Looking for a relaxing escape in the tropics? Port Douglas is the perfect location. From the must-see Great Barrier Reef to the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, the region is filled with natural splendour. The town itself sits on a peninsula surrounded by beachfront, and the laidback atmosphere will have you forgetting your troubles as you sip on a tropical cocktail and savour some deliciously fresh seafood.
1. Explore the Great Barrier Reef
An absolute must of the region, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, and the section off the coast of Port Douglas offers some of the most beautiful coral and sea life in the world. Spot the huge and colourful Maori Wrasse, Rainbow Parrot Fish, and see if you can find Nemo (who’s real name is the Clownfish). The many coral varieties and calm turquoise waters will transport you to a colourful underwater world which is truly a wonder of nature. Speed across the waves on an exciting journey by taking a jet boat tour to the reef, or if adrenaline isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options. Many reef snorkelling tours operate from the Port Douglas Marina, from a sailing catamaran to a large motor vessel, or even a Chinese junk (a Chinese sailing ship with fully battened sails).
You will also need to choose whether you’d like to go to the outer reef, or to Low Isles. Low Isles is a small, uninhabited island surrounded by coral teeming with fish and for the lucky – turtles. Here you can snorkel from the beach. This is a good option for those with young children or who would like to spend some time lounging on the sand and exploring the island, and those who would be less confident snorkelling in the open water. The outer reef offers a larger variety of coral and fish in the deeper waters, and you can also go diving.
2. Experience the beauty and culture of Mossman Gorge
A short drive from Port Douglas is Mossman Gorge, a beautifully clear rainforest ravine. The Indigenous community of the Kuku Yalanji people are custodians of the area, and to access the site, you need to park at the information centre and catch a shuttle bus a short distance. At the information centre you can learn about the traditions of the indigenous locals, see their art and also grab a bite from the cafe. Once the shuttle arrives, you’ll need to walk a short distance to reach the most popular swimming area with a sandy beach and large lagoon. The walking track does continue in a circuit, with lots of other stops along the way, so it is well worth exploring the entire track. You’ll encounter a swing bridge, a cave, huge and ancient trees, and most likely some wildlife too.
3. Crocodile spotting in the Daintree rainforest
Head further north to the Daintree rainforest to experience a different landscape. Whether you self drive, or take a day tour, there will be plenty to see. Stop just before the ferry to meet a guide for a river tour, where you are guaranteed to see crocodiles, and most likely some snakes, crabs, frogs, bats and birds too. Take the ferry over the river and journey along a winding road, through thick, green foliage.
Choose one of the many boardwalks, or visit the Daintree Discovery Centre to stroll through the rainforest, admiring the unique flora and fauna and learning about this ancient ecosystem. There are also some lovely beaches and lookouts to stop off at along the way, rainforest creeks where you can swim, and a couple of Cafe’s which are perfect to stop at for lunch.
Visit Daintree Ice Cream Company to taste unique natural flavours made from the fruits grown on site. Grab a signature cup including four exotic flavours of the day, made from fruit like durian, star fruit, sapote, lychee, soursop, dragonfruit and mangosteen, as well as more familiar fruits like banana, passionfruit and mango.
4. Take a day trip to the surrounding coastal beaches
The spectacular coastline between Cairns and Port Douglas is home to many coastal beaches and some exclusive resort areas. Hire a car and explore for the day. Schedule a stop at the much-acclaimed Palm Cove, with a scattering of boutique shops and lavish restaurants set opposite the palm fringed sandy beach. Enjoy morning tea or lunch at one of the decadent restaurants or cafes, take a dip in the stinger nets or a try a spot of fishing off the impressive jetty as you marvel at Double Island in distance. Next stop Trinity Beach, with a less commercial vibe and assortment of cafes and resorts to visit or a little closer to Cairns, the more remote Ellis Beach, palm lined and relatively untouched with a stinger net and small tavern.
Thala Beach and Nature Reserve resort is also worth a visit on your return to Port Douglas. Enjoy lunch at Osprey, their unique restaurant perched among the treetops offers spectacular views of the rainforest covered coastline. Thala Resort and Osprey Restaurant guests can also visit the stunning Oak Beach below – the resorts picturesque private beach.
5. Taste local cuisine at the amazing bars & restaurants
There are a few fantastic dining options in Port Douglas that should be noted. A longstanding favourite is Salsa Bar and Grill, just opposite the aforementioned St Mary’s by the Sea. This beach shack style restaurant has been serving up some of the best meals in Port Douglas for years. Modern Australian cuisine with fresh seafood, succulent meats and tropical flavours complemented by open air dining and a breezy atmosphere. Alternatively, go straight to the source for fresh seafood, and dine at Lure Seafood Restaurant, overlooking the boats on the Marina. It’s a great end stop after a big day at the reef.
Right next door to Lure, you’ll find Hemmingways Brewery, where you can taste the locally brewed goods, and enjoy casual dining options. You may also hear some live music, as the bar sometimes hosts local musicians in the evening. Nearby is Barbados, a swanky cocktail bar overlooking the inlet. They have an extensive array or rums and light dining options.
For the true cocktail connoisseurs, head to Jimmy Rum’s and marvel at the bartender’s expertise and their extensive list of finely crafted and creative cocktails. The bar itself feels like a New York speakeasy, with an unassuming entrance leading in to an exuberant space of luscious velvet furniture, and colourful tiles decorating dark walls. Be sure to say hi to Jimmy himself, who is there most nights getting to know his patrons.
To really get into the Queensland spirit, drop into the Cane Toad races at Chilly’s Pizza & Trattoria in Port Douglas from 5.15pm to 6.15pm Tuesday to Saturday for a bit of holiday fun!
6. Grab a Souvenir at Port Douglas Sunday Markets
On Sunday morning, head to Market Park, where you’ll find a seemingly endless array of colourful stalls offering handmade goods and delicious treats. It’s a fantastic place to pick up a souvenir and get a feel for the local culture. Try the fresh pineapple juice, and be sure to see the stall with the coconuts that are carved into funny faces, there’s endless and interesting wares to peruse.
At one end of the markets you’ll find The Sugar Wharf and St Mary’s by the Sea, iconic structures worth a peek, and maybe a photo. At the other end is Rex Smeal Park, which is a wonderful place to enjoy a picnic and watch the boats go by on their trips to the reef. If you haven’t had enough of shopping, take a stroll from the markets down Macrossan St, which is full of boutiques, eateries and other retailers.
7. Walk and Swim at Four Mile Beach
Swim, walk and play the day away at this expansive beach which runs the length of Port Douglas. Make sure to swim between the flags to ensure your own safety, as there may be jellyfish in certain seasons, and crocodiles in other areas. At the town end of the beach, there’s a path which runs around the headland and up to the top of the hill, where you can catch admire a stunning view over the beach and enjoy a stroll.
There’s a good reason why Port Douglas is a popular tourism destination, and with so many sights to see it’s easy to craft a jam packed and personalised itinerary to your preferences.
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