Cairns to Port Douglas 2024

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The only way to get from Cairns to Port Douglas is by road (unless you take a helicopter or charter a boat) and it’s officially one of the most beautiful drives in the world and it’s open now. The Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas hugs the coast offering stunning views of the Coral Sea. Along the way, there are beaches and tourist attractions that you may like to explore. They are in our post. Our post first deals with how to get from Cairns to Port Douglas and places to stop or visit, viewpoints along the way, and more.

Cairns To Port Douglas the great barrier reef drive

Cyclone Jasper and Road Closures Between Cairns and Port Douglas December 2023-Jan 2024 – The main coastal highway between Cairns and Port Douglas is now open. There are a few road works and repairs, but the road is fine, we’ve driven it ourselves. You can also drive up one of the range roads from Cairns, travel along the Tablelands and drop down the range just north of Port Douglas via Julatten. Get a comparative quote on car hire here. The airport shuttle buses are running, more on that down the page.

Port Douglas has been without water intermittently, but it’s back on. Otherwise, everything is OK, with a few tours unavailable. Boats are taking tourists to the reef. Both Wavelength Reef Cruises (book here) and Quicksilver (pontoon-based, book here) are running to the Outer Reef and it’s looking good. Some Daintree tours are running.

Road from Cairns to Port Douglas
Under normal conditions, you can drive from Cairns to Port Douglas along the coast. In January 2024, you need to go up to the Tablelands, and drop down the Rex Range Rd ( view from that road in the photo) just north of Port Douglas.

If you need a place to stay in either Cairns or Port Douglas, or nearby, use this interactive map.

The easiest and most affordable way to travel from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas is to book a shuttle transfer here, online. It’s a much cheaper option than taxi, Uber, or car rental. The Expedia shuttles from the domestic terminal at Cairns International airport are still running, it’s more expensive than usual, about $75, via Mareeba.

You don’t necessarily need a car in Port Douglas as most tours and cruises (you’ll see some tour options on this page from our trusted provider) offer pick-ups from your hotel. If you’d prefer to hire a vehicle, use Europcar in Cairns or use this car hire comparison tool to find your best deal.

If you use 12GoAsia, Exemplar shared coaches can be booked on that platform from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas, (use the link) the cost per adult is normally $33 US ($50 Au) and the normal journey time is 1 hour 20 mins, to allow for multiple pick ups and drop offs of customers.

The actual drive time is much shorter in a private vehicle. These shared minivan taxis are available around the clock, day and night normally. For more options and information, keep reading!

Book the Cairns to Port Douglas Shuttle here.

Travellers staying in Port Douglas, the picture-perfect town, will arrive into Cairns by air, road, or rail before making their way 65 km north along the Captain Cook Highway.

Port Douglas 2024 Update. We are in Port Douglas right now so we’re able to tell you that things are open, and Port Douglas was busy before Christmas, but is getting very quiet after Cyclone Jasper, much quieter than normal as we enter the wet season. Most restaurants are open, some will close for the wet soon. The Sunday markets are running. The beach is open, of course, and stinger season arrived at the end of October 2023. The stinger net is in the water at the time of writing (January 2024). The beach can be closed to swimmers sometimes in bad weather or jellyfish or crocodile emergencies. Here’s that car hire tool again, it’s really good in our experience.

The Captain Cook Highway is a single-lane winding road with two overtaking lanes between Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Drivers should take care, especially in the wet season when it can be quite dangerous.

Port Douglas has neither a railway station nor an airport but don’t worry, it isn’t far and below I’ll cover the quickest, cheapest, most luxurious, budget and comfortable ways to get between Cairns and Port Douglas.

You may have seen a train line and stations marked on some maps, these relate to cane trains and the Ballyhooley steam train. St Crispin’s Station is a very nice cafe today and our little steam train is now part of a restaurant on the marina.

Cairns to Port Douglas

Cairns to Port Douglas Road Getting from Cairns to Port Douglas is a bit of a headache. Public transport, shuttle, car hire and airport transport options ( budget - luxury) Local guide
The Cairns to Port Douglas road is one of the most beautiful in the world. Having a car to explore this part of the world is great, but other options exist as detailed below. Photo taken at the Rex Lookout between Cairns and Port Douglas. It looks over Wangetti Beach.

Cairns to Port Douglas Drive Time

It is an easy, and very scenic drive from Cairns to Port Douglas and this route makes a great day trip from Cairns. Either from Cairns airport or Cairns itself, it’s an easy 40-minute (airport) or 50-minute (Cairns City) drive to Port Douglas along the Captain Cook Highway, also known as State Route 44.

The road is winding but is easy to navigate, being a direct route once you’re out of Cairns itself.

