Don’t let its flop and drop reputation fool you, there are many things to do in Port Douglas. From hunting with Traditional Owners & exploring the Great Barrier Reef, to river floats & wildlife parks. Here’s how to spend your time in Port Douglas.
River Drift Snorkelling
Relaxation has taken on a new soundtrack drifting down the Mossman River with a chorus of birdsong, the gentle babble of the river and soft hum of cicadas filling the air. You’re on a raft floating down translucent water which gains its only colour from the reflection of nature’s cathedral – the rainforest canopy above. Dive below the surface, where you can explore the underwater world with a mask and snorkel to spot turtles and over 33 species of fish.
Tip: The experience of river drift can vary based on the water levels, sometimes it is fast and exciting, other times slow and relaxing – both are equally captivating.
Cost: $105 adult, $90 child or $360 family of four
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Having existed for 200 million years, it should come as no surprise that crocodiles are as fascinating as they are fearsome. At Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures you’ll be as educated as you are entertained as you wander through the park at your own leisure, pausing for a number of wildlife demonstrations including the “Big Croc Feed” where you can personally participate. No trip to Hartley’s is complete without a cruise on Hartley’s Lagoon to observe crocodiles in their natural ecosystem of the coastal melaleuca wetland.
While you may think the park is dominated by the ancient reptile giants, visitors can learn about and interact with an array of other unique Australian wildlife within the Cassowary Walk precinct, Tropical Walk Through Aviary or the Gondwana Gateway that take guests on a journey through the evolution of some of Australia’s most intriguing flora and fauna.
Tip: Plan to dine in at Lilies Restaurant overlooking Hartley’s Lagoon where the menu features their reptile namesake.
Cost: Park entry including boat cruise – adult $41, child $20.50 and family $102.50 (self-drive). Some activities come at at an additional cost.
Walkabout Cultural Adventures
Long before Port Douglas was a lazy flop and drop town, it was home to the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal People. Their relationship with the land and sea dates back tens-of-thousands of years and local Aboriginal guides can show you through their country on an intimate guided tour. Full or half-day tours venture into coastal and rainforest environments where you can learn about history, culture and traditions whilst sampling bush tucker and testing your spear and boomerang throwing prowess.
Get lucky: You might catch a mud crab or some seafood which is cooked by your guide for you to enjoy whilst on the tour.
Cost: $165pp half-day (includes morning or afternoon tea), $209pp full-day (includes morning tea and lunch)
Fancy breakfast with the birds? Lunch with the Lorikeets? Or perhaps you would prefer to cuddle a koala and pat a kangaroo? At Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas, you can explore five distinct habitats including the Nocturnal Habitat, where special lighting reverses nocturnal animals’ sleeping patterns so that visitors are able to witness Striped Possums, Bettongs, Mahogany Gliders and more at their most active during the day.
Other areas replicate woodland, wetlands, rainforest and savannah environments with a vast array of bird, mammal and reptile species to discover. Test your courage and cross the Predator Plank over crocodile-filled waters with five “salties” lurking below.
Tip: Join a tour or presentation to learn more about the animals and watch them feed.
Cost: Adults from $37, children from $18.50 and families from $92.50
Flames of the Forest
You’re heading on an adventure into the heart of the Tropical North Queensland rainforest. You’ll arrive at an exclusive location to be lead down a pathway and into a clearing twinkling with fairy lights and candles. Unlike folklore, this is a fairy ring you do want to enter. A sense of magic and mystery sweeps through the clearing as you enjoy some pre-dinner drinks. From here you’ll be led down a flame-lit path for dinner served under a black silk-lined marquee lit by spectacular chandeliers.
Behold stories, music and performances by the Kuku Yalanji people on the Aboriginal Cultural Experience twice weekly, or experience an intimate night with soft acoustic music on the Rainforest Dining Experience on Saturday nights.
Yum: Menus for both experiences focus on locally sourced produce carefully crafted to showcase their flavours. Dietary requirements can be catered for with prior notice.
