01/08/2021 by Alyson for World Travel Family
I get a lot of emails from people asking me for ideas on things to do in Port Douglas and trips to take from there. I know the area well, we lived there, and I own a large global travel blog. It’s what travel bloggers do, help people with travel plans. So, here are a few ideas on things to do in Port Douglas and near Port Douglas, plus some real-life experiences of living in a tropical paradise.
It is very much worth visiting Port Douglas, this little town is a gateway to the reef and rainforest and has a relaxed tropical, yet upmarket, vibe you won’t find anywhere else in Queensland. You will need to stay at least two nights, three days, if you plan to visit the reef and have a trip booked in advance, longer if you want to explore more of this part of Queensland and plan to find a reef boat on-arrival.
Most things to do in Port Douglas were closed during lockdown. What’s open in Port Douglas now in 2021? Due to the current global crisis, Port Douglas is still not quite its usual self. Most businesses are re-opening but some did close down. Port has been much quieter than usual. Plenty of restaurants are open with social distancing measures. You’ll most likely need to book a table. Some restaurants closed in February because of low season. Some restaurants remain closed, others are open at reduced hours. Most tours are running again. Most hotels are open, we think, all hotels. The supermarkets are open, there is live music, and there are food delivery options. Some trips to The Great Barrier Reef are open but in a reduced capacity and frequency. We know Wavelength, Quicksilver, Wavedancer, and Calypso were running this week. Port Douglas Markets resumed, in a new format. Mossman Gorge closed but we believe it’s currently open. We’ll do our best to let you know the situation here. The Daintree River ferry was open in early June 2020, and free to use, we have been able to visit The Daintree Rainforest. The beach is almost always open and Port Douglas is as beautiful as ever. Local and domestic tourists are starting to return in good numbers. Yes, we think it’s worth visiting Port Douglas right now.
This post began years ago and we’ve tracked changes in Port Douglas over the years. Some places and attractions have closed, some have opened. You can see what has changed in Port. We are travel bloggers in Port Douglas right now, we’re monitoring changes closely.
This post may cantain affiliate links. If you choose to use them we earn commission at no extra cost to you.
Things To Do In Port Douglas
There are many things to do in Port Douglas. We’ve done them and recommend and review below. Stories and real-life experiences of Port Douglas attractions and experiences. We try to keep this post up to date but please double-check all details for yourself.
Four Mile Beach
You can enjoy beautiful Four Mile Beach in many ways. The beach is the perfect place in Port Douglas to run or walk at dawn. At low tide the beach is firm and smooth for running, even cycling, but if the tide is high and the creeks full with wet season rain, you may struggle.
You’ll usually find yoga classes on Port Douglas’s, fitness classes, kayak hire, SUP, kite surfing, and more. At very low tides the water drops so far you can see the coral. Fishing is pretty good here too. We would take kayaks out to sea on calm days when the water is clear and occasionally spot turtles.
More people use the town end of the beach, near the lifeguard station and stinger net, the southern end (above) near Sea Temple, is usually pretty deserted. Can you swim in Port Douglas? Yes, you can, just pay attention to the lifeguards and any warning signs. You need to be aware of stinger season in Port Douglas, it’s the hottest months of the year.
Port Douglas Markets
On Sunday get yourselves along to Port Douglas Market, browse, shop, and enjoy our beautiful tropical environment. The market starts early, I used to set up my stall before dawn and spend my Sundays face painting.
The markets are the perfect place to buy gifts and souvenirs from Australia, or from our local area. Most stalls feature locally made crafts and products.
You can buy jewellery, produce, local crafts, and more. This is a good place to grab a bite to eat and a coffee too, there are a few food stalls. We recommend the fish tacos. In the summer it can be ultra-hot, so visit early. There is some shade and a beautiful weeping fig tree for the kids to climb. There are a couple of small playgrounds down here too.
