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Port Douglas occupies one of the most photogenic settings in Australia, sandwiched between the tropical rainforest of the Daintree and the outer stretches of the Great Barrier Reef. The town has reinvented itself many times since its first incarnation as a gold-mining hub in the 1870s. But, despite the development that has sprung up since the 1970s, it retains a mellow, sleepy fishing-village ambiance. You won’t find the busyness or brasher sides of Cairns, the larger beach community that’s an hour’s drive (76 km or 47 miles) south of Port Douglas, and which also acts as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Port DouglasYou’ll find a quietly sophisticated, low-rise settlement, with several good waterside alfresco restaurants on the marina. The tree-shaded main street (Macrossan Street) preserves some of its 19th-century wooden façades and is lined with a miscellany of beachwear boutiques, ice-cream stands and coffee shops. You share the path with pushchairs, professionals and honeymooners: the town doesn’t really attract a hedonistic, party-loving crowd, and as such has a relaxed, languid atmosphere.

The town’s main attraction (other than its proximity to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) is Four Mile Beach, a crook-shaped stretch of compact sand trimmed with coconut palms and rocky headlands. It sometimes smells of frangipani blossoms, and receives pleasantly cooling trade winds from the Coral Sea. Visit in the morning, and you’ll see a host of local joggers padding up and down its shoreline.

Port Douglas is an ideal launch pad for trips and day tours to the Great Barrier Reef. As well as boat trips to the outer reef, it’s also a good jumping-off point for helicopter flights over this colossal biome. Seeing the reef from the air gives you a better sense of its scale, as you look down on the dark blue and cyan water mottled with coral cays and beds. Underwater, by snorkel or semi-submersible, you can encounter crusted layers of plate, boulder and staghorn corals, giant clams, clownfish, starfish, and (just perhaps) sea turtles.

Crocodile, Daintree RiverInland, Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest is easy to get to by car from the town. One of the Earth’s oldest forests — it predates even the Amazon — Daintree bursts with Jurassic plants: many different types of ferns, cycads, milky pines, kauri, yews and primitive flowering plants. Cassowaries, green tree frogs, Victoria’s riflebirds and Bennett’s tree kangaroos are some of the species that make their home here.

The Daintree River runs close to the town, and you can sometimes spy salties (saltwater crocodiles) resting on its banks: there are cruises which travel down this waterway and allow you to observe them from a safe distance. Even closer to Port Douglas, you’ll find the Mossman Gorge, a cleft in a mountainside with a series of freshwater pools. You can explore it via several gentle hiking trails and Aboriginal guided bushwalks.

Best time to visit Port Douglas:

We recommend timing your stay for June. The weather is warm without being too hot, and it’s the time of year when minke whales start to congregate on the Great Barrier Reef as part of their annual migration north — if you’re lucky, you might see them.

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Audley Travel specialist James

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Port Douglas by calling one of our Australia specialists on 01993 838 810

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