Port Douglas’ idyllic position on the Tropical QLD coast sandwiched between both reef and rainforest makes it a destination where – in addition to its obvious relaxation and escapist offerings – there’s a disproportionate amount of things to see and do.
As a result, in spite of the relatively small size of the town of Port Douglas itself, there are numerous potential ways to spend your time here.
With a mature yet laid-back and carefree atmosphere coupled with some absolutely stunning scenery – with a strong tip of the hat to the Great Barrier Reef – any trip to Port Douglas will always have a large focus on nature, most of which has to do with the aquatic beauty of the Reef or the lush greenery of the World Heritage-listed rainforest that surrounds it further inland.
As a result, planning to get the most out of your trip here can be a tough exercise in decision-making; to lend a hand with this, we’ve put together some recommended Port Douglas itineraries for stays of 2 to 7 days. Check out our itineraries below to help ensure that your time in Port Douglas is maximised to its fullest!
Day 1: Arrive & Explore
As getting to Port Douglas is most often done by air – and given that Port Douglas has no airport of its own – the first step always involves a flight into Cairns. Low cost carriers such as Qantas, Virgin, Tiger and Jetstar all offer flights from Australia’s major cities, with most providing multiple available airfares per day.
Upon arriving at Cairns Airport, you’ll need to either rent a car or book a transfer for the roughly 1-hour journey north along a scenic stretch of coast along well-sealed road.
Catching a morning flight (flights take just over 3 hours to Cairns when flying direct from Sydney Airport as a baseline) will allow you to get settled into your Port Douglas accommodation while still having an afternoon/evening to venture out and take a look around.
Climb Flagstaff Hill & relax on Four Mile Beach
Once you’re settled, prepare to take in one of the best views in the Port Douglas region by making your way up to the lookout point atop Flagstaff Hill.
Providing majestic, sweeping views of the sandy Four Mile Beach below as well as the surrounding mountain and sea panorama, it’s a wonderful cross-section of scenery that sums up what Tropical North Queensland’s environment is all about.
Situated just a short distance from the town’s main street, Flagstaff Hill can be walked, driven, or ridden up – driving is an easy option for the lazy among us, while walking up is also doable but quite strenuous on hot days.
The lookout is accessed via steps at 4 Mile Beach’s north end, and is both the most beautiful spot in the region from which to take in a sunrise, or to watch a full moon casting its glow over the waters of the Coral Sea.
After you’ve taken in the views, head back down to 4 Mile Beach for a stroll in the afternoon/evening sun. The Port Douglas region’s flagship beach is a typical example of Tropical North Queensland seaside beauty, however it’s the utter lack of commercialisation or built up development on its shores that helps to make it extra special, and it lies just a 5 minute walk from the centre of Port Douglas.
Dinner at Salsa’s Bar & Grill
Head back into town in the evening to try a meal at one of Port Douglas’ top restaurants; there are a number of great options to choose from, but as a starter we suggest the excellent Salsa Bar and Grill. An upscale restaurant offering a great mix of Aussie-style fare, Salsa is a lively, busy restaurant that’s always buzzing with both locals and visitors from afar alike.
Salsa has a fairly extensive and nicely varied menu which makes multiple nights of dining here possible, with a balance between both full-blown courses as well as tapas-style offerings, as well as a wonderful list and range of cocktails from which to choose.
Amazing service that’s conducted with an eternally-friendly disposition despite is busyness help cap things off – you won’t be disappointed with a meal here.
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Day 2: Visit the Low Isles
While most visitors to Port Douglas will no doubt be in a hurry to head straight to the Outer Reef, one of the best ways for first-timers to familiarise themselves with the reef can be had just off the coast of Port Douglas at the Low Isles.
Serving as a great beginner-level introduction to the reef, the Low Isles can be reached in just a short boat trip from Port Douglas. This proximity keeps both times spent and price to the lower end of the scale and enjoy some good snorkelling just offshore.
It’s particularly reassuring for those not too confident in the water or travelling with kids, as the proximity of the reef to the shore means you can wade in as deep as you feel comfortable before retreating to the comfort of the sand if either fatigue or boredom sets in.
Tours to the Low Isles can be done either via a conventional boat trip (the speedier option) or on an extended sailing cruise that provides a more peaceful and luxurious approach.
While divers will want to give the Low Isles a miss, families and non-swimmers staying in Port Douglas will find few better options to get their first taste of the Great Barrier Reef without having to share it with too many other people.
A tour to the Low Isles will typically encompass around 6 hours of your day, after which it’s recommended to spend the evening relaxing.
Experience Low Isles Sailing Cruise
Day 3: Explore the Douglas Shire Historical Walk
Take a stroll through old-time Port Douglas and learn about the historically significant buildings still standing in the village. Following a map from the Information Centre you can embark on a historical walk around the town centre and learn all there is to know about the region from the old buildings.
All significant buildings are fitted with signs to explain what they are and with your map, you will be able to spot them easily.
