The undeniable success of Port Douglas as a tourist destination is all about Location. Just one hour’s spectacular drive north of Cairns Airport in Tropical North Queensland and 1 hour 40 minutes north-east of Atherton Tablelands, with the glittering waters of the Great Barrier Reef lapping the shoreline and the prehistoric rainforest of the Daintree calling, the tiny town of Port as the locals label it, delivers big time as a holiday destination. This posts delves into the best things to do in Port Douglas and why you should visit Port Douglas in Far North Queensland.
Port Douglas oozes what all winning travel destinations have loads of – and that is charm. It’s a romantic boating village with a marina boasting some impressive floating eye candy. There are fancy hotels, a palm tree lined entrance to town, compliments of failed Millionaire Christopher Skase in the early 80’s and an intriguing laid back North Queensland ambience.
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What You Will Find in This Post
Where is the Great Barrier Reef?
The world’s largest Unesco listed area, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2900 reefs stretching from Cape York on the northern tip of Australia to Lady Elliott Island 2,300 km to the south.
At Port Douglas the Great Barrier Reef is always calling. Port Douglas Reef Tours are not cheap, but are one of the best things to do in Port Douglas, with a price to match.
It pays to consider all the options before diving in.
Best Snorkelling Great Barrier Reef – Port Douglas Reef Tours
The best place for Port Douglas Snorkelling and diving is on the outer great barrier reef or on the islands, not on the mainland. We recommend Agincourt Reef and Low Isles for snorkelling. Water Visibility out from Port Douglas is between 15 and 60 metres, with the best visibility for both snorkelling and diving being in June (winter) or September to November.
If snorkelling or diving in June, I recommend wearing a wet suit. I personally get cold in the water then, even though the water is a quite warm 22 degrees C. You can expect Summer water temperatures of up to 29 degrees C between December and February.
Quicksilver, a fast 45 metre wave piercing catamaran whisks you to their pontoon at Agincourt Reef, 72 km from Port Douglas on the outer barrier reef. A boat tour to Agincourt Reef is the quintessential Port Douglas Barrier Reef tour, with the best coral viewing and water visibility on the Reef. Being a fast catamaran, Quicksilver gets you to Agincourt reef in 90 minutes.
Not all Great Barrier Reef trips moor at a pontoon. The pontoon at Agincourt Reef is on two levels measuring 47.5m long and 23.4m wide.
I like returning to a pontoon when I get a bit shaky or tired from snorkelling. It provides room to get into and out of your stinger suit or wet suit and gives structure to what can seem to be a scary never-ending ocean.
Considering that a lot of people who visit the Great Barrier Reef are not experienced in snorkelling or being on the outer barrier reef, this is an important consideration.
Low Isles Port Douglas
Wavedancer, Quicksilver’s luxury 30m sailing catamaran goes to Low Isles, only 15 km/1 hour from Port, where it is possible to snorkel from the island beach.
We’re familiar with Quicksilver’s trips to Agincourt Reef and Low Isles but there are many more companies and trips on offer.
Low Isles was my first reef snorkelling experience and I remember it fondly. It is comforting to snorkel where your boat is within swimmable distance of a beach. There was good coral and plenty of colourful small fish there when I visited, but that was a long time ago.
I’m not sure what the Low Isles experience is like today, but I do know that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority manage the reef well and the coral should still be pretty.
Coral cover can of course be affected adversely by natural events like floods or higher water temperatures attributed to climate change.
I always like to talk to someone who has recently been on a tour, so start mingling and find out.
Photo and post by Adventure Mumma.
Familiarise yourself with the Marina to see where your boat will be leaving from.
Quicksilver Port Douglas for Port Douglas Reef Tours.
Enjoy the Relaxing Tropical Lifestyle on the best beach in Port Douglas.
Four Mile Beach is the one and only beach in Port Douglas, but it is as long as 10 beaches!
Be a Beach Bum on Four Mile Beach Port Douglas.
Work on your tan, destress and dream of that first after sun cocktail.
Walk on Four Mile Beach Port Douglas for hours.
Picnic or practice being a beach bum – it’s an honoured profession up north. You’ll be snoozing beneath a She Oak before you know it.
Run into the Port Douglas Sunset on Four Mile Beach
Some people are wired different to myself and run for relaxation. If you love to run, consider Four Mile Beach your personal running track.