Enjoy Fantastic Food
Port Douglas dining is pretty good! For formal dining we recommend Sassi, Salsa, and Zinc. Casual meals with a great view overlooking The Inlet try The Combined Club, also known as The Tin Shed. Sassi was closed but has now opened and we think bookings are required as they are for most restaurants currently.
If you’re looking for casual family meals with a playground on hand, try The Surf Club. Fish and chips is available at Dave’s on Macrossan Street and for pizza, bar snacks, or tapas try The Beach Shack. (Beach Shack is currently closed and has been sold, but will re-open soon,) Our new favourite for breakfast is St Crispin’s Cafe. It’s at the turn-around station of the Bally Hooley steam train and has a waterside setting with golf course and mountain views. It’s featured in the photo above.
Most restaurants have outdoor seating and social distancing measures are in place. This means you may need to book a table and some restaurants are not open every day. My husband has put this guide together on the best restaurants in Port Douglas. He used to be an executive Chef in one of the best hotels in town.
The Great Barrier Reef
Put at least one day aside to take a magical trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s an experience you’ll never forget and suitable for most ages and yes, you can take your kids snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. If you’d like to know more about booking your reef trip, you need this post on reef tours from Port Douglas.
We have always visited the reef fairly often when we’re in town. The kids would snorkel from the age of about 4 and once they were in the water and could see the fish any fear of deep water evaporated. My kids joined us scuba diving around their 14th birthdays. Today, as teenagers, they still enjoy a trip to the reef.
Lunch is usually delicious on the reef boats and you’re quite likely to see whales at the right time of year, along with turtles and sharks. Covid restrictions have changed the way food is served, hopefully we’ll be back to buffets soon.
Visit Low Isles
If you don’t want to head to the reef the Low Isles are a shorter trip. You can enjoy the beach as well as snorkelling by taking a trip out on Wavedancer or Reef Sprinter. The reef at Low Isles isn’t the same as the outer reef and comparing the two is pretty interesting. Around Low Isles you’ll see a lot of young reef fish, tiny baby reef sharks circling the island are a cute thing to see. Some tours allow access to the island itself where you can take a stroll and see the Low Isles lighthouse, others just allow snorkelling from your boat.
If you have time and finances, take both trips, Low Isles and the Outer Reef, it is worth doing.
St Mary’s By The Sea
This popular wedding venue is an absolute picture. A non-denominational church or chapel, St Mary’s has an interesting history. It originally stood elsewhere but after near-destruction in a cyclone it was moved to its current almost waterside position. It’s at the southern end of the market ground, near the sugar wharf. If you go inside, check out the stunning reef-themed stained glass windows
Port Douglas Wildlife and The Wildlife Habitat
Wildlife you will see around Port Douglas includes giant green tree frogs, rainbow lorikeets, fruitbats (spectacled flying fox), snakes, sulfur-crested cockatoos, spiders, and crocodiles. I’ve had white and black cockatoos in my garden, a spoonbill, and a white-bellied sea eagle ate my guinea pig.
You’re unlikely to see wild kangaroos or wallabies around Port Douglas but I’ve seen them near Mossman and just outside Cairns. Cassowaries are nearby, as are tree kangaroos. We recently saw a cassowary while walking to Hartley’s Creek Falls. Look out for giant green tree frogs at night, they often climb up our windows.
We did once have a python get into the door frame of our patio doors. In winter you may see them on the roads at night, roads stay warm after sunset. We’ve never seen a venomous snake in Port Douglas, only pythons and tree snakes.
There are tarantulas. Several species. But I only ever saw 2. You’ve very likely to see golden orb spiders where there are plenty of trees.
In the sea, we have turtles, whales, dolphins, dugongs and well, everything except great white sharks (hopefully!).
You will also find ants, mosquitoes and cockroaches. Green ants are pretty interesting but they pack a mean little punch. Tiny sugar ants invade our home in huge convoys daily. No amount of chemical sprays has ever kept them out.
