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Port Douglas travel guide: best things to see & do

Wonga Beach views of Port Douglas

We all need a tropical getaway with a decent market or two, wildlife that scare the living daylights out of us, crocodiles up close and personal and crystal clear water with a coral reef that is Australia’s marine heritage.  Port Douglas is the answer to our wish to escape.  A tropical piece of Australia, in our backyard is hospitality Queensland style.  Let’s find out what is so special about Port Douglas. 

Port Douglas is photogenic. A delightful village, sandwiched between the tropical rainforest of the Daintree and the coral sea makes for numerous insta photo moments. . The town has reinvented itself many times since its origins as a gold-mining hub in the 1870s. Due to strict building height regulations the town retains a mellow, sleepy fishing-village ambiance.Port Douglas welcomes visitors from all over the world to experience tropical Queensland with a relaxed vibe that reflects the community spirit.

Looking north over mangroves and sand towards Port Douglas.
Wangetti Beach

For visitors who want a dip on a tropical beach. Four Mile beach is palm fringed oasis, within strolling distance from the main street.  Imagine a  tropical beach golden sand, sunsets to capture and a languid air just waiting for your beach towel. 

Port Douglas is located on the Coral Sea in the  far north of Queensland, Australia.  it is known for its beach resorts and as a base for visits to both the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system, and Daintree National Park.

Surrounded by two iconic World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef, underwater coral forest and the ancient Daintree Rainforest, Port Douglas welcomes visitors from all over Australia and elsewhere to experience tropical Queensland with a relaxed vibe that reflects the community spirit.

What’s the best time to go?

May to September

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.  And you will avoid the school holidays which increase the crowds.

Early morning light at the Marina on Dickson's Inlet
Port Douglas, a traditional port
What to see and do
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Daintree Forest
  • Beaches
  • River Cruise
  • Shopping & Markets
  • Relax and refresh on Four Mile Beach 

Daintree rainforest

Mossman Gorge, part of the Daintree Forest is a short 20 minute drive from Port Douglas.  You have a sensation of primel green wrap where a dinosaur could be around the next corner, or perhaps a crocodile.  Swimming in cool rivers and pools that are crystal-clear waters is inviting, while the cool temperatures make it the perfect place to rejuvenate from the humid warmth of the coast.  

Explore the Daintree Forest and meet the traditional guardians of the area, the local aborginal people who for thousands of years have called this place home.   Then an opportunity to meet Australia’s wildlife.  The boardwalk takes you to the Mossman River and a beautiful swimming area. The river can be dangerous after heavy rain.  Remember to have your insect repellant handy.  Otherwise the usual tropical biting mosquitoes will be a nuisance.  Then there is the sometimes severe itching afterwards.   Covered walking shoes are recommended even for areas where there are boardwalks.  

The Mossman River
Dense rainforest in Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge Walks

  • Baral Marrjanga—270 m (5–10 mins) Grade: easy. …
  • Lower river track—300 m (5–10 mins) Grade: moderate to easy. …
  • Rex Creek bridge—460 m (10 mins) Grade: moderate to easy. …
  • Rainforest Circuit Track (from Rex Creek bridge)—2.4 km return (45 mins) Grade: moderate to easy.

Guided walking tours are popular.  It is recommended the tours are booked before departure to avoid disappointment.  For those so inclined there will be an opportunity for a dip in a rainforest pool. There is an opportunity to visit the well known Janbal Gallery, aboriginal owned and operated.

Hartley’s wildlife Sanctuary is a must do activity.  This is where  you are going to meet Australia’s tropical inhabitants, the crocodile, the cassowary, a giant flightless bird and the numerous tropical butterflies. Family friendly Wildlife Habitat gives all age groups a chance to come face to face with a cassowary or surround yourself with tropical brilliant butterflies.   You will view Australia’s fascinating wildlife being up close and personal.

Four Mile Beach

Four Mile beach is palm fringed oasis, within strolling distance from the main street.  It is a classical tropical beach with golden sand, sunsets to capture and a languid air.  A swimming enclosure is on this Beach providing safer swimming conditions during the dangerous marine stinger season,  typically from November to May (subject to seasonal variability). Council provides lifeguard services on this beach at certain times. Swim safe and only swim at beaches patrolled by a lifeguard..

Photo - David Clode
@portdouglasmeridian

Shopping and Markets

The Port Douglas Sunday market is a rite of passage for visitors to Port Douglas.  Spend your visitor dollars and support the weekend market situated in the vicinity of the main street shops.  It is a place where local artists market their latest creations, home made food providers next door to a second hand clothing vendor and numerous places for children to enjoy a tropical ice-cream freshly made, on the spot with your choice of local tropical fruit. When: Every Sunday from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm

Where: Market Park, adjoining Anzac Park on the inlet at Wharf St Port Douglas. Just head west down Macrossan Street to the end and you have arrived.

Barraumundi baked in banana leaf and paperbark with cous cous and salad.
Graffiti on disused sugar cane carts

Great Barrier Reef exploration

There is sometimes too much information.  You are not sure about where and when to go … and the Barrier Reef is on your family’s must do list.  Port Douglas visitor information provides visitors with an excellent guide to the reef.  Whether you wish to observe or dive in, there are a multitude of ways to experience the majesty of this natural living wonder. Are you adventurous, confident in the water or prefer to stay dry and observe? How long do you want to spend snorkelling?