The road is very scenic and you really can’t get lost if you just head north. However, driving conditions aren’t always good, slow drivers are quite likely to experience aggressive tailgating. There are several passing points along the highway and if you find you have traffic behind you, do pull over to let these drivers pass.

There are beautiful views of the Coral Sea, beaches and tropical vegetation along the drive, to your right heading north. There are a few places to stop and enjoy the views, or park up behind one of the beaches along this route.

If you choose to use a shuttle bus, try to sit on the right. These private buses are probably the best way to travel from Cairns to Port Douglas if you don’t have a car, unless you book accommodation in Port Douglas that includes a pick-up service from Cairns, some do offer this service, including backpackers and hotels. See that section further down the page.

There are a lot of accidents on this road and tailgating is a big problem. Drive with care, particularly in wet weather and we don’t recommend cycling on this route, having done it ourselves.

If you’re not used to driving on Australian roads keep a close eye on speed limits, they fluctuate with various restrictions and road works, and police speed traps are common.

Use the passing points to pull over and allow faster traffic behind you to overtake.

If you’re prone to car sickness or have dogs or children who struggle with travel sickness, you, or they, are very likely to feel unwell on this road.

Cairns To Port Douglas Map

The three points marked on our Cairns to Port Douglas map are Cairns City, Cairns International Airport and Port Douglas Macrossan St.

As you can see the route to Port Douglas passes the airport just to the north of Cairns City. Port Douglas is closer to the airport (by about a 15-minute drive) than Cairns Itself.

Cairns to Port Douglas Private Transfer

Numerous private transfer companies run services between both Cairns and Cairns airport to Port Douglas. Prices vary and you can expect to pay maybe $150 for a transfer per vehicle or $50-$60+ Au per person. Around $30-$40 US per ticket.

You can book a Port Douglas shuttle transfer here at a very good price.

This will be more if you want a luxury car or limousine, which isn’t uncommon for Port Douglas visitors.

Private transfers need to be pre-arranged and your driver will meet you at the airport terminals or in Cairns City.

SR Transport and Coaches offer private transfers from Cairns and Cairns Airport to Port Douglas.

Oasis also offer private transfers from Cairns to Port Douglas and the Northern Beaches including Palm Cove.

Port Douglas Private Transfers, as their name suggests, is another company that will offer transfers from Cairns and Cairns Airport to Port Douglas.

If you’d like to book a transfer online, try this link. This company will also take you from Cairns to Port Douglas and back again, after time to take a look at Port. You can check out the prices and schedules here.

Cairns To Port Douglas
Beautiful, scenic, and amazing, The Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas is part of the Great Barrier Reef Drive. You can share this image to Pinterest

Cairns to Port Douglas by Public Taxi

The most expensive way to get between Cairns and Port Douglas, flagging down a  taxi, isn’t one I’d recommend.

For the cost and comfort, you’re much better off with a private pre-arranged transfer.

The plus side is that you can flag down a taxi or walk out of the airport and be on your way instantly. If you don’t know what time you land or need to leave then this is a good option.

Expect to pay upwards of $200 with airport taxis having a premium added to the basic fare.

Cairns to Port Douglas by Public Bus

Unfortunately, the public buses from Cairns only run as far North as Palm Cove which isn’t particularly helpful in getting to Port Douglas.

They do cover all of Cairns Metropolitan areas from Palm Cove to Gordon Vale but that’s all they do.

You cannot take a public bus or buses from Cairns to Port Douglas, there is no public transport north of Cairns, to Port Douglas, you need to book a private shuttle bus, take a taxi or Uber, or book accommodation in Port Douglas that includes a transport from Cairns.

Cairns to Port Douglas by Shuttle Bus

A shuttle bus or minivan is one of the best ways of getting to Port Douglas if there are three people or less in your party. The shuttle buses are the cheapest way of getting from Cairns to Port Douglas and there is a frequent service.

Children are normally free up to 3 years old and then child rate to 12 years but check as each operator can be slightly different.

Several companies run shuttle services with some having a fixed timetable, others offer services on request.

SR Transport and Coaches offers mini bus transport between Cairns Airport and Port Douglas, as do Exemplar coaches. This is on request and is best booked at least a day ahead of your travel.

BTS Port Douglas buses offers a set service between anywhere in Cairns and Port Douglas. BTS also services Hartley’s Creek Crocodile farm and runs tours to the Daintree Rainforest.

With a set schedule this is probably the easiest bus to catch if you’re not sure exactly when you’ll be travelling. During busy holiday periods the popular times such as early morning and afternoon these will fill up fast.