Remember, the track is wider and firmer when the tide is low rather than high.
Practice Zen Yoga on Four Mile Beach
There is something special about Yoga on the Beach. It screams Tropical Holiday like nothing else. You can join Yoga on the Beach classes every day from 8 am to 9 am.
I did such a yoga class on the beachfront at Kewarra Beach north of Cairns and it was the best yoga experience of my life. I know I would love this Yoga class on Four Mile Beach.
Four Mile Beach – easy access from the main street – Macrossan Street.
Four Mile from the walkway up to Flagstaff Hill.
Beaches near Port Douglas
There are also some great beaches near Port Douglas.
Wonga Beach to the north has two caravan parks. We’ve stayed at Pinnacle Beach Caravan Park with beachside camping spots and two great pools. Swimming Pools are a necessity if you’re in the north during Summer. A pool will keep kids entertained for hours and I remember at least one of their pools as being good for adults. Be prepared for rain in the hotter months.
Palm Cove on the highway south from Port Douglas to Cairns, is a destination in itself. The beach is lovely for a romantic pre-dinner walk beneath the palm trees and for sunning yourself in your latest beach gear. Palm Cove is known for it’s restaurants, resorts and in my circle of friends at least, girl week-ends.
Fishing Port Douglas.
Only a fellow fisher-person understands how relaxing wetting a line can be. Pack your fishing gear and try your luck from the town’s Sugar Wharf.
Horse-riding Port Douglas
Ports Horse Farm.
We found this gem when we house-sat the horse farm. Prue is devoted to her horses and they are part of the family. We learned just how beautiful they are and how much they love eating bananas. Who knew!
Prue has friendly down to earth style and has developed an undercover riding Arena to complement her rainforest rides. The Arena, elevated at the back of the property where grassy fields meet rain-forested hills, offers protection from both real and liquid sunshine.
Why not mix things up a little – an one hour’s ride is easily slotted in to the day’s activities and the farm is only 5 minutes from the Port Douglas Roundabout.
5 Heritage Lane CRAIGLIE
Far North Queensland
Cost: Approximately $69/head
Best Viewpoints in Port Douglas
Flagstaff Hill Port Douglas.
From the main street you can drive or walk to the lookout at the top of Flagstaff Hill. It overlooks Four Mile Beach and is a great Sunrise viewing Spot. It can also be accessed by a walking track from Four Mile Beach.
The below photo of Four Mile Beach, taken from Flagstaff Hill, shows the Marine Stinger (Swimming) Enclosure.
The decommissioned Lighthouse
When ascending the Flagstaff Hill road there is walking track access toward the bottom left of the road, which leads between houses to the lighthouse. There are great ocean views from up here.
Visit the Daintree Rainforest
Take a step back in time and visit Cape Tribulation in the prehistoric Daintree rainforest. It’s stepping back in time in more ways than one. Head 40 minutes north to where the Bruce Highway meets the Daintree River and board the barge.
Driving off into the Daintree rainforest gives me a Jurassic Park shiver of anticipation.
Cost: $25 Return Barge trip.
Exactly What is The Daintree?
You will hear the term Daintree mentioned often in the North, but what is it exactly?
It’s a River, a Township and a Region and each are easily accessible from Port Douglas. The Daintree Rainforest begins at Mossman Gorge in the 1988 World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park and extends to Daintree Township and Daintree River and to Cape Tribulation and beyond.
If you want to explore in your own vehicle you can see a sketch map of the area with estimated drive times here or download the free map.
If you would prefer to take a tour there is one that takes it all in. You can be collected from Cairns or Port Douglas. It visits Mossman Gorge including an Aboriginal Smoke Ceremony, The Daintree, Rainforest Boardwalk and Cape Tribulation. There is a wildlife river cruise with crocodile spotting included. It’s an all round entertaining day with knowledgeable guides and a great lunch.
If you would rather do a day tour, I know a good one.
Cape Tribulation where the rainforest meets the sea.
Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation Map
Explore Dickson’s Inlet
Find out where the big boats hide during cyclones, bird watch in the mangroves and listen to boat wreck stories. Don your Safari Suit and join the boat led Croc hunt at the Inlet Port Douglas. Some might consider this boat trip a bit tame (crocs are only visible at low tide). The Daintree Boat trip may be better in this regard.
Land-based wild Turtle Viewing.
Rex Smeal Park.
