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.
You’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.
Inland, 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.
Suggested itineraries featuring Port Douglas
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Port Douglas, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Port Douglas
Places & hotels on the map
Accommodation choices for Port Douglas
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Port Douglas. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Port Douglas
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Port Douglas, and which use the best local guides.