Cockroaches live in the soil and come indoors from time to time. They’re all just a part of life. There are termites too, I hate termites they wreck my garden. So don’t assume any hotel or dwelling has low standards if you see these creatures, they’re simply a fact of tropical life.
If you want to feed the ‘roos and get up close and personal with most of our Australian and local species, head to the Wildlife Habitat. It’s on the main road into Port Douglas near the IGA and has seen a lot of improvements and new features lately. The new nocturnal house is really good and we’re all excited about their new crocodile pool which is opening soon.
Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
Just up the road we have Daintree Rainforest and beautiful Cape Tribulation. You need to take a drive up there, in your own vehicle or with a tour, maybe you’ll spot one of our famous wild cassowaries. If you’d like to keep driving, you could head all the way up to historic Cooktown.
We’ve driven from Port Douglas, up the Cape to Cooktown and back in a day. It’s possible, but it’s a long day.
The coast road through the Daintree Rainforest is beautiful, but you’ll need a 4 wheel drive for dirt tracks and creek crossings. The inland road is more passable, but not very interesting. On the way to The Daintree, a slight detour to the left, is Daintree Village. This is a cute little town and home to the “big barra”. This is another popular place to take a crocodile-spotting boat trip.
Stay at a Paradise Hotel
We have incredible hotels in Port. The one above is Sea Temple ( Now Pullman Sea Temple Port Douglas. We spent every Christmas here when we lived in Port. Why? My husband, Chef, was executive chef here and we enjoyed lavish Christmas meals in superb comfort while enjoying a pool to-die-for.
This is part of the reason we left to travel the world for 5+ years. Having to work every Christmas (with small kids) is no fun. Even with incredible perks like this.
It’s a stunning world-class hotel, you’ll enjoy your own private villa, pay the extra for a swim-out to one of the biggest pools in the southern hemisphere and if you’re heading to Port Douglas take a look at it here.
Our other 3 favourite resort hotels in Port are The Sheraton Grand, Pullman’s Sea Temple, and Oaks Resort (formerly QT. If you’re on a budget look at Dougies backpackers resort, which was the first place we stayed when we came to Port as young backpackers over 20 years ago. It’s still good, if not better.With camping, dorms and private rooms. Just click on the links above to take a look. There are a few Airbnbs in Port Douglas but we no longer recommend this platform, the cleaning fees are steep, and the booking process takes too long. If you’re after a holiday home, villa, or apartment rental in Port Douglas, check these out.
Port Douglas Tours to Book Online
We use the company below when booking tours anywhere in the world, they have a lowest price or money-back guarantee and the reassurance of a big company supporting your booking. If your tour is available to book on this site, presumably they’re running. The last time we drove past in 2021, the Skyrail Cable Car was open. We’re checking and updating constantly, things change fast.
- 30 Minute Scenic Helicopter Flight from Port Douglas See it here.
- Daintree Wilderness and Cape Tribulation Full Day Tour (Pick up from Cairns) See it here.
- Diving and/or Snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas.
- Kuranda Scenic Railway, Kuranda Visit, and Palm Cove, from Port Douglas. A full day out and loads of fun, here.
- Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture and Heritage by Day with Transfers (Great for Kids!) here. Tjapukai has now closed.
Take a Trip to Cairns & Scenic Drive
The drive between Port Douglas and Cairns is stunningly picturesque but of course, Cairns, being a huge tourist hub, has plenty to do. We now have a full post on things to do in Cairns. Including the famous Cairns Lagoon, Aquarium, Cairns Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and other tourist attractions. On the drive down to Cairns, check out some of the beaches along the way. Palm Cove is one not to miss.
Take a Hike Up The Bump Track & Other Walks
The Bump Track is a bit of a locals’ secret. It’s a historic track up the mountain at the back of the Mowbray Valley. It’s great exercise and the view from the top on a clear day is spectacular.