Uber in Cairns or Port Douglas

Uber still isn’t very big in either Cairns or Port Douglas compared to other places. While you can probably get an Uber in either, catching one between the two won’t be an easy feat especially if you’re just arrived at the airport and expect a quick transfer.

The cost is significantly less than a taxi if you can arrange one. Expect to pay between $130-$160 depending on the time and day of the week.

At time of writing there was just one Uber driver in Port Douglas and no Grab or Grab bikes available.

From Cairns to Port Douglas on to Mossman Gorge

Most visitors to this region, either staying in Cairns or Port Douglas, will visit Mossman Gorge.

Again, transport options are limited. If you don’t have your own vehicle it’s probably best to book a tour which will pick you up from your hotel.

Read up on Mossman and Mossman Gorge here.

January 2024, Mossman Gorge is closed, but alternative reef and rainforest tours have been set up. It’s too new for me to give you a link, sorry!

Car Hire in Cairns for Port Douglas

Some car hire or car rental offices in Port Douglas closed during the lockdown, and not all have re-opened at the time of writing. You can use this car hire rental comparison tool to find your best option. We used Budget in Port Douglas most often and they seem to have gone permanently.

There is a branch of Europcar at Cairns Airport in the terminal building.  Check their options here. There is a Sixt Car Hire office just outside the airport too, with a shuttle bus for customers.

Alternatively, try a car hire comparison site like this one.

If you don’t want to hire a car straight off the plane or from Cairns don’t worry as Port Douglas has 5 different car hire companies at last count, both international and local companies, that can assist if you need a car later on. However, these car hire companies seem to be permanently in flux, they open and close continuously.

We have a full post on car hire in Port Douglas here. (As mentioned above, some have closed)

Formerly, Thrifty, Avis, Budget, Paradise Wheels Car Rentals, Port Douglas Car Hire and Comet Car Hire were all located in central Port Douglas within easy walk of the main hotel and accommodation areas.

A lot of these service cruise ship arrivals.

Some of the further-out hotels may require a pick-up and drop-off service for guests wishing to visit Port Douglas’s shops, restaurants, and The Superyacht Marina. Pullman Sea Temple is quite a long way from the centre of Port Douglas, about a 45-minute walk along the beach. However, regular shuttle buses take visitors between the hotel and Macrossan St.

Prices vary depending on the hire company and also the time of year. Low season February will see prices plummet while in July you’ll need to book ahead to reserve a car as there is limited stock and cars can sell out quickly.

Shop around to get the best deal and, as always, read the fine print regarding insurance. Australia has some of the highest excess levels in the world with some companies charging up to $5000

Hotels and Hostels in Port Douglas with Airport or City Transfer Services

Check with your Port Douglas Hotel to see if they offer airport or Cairns pick up. Port Douglas’s favourite backpackers’ hostel and camp site, Dougies (book here) usually has a pick up service from Cairns, 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

But you do need to book and have a reservation at Dougie’s. They say they can pick up anywhere in Cairns including the huge central Cairns hostels, Gilligan’s , Central YHA and  Mad Monkey. 

Getting Around in Port Douglas

After you arrive in Port Douglas from Cairns, will you need a car? No, Port Douglas is small and pedestrian-friendly. Cycling is popular, as are electric e-scooters which can be rented locally. There are also options for bike hire in Port Douglas.

Local shared shuttle buses are also available.

If you wish to visit Mossman Gorge, or the Daintree Rainforest, most tour providers will pick you up from your hotel or a designated meeting spot.

Some backpackers and visitors do hitchhike, but we don’t recommend it.

Cairns to Port Douglas, What to See on the Way?

Ellis beach. Nice beach between Cairns and Port Douglas. Has stinger Net.
Ellis Beach is between Cairns and Port Douglas. It is just north of Palm Cove and has a stinger net (in season), a beautiful beach, campsite, car park, surf club, yacht club, and refreshments.

This is a beautiful drive, but the road is winding, can be car sickness-inducing, and is potentially dangerous. Don’t let those stunning views distract you too much.

Heading north of Cairns on the road to Port Douglas, you’ll pass through The Northern Beaches before hitting The Douglas Shire. There are places to stop, campsites, and tourist attractions along the way.

We’ll give you a simple list below of things to see or places to stop between Cairns and Port Douglas

Cairns To Port Douglas Distance

The distance between Cairns and Port Douglas is 58 Km, 36 miles, as the crow flies and just under 67 Km, 42 miles, by road. The drive should take you roughly an hour but there are roads under repair and delays on this road currently.

Cairns To Port Douglas Train

train cairns to port douglas
There are trains in Port Douglas and there are train stations. They are disused. There is no railway line or connection between Cairns and Port Douglas.

