Along the northern part of the east coast and less than an hour from Cairns lies Port Douglas, a former fishing community. This is where the Australians come for a holiday during the winter months when the temperature drops, reminding them of the non-existent house-insulation and making them flee to warmer areas. Port Douglas is a neighbour of Queensland’s most lush forest, Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest which is more than 135 million years old. With around 3,000 residents, Port Douglas is not very large, but more and more resorts are popping up as tourism continues to grow. To take care of all visitors, many young backpackers are hired at peak season, and the town’s population quadruples.
Sugar cane plantations are located next to the scenic road leading to the town, a town resting on a narrow headland. Four Mile Beach is lined with palm trees and runs east down the coast, parallel to Port Douglas Road. From Port Douglas you can embark on an adventure to The Great Barrier Reef. Visit the dreamlike islands of Low Isles a few kilometres north of Port Douglas and snorkel until your eyes sting from saltwater. Hundreds of fish species and lots of colourful corals thrive in the shallow waters around the islands. Finish the day with a dinner at one of the finer restaurants who prepare fresh seafood and other local delicacies.
Northwards lies Daintree Rainforest, the lush jewel of Queensland. With long draping vines, moist air and a lush jungle. Hear the cacophony of birds, croaking frogs and creaking trees. The sweat starts dripping as soon as the sun warms up the rainforest, it is like a giant oven. It is a place of unspoiled nature which gives the visitor a feeling of entering a strange new world. Daintree Rainforest is a true primeval forest, preserved from most of the modern world’s influences. And as if that wasn’t enough, here lives the highest number of animal species in the whole world, so stay alert and have the camera ready. Colourful butterflies, tree kangaroos and ostrich-like cassowaries. The vegetation is also spectacular. Eucalyptus, mangroves, and rippling rivers seem to exist everywhere.
The uniqueness of the area is that two World Heritage-listed areas meet-up here. Daintree’s rainforest, side by side with the coastline, lined by the Great Barrier Reef. Previously, Daintree was threatened by the timber industry, but is protected since the 1980s by UNESCO. The Aboriginal people Kuku Yalanji have lived in these areas for thousands of years and are happily sharing their stories and experiences. Join them for a guided tour where they show you why Daintree and the northern tropics are so special and why they should be preserved.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Port Douglas is a nice little town to stroll around in. Along the main street Macrossan Street, you will find boutiques and shops. Four Mile Beach is a long sandy beach in Port Douglas. With large palm trees swaying in the wind, it is just plain postcard-beautiful, perfect for morning walks and lazy days. However, avoid bathing in the water if you come here during the jellyfish season. Follow Island Point Road all the way up to Trinity Bay Lookout to get a nice view of the beach. It is possible to drive all the way, but there are limited parking spaces on the top. If you have power in your legs, it is an excellent uphill hike.
Every Sunday, Port Douglas Sunday Markets at Anzac Park is held between 08:00 and 13:00. Come and bargain for novelties, fruit and crafts. Don’t miss out on buying a fresh coconut to sip out of while you wander around among the market stalls. Going to the Sunday market is something of a tradition in the area.
If you are interested in knowing how the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree’s rainforest have inspired the local Aboriginal artist Binna Swindley, go to Janbal Aboriginal Art Gallery at Mossman, about 20 km from Port Douglas. You can also book a half day workshop here, where you will be helped to paint your own Aboriginal motifs (wotif.com/things-to-do/half-day-aboriginal-art-workshop-experience.a516771.activity-details).
Just a few kilometres northeast of Port Douglas lies the two paradisiacal islands of Low Isles. The water is shallow, and the islands are surrounded by coral reefs. Visit the islands with Quicksilver’s catamaran (wotif.com/things-to-do/quicksilver-great-barrier-reef-agincourt-reef-cruise.a254994.activity-details). Their tours suit all types, from those who prefer to look down into the depths via the catamaran’s glass-walls to those who want to snorkel or dive. Anyone who can swim can also try helmet diving. Or why not sail out to the coral reef with Sailaway Port Douglas (wotif.com/things-to-do/full-day-low-isles-great-barrier-reef-snorkelling-cruise.a304290.activity-details). The cost includes a full day on the island, snorkelling equipment and simpler meals. During their day trip you get to see as much as possible beneath the surface. The onboard staff is professional and helps to set up the equipment and answer questions about species. No prior experience with snorkelling is required. Lunch and coffee are included, as well as transfer from and to your accommodation.
