nets.
2. Relax and refresh at wild swimming spots
I visited Port Douglas during the height of summer when daily temperatures top 30C, and wild swimming spots were my saviour! You can swim in the sea in Port Douglas, but only in the designated areas due to crocs and stingers. Mossman Gorge is home to plenty of wild swimming spots, but my favourite was actually in Cape Tribulation – a spot known as Mason’s Store. You’ll be asked for a gold coin donation to use the wild swimming spot or to purchase something from their cafe. I believe finding these hidden spots are one of the best things to do in Port Douglas.
ATTENTION: Stinger season runs roughly from November to May.
3. Drive to the top of Flagstaff Hill
Flagstaff Hill sits just north of Port Douglas, not far from Four Mile Beach. You can choose to walk, drive or cycle to the top of the hill, but I’d highly recommend that you should just go – the view is stunning!
Aside from the award-winning Four Mile Beach (said to be even better than the highly-regarded Stradbroke Island), you can enjoy views over everything this part of Queensland is known for – tropical rainforests and the stunning Coral Sea. On a clear day, you might even be able to see all the way to the Low Isles from the top of Flagstaff Hill.
TOP TIP: Rex Smeal Park sits just behind Flagstaff Hill and is the perfect place for a sunset picnic!
4. Plan your visit during Port Douglas’ May Carnivale
Although I wasn’t in Port Douglas for the annual May Carnivale, it sounds like something worth going back for! It’s a two-day festival, usually held at the end of May when the whole of Port Douglas is transformed. Market stalls line the waterfront, beach parties occur each night and there’s even a parade when vibrant floats, decorated by local businesses and schools, take to the streets.
It’s a tradition that’s been happening for over 25-years now, one that aims to show the best of the tropical north including its local produce, engaging entertainers and Aboriginal culture.
BONUS 2: 3 day trips from Port Douglas (Including 2 World Heritage Sites!)
1. Learn to SCUBA dive on the Great Barrier Reef
Let’s face it, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the main reasons why we’ve all found ourselves in this corner of Queensland!
The reef sits just 70km off the coast of Port Douglas, making this the most popular jumping-off point for tours to this underwater world.
Most tour providers use high-speed catamarans to access the outer reef in just 90-minutes. Quicksilver Cruises has been operating for over 35 years and it’s considered to be one of the best companies in the area. I joined one of these cruises and I have to say that I can wholeheartedly agree with the reviews. The day was organised very well, we visited some of the stunning islands in the outer reef, and I even had my first go at scuba diving!
Unfortunately, coral bleaching is rife in The Great Barrier reef and is slowly killing the vibrant coral that has thrived here for hundreds of years. All reputable tour companies will give you a safety briefing on how to best protect the coral.
ATTENTION: Although it’s unlikely that you’ll come across any deadly stingers, it’s always worth using protective wetsuits that are available on most tour boats for free.
TOP TIP: Tours from Port Douglas are incredibly popular, so you will want to book in advance, especially during high season (June to August). If you’d rather go somewhere a little quieter to visit the reef, consider visiting Hervey Bay for trips to the low isles.
2. Explore the oldest rainforest in the world
At 180 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is considered to be one of the oldest on the planet!
It’s a place like nowhere that I’ve visited, with incredible ancient trees, mossy forests and remote swimming spots. I actually spent five days exploring everything that there is to do in the Daintree, basing myself in the town of Cape Tribulation. If you don’t have time for this though, there are plenty of day or one-night tours to choose from that leave from Port Douglas or tours that combine a visit to the Daintree Rainforest with a trip to Mossman Gorge.
If you’d rather do a self-tour of the rainforest, it’s an easy 90-minute drive to get there. Despite being a remote location, the roads are in great condition and even my trusty 1996 Ford Falcon got on just fine with them. If you do want to drive beyond Cape Tribulation, perhaps to Cooktown, or just access some of the more remote sights, you’ll need to rent a sturdy 4WD.
If you are visiting by yourself, here are five things I’d highly recommend to see or to do:
- Book a Jungle Surfing Canopy Tour.
- Go Tropical fruit tasting at Cape Trib Farm.
- Visit Thornton Beach.