Real enthusiasts run or cycle up and down it or you can let a horse take the strain. I used to piggyback the kids up here when they were too small to walk and too small to stay home alone. You can take a mountain bike tour up here, which you can book locally.
If you’re looking for an easier walk in Port Douglas, take the walking track around Flagstaff Hill. It’s newly repaired and has some great lookouts. Alternatively, walk along Spring Creek or hike to Hartley’s Falls.
See Cane Toad Racing
The Iron Bar in Port Douglas hosts regular Cane Toad Races. Can you come to the Far North without seeing this local tradition?
Admission was $5Au last time we visited and kids of all ages were welcome. It starts around 8pm.
Watch George The Groper Being Fed- No Longer Happens Sadly
This is (was) my favorite thing to do in Port Douglas, I loved George, I loved the venue and I loved the food and wine.
Sadly this part of Port Douglas has been semi-demolished to make way for new marina development and I guess George and his mates are now starving. You can see what the experience of watching George the Groper being fed was like here.
Catch an Aussie Style Cattle Muster or Rodeo – Closed
Update – The Australian Muster Experience has shut.
Just outside town, past Mareeba, Daintree Station and The Australian Muster Experience will gave you a slice of country Australiana. They held regular bull riding events as well as zorbing. The bull riding often got bloody and ambulance crews are always on standby.
Take a Walking Tour of Port
Walking tours of Port Douglas with K Star tours have become popular, give it a go. Kevin “KStar” should be able to answer all of your questions about our area and share some valuable local knowledge.
Explore Dickinson Inlet by Self-Drive Boat and Check Out our Crocodiles
We love cruising up The Inlet. You can hire your own little boat from the marina or take a tour on the Lady Douglas, the view and the wildlife are spectacular. You can hire fishing gear too, just don’t lean too far over the edge or the crocodiles might get you. We survived, many times.
We’re currently checking the status of boat and fishing hire or rental in Port Douglas, we’ll be back to you soon.
Take A Cruise on The Lady Douglas
The Lady Douglas is a Port Douglas institution. An evening cruise on The Inlet is a wonderful opportunity to see salt water crocidiles along with various birds, including white breasted sea easgles.
I used to take my kids, often, they would always get a chance to steer the boat on the way back. Our good friends, John and Jenny, don’t own this business any more, they now run Wavelength Reef Cruises, but I hear good things about the new owners.
The Lady Douglas crocodile spotting and cruise departs from the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, normally daily, we’re checking the current situation for you.
Sports and Ourdoor Activities, SUP, Kite Surfing, Segway Tours, River Snorkelling, and Wind Surfing
Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Kite Surfing and Wind Surfing are big news on Four Mile Beach. There are plenty of locals around happy to get you started in their sports. For something more gentle, yoga on the beach is a lovely way to start the day.
You can book various outdoor activities online and in advance to guarantee availability, for instance how do you fancy rainforest river drift snorkelling?
Atherton Tablelands From Port Douglas
In the relative cool of the Atherton Tablelands you’ll find man-made and natural tourist attractions and things to do. Wineries, coffee and chocolate attractions, dairies, and of course, Lake Tinaroo are just the tip of the iceberg. The picture above is from a camping trip to spot wild platypus, pretty incredible! A full post on Atherton Tablelands, Herberton Historic Village, and more, coming soon!
Take a Lesson in Aboriginal Heritage
Mossman Gorge has recently been handed back to its Aboriginal owners. Dreamtime tours, guided by our local Aboriginal tribe are, I feel, very helpful in understanding Australia’s history.
In the orange box above you’ll also see trips to Tjapuki and Aboriginal guided experiences just north of Port Douglas. This photo was taken elsewhere. I use this one because faces are covered, it’s important.
The Scenic Drive To Kuranda
The drive up to Kuranda is spectacular, whether you choose the range road near Mossman or the Smithfield option. Kuranda is a pretty, sleepy, rain-forest town full of markets, galleries, shops, and cafes.
