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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 26 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield

Tropical North Queensland is a global eco-tourism hotspot, blessed with two of the world’s greatest natural wonders: the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient rainforests of the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park.

While most tourists looking to experience them head for backpacker-central Cairns, those looking for a more upscale, genteel base could no better than Port Douglas, Queensland’s smartest beach destination. The swanky, cosmopolitan town is home to upscale restaurants and shops, spas, swish hotels and a yacht-filled marina, and has increasingly become both a culinary and wellness destination.

It’s the ideal base from which to explore both reef and rainforest. It’s also a great place to experience and appreciate indigenous Aboriginal culture. The local Kuku Yalanji people have lived in the Daintree area for over 50,000 years and offer excellent and authentic guided forest walks, art classes and food gathering excursions.

Orientation

The main thoroughfare in this former frontier town of about 4,000 residents is Macrossan Street, packed with stylish cafés, restaurants and boutiques. The marina is home to some of the world’s most expensive pleasure craft.

The Daintree National Park (about 20 minutes’ drive) and Cape Tribulation are to the north, while the Great Barrier Reef (and its most popular dive spots) is about 75 nautical miles off the coast – approximately 90 minutes’ travelling time by boat.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Boat tours of the Daintree River

Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

Cruise through a 180 million-year-old rainforest of ancient flora, to spot hundreds of bird species, turtles, colourful tree frogs, exotic snakes and gigantuan ‘salties’ (saltwater crocodiles).

Best for ages: 4+ | £11 | 1-2 hours

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Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation

Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

One of the world’s natural wonders, the 180-million-year-old Daintree Rainforest is an ancient and stunningly beautiful rainforest, packed with exotic and rare flora and fauna.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Tented venue lit up at the Flames of the Forest
Experience

Flames of the Forest dinner

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

This evening performance features didgeridoo playing, dreamtime stories and a tropical tasting menu. The set menu features tiger prawns, kangaroo and other local produce. A vegetarian option is available.

Best for ages: 8+ | Free | 4 hours

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external facade of the building on the marina
Experience

Hemingway’s Brewery

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Queensland’s most northerly craft brewery, which occupies a prime location at the marina, produces a range of lighter style lagers, pilsners and wheat beers, while the restaurant serves up satisfying fare.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Art gallery
Experience

Indigenous Art Gallery

Mossman, Queensland, Australia

This quality art gallery features the work of the best local Kuku Yalanji artists. The gallery is part of a unique indigenous tourism project which also includes dreamtime walks, a gift shop and a café serving local bush tucker.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Port Douglas

Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Port Douglas

Port Douglas

Exemplar is renowned in the region as the expert in airport transfers. Since 1993 we have offered award winning services across a range of s...

A48 | Rating 4.57 / 5 [96 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Port Douglas Scenic Flights

Port Douglas Scenic Flights

Port Douglas

The 30min and 45min flight showcase the magic of the Great Barrier Reef. Departing over Port Douglas and 4 Mile Beach, other highlights incl...

A399 | Rating 4.8 / 5 [25 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Port on a Plate Chef Guided Food & Farm Tour

Port on a Plate Chef Guided Food & Farm Tour

Port Douglas

A food experience like no other. Our chef takes you on a guided tour of the Port Douglas region, collecting fresh produce from local farms f...

A175 | Rating 4.98 / 5 [66 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Shantara Resort

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

A modern apartment hotel in the centre of Port Douglas. A perfect, convenient base, close to all of the evening action, for those who want to spend their days out exploring (rather than lounging in a resort). Adults only.

Official star rating:

Port Douglas Peninsula Boutique Hotel

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

A compact, beachside hotel equipped with kitchenettes that’s an excellent choice for those travelling on a budget. Adults only.

Official star rating:

Silky Oaks Lodge

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Rainforest relaxation guaranteed at this beautifully run eco-lodge with a fantastic restaurant and award-winning spa.

Official star rating:

Peppers Beach Club

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Decidedly upmarket beachside resort hotel with a fantastic in-house spa and award-winning restaurant. A good all-rounder with something for everyone.

Official star rating:

When to go

Port Douglas is a year-round destination; temperatures vary only slightly between seasons.

The wet season (December to February) is hot and humid, with the highest rainfall plus the occasional thunderstorm and cyclone warning, but it’s quieter. November to May is also the so-called ‘stinger season’, when deadly box jellyfish congregate in the coastal waters. However, unless you specifically want to swim in the sea, this won’t impact your trip.

Winter (June-August), the dry season, is the best time weather-wise and jellyfish-wise, but if you can, avoid the main Australian school holidays (especially the winter vacation, from late June to early July) when accommodation is at a premium across Queensland – from the Gold Coast to Port Douglas – and when the resort is busiest.

Spring and Autumn are the best times, with clement weather without the crowds.

Getting there and away

Cairns is the major regional airport, with regular flights from most major Australian cities and some international flights from South – East Asia. There are frequent shuttle buses between Cairns and Port Douglas (approximately 1hr), or you can hire a private shuttle (it’s usually a group price). The smarter hotels provide their own airport transfer service. Your other option is to hire a car.

Getting around

Port Douglas is small enough to walk or cycle around. You will only need a car if you want to venture north to the Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation or Cooktown – though if you book on organised tours (recommended) they’ll pick you up and drop you off from your accommodation in Port Douglas.

Where to eat or drink

Don’t leave without trying local specialties mud crab (from the local mangroves) and barramundi (delicious and firm white fish). The local coffee is also surprisingly good.

Health & Safety