There is no train service or rail line between Cairns and Port Douglas. Cairns has a train station, Port Douglas does not.

Port Douglas has disused steam trains and disused train stations formerly used for sugar cane and passengers, you may see these marked on maps. There is no railway line between Cairns and Port Douglas

Cairns to Port Douglas Cycle Path

A cycle path is under construction between Cairns and Port Douglas and onward to Mossman. As yet it is incomplete.

We cycle on this highway and, it’s not a very safe road for cycling. The new cycle path, at Macalister Range when it’s finished, should be awesome.

Cairns To Port Douglas Alternative Routes

If you don’t want to take the coastal road you can drive up onto the Range Road at Cairns, via Kuranda and continue your journey through the Atherton Tablelands, Mareeba and Julatten before dropping down the range road between Port Douglas and Mossman.

Two range roads go up to the Tablelands from Cairns, one south of the city at Gordonvale (Gillies Range Road) one north at Smithfield,(The Kuranda Range Rd at Macalister Range).

Barron River Falls in flood
Barron River Falls, at Kuaranda, in flood in the wet season.

The Gillies Highway takes you to Atherton, the Kuranda Range Rd takes you to Kuranda, from there you go to Mareeba.

From either Atherton or Mareeba just drive north and then drop down to the coast again on the Rex Range Rd which joins the coastal highway just north of Port Douglas, south of Mossman.

Kuranda Range Rd View
Looking back towards Cairns from the cable car (Skyrail) above the Kuranda range Rd to Mareeba.

This is a steep winding, rainforest road and accidents happen particularly when it’s raining. Also, look out for police speed traps.

We drive this road almost daily. Taking this route will take you longer, but it’s a nice drive. Any questions, drop them in the comments.

There are campsites, accommodations, and places to buy food on either route.

In the wet season either or these routes can occasionally be closed because of landslides or accidents. Flooding sometimes closes this road between Mt Molloy and Julatten.

Road Closure Cairns – Port Douglas, June

Because of the annual IronMan event in June (18 June 2023), the Cairns to Port Douglas Rd (Captain Cook Highway) will be closed. The only alternative route is to drive up to the Atherton Tablelands from Cairns, continue north through Atherton, Mareeba, Mt Molloy and Julatten, and then drop down the range road between Port Douglas and Mossman, just north of Cooya Beach. This is a much longer route but it is a pleasant drive through interesting scenery, spanning savannah and rainforest.

Check if the bridge at Mt Molloy (The MT was for Mining Town Molloy, copper was mined here, but it’s known as Mount Molloy today) is open if you plan to take this alternative route to Port Douglas from Cairns. The bridge at Mt Molloy is under repair and long closures or certain days have been scheduled in May. There is no alternative route that we know of, if this bridge is closed. There may be a dirt track if you have a 4×4 vehicle.

How else can we help with your trip to Port Douglas? For things to do in Port Douglas you need this post. Likewise, things to do in Cairns. Both cover surrounding areas and northern beaches too. For where to stay in Port Douglas, try here. Alternatively, our Australia Travel Blog page gives you an overview of travel in and around Australia, covering many destinations and how to get to them.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
James Long
James Long, we call him Chef because he was one, an executive or head chef, is the organiser and tech-head at World Travel Family. He was unable to write coherently until fairly recently but somehow, in his 40th year, he became a writer. If it's food, computers, visas, or how to get from a to b. He's your man. He's been getting our family around the world successfully since 2012. James is an Ironman triathlete, ultra runner, cyclist, scuba diver, and supportive homeschool dad. James also has his own site, World Travel Chef.

2 thoughts on “Cairns to Port Douglas 2024”

  1. Hi we have a weeks accommodation booked in Port Douglas, had arranged hire car but now undecided to keep and drive inland or go by ferry are the roads to dangerous?
    Thanks Lisa

    • The roads are fine now Lisa, they’re very windy steep roads up the range, you do have to be careful, but they’re all open. It’ll take you a while via Mareeba and Julatten, maybe 2 hours ish. The road up to Daintree, I think, is closed, there was damage to the ferry. But I haven’t checked today. So if you have a car you can get to Mossman Gorge or see the Tablelands. But if you just want to stay in Port Douglas and chill you may find you don’t need a car really, and the boat ride up would be fine. Calypso are running boat ferry service, find Calypso on Facebook. I think Windswell Kite Surfing boats are too. I think nobody is going to Low Isles at the moment but my husband is on the Outer Reef today and I know Silversconic went out today. The water is back on in Port yesterday I think, so hopefully the restaurants will be able to open. I’ll get a report on that when my husband comes back from work this afternoon.


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