Experience Port Douglas, Queensland: Top things to see and do in one easy to follow 5-day itinerary
Dreaming of a tropical island paradise? Enjoy relaxing on the beach or exploring lush rainforest surrounds? Then Port Douglas, in tropical far North Queensland is the place for you. This quiet little seaside village is home to some of the most incredible scenery in the country.
Uncover it all here in our 5-day travel guide with an easy to follow itinerary laid out for you!
Getting to Port Douglas: Flying from Brisbane or the Gold Coast to Cairns.
We flew from Brisbane airport directly to Cairns, which was a 2-hour flight on Jetstar. TIP 1: Book yourself a window seat to witness the views of the Great Barrier Reef and lush rainforests when landing.
We then rented a car to drive to Port Douglas. If you do rent a car, be sure to book with one of the major car rental companies (Hertz, Budget or Thrifty) to collect your rental directly from the airport. Many of the smaller car rental providers require a shuttle bus to take you to their office.
TIP 2: If you are diving up to Brisbane airport, check the prices of long-term airport parking online in advance. They have some cheap specials at the moment. We paid only $47 in parking for our whole trip.
When to visit Port Douglas:
We visited in September when the weather was clear and not too hot, but warm enough to go swimming. We recommend planning your visit in the cooler winter months. During summer, marine stingers populate the beaches, making it not possible to swim.
Where to stay in Port Douglas: Oaks Port Douglas Resort
We stayed at the Oaks Port Douglas Hotel and Resort, This well-priced option was clean and convenient, being only a short 5-minute drive from the beach, marina and main street. It featured a large pool area with a pool bar, perfect for relaxing quiet days.
For all of the best Port Douglas hotel and accommodation options check here:
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Day 1 Itinerary: Kuranda Rainforest, The Great Barrier Reef Drive and Sunset dinner and drinks at Hemingway’s Brewery
Kuranda Rainforest: The world's oldest tropical rainforest
Upon landing in Cairns, we recommend heading straight to the world heritage listed Kuranda Rainforest, just a 15-minute drive from Cairns Airport.
Getting to Kuranda - The Skyrail, steam train or driving:
To get to Kuranda, take the scenic route via the Skyrail cable car enjoying views above the rainforest, on the way back down, mix this with the Steam train through the rainforest. Due to low demand at the moment, these options are only operating on weekends and weekdays during school holidays. As we arrived on a Tuesday, we opted just to drive up, this was a beautiful and scenic drive giving us the flexibility to drive around while we were there.
Top things to do in Kuranda:
Visit BirdWorld: This is one experience you MUST visit. Tickets to BirdWorld are $35 per adult, and so worthwhile, be sure to buy some bird food on entry and hide your hats before going in, or the birds WILL take them. As soon as we walked in Andrew had 4 birds land on him, from large parrots to the giant Amazonian Macaw. He also made a little parrot friend who didn’t leave his shoulder during our entire walk around the bird park, we named him Buddy (true love). In case you miss seeing a Cassowary in the wild during your trip, you can spot one here too.
Check out the Australian Butterfly sanctuary: Book your tickets in combination with Bird World for a discount. We also loved seeing the butterfly sanctuary filled with many native colourful butterflies flying freely through the canopy. TIP wear something colourful for a higher chance of having one landing on you.
Eat lunch at Frogs Restaurant: Enjoy views out over the rainforest while surrounded by the local artisan markets. You might even spot a local visitor scouring for food like we did below. This place has been around since 1980 and we can see why it has lasted! We loved the avo toast with Salmon and Bacon and eggs.
Take the Canopy walk to Barron Falls lookout: Enjoy a short forest walk to the incredible Barron Falls
Visit Wright Lookout: Just nearby is Wright lookout which is worth checking out as well.
The Great Barrier Reef Drive – Captain Cook Highway
After finishing up your day at Kuranda, take the Captain Cook Highway drive up to Port Douglas. This stretch of road is known as the Great Barrier Reef scenic drive and it is one of the most beautiful drives in Australia. Be ready to stop at the lookout points to take it all in.
Sunset drinks and Dinner at Hemingway’s Brewery FNQ:
Head down to the Port Douglas Marina in the afternoon to taste the locally brewed beer and enjoy the sunset over the docks.
Day 2: Mossman Gorge, The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, Dinner at Nautilus
Start your morning at Mossman Gorge, a 20-minute drive from Port Douglas. Arrive at the visitors centre where you can book a shuttle bus ticket into the Gorge. The shuttle runs every 15 minutes and costs ~$20. Once at the Gorge, enjoy some of the walking trails and if the weather is calm enough, take a dip in the Gorge. In cases of strong rain, this can be closed for swimming.
Self Drive the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation:
Continue driving north into the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, a further 1 hour and 30 minutes. Take the car ferry across the Daintree River, then continue your scenic drive up to Cape Tribulation. Be sure to keep a lookout for wild Cassowaries while you're driving.
Must stop places in the Daintree:
Eat Lunch at Mason's Cafe and General Store: If you're keen to try to local meats, give the Kangaroo or Crocodile burger ago. Enjoy lunch on deck while looking out at the lush green forest. Keep an eye out for the large black and blue native Ulysses butterfly, we saw many of them here. If you're keen for a swim, there's a private natural waterhole for swimming here too.
