Updated: Feb 10, 2021
Picture sunny days, a palm fringed sandy beach, framed by the Great Barrier Reef and hills covered with ancient rainforest as far as the eye can see. Then add a good splash of cafes, fabulous restaurants and great shopping. There you have it: the charming resort town of Port Douglas in North Queensland.
With its vibrant, casual, tropical charm, Port Douglas really has something for everyone.
If you have been in lockdown for a few weeks (or even months) or are in dire need of a change of scenery, Port Douglas is definitely the perfect getaway.
Located 45 minutes from Cairns airport, Port Douglas is reached via the spectacular Great Barrier Reef Drive, undoubtedly one of Australia’s most beautiful drives. This puts you in holiday mode right away!
And it is the only place on earth where two world heritage listed sites meet: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. People come from all parts of the world to see this popular holiday destination.
Here are some ideas to spark your stay in Port Douglas.
Get the feel of this little resort town and head to Four Mile Beach: for most of the locals, it is the best beach in the world! 4 kilometres of unspoilt beauty, with soft, golden sand and swaying palm trees. No, it is not 4 miles long: the name actually comes from a local indigenous family, the Fourmiles. Like most of North Queensland’s beaches, this is a long stretch of untouched beach, giving you plenty of space to stretch out, jog, read a book, swim (within the swimming enclosure during the months of November – May).
All this just a five-minute walk from Macrossan street, the main centre of town.
The southern end of the beach is a great place to take the children and look for crabs and all sorts of marine creatures in the tiny water pools or under the rocks.
At the northern end of the beach, follow the track starting in Jalun Park to the Flagstaff lookout: a viewing platform on top of a rocky headland overlooking Four
Mile beach and the coral sea. In the distance you can see the Low Isles and Snapper Island, which sits at the mouth of the Daintree River.
A 1-kilometre walking track through rainforest hugs the coastline and links the Lookout to Rex Smeal Park, at the other end of Macrossan Street. The track is well formed with several short hill sections, steps and uneven ground.
One way of discovering Four Mile Beach is on a Port Douglas Segway Tour. Explore small rainforest trails, creeks and crossings during a 1.5-hour tour where you might also encounter some of the local wildlife.
Located on the waterfront at Dickson Inlet overlooking the Coral Sea and the Daintree Rainforest, the Port Douglas iconic Sugar Wharf is a well-loved landmark and popular Instagram star. The whitewashed wooden structure is a reminder of the days when it serviced the mining and sugar industries up until the late 1950's. Today it is mainly used as a wedding venue.
In the late 1870’s this area was at the heart of Port Douglas: here you could find the Customs Office, Bond Store, the wharves, boat sheds and even a tramway station. The township was established after gold was discovered at Hodgkinson River by James Venture Mulligan. It is said that, at its peak, Port Douglas had a population of 12,000 and 27 hotels.
The Court House (1879), now a museum, is another reminder of the early days when all types came to the goldfields and was once part of the police reserve.
Saint Mary’s by the Sea Chapel is by far Port Douglas’ most photographed spot! This quaint, tiny white traditional timber structure, located in a picturesque spot by the inlet, is a beautiful part of Port’s history; it is still used today for multi-denominational services & weddings.
Time for a sunset drink!
Head for Barbados at the Crystalbrook Marina. This boho chic bar offers spectacular views over the Dickson Inlet and is the perfect place to sit back, relax & watch a tropical sunset, with views over the Mossman Ranges & the Daintree National Park.
Or try Jimmy Rum’s Mixing Lounge, tucked away in a little shop off Macrossan Street. This is a classy, lounge bar delivering some seriously good cocktails! High class meets the tropics. Look for the little red light out the front.
Take a sunset cruise with Sailaway Port Douglas: Soak up the magic of a tropical sunset during this 1.5-hour cruise, sailing along the coast on a beautiful catamaran, with drinks and canapes. This cruise caters to adults only and the numbers are small.
What’s for dinner? Here you are spoilt for choice!
My all-time favourite is Salsa Bar & Grill; located in a typical white Queenslander, Salsa consistently delivers smart, amazing flavours and presentation. Here you mingle with the locals and visiting celebrities alike. The drinks list is just as exciting as the menu, which focuses on local produce.
Hot on the heels is Nautilus Restaurant, an icon of Port Douglas for over 65 years. Walk up the path from Macrossan street to the charming rainforest / garden setting. This is open air fine dining under tropical stars! The menu is contemporary Australian with Asian/European influences.
Melaleuca Port Douglas: This relative newcomer certainly punches high! In 2020, the restaurant picked up an Australia Good Food Guide’s Chef’s Hat award. A Chef’s Hat is awarded to exceptional chefs consistently serving a high calibre of food. Need we say more!
Oh, and you’ll love the location: set in an old Queenslander with a lovely alfresco courtyard shaded by mango trees, the restaurant also offers inside dining with a tropical chic décor.
Watergate Port Douglas: Offering indoor and outdoor dining set amongst tropical vegetation, the Waterbar Restaurant & Lounge Bar is in the heart of Port Douglas, at the corner of Grant and Macrossan Street. Enter down the flame lit path from Macrossan Street, for modern Australian food, with the likes of kangaroo loin rubbing shoulders with local seafood offerings.
Osprey’s Restaurant: Not quite in Port Douglas but well worth the 10-15 minutes’ drive south to Thala Beach Lodge for modern, innovative Australian cuisine with breathtaking views overlooking two UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. And the service is great too: casual but very professional.