  • This overview will help you decide which Great Barrier Reef cruise is best suited for you…
  • Reef Activity Platforms
  • Islands
  • Adventure

Reef activity platforms 

Sometimes referred to as a pontoon, multi-level reef activity platforms moored permanently at the Outer Great Barrier Reef provide a spacious, stable base to enjoy a wide range of reef activities in all weather conditions.  Check out Port Douglas visitor information Great Barrier Reef to plan your trip. 

River Cruises on the Port Douglas estuary and inlets

Hop aboard a vintage paddle boat to explore mangrove channels of the Dickson Inlet and learn about the estuarine habitat that adjoins the Reef.  Wildlife sightings can include crocodiles, sea eagles, ites, ospreys, kingfishers, herons, waders, crabs, and the occasional turtle.  The cruises are 2 hours in duration and leave from the Crystalhaven Marina.  A river cruise to view crocodiles is not a guarantee that the crocodiles will appear.  It is where nature sets the scene of what and when we will have an encounter.  What a river cruise guarantees is to visit the croc’s home environment, where the wild things hang out.  If you miss out and the family is wanting a crocodile sighting then there is always Hartley’s Sanctuary where sightings are guaranteed. 

Photo - Jamie Smyth
Photo - Giorgia Doglioni
Day trips
  • Atherton Tablelands
  • Kuranda Scenic Railway and Sky Cableway
  • Fishing and cruising the coral coast
  • Helicopter and diving coral coast
  • Island escapes. 

The day trips above are less than 2 hours one way.  Consider the option of an overnight tour for a bucket list destination.  If you do not have enough holiday time allocated to your Queensland exploration there is always the option of a return trip.

@the.tour.specialists
@coralcoasthelicopterservices
Safety alerts

Please do not let the safety alerts put you off the Queensland journey.  Queensland is a favourite place and I simply take precautions.  Precautions, listen to the locals, generally swim in designated areas and carry insect repellant.  And it is warm when you are going on holiday from a winter where the temperature is below 10c.  Tropical warmth is a coat that might take a day or two to get used to.  Accommodation resort style swimming pools, air-conditioning and the cooler temperatures of the Daintree all make for a bucket list experience that is unmissable. 

Daintree is very humid,  there are numerous mosquitoes  biting, circling around any exposed skin.  The mosquitoes are supersized.   Insect repellent is a must. 

Health and well being

Check with a health professional for allergies or skin conditions.  Use a gel on shoes to discourage leeches and if swimming remember to reapply repellent.

Innoculations

Check with a tropical health specialist.   

Safety alert swimming

Tips:

  • If you’re travelling with your family, be sure to ask about Family Fares.
  • Look for tours that are accredited with Advanced Ecotourism Certification. These tour companies are committed to the ongoing conservation of our World Heritage environment.

Sharks

Queensland’s beaches are great places to swim and surf, but be aware that sharks inhabit our coastline as well as estuaries, rivers, creeks, canals and streams.

We recommend you swim between the flags at patrolled beaches that have shark control equipment in place. If a shark is spotted, lifesavers will sound a siren or ring a bell, put up the red-and-white flag and tell you to leave the water immediately.

Safety tips

  • Don’t swim at dawn or dusk
  • Always swim in clear water (not in murky water, busy anchorages, estuary mouths or canals
  • Don’t throw good scraps or fish waste overboard (including in anchorages or where people are swimming)
  • Don’t swim where fish are being cleaned
  • Swim, surf, snorkel or dive with a buddy
  • Follow signage and swim between the flags at patrolled beaches.

Read more about being SharkSmart.

Marine stingers

Queensland is home to several species of dangerous tropical marine stingers, including the box jellyfish and the Irukandji.

Marine stingers are present in tropical Queensland waters all year round but the risk is higher during the marine stinger season (November–May).

Sting prevention

  • Always swim at patrolled beaches, between the red-and-yellow flags
  • Look for and obey safety signs
  • Don’t enter the water when beaches are closed
  • Ask lifesavers for help and advice if you need it
  • Don’t touch marine stingers washed up on the beach, they can still sting you
  • Swim in the stinger nets where provided
  • Consider wearing a full-body lycra suit to protect against marine stings.

Sting treatment

If stung, dial Triple Zero (000 and ask for an ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance, pour vinegar onto the sting and administer oxygen or CPR if required. Symptoms of Irukandji stings may take 20–40 minutes to develop—if in doubt, seek medical aid.

Read more about marine stinger first aid.

Photo - Albert Kok~enwiki
Photo - Adam Calaitzis

Crocodiles

Crocodiles live in fresh and salt water in northern Queensland. Swim only in designated safe swimming areas. Even if there is no warning sign, there may still be crocodiles.

Safety tips

When in crocodile-inhabited areas:

  • obey all crocodile warning signs
  • always keep a watch for crocodiles
  • never provoke, harass or interfere with crocodiles, even small ones
  • never feed crocodiles—it is illegal and dangerous
  • be extra careful around water at night and during the breeding season (September–April)
  • stay away from the water’s edge.

Read more about being croc wise.

Blue-ringed octopus

Blue-ringed octopuses are one of the world’s most venomous animals. They live in tide pools and shallow reefs all around Australia.

Bites can occur when people touch them or stand on them. While the bite might be painless, the venom in their saliva can be fatal.

If bitten…

Call Triple Zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. When the ambulance is on its way, apply a pressure immobilisation bandage to the bite site. Start and continue CPR if required.

Photo - Bernard Dupont
Photo - Kris Mikael Krister

Communications

Country code: +61

Area code Queensland: 07

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