Rex Smeal is a good land base for turtle watching. At high tide they pop their heads up around the rocks. After 4.30 pm settle in to watch the big boats come home. They pass close to the point on their way into Dickson Inlet.
The Park has BBQ’s, a children’s playground and toilets.
Port Douglas Markets
There are two morning markets to visit from Port Douglas.
- The Sunday Market right on the Dickson’s Inlet, and
- The Saturday Market at the nearby town of Mossman.
The Sunday Markets in Port Douglas
This Port Douglas market has been going for nearly 25 years and wild horses can’t keep me away. Think tropical fruits, flowers, plants and locally made art and crafts galore.
No. 1 Tip – Plan to be in Port on Sunday morning.
Where are Sunday Markets Port Douglas?
Market Park adjoins Anzac Park and is bordered by the Dickson Inlet and Wharf Street.
Open 8 am to 1.30 pm every Sunday.
Behind the market is the 1880’s St. Mary’s Church by the Sea famous for destination weddings. A glass picture window overlooks the Coral Sea.
Saturday Market at Mossman
Mossman market is a mere 20 minutes by road from Port Douglas.
This is very local market selling fruit and vegetables grown by life-stylers a little outside the box. I love the setting beneath huge trees covered in moss and tropical ferns. It’s in a grassy park right beside St. David’s, an interesting stone and masonry, heritage listed church. Take a peek inside.
Set on the highway heading north from town, the market is small and easy to drop into even if only for a quick visit.
The range of products here is totally different to those you would find at a city market. Think tropical plants, baked goods, local handicrafts, home made ice-cream, vanilla paste made from locally grown vanilla beans, jewellery, fresh juice, locally made rainforest jams.
In North Queensland the growing season for a lot of vegetables is Winter time. It’s not realistic to visit the markets in Summer and expect a supermarket range of fruit and vegetables. Whatever is growing locally is what will be available. Thai or Chinese green leafy vegetables grow well in North Queensland in Summer as do paw paws, Rollinia, pineapples.
Saturday Market in Mossman – open from 7 am
This Brazilian Rollinia, or Cherimoya, is a relative of the Custard Apple. It tastes similar to a custard apple with a hint of lemon meringue…
Where is Mossman Market?
5 Foxton Street Mossman.
Places to Eat Port Douglas
Court House Hotel Port Douglas
The Court House Hotel on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf Streets downtown, is one of the best hotels in Port Douglas. Every visit finds us at the Court House with a Coldie and a Countery (beer and bar meal). The pub overlooks Market Park, St. Mary’s By the Sea and Dickson’s Inlet and with a footpath leading right through the outdoor seating area, it’s a fun people watching spot too.
Cheap Eats in Port Douglas at the Court House Hotel.
North Queensland Fish and Chips are the best in Australia and possibly the world. I’m sorry everyone else but it’s a fact. Try Fish and Chips Port Douglas style at the Court House Hotel.
Court House Hotel Wild Caught Barra, Chips and Salad Counter Meal $26. The Kids Menu is all $10 including grilled or battered fish and chips.
Dave’s Takeaway at Shop 3, 35 Macrossan Street.
This fish and chippery, is a good budget option. As well as their popular fish and chips, try a real North Queensland Hamburger complete with beetroot and pineapple.
Perfect for a picnic in Rex Smeal Park.
Dining in Central Port Douglas
On the upper end of the market, Watergate on the corner of Grant and Macrossan Street is one of the best places to eat in Port Douglas. It is also child friendly and there is even a park next to it.
Dining at Four Mile Beach
Hi Tide Port Douglas is across from Four Mile Beach attached to the Peninsula Boutique Hotel. A little Posh and good.
The Club overlooking Dicksons Inlet.
The Combined Club otherwise known as the Tin Shed is the place to go for it’s large deck overlooking the Inlet. They have craft beers – Goose Island, 4 Pines and Matilda Bay and open at 8 am for Sunday breakfast.
Delve into the History of Port Douglas
The Port was developed in 1877 to service the inland goldfields. Download the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s Stroll Back in Time in the Port Douglas Village (pdf) to take a self guided tour through the past or guided tours can be arranged for six or more.
Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat
This is a great place for wildlife lovers and quite affordable. Your ticket allows re-entry within a 5 day period. Set on 8 acres of land divided into Rainforest, Woodlands, Wetlands and Savannah, you can see koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, crocs and cassowaries, snakes and birds.
