Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, go deep into the Daintree and simply wind right down and relax in this charming tropical holiday destination.
A trip to Port Douglas is typically centred around the three ‘Rs’ – reef, rainforest and relaxation. From this laid-back coastal town in Far North Queensland, sitting pretty on the Coral Sea, you have access to some of the best Great Barrier Reef adventures and to the magnificent Daintree – the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. But you should also make plenty of time to slip into holiday mode: have a spa treatment or two, a sunset cocktail or three, and make the most of those balmy nights in the tropics by dining al fresco. Here’s our top pick of what to do when you’re in Port Douglas.
Explore the Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas is a superb jumping off point for exploring the Great Barrier Reef and you’ll find a tour to suite you operating out of the town’s Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina.
A day onboard Quicksilver’s wave piercing catamaran will take you to the underwater wonderland of the Agincourt ribbon reef where you can choose to dive, snorkel or explore while staying dry in its underwater observatory or via a semi-submersible coral reef viewing tour.
Calypso Tours offers a range of family-friendly reef tours to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling and scuba diving (children over 12 only) as well as a half-day cruise to the picturesque Low Isles where you can snorkel or view the reef from a glass-bottom boat.
Snorkelling specialist Wavelength offers a leisurely day on the outer reef with small groups (maximum 34 people) and a high level of interpretation: its experienced marine biologists provide guided snorkel tours and reef talks for a genuine debrief on the Great Barrier Reef.
Leading eco-tourism operator Sailaway also offers snorkelling tours with marine biologists on hand, as well as well as relaxing sailing tours, which – running mostly on wind power – offer the most sustainable way to experience the Great Barrier Reef.
Spot saltwater crocs on a river cruise through the mangroves
Also departing from the marina, a gentle river cruise aboard the iconic riverboat Lady Douglas is a must when in town. Once onboard, you’ll glide through the unspoiled mangrove channels all the while searching for wild saltwater crocodiles – seen on over 95 per cent of trips – in their natural habitat.
You’ll see shipwrecks too and all manner of birds going about their daily business: from kites, ospreys and white-bellied sea eagles to mangrove herons, rainbow bee-eaters and kingfishers.
The trip is complemented by an entertaining and informative commentary that sheds light on the mangroves, crocs and the local history of the area. The Lady Douglas’s sunset cruise is a particularly special session to opt for and, with a fully licensed bar onboard, makes for what’s surely the most unique spot for a sundowner in Port Douglas.
Sip sunset cocktails at the marina
Continue your happy hour back on dry land at the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina itself. Head for Barbados, a stylish waterfront cocktail bar and restaurant that also vies for the sunset crown with its views out across the inlet while the sun sinks behind a rainforest-clad mountain and turns the sky grapefruit pink.
The name of the game here is rum, and Barbados boasts an extensive and ever-expanding list. Try a signature house-infused rum or a rum cocktail: perhaps a Caribbean Mojito with ginger beer and spiced pineapple syrup, a Black Pearl, which puts a spin on the old fashioned, or a Coconut Sour that comes topped with roasted coconut chips.
Not a lover of rum? No problem. Barbados caters to all other palates and has a food menu of share plates and fresh and zesty dishes like soba noodle salad with locally caught tuna tataki, and lime and coconut prawns.
Dine al fresco
No matter where you dine in Port Douglas – and you’ve got plenty of options – make it al fresco to make the most of sunny days and balmy tropical evenings.
The marina itself is home to several more eateries and bars that show off their surroundings including Hemingway’s Brewery, serving gastropub fare including share plates, burgers, seafood and pizzas, seafood restaurant Lure, and Choo Choos at the Marina, a bright and breezy cafe with a vibrant all-day breakfast menu.
Just up the road on Wharf Street, near the heritage-listed Sugar Wharf and the famous timber church St Mary’s by the Sea, you’ll find more dining spots that make the most of their location including Salsa Bar & Grill, with its global fusion plates, The Court House Hotel, the oldest pub in Port Douglas, and Seabean Spanish Bar & Tapas, with its pintxos, paella, sangria and sherry.
Get a taste of the Daintree at Mossman Gorge
Port Douglas is not only a great launchpad for the Great Barrier Reef but a portal to the Daintree too: the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. And within 20 minutes’ drive of town you’ll get your first taste of it. Mossman Gorge is situated in the southern part of the World Heritage site and its mystical atmosphere is almost tangible from the moment you arrive.
Here, lush rainforest harbours crystal-clear freshwater that tumbles over large, smooth granite boulders to create emerald-hued swimming holes perfect for cooling off in. Accessed via the Mossman Gorge Centre, explore at your own pace following one of the short self-guided walks.