- Walkthrough the mangroves on Marrja, Kulki or Dubuji boardwalk.
- Wander through the tropical fruit orchard at the Daintree Icecream Company.
3. Take a scenic trip along the railroad to the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands is located about an hour and a half inland from Port Douglas, in a town called Kuranda, and is a welcome change in scenery from days spent exploring the reef. There are only two ways to reach the village – the Kuranda Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which take around 90-minutes each way. A round trip, taking the Skyrail one way and the Scenic Railway the other, costs $165 ($80 for children aged 4 to 14), and also includes hotel transfers from Port Douglas. Both experiences take you through World-Heritage listed rainforest before arriving at Kuranda. In Kuranda, there are plenty of cultural activities to participate in, including an indigenous celebration at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, and natural sights to see like the stunning Barron Falls.
Useful information about Port Douglas
How to get to Port Douglas
Located in the remote tropical north, getting to Port Douglas by road is no easy feat. The closest big town is Cairns, at around an hours drive away. After this, its whopping 20-hour drive from Brisbane. For this reason, I’d suggest that booking a flight is the easier, and quickest option. The town’s closest airport is in Cairns which sees daily flights from most major destinations, including:
From there, you can drive from the airport. Cairns is a big airport, with lots of car rental services available. I’d recommend hiring a car in advance so your exit from the airport can be as smooth as possible. It’s easy enough to compare prices and find the right cars for you using Rental Cars.
Where to stay in Port Douglas
The days I spent in Port Douglas were so packed full of activities and things to see, that I was extremely grateful to come back to a comfortable hotel to rest my head. There’s a huge selection of accommodation on offer to choose from, so I’ve hand-selected a few favourites to help you on your way with picking the best hotel for your style and budget.
Luxury (250 AUD and up):
If you’re looking for luxury, then look no further than the Port Douglas Peninsula Boutique Hotel. This adults-only hotel offers modern accommodation right on the waterfront and is renowned for organising top-class and luxury tours to the Great Barrier Reef. Alternatively, the Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple Resort and Spa offers up super luxurious studios, complete with swim-out pools, hot tubs and even an 18-hole golf course.
Middle (85 to 166 AUD):
Located just outside of town, and closer to Mossman Gorge, the Mossman Motel Holiday Villas give families and larger groups the freedom they need for a self-catered holiday. All villas are equipped with kitchenettes and have access to a shared pool. For a budget option a little closer to the centre, the Port Douglas Motel sits just moments away from Macrossan Street. Boasting a saltwater pool, and free Wi-Fi access, it’s a comfortable place to return to after a busy day exploring.
Budget (up to 85 AUD):
There aren’t really any budget hotels in Port Douglas, so if you’re on a tight budget, you might want to consider booking one of these highly-rated hostels for a few days. Dougies Backpacker Resort offers both budget double rooms and dorms, with an outdoor swimming pool, beer garden and a communal kitchen if you need it. Coral Beach Lodge is another great option offering modern and ensuite dorm accommodation, with a continental breakfast included in the price.
When to visit Port Douglas, Australia
Port Douglas has a tropical climate. This means that there’s a wet and dry season that offer up very different conditions. The wet season takes place from November to April, while the dry season occurs from June to October. In fact, the best time to visit Port Douglas is during shoulder seasons in April or October, when the crowds are fewer, the stingers have left the sea and the temperatures are comfortable.
I actually went against my own advice and visited during the wet season. Although it was super humid, I was lucky and didn’t see too much rain. I was still able to see the reef in all its glory and enjoy most of the main sights in Port Douglas.
TOP TIP: I visited during the wet season and found that everything was a little bit cheaper, from hotel prices to Great Barrier Reef tours! If you’re on a budget, it could be worth risking the weather for a cheaper getaway.
If you weren’t too sure what to do in Port Douglas before you read this post, I hope that you do now! As the jumping-off platform for two World Heritage Sites, there are an endless amount of unique things to do in Port Douglas.
As well as the ten things to do in Port Douglas town, I’ve written about three fantastic day trips, and even a few free things to get stuck into. With so many things to do in Port Douglas, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. If you are, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you might have. I’ll do my best to answer them all.