Some of the sites visited are the former 1879 Port Douglas Court House, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, the site of the Bank of New South Wales, Buchanan’s Family Hotel and the Port Douglas Pioneer Cemetery to name a few – there are 22 stops in total.
A great walking trail through the city centre to learn about the old Port Douglas and get a glimpse of what life was like back then, a must for any history buffs visiting the area.
See the Groper Feeding at On the Inlet
Local restaurant, On the Inlet, has a resident groper on their payroll named George. Make your way down to the inlet in the afternoon to watch the staff feed their giant fishy friend George. Watch him wrestle with his delicious tuna frame and put on a show for the onlookers dining in the restaurant and visiting to watch his feed.
The feeding takes place every afternoon at 5 pm on the dot off the jetty in front of the restaurant. George is a Queensland Groper, a popular species in Queensland waters that can grow up to the size of a Volkswagen – for those who don’t know cars, that is a very large fish!
Wander Around the Port Douglas Sunday Markets
If it’s a Sunday, be sure to attend the Port Douglas Sunday Markets. For those in Port Douglas looking for a true “taste of the tropics” in every sense of the word, there’s no better spot to start than these, which take place every week from 8 am to 1 pm and offer a diverse array of goods to see, sample and purchase. Situated in a picturesque location in ANZAC Park on the waterfront that provides lovely mountain and ocean views, the markets offer all the typical arts and crafts-oriented trinkets one would expect from a local market, however, the main highlight is the fruit and the various ways it’s utilised.
Situated in a picturesque location in ANZAC Park on the waterfront that provides lovely mountain and ocean views, the markets offer all the typical arts and crafts-oriented trinkets one would expect from a local market, however, the main highlight is the fruit and the various ways it’s utilised.
There’s an array of beautiful, fresh, tropical fruit available for purchase here; standouts include the juice mangoes which can be purchased for far more reasonable prices than those of markets in southern states, a coconut stall that provides the chance to eat directly out of the shell, and numerous excellent fruit juice stalls which make for some ideal refreshment on your typical hot Tropical North Queensland day.
Dine at Harrison’s Restaurant & Bar
Another great Port Douglas dinner option, Harrison’s blends together a number of great flavour combinations and is one of the best fine dining restaurants in the region.
While it ranks towards the higher end of the pricing scale, the sheer quality of the food here makes a meal well worth it, along with a beautiful setting, wonderful staff and a great overall atmosphere.
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Day 4: Visit the Outer Reef
While the Low Isles serve as a great taster for what the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, nothing can compare to the combination of quantity of sea life, vibrant coral, and water clarity that the outer portions of the reef have to offer.
While they require a significantly longer investment of time to take part in, one of the benefits of these trips from Port Douglas is that the quality of the reef tends to be higher than those visited outside of Cairns due to lower levels of visitation.
Day tours to the Outer Reef from Port Douglas typically head to the Agincourt Reef system – a collection of ribbon reefs towards the edge of the continental shelf that makes for a lovely showcase of the best of the Great Barrier Reef.
These reefs offer a blend of channels and gardens for divers, as well as incredible conditions for snorkellers, while the tours also offer the benefit of having access to large reef pontoons or activity platforms that provide a number of convenient facilities for guests to use.
The flexibility and facilities of having a pontoon make Agincourt thus a great choice for first-time visitors to the Great Barrier Reef who aren’t looking to compromise with a shorter trip to the sites closer to the mainland.
The tradeoff means you’ll spend a whole day travelling, enjoying, then returning from the reef – but the gorgeous marine life on offer makes it more than worth it.
Experience Reef & Island Cruises
The Great Barrier Reef isn’t the only natural wonder that Tropical North QLD is home to – while it might receive the majority of the publicity, its accompanying World Heritage protected rainforest is a green equivalent that is equally impressive in its own way.
The Daintree Rainforest is thus another of the region’s key highlights, and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers easily the best and most accessible way to travel over – and into – the green heart.
An experience that aims to both get you from A to B, that is, from the base of the rainforest to Kuranda (the Village in the Rainforest) and provide outstanding views above the treetops as the tropical landscape followed by the reef stretches out in the distance.
The SkyRail Rainforest Cableway consists of a 7.5km journey above the treetops, with passengers taken up in fully-enclosed cable cars capable of seating 6 people and providing 360-degree views.
It stops at two different locations along the way, the first, at Red Peak station for the chance to take a guided tour through the rainforest with a ranger to learn about the history, ecology and other natural highlights, while the second offers a look at the spectacular, gushing Barron Falls with several outstanding lookout points.
The end goal of the trip up is Kuranda itself, which is a quirky little tourist village literally nestled within the treetops, and the ideal spot for a bit of exploration, a bite to eat, or grab a souvenir.
Catch the Scenic Railway Back Down
Visitors can then descend from the treetops back down to ground level via an alternative method – boarding the world famous Kuranda Scenic Rail for your return journey.