Snorkel on the Mossman River
Be collected from your accommodation and driven through the cane fields to the Mossman River. Snorkel downstream while looking for turtles and platypus. All your gear is provided in this fun 3.5 hour activity. This is so appealing when the weather is hot and humid. Suitable even for littlies (who float on a platform). Great pre-cursor to a reef snorkelling trip.
Port Douglas Accommodation
Cheap Accommodation in Port Douglas is difficult to find, especially in Peak Season. Dougies Backpackers Resort, has double rooms (without ensuite) for around $155 for two nights. This is a backpackers resort so parties and noise can be expected.
Tropic Breeze Caravan Park is only a couple of minutes from both the Four Mile Beach Swimming Enclosure and Macrossan Street – the main street of town. There are On-Site Cabins with private kitchens and shared amenities, camp and caravan sites and a shaded swimming pool. We’ve camped here in our tent many years ago and more recently in our caravan.
Tropic Breeze has one of the best locations and budget friendly camping in Port Douglas is a relaxed way to enjoy the tropical lifestyle.
On our last visit we found a house-sit using Trusted Housesitters.
Airbnb offers a range of holiday accommodation from Spa Studios, to Beach Villas to whole homes and double rooms. Look for insect screening and air-conditioning. Get in early for the best deals and if you haven’t used Airbnb previously you can claim a first time user discount by using the link in our sidebar.
Port Douglas Apartments are a great option.
The Mediterranean Hotel Apartments are well located with good reviews.
Click on the photo to Look and Book.
The colour palette of Le Cher Du Monde will blow you away. It is well reviewed and situated right in the centre of the town where everyone wants to be.
Click on the Photo to Look and Book.
Port Douglas luxury accommodation is plentiful. One choice worth noting is the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort whose 43 Million Dollar refurbishment was completed in August 2016.
Swimming Pools are a valuable asset in the hot humid tropics and Grand Mirage Resort has an amazing 2 hectares of saltwater palm fringed lagoon pools. Plus you can see just how close it is to 4 Mile Beach.
Dining choices at Grand Mirage include Lobby Cafe, Lagoons Pool Bar, Daintree Bar, Feast Restaurant and nine chef hatted Harrisons Restaurant.
Click on the Photo to Look and Book.
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Best Time to Visit Port Douglas
Basically there are two seasons in the north. The Dry Season April to October and the Wet between November and March. It’s generally considered The Dry Season when temperatures are cooler, is the best time to visit.
The weather is hot and humid between November and February. If you were born and raised in this climate like myself you won’t find this a problem, but cool climate people usually find the humidity oppressive.
April to October is the best time to visit Port Douglas.
Temperatures are less hot and humid at this time, it doesn’t rain much either, hence the name The Dry. Needless to say it is peak tourist season.
The Wet from November to March is hot and humid and it rains often. It is Low Tourist Season with the benefit of fewer people and cheaper prices.
The Wet is Marine Stinger season in North Queensland. There will be a stinger net for swimmers at the top end of Four Mile Beach during the Marine Stinger season. You may also like to wear a stinger suit even when swimming within the stinger enclosure. Stinger suits also protect from the sun.
We visited during the wet season. Our photos were taken in November.
How to Get to Port Douglas
There is no Port Douglas airport, but all the major airlines fly into Cairns and Port Douglas is a short 50 minute drive north of Cairns.
Cairns to Port Douglas Bus Transfers
You can’t fly to Port Douglas, but you can come by bus from Cairns to Port Douglas. Portdouglasbus.com offers transfers between Port Douglas, Cairns City, Cairns Airport and Mossman Gorge.
We suggest car-hire in Port Douglas is the best way of exploring the area. You can organise one in advance from Cairns Airport.
Atherton Tableland from Port Douglas
While in Far North Queensland be sure to visit the Atherton Tablelands. Those with their own wheels should drive there and spend a couple of days. My favourite places are Yungaburra, Millaa Milla (falls), Malanda and Kuranda. You can even look into an extinct volcanic crater on the Tablelands.
While in Kuranda, plant lovers should seek out the old school train station for their gardens and tropical pot plants.
Kuranda can also be accessed from Cairns by Kuranda Scenic Train and Kuranda Skyrail.
Read More about North Queensland in our Australia Travel Blog.
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