Have the camera fully charged and ready for Mossman Gorge, 20 km north of Port Douglas. Here you will encounter more photo opportunities than you can count. And even the trip to getting here is photogenic. Gigantic rock boulders are scattered out in a lush mountain gorge. The water is so clean that you can drink directly from the stream. And you can jump in, so pack your swimwear. Sometimes it can feel a bit cramped so come early to avoid crowds. A 2.7-kilometer-long hiking trail runs through the rainforest. Here is a newly built eco-friendly Visitor Information Centre (mossmangorge.com.au) run by people of Aboriginal descent, and it is an excellent place to learn more about the Aboriginal people Kuku Yalajnji with roots from Mossman. Join in on a Walkabout together with Kuku Yalanji (wotif.com/things-to-do/daintree-walkabout-day-tour.a190077.activity-details).
Spring Creek is a short drive from Port Douglas. Follow Tresize Road and then make a left onto Spring Creek Road. Continue until you reach a beautiful waterhole in the jungle. The water is clear and there are some rope swings giving you some speed before jumping in. If you are lucky you can also spot turtles. Between December and April, the water level can be very high, and the water has some strong current, so be on your guard.
An hour from Port Douglas lies the magnificent Daintree Rainforest. For those who want to experience the rainforest from a bird’s eye view, why not try Jungle Surfing (wotif.com/things-to-do/jungle-surfing-canopy-tour.a184631.activity-details). North of Daintree River, Daintree National Park starts. To get across the river you must use a ferry. Between six in the morning and midnight, Daintree Ferry crosses the river (douglas.qld.gov.au/community/daintree-ferry) which only can take 25 cars on board at a time. The journey takes less than five minutes. A fee is charged, so carry cash with you. The inland road of Cape Tribulation can be driven by all vehicles, but the scenic coastal route is only for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Daintree Discovery Centre (discoverthedaintree.com) is a large and fresh information centre on five floors with useful information about the rainforest and all its animal and plant species. If you want to learn about the rainforest from an Aboriginal perspective, book a guided daytrip with Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk (wotif.com/things-to-do/daintree-dreamtime-ngadiku-day-tour.a360040.activity-details). There is a bridge high up among the canopy in the rainforest of Daintree. Further up, Cow Bay Beach awaits, one of the areas’ most beautiful beaches. All the way up to Cape Tribulation is full of places to stop at. Closer to Cape Tribulation the forested mountains rise tall.
There are many nice restaurants to visit in Port Douglas. Quality is key at Watergate Restaurant & Lounge Bar (watergateportdouglas.com.au) at 3/31 Macrossan Street. The place has professional staff and a moderately noisy atmosphere. With its indoors plants and dimmed light it almost feels like dining in the rainforest, but with some more class. To enjoy a cup of steamy hot coffee, head to Whileaway Coffeeshop, a mix of café and bookstore. Undeniably a good combination. The café is located at 2/43 Macrossan Street.
If you are visiting Daintree, you should dine at the Julaymba Restaurant & Gallery (daintree-ecolodge.com.au), which is part of the glassy Daintree Eco Lodge at 20 Daintree Road. Located in the middle of the rainforest and overlooking the river. High prices but heavenly food. In Mossman, try Mojo’s Bar and Grill (mojosbarandgrill.com.au) at 41 Front Street. They serve lunches during all days of the week plus dinner on weekends. You will find both meat and fish on the menu, as well as a whole bunch of desserts. A plus is that they have a children’s menu.
Good to know
There are quite a few Visitor Information Centres in Port Douglas, but many of them make money on recommending companies and selling tours. Port Douglas Tourist Information Centre at 23 Macrossan Street has been open since 1987 and the staff grew up in the area and know it well. They also have a good knowledge of Daintree. Daintree National Park features the eminent Daintree Discovery Centre (discoverthedaintree.com), a large building of several floors where you can learn about the rainforest. For more activities, tickets and accommodation in and around Port Douglas, you can also take a look at wotif’s website (wotif.com/discover/australia/queensland/port-douglas.d6131595).
Warnings and preparations
When making a trip to these latitudes, it is a case of planning ahead. The rainy season falls between January and March. April to October is winter and peak season, coinciding when it is cold in the southern part of the country. The cold also keeps some of the dangerous jellyfish away from the waters. That means, however, that many visitors come here during this period. During November and December, it can be very hot, and the humidity is high. Flooding is more common during the summer months but can occur all year round. It can cause roads to close off all traffic and the Daintree’s ferry stops running. It is also worth noting that crocodiles live in Daintree River, so stay away from the river. And always look after nature! Handle all life in the rainforest and the rainforest itself respectfully, same goes for the Great Barrier Reef. Coral is extremely delicate, and many species are at risk of extinction. Even the rainforest is threatened. Be responsibly and do not litter during your visit.