Winding its way through hand-hewn tunnels, across bridges and around curves, the railway ride takes you on a trip THROUGH the Daintree rather than above it and provides a more immersive look at all this lush and often ancient greenery.
It’s easy to appreciate what an amazing engineering feat the railway is, carving its way through dense vegetation and providing a tranquil, old-world journey. Upon arriving at Freshwater Station at the end of its route, tour coaches are available to transport you back to your Port Douglas accommodation.
Experience Skyrail & Scenic Railway
Day 6: Explore Cape Tribulation & the Daintree
Featuring a diverse ecosystem and some of the oldest preserved plant life on the planet. The Daintree is home to over 3000 species of plants and contains 395 species that are listed as either rare of threatened, making for a delicate balance of organisms that have existed in harmony since time immemorial.
While it’s possible to drive yourself, planning and getting to all of its highlights in a comprehensive itinerary can be quite a chore, and that’s where tours come in.
Tours to the most popular entry points for exploring the Daintree (in particular, the section near to highlights such as Mossman Gorge) from Port Douglas take roughly 1.5 hours via a drive along some incredibly scenic coastal road on the Cook Highway.
Upon arriving, you’re then able to make your way deeper into the rainforest, when the real journey commences with a walkabout amongst the lush surroundings.
Guides will provide detailed commentary during the walk on various plant and animal life encountered while absorbing all the scenery and rainforest landscapes. Sights such as wild mangroves, massive ferns and, of course, the towering canopy above are breathtaking for their vibrancy and akin to stepping back in time a few million years.
Continuing on down to Mossman Gorge – a great spot for a cool-down swim during the warmer months – is another highlight, and there are plenty of opportunities for grabbing some great photos and getting an overall view at the expanse of the rainforest. Pressing onwards, the journey reaches the cable ferry crossing at the Daintree River. Vehicles are taken across via the ferry and then able to travel further ahead to what for many its one of the major highlights of the greater Port Douglas region – Cape Tribulation.
Pressing onwards, the journey reaches the cable ferry crossing at the Daintree River. Vehicles are taken across via the ferry and then able to travel further ahead to what for many its one of the major highlights of the greater Port Douglas region – Cape Tribulation.
Perhaps one of the most impressive panoramas available in Tropical North QLD, this is the exact point where the “rainforest meets reef” promotional spiel truly comes to fruition. It’s still a relatively untouched region and the sheer vibrance of the water/sand/rainforest combination clashing against one another is remarkable.
Cape Tribulation’s iconic boardwalk is a staple of postcards and calendars Australia-wide and a living promotional tool to the beauty of Tropical North QLD in a nutshell – the walk provides a truly dramatic lookout point. Couple this with a walk on Cape Tribulation Beach and you’ve got a quintessential experience of this region all included as part of the tour itinerary. Capping off the journey is a boat trip down the waters of the Daintree River with a key focus on wildlife spotting and watching, and it’s a true treat to see ancient reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes in their natural environment.
Capping off the journey is a boat trip down the waters of the Daintree River with a key focus on wildlife spotting and watching, and it’s a true treat to see ancient reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes in their natural environment.
As Cape Tribulation is the veritable end of the road, and the tour is very much a full-day affair, many take the option of booking a night in Cape Tribulation village to recharge their batteries before returning refreshed the next day; alternative, tours also include return trips back to Port Douglas as an inclusion.
Explore Cape Tribulation
Day 7: Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Ride With HotAir
It’s a common sight to view the Great Barrier Reef with your head under the water, but one of the more underrated ways to take in the full vastness of its scale is, coincidentally, from high above instead. A hot air balloon flight with Hot Air can provide you with a tranquil and stunning view point that few other sightseeing opportunities can match.
A hot air balloon flight with Hot Air can provide you with a tranquil and stunning view point that few other sightseeing opportunities can match. The combination of clear morning skies and the slow, drifting serenity of a balloon flight allows ample time to grab panoramic photos and memories that are much harder to obtain doing anything else.
Port Douglas makes for a special hot air ballooning destination due to the tapestry of colours that come with a location that straddles the best of both rainforest and reef. While balloon rides require a very early rise in the morning (expect the alarm to go off around 3-4am), the glow of the sunrise spreading out over the land below makes the effort well worth it.
Options for balloon rides come in both 30 minute and 1 hour flavours, which both include return transfers from Port Douglas accommodation, with your length of flight choice almost entirely coming down to budget. Luxury options including deluxe transfers and breakfast packages are also available for those looking to indulge. When coupled with the scenery on offer it makes for a highly popular package for celebrating special occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, or even marriage proposals.
Experience Hot Air Balloon Rides
Relax & Enjoy Port Douglas
Depending on when your return flight is scheduled, you’ll either head back to Cairns Airport to depart or have a few hours to enjoy lunch at one of Port Douglas’ great cafes, take one last stroll on 4 Mile Beach, or simply laze around your hotel’s pool!
In addition, if you are looking for further ideas on activities, attractions and other things to do in Port Douglas, don’t hesitate to check out our Port Douglas catalogue!