Seabean Tapas Bar: Viva la tapas at this little white restaurant offering a great variety of tapas – and paella – with friendly service.
Hemingway's Brewery: firstly, there is the location: right on the beautiful Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas. Then there is the beer: locally crafted beer, inspired by the region, such as the canecutter lager, the tropic crush or sunny daze to name a few. And then there is the food: sometimes you just want something simple and casual: burgers, pizza…
Zinc Port Douglas: Dine indoors or in the alfresco courtyard in this well established Port Douglas restaurant, offering quality local ingredients, great flavours, an imaginative menu and friendly service.
And finally, for a lunch with a view, you can’t beat the Tin Shed at the Douglas Community & Sports Club Inc. Whilst the food is typical club food (but with lots of seafood of course), the water and mountain views are simply stunning. Sit back, relax, and watch the boats sail out to the reef with a bucket of locally caught tiger prawns and a glass of chilled wine (at great prices). Day two
Start the day right with breakfast in one of the many cafes along Macrossan street or by the beach.
Whileaway is the perfect destination for lovers of books and great coffee. I could spend whole mornings there looking at their stunning coffee table books! A great place to pick up a beach read, or toys, games…
If you are in Port Douglas on a Sunday, head to Market Park, at the western end of Macrossan street, as Sunday is Port Douglas market day (Sunday from 8am-1:30pm)
Here you will find locally made arts and crafts, jewellery, hats, clothes, fruits and vegetables, and much more in an idyllic setting of shady palm trees and warm sea breezes. Try freshly squeezed sugar cane juice or the fragrant, locally grown vanilla at Vanilla Australia.
Port on A Plate is a half day tour started by local chef Peter Davidson. Join Peter as he takes you to local farms and producers, gathering fresh produce along the way for a delicious lunch which he cooks on the BBQ at the end of the tour. Taste chocolate, feed fish, sip wine and learn about the area, the food, the environment and sustainability in the tropics. Head out to Shannonvale winery, 10 to 15 minutes north of Port Douglas, to taste tropical organic fruit wines. Truly, leave your misconceptions of fruit wines behind: they are not sweet! What you will get is the freshness of tropical fruits. Plus, you’ll get to meet the owners, passionate growers and producers in their delightful garden setting.
For a walk in the rainforest or a refreshing dip, head to Mossman Gorge, approx. 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. The gorge, located within the Daintree National Park, is accessible by shuttle buses operating daily from the Mossman Gorge Centre — every 15 minutes from 8 am– 5.30 pm (fees apply).
Take a short stroll through the rainforest canopy on the elevated boardwalk (this part of the track is suitable for wheelchairs, strollers and the vision-impaired) and return along the riverside.
Or follow the rainforest circuit which takes you across the Rex Creek suspension bridge for a 2.5 kms (return) trip through lush rainforest.
Walking tracks are clearly signposted and maps are also provided upon entry.
Locals love to swim in the crystal-clear water cascading over large granite boulders. A word of caution, however: be aware of strong flowing currents at certain times of the year.
The centre also operates walking tours with indigenous guides, but these are not currently running due to the recent effects of COVID-19.
Learn about the local indigenous culture with Kuku Yalanji guides:
Walkabout Cultural Adventures: Take a half or full day tour to learn about culturally significant areas and the relationships the Kuku Yalanji still have with their land. As you walk through rainforest and coastal habitats, your guide explains the history, culture and traditions of the local Aboriginal people and the area. Sample some bush tucker, collect shellfish and try traditional Aboriginal hunting practices, have a go at spear throwing and if you are lucky, catch a mud crab. Complete the adventure by cooling off in a pristine freshwater stream. A great way to learn about culture from a passionate tour guide!
Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours: Meet the Walker Brothers at Cooya Beach, 15 minutes north of Port Douglas, for a coastal and cultural foraging trip. After a quick lesson in spear throwing, walk along the mudflats to catch crabs, before heading into the mangroves to look for periwinkles and other shellfish. Along the way, learn about the use of plants for food and medicine. At the end of the tour, you even get to taste your catch and meet some of their family members who love to share their extensive knowledge of this special area and how they care for their country.
Another way of experiencing Mossman Gorge is by river drift snorkelling with Back Country Bliss: float down the river and drift with the current as you explore life under the water’s surface. This family friendly tour is a perfect way to stay cool in the tropics!
If mountain biking is your thing, Bike n’ Hike Mountain Adventures run daily mountain biking tours out of Port Douglas to nearby national parks and forestry trails.
Want to spot Crocodiles? Solar Whisper Wildlife & Crocodile Cruise offers the quietest cruise on the Daintree River (50 minutes from Port Douglas). As the only zero emission boat on the River, you are able to quietly glide up to crocodiles & other wildlife. You will spot plenty of wildlife on this one-hour cruise.
Or join David White, the owner operator (and wildlife paparazzi) on a 2 hour cruise at dawn or dusk : David is an amazing photographer – check out his Facebook or Instagram pages to see some of his awesome wildlife photos - and cheeky comments.
Then of course there are the reef or rainforest tours: I have not mentioned any of them as there are so many options available; for a full list & descriptions, head to the Tourism Port Douglas or Visit Port Douglas Daintree pages.
Note: please note operating times may vary due to COVID-19, so it is best to always check opening hours/ days. Some venues also close during the months of February – April.