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13 Best things to see & do in Port Douglas

  • Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield
  • Queensland, Australia

This vast coral reef system, comprising almost 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, stretches for over 1,600 miles off Australia’s eastern coast – it’s so vast it can be seen from outer space.

It supports an astonishingly rich biodiversity, including 30 species of whale and dolphin, 1,500 species of fish, 125 species of shark and ray, and six species of sea turtle.

Shark, Holmes and Osprey reefs regularly rank among the world’s greatest dive spots. All three are accessible from Port Douglas on liveaboards – but they’re too far away for day trips.

The majority of the reef’s treasures, though, are found just a couple of metres below the surface, meaning this magical underwater world is accessible to snorkellers and glass-bottomed boats as well as divers.

Adult price: £140

Min age 4

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1 day

  • Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

At 180 million years old, this remarkable biodiversity hotspot is home to many ancient and primitive plant forms found nowhere else.

Its wildlife is extraordinarily diverse. Among the critters that call the Daintree home are 430 species of bird, 90% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species, and over 12,000 different insects. The scenery is equally impressive – a landscape of rugged peaks and gorges, spectacular waterfalls, white sandy beaches, mangrove swamps and extensive vistas of pristine tropical forest.

To visit the Daintree to experience millions of years of natural history; the forest is a treasure trove of rare fauna and flora, much of it found nowhere else. David Attenborough called it ‘the most extraordinary place on earth.’

Nearby is Cape Tribulation – where the Daintree meets the Great Barrier Reef. Aside from pristine sand beaches, it’s famed for being the spot where Captain Cook first ‘discovered’ Australian in 1770, and where European settlers first arrived.

Good for age: 13+

  • Mossman, Queensland, Australia

If the term ‘art gallery’ conjures up images of white rooms and hushed voices, then far north Queensland will blow your mind. The Daintree Rainforest offers a rare opportunity to connect to a rich indigenous artistic tradition – whether you take a painting workshop, explore some ancient rock art sites or listen to the Dreamtime stories that inspire indigenous painters today.

Nothing speaks ‘Aboriginal art’ more than its world-renowned ‘dot painting’. The Aboriginal-owned Janbal Art Gallery in Mossman offers workshops that will teach you the craft, while explaining its role in the local culture with some engaging local storytelling. You can choose a canvas or a boomerang.

And if you don’t like your own creation, you can pop into the art gallery proper and buy an expert, original piece after…

Adult price: £30

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 90 minutes

When: Mon-Fri

Freq: daily

  • Cooya Beach, Queensland, Australia

The Kuku Yalanji have survived in this part of Queensland for over 50,000 years, developing a belief system that is inextricably tied to the natural world that surrounds them. Knowledge is passed down through the generations; an understanding developed over the centuries of the natural world and its annual cycles.

Gaining an insight into their culture and remarkable coastal lifestyle, gives a completely different perspective on the region.

To see the coastal lands through their eyes, join a traditional guardian from the Kuku Yalanji people for a morning of fishing, mud crabbing and spear throwing. The tours, which will appeal to adults and children alike, are led by brothers Linc and Brandon Walker, who will take you on a walk along the sands, mudflats and mangroves – stopping to teach you traditional skills such as fishing with a spear and how to find medicinal plants.

Along the way, your guides share stories passed down from their ancestors.

Adult price: £48

Min age 4

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 3 hours

  • Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Despite their name, dwarf mike whales are big – about 7-9m in length and weighing 5-7 tonnes. The whale experience is some distance offshore, so this is a live-aboard trips requiring several days, but itineraries also diving and snorkelling at some of the best spots on the pristine Great Barrier Reef.

Adult price: £2300

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 4-6 days

  • Mossman, Queensland, Australia

Aboriginal guide talking to two tourists

Bucket List Experience

Dreamtime walks at Mossman Gorge

With so much focus on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s understandable that the Daintree Rainforest gets second-billing. But a leisurely walk into the Mossman Gorge, with its astonishing range of plant and animal species, will instantly transform you into a rainforest aficionado.

A Dreamtime walk refers to the Aboriginal concept of ‘the dreaming’, when the natural world was created and shaped by mythical beings. The Daintree is one of the oldest eco-systems on the planet, dating back some 135 million years, and a walk with an indigenous guide beneath the towering strangler figs, fan palms and maple silkwoods is an unmissable experience.

The walk begins with a traditional ‘smoking’ ceremony, designed to ward off evil spirits, before delving into the forest itself. En route, stories are shared of the Kuku Yalanji culture and traditions, and there is exclusive access to the tribal lands.

Alongside the Aboriginal history and culture, birdwatchers will be delighted to catch sight of pelicans, egrets, cormorants and the fearsome cassowary. It is possible to do a self-guided walk, but the rainforest is a different place when seen through the eyes of those who know and understand it.

Adult price: £44

Min age 5

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1 hour

  • Mossman, Queensland, Australia

While adrenaline junkies might sneer at the idea of river snorkelling, there is nothing more exhilarating than drifting along under the jungle canopy of the Daintree Rainforest. The Mossman river carves its way through the etched sides of the Mossman Gorge, with sheer, rainforest-clad slopes rising up either side.

Along the way, swimmers will encounter an astonishing range of native animals – from turtles to water dragons and – if you’re really lucky – a platypus.

Whether paddling downriver or just drifting on an inflatable raft, river snorkelling is a delightful and very safe experience; the water in this part of the Mossman River is too cold for saltwater crocodiles. Drift snorkelling does not require any great athletic ability – just basic swimming skills and a taste for adventure.

Adult price: £65

Min age 4

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 3.5+ hours

  • Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, Australia

Small boat cruising down the Daintree River

Bucket List Experience

Boat tours of the Daintree River

There are river cruises and there is cruising through a 180-million-year-old rainforest, amid ancient and primitive flora teeming with wildlife.

Expect plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” during your cruise. Even for seasoned travellers, the first sight of the massive saltwater crocodiles (some of which top 20 feet) is jaw-dropping – and there is no shortage of these cold-blooded monsters on this river.

While crocodiles are the headline act here visitors will also see an impressive range of other native species, including frogs, butterflies and birds. Cassowaries, tree kangaroos, ringtail possums and kingfishers are some of the more exotic residents – but harder to spot. The boat captains offer a fascinating insight to the Daintree, its history and wildlife, and to local Aboriginal legends as you go.

Adult price: £11

Good for age: 4+

Duration: 1-2 hours

Nautilus Restaurant

  • Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

Restaurant

Experience

This celebrated restaurant showcases local specialities like Moreton Bay Bugs, kingfish and mud crab, on the atmospheric wooden deck. Five- and seven-course degustation menus available.

Adult price: £35

Good for age: 18+

Port Douglas Markets

  • Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

people wandering around an outdoor market with white roofed stalls, under trees

Experience

This buzzy local market, held every Sunday from 8am to 1.30pm, is a great place to catch up with some colourful personalities, pick up some local artwork or sample some fresh local produce.

Good for age: 18+