If you’d rather not drive, you can book a tour or head up there on the Cairns Skyrail Cablecar or Kuranda Scenic Railway. They depart near Cairns, but tours are available from Port Douglas.
There is The Venom Museum, Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, and Koala Gardens to keep the children happy in Kuranda. You could also take the cable car/train combo up to Kuranda and back. See the tours above for these options.
Swimming at Mossman Gorge in an Icy Rainforest Stream (Maybe)
There are a few options for safe, crocodile free, stinger free swimming in the hot season. For tourists, Mossman Gorge was probably the best bet and certainly the most beautiful site. Park at the visitor’s centre and take the shuttle bus up to the rainforest boardwalk. Last time we went there were new signs up saying no swimming. We were able to swim.
Port Douglas Carnivale
Port Douglas has its own annual Carnivale in May each year. It was cancelled during lockdown but it was back for May 2021. Port Douglas hosts various food and dining events and rounds off the festivities with a good old-fashioned street parade. The kids will love it, my favourite part was the Seafood Festival usually held on the Marina. Food, music, drinks, and fun in an amazing open-air setting.
May is possibly one of the best times to visit Port Douglas, things should be cooling down nicely, Stinger Season will be in its final throws and the big crowds are yet to arrive.
Try the Open-Air Cinema-Has Now Left Port
Port Douglas had its own open-air cinema during the dry season. You could catch a movie under the stars. Unfortunately, this is not currently happening. I’ll let you know if Moonlight Cinema returns.
Take a Helicopter Ride
I’ll give you a hint. The annual father’s day picnic was for us the cheapest time to take a brief, but spectacular, helicopter ride over Port. That’s my son sitting up-front there.
All year round, weather allowing, helicopters are available for rides over the reef and Coral Sea islands, the views are to die for. There are a couple of options in the tours section above, prices start around $300 US but can vary. This is a once in a lifetime thing to do and it’s well worth it. If you have the cash, just do it! Book here.
Help Our Environment with a Beach Clean Up
We always enjoyed volunteering with Tangaroa Blue beach clean ups. It’s a fun family day or half day, you’ll meet some interesting local people and discover beaches, or even islands, off the normal tourist track while doing your bit to help our marine environment.
So there’s plenty to keep you busy in and around Port Douglas, for singles, couples, kids, families, there’s plenty for everyone. How long are you staying in our old home town? What are you most looking forward to doing? Tell us in the comments below. Want more destinations and tips in and around Australia? You need our Australia Travel Blog.
How To Organise Your Port Douglas Trip
You can easily check-out which Port Douglas tours and activities are available for your dates here. This site has always been very reliable for us and we’ve used them all over the world. Food tours, boat trips, helicopters, fishing, all sorts of day trips from Port Douglas can be booked easily, in advance.You can also easily compare prices and deals on all hotels and accommodation in Port Douglas here.Our special links should make your trip easier to organise!
What To Pack For Port Douglas
I’m not going to give you a full packing list, just a few reminders. You’ll want hot weather clothing and, in winter, maybe a light jacket for the evenings. But you probably won’t need it. For visiting Port Douglas and most of the activities and things to do above, don’t forget the following:
- Rubber thongs, jandals, or flip flops. It’s very likely you’ll get wet feet and you don”t want to ruin your best leather sandals. On most of the boats running from Port Douglas you’ll need to remove your shoes when you board, you’ll get them back at the end of the day. Rubber is better environmentally than plastic.
- Reef-safe sunscreen. Look after our coral reef please! You can order it online to save you a trip to the shops.
- Rashies or stinger suits will keep you and your kids safer, even in the stinger-net. Stinger suits are available here, rashies, here.
- Sun hats and sunglasses. You really need eye protection on the water, but your hats will probably blow off on a fast-moving boat. A hat with a strap will be your friend. Likewise, attach your sunnies to your head with a strap like this. We use this brand of mail-order, fully colour-customisable sunglasses, and love them!