Take the treetop and walking trails through the Daintree Discovery Centre: We contemplated not doing this as it was $37 per adult for a ticket, but in the end we are so glad we did! The trails at the Discovery Centre offer some of the best spots to see wild Cassowaries as the trails run right through their regular feeding areas. We spotted on while we were on the 'Cassowary trail'. We also loved the canopy walk and audio guided tour giving us a lot more context on the history of the rainforest.
Stop and walk the Boardwalks: Don't miss Jindalba, right by the Discovery Centre, and the Marrdja Boardwalk. These are free options to explore the Daintree Rainforest, each fully paved and possible to complete within 30 minutes.
Cape Tribulation Beach: If you're driving all the way up to Cape Tribulation beach, do note some the final roads are not paved and best to have a 4 wheel drive
Dinner at Nautilus:
After a long day exploring, relax and enjoy an indulgent fine dining dinner under the open air tropical forest at Nautilus. This restaurant has been in operation for over 65 years and has been a North Queensland icon since 1964. It is also known for being one of the few restaurants the Clinton's dined at during their only visit to Australia.
Follow the dimly lit hidden trail uphill from the main street and step into this quite oasis for dinner. Enjoy the warm tropical air while sitting under the stars and feasting on some of the regions best seafood. We recommend the 5 course tasting menu to sample the best dishes.
Day 3: Relax in Port Douglas: Walk Flagstaff Hill, Visit Four Mile Beach, Eat at Mocka's and the Iron Bar, Take a sunset cruise
Morning Coffee at Sparrow Coffee:
Start the day with a morning coffee fix from Sparrow cafe along the main street of Port Douglas.
Walk Port Douglas headland to Flagstaff Hill and Trinity Lookout Point:
This walk takes roughly 30 - 40 minutes to complete, offering scenic ocean views as you make your way uphill to Flagstaff Hill and Trinity Lookout points. We recommend parking at Port Douglas Headland and walking down to 4 Mile Beach, before looping back along the main street (Douglas St)
Visit Four Mile Beach:
You can't visit Port Douglas without spending time at Four Mile Beach. The beach is like a scene straight out of castaway. A long stretch of sandy beach with thick jungle and coconut trees cascading right up the sand line.
Eat lunch at Mocka’s Pies:
After a morning walk and swim stop for lunch at Mocka's pies. Our favourite was the Crocodile Laksa Pie, but we also recommend trying their award-winning Kangaroo meat pie too. Also don't miss their custard cronut for dessert after.
Enjoy a Sunset Sail with Sailaway:
Head out from the Port Douglas Marina for sunset champagne on a one hour cruise with Sailaway, for $80 per person. Do check the wind forecast before you book if happen to get seasick. They also offer small group full day island and great barrier reef tours if you're keen for a longer experience.
Eat dinner at the IronBar:
IronBar is a classic stop which should be on your Port Douglas itinerary if you love steak. Their steaks are hard to beat, a must-try for any meat lover. We shared the 1kg option and it was cooked to perfection.
Day 4: Lunch at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Relax by the pool, Have Sunset cocktails and dinner at Salsa.
Enjoy a day by the pool or beach: You're on holiday, relax!
Eat lunch at Osprey’s Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Head back down the Great Barrier Reef Scenic drive, and about 15 minutes away from Port Douglas you'll find Thala Beach Nature Reserve Resort. As you enter their long driveway, you'll be surrounded by a tall green coconut tree plantation. At the very entrance to the driveway, there's a parking area to stop and take photos here.
Make your way up the driveway to the resort entrance and head for lunch at Osprey's to enjoy the best views over the ocean, and of the rainforest birds.
Sip sunset cocktails and eat dinner at Salsa:
This place is the 'locals' favourite spot to eat in Port Douglas and it is always full so be sure to book in advance. We recommend booking a table for sunset as you can sit outdoors on the deck facing the marina to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails.
Day 4: Book a day tour to Lowe Island or the Great Barrier Reef Outer Reef. Have dinner at Melalucas
The two most popular Island Tours from Port Douglas are Lowe Island and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef Outer Reef.
If you want to book one of these, head down to the Marina and book in with one of the tour companies located there. There are many providers offering smaller group tours with no more than 12 people per boat for more private options. However, right now under distancing requirements, even larger tours have small group numbers. Given reduced demands, not all tours are currently operating and not all tours operate daily, so be sure to plan your dates and times in advance.
We opted for the Quicksilver outer reef tour, as we wanted to experience the Great Barrier Reef (being Andrews first visit). From Port Douglas, it's a 1.5-hour journey each way to reach the Quicksilver reef pontoon.
This tour is suitable for all ages and swimming capabilities as they offered activities ranging from snorkelling to a semi-sub tour and underwater viewing platform. We spent hours snorkelling and spotted 3 turtles plus many giant clams which were the real highlight. We visited at an off-peak time and would have had less than 50 tourists on the pontoon with us. However it caters for a few hundred, so it's good for now, but if you do want a more private experience we recommend to ask around for other options.
Eat Dinner at Melaleuca Restaurant:
Rated number 12 in the Australian Good Food Guide for 2020 is Melaleucas. If you want a table, best to book in advance as this one is popular. Enjoy outdoor dining overlooking the water and Port Douglas Headland Park.
We hope you enjoyed guide to Port Douglas in Tropical North Queensland. To see more of our other Australian destination guides click here.
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