The easiest way to get here is to fly to Cairns International Airport (wotif.com/Flights), which is about an hour from Port Douglas. Most domestic flights can take you here, but international companies also land here. There are several car rental companies at the airport (wotif.com/Car-Hire). But you can also take the bus to Port Douglas using Sun Palm Transport (sunpalmtransport.com.au). If you come from Cairns, you will have to drive north for just over an hour to get to Port Douglas. The road runs along the coast and the view is nothing but magical. Port Douglas buses serve between central Cairns and Port Douglas as well as between Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge (portdouglasbus.com.au).
A few minutes’ walk from the beach lies the newly renovated hostel Coral Beach Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Coral_Beach_Lodge.htm), at 7 Craven Close. They have single-, double- and dormitory rooms for between four to five people. The location is great. You have access to kitchens to prepare your own meals and each room is equipped with a private toilet.
Lazy Lizard Motor Inn at 121 Davidson Street (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Lazy_Lizard_Motor_Inn.htm) is a three star accommodation that offers rooms for up to five people. It is a short walk from the city centre, and free bikes are available to guests. A double room with breakfast costs from 135 dollars a night. Spacious, clean and fresh with an outdoor pool.
If you rather stay in an apartment or a cottage there are lots to choose from (hotelscombined.com/Place/Port_Douglas.htm).
For total relaxation, check in at Mai Tai Resort (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Mai_Tai_Resort.htm) at 292 Mossman – Mount Molloy Road, just north of the city centre. Inspired by the Indonesian island Bali, this property is adorned with wood carvings. A small hotel where the rooms are surrounded by greenery. They have a large swimming pool and some outdoor showers. Great views of the hilly landscape.
Daintree Crocodylus Village (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Daintree_Crocodylus_Village.htm) is located at 5 Buchanan Creek near Cape Tribulation. Rustic and simple in the middle of the rainforest, thus a great opportunity to enjoy nature. There are options to suit everyone, from families to backpackers with rooms from one to eight people. This is not a place for those who are afraid of spiders and insects. Wi-Fi is not available. They have a large patio where you can socialize with other guests.
Feel like one with nature while staying at the luxurious Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Daintree_Eco_Lodge_Spa.htm). This is where you get the chance to stay in a wooden cottage up among the trees. Some rooms have a private balcony with a jacuzzi. Equipped with its own small kitchen and a mini fridge. Fall asleep to the sound of birds singing and the raindrops’ pitter-patter. Their restaurant Julaymba serves delicious meals prepared with local ingredients and flavours. The menu changes according to availability and season.
If you prefer something in between, try a Bed & Breakfast, cottage or a bungalow (hotelscombined.com/Place/Daintree.htm).
A Saturday in Daintree & Port Douglas
08:00 – Alfresco breakfast
Your day begins on the corner of Grant and Macrossan Street. Specifically, at Cafe Fresq (27 Macrossan Street, Port Douglas). The breakfast comes in large servings of freshly squeezed juice, the hipster favourite acai bowl and of course, splendid coffee. Fill-up for a busy day and buy some extra sandwiches to bring with you for lunch.
10:00 – Rainforest adventure
A visit to one of the world’s oldest forests is something you don’t want to miss. Head to Daintree Rainforest and more specifically, to Mossman Gorge. If you have access to a car, it is easy. Once there, you can follow the hiking trail at just under three kilometres to get your body working while being enclosed by vines and plants. Finish off with a cool dip in the waterhole if you are not afraid of quick temperature changes.
13:00 – Dreamtime
Enjoy your packed lunch before you join in on a shorter guided tour led by Dreamtime Walks. Let the local experts share their experiences of having lived in the area for generations for thousands of years.
16:00 – Fish & chips with a twist
Back in town, you are probably hungry after a busy day in the rainforest. Have a late lunch from Lanternfish at 22 Macrossan Street.
There is no boring fast food here – only tasty combinations. Are you a vegetarian? No problem, there are options with beans and tofu to tuck into.
17:00 – Late beach visit
Tuck a towel under your arm and head off to the expansive Four Mile Beach to find out what it is that everyone is talking about. Choose your own spot and head out among the waves. But watch out for jellyfish that sometimes blights the waters. When the sun goes down you can hike up to Trinity Bay Lookout for the best vantage point over the area.
20:00 – Seafood feast
Treat yourself and dine at Watergate Restaurant & Lounge Bar at 31 Macrossan Street (watergateportdouglas.com.au), the city’s most luxurious restaurant, which also has reasonable prices. Appreciated for its fantastic seafood, but they also serve duck and kangaroo. Good service. Book in advance if you plan to come during a weekend.