Or get a deeper insight into the ancient flora and fauna around you by joining a Dreamtime Walk with a local Indigenous guide, which kicks off with a traditional smoking ceremony and includes stories of Kuku Yalanji culture and traditions plus bush tea and damper.
Drive to Cape Tribulation
With a drive time of just under two hours, an unforgettable journey to Cape Tribulation – the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet – is an easy day trip from Port Douglas.
En route, make the short diversion to Daintree Village, which was founded in the 1870s as a timber cutting settlement, for some tropical-flavoured ice-cream from the Daintree Ice Cream Company (temporarily closed due to Covid-19) before crossing the Daintree River on an old-school car ferry. Thirty five kilometres north of here, you’ve arrived at Cape Tribulation – where the aquamarine waters of the Great Barrier Reef meet the brilliant green jungle of the Daintree.
Swim, SUP, cycle, hike or simply sunbake at Four Mile Beach
There are many ways to enjoy Port Douglas’s showstopper of a beach – just a 10-minute walk from the town’s main restaurant and resort hub yet blissfully undeveloped. Four Miles in name and nature, this long and languorous stretch of white sand fringed by palm trees and gently lapped by the Coral Sea is yours to enjoy along with the locals.
Stretch out on the sand and soak up the sun or go for a swim: Four Mile Beach is patrolled by Surf Lifesaving Queensland and a stinger net swimming enclosure is in place for safe swimming from November to May.
To see Four Mile Beach from a different perspective, take the Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail at its northern end for sweeping views of sand, sea, rainforest and mountains from its lookout.
Check into a day spa
Port Douglas is the kind of deliciously lazy holiday town that implores you to slow right down to the point where checking into a day spa for a few hours of pampering seems like a no-brainer. And you’ve got plenty of options.
Niramaya Day Spa & Villas offers a tranquil Balinese-inspired environment with treatments including the two-hour Tropical Dreaming Package that incorporates an Aroma Relaxation massage with a customised facial or the three-hour Niramaya Bliss Package that includes an exfoliation, coconut vichy shower, massage and facial.
The Port Douglas Day Spa on buzzy Macrossan Street and Vie Spa at Pullman Port Douglas Resort also provide ample choice when it comes to relaxation and rejuvenation, and for something completely unique to the Far North Queensland locale, hop in the car for the 40-minute drive north to the Daintree Ecolodge in the heart of the rainforest and avail yourself of an Indigenous-inspired treatment at its Daintree Wellness Spa (book ahead).
With approval from Kuku Yalanji elders, the spa treatments tap into ancient wisdom of medicine and healing, and you can even opt to have a massage out in the elements at the on-site waterfall – visited for thousands of years by generations of Kuku Yalanji women for its spiritual and healing properties.
Or, drive 40 minutes south of Port Douglas to the lovely beach enclave of Palm Cove, which has been dubbed the ‘Spa Capital of Australia’ for its concentration of places to get pampered. Seek out Vie Spa at Palm Cove, Peppers Spa, Reef House Spa or Alamanda Spa.
Browse the boutiques and art galleries of Macrossan Street
While away a morning or afternoon drifting along Macrossan Street and dipping into its many boutiques and galleries selling covetable fashion, jewellery, homewares and art. There’s beachy boho chic at Aloha Lucy, designer pieces from Aussie and European designers at Ginni Boutique and holiday-ready swimwear infused with the spirit of the tropics from local designers Tahitian Lime.
And don’t miss the excellent Ngarru Gallery, a small space that packs as big a punch as the premier supplier of contemporary Indigenous fine art in the far north – showcasing and selling the work of both established artists and up and comers. It also holds a range of artefacts like authentic termite-hollowed didgeridoos and a good selection of art-inspired giftware.
And if you’re in town on a Sunday, head along to the Port Douglas Markets at the western end of Macrossan Street in Market Park between 8am and 2pm. With an almost carnival-like atmosphere and set under the shade of palms with an ocean backdrop, the markets represent the best in local producers and creatives and sell everything from arts and crafts to exotic fruits and sugarcane juice.
Take a tour of Port Douglas onboard its iconic heritage steam train
Take a heritage steam train trip onboard the Bally Hooley for a tour of Port Douglas’s sights while learning about the region’s gold rush and sugarcane pioneering history. This collection of historic diesel and steam locomotives run between stations at Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina and St Crispins in the south of town along a narrow gauge track originally laid to transport freshly cut cane from Mossman to the Sugar Wharf.
This iconic Port Douglas experience will see you travel in nostalgic style in attractive red-and-yellow open-air carriages with timber benches and decorative wrought-iron doors. Please note: The Bally Hooley is currently not operating due to Covid-19. Check ahead before you travel.