Details: $224pp Aboriginal Cultural Experience – Tuesday & Thursday evenings, or $195pp Rainforest Dining Experience – Saturday evenings
Great Barrier Reef
Over a dozen tour operators depart for the Great Barrier Reef daily from Port Douglas. Venture out to the outer reef to discover a vivid tapestry of corals overflowing with marine life or to the Low Isles for a relaxed island getaway just off the coast with Sailaway Port Douglas for a full day or Calypso Reef Cruises for a half day. Sailaway is also the only Port Douglas operator to journey to Mackay and Undine Cays while Calypso offers both snorkel and dive tours to the outer reef.
Quicksilver Cruises’ Wavepiercer Catamaran is a smooth ride to the outer reef – perfect for landlubbers who get seasick. At the Agincourt Reef pontoon, partake in a range of activities including scuba diving, snorkelling, helmet diving, glass-bottom boats and visiting the underwater observatory. Pair your trip to below the surface with a scenic helicopter flight to view the tapestry of corals from above as you leave the Quicksilver Pontoon.
Just north of Port Douglas, you’ll find the most famed area of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the Daintree Rainforest. You’ll find the crystal-clear waters of Mossman Gorge a short 20 minutes drive from Port Douglas. Be welcomed to country with a traditional smoking ceremony and discover the culture and traditions of the Kuku Yalanji Traditional Custodians on a guided Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk that meanders through the rainforest surrounding Mossman Gorge.
To head further into the depths of the Daintree, jump aboard a day tour from Port Douglas with Daintree Tours or Jungle Tours & Trekking. These explore highlights of Daintree and Cape Tribulation including Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation Beach, Mount Alexandra Lookout and croc spotting tours; all the while keeping an eye out for the elusive dinosaur-like bird, the Southern Cassowary.
The flavours of Southeast Asia await at Oaks Kitchen & Garden who run an outdoor cooking school at Oak Beach just south of Port Douglas. Here you’ll find an organic tropical garden that produces much of the ingredients that you’ll be cooking with, from mangoes and kaffir lime trees to many Southeast Asian herbs and vegetables. The seasonality of the garden reflects what’s on the menu and with a unique offering each day of the week ranging from vegetarian to Thai to cooking demonstrations. If you’d simply like to taste the flavours, without the hard work of cooking, book a Chef’s Table Long Lunches serving a set menu of eight dishes.
Tip: All classes and lunches are BYO
Details: Cooking classes $165pp for 4 hours, Chef’s Table Long Lunches $110pp
Dine with a view
Naturally, when on holiday you’re after the restaurants with the best views. At Thala Beach Nature Reserve’s Osprey’s Restaurant, dine amongst the treetops with unparalleled views over the coral sea. Here you can taste the flavours of Tropical North Queensland with a focus on seasonal local produce.
Along Dickson Inlet, you’ll find The Tin Shed, a veteran restaurant of Port Douglas with a history dating back as far as 1877. While the building has since been through many iterations, it’s still an old favourite for locals and tourists and features views over the mangroves and to the mountains of the Daintree. Meander up to Hemingways Brewery at Crystalbrook Marlin Marina, for a great selection of locally brewed beers and a casual bite to eat.
Dine around two of Port Douglas’ most famous pools at multi-award-winning Harrison’s By Spencer Patrick at Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort or Aluco at Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple & Spa celebrating Tropical North Queensland produce.
With the tune of Enya’s Orinoco Flow playing in your head, hop aboard Sailaway’s Luxury Sunset Sail. Relax and unwind as you set sail around the coast of Port Douglas, watching the sun fade behind the mountains of the Daintree Rainforest. You’ll be welcomed aboard with a complimentary drink and a selection of hot and cold canapes.
Cane Toad Racing
You won’t be able to walk past IronBar without doing a double take – this classic pub/ restaurant is fitting to its name reminiscent of a rustic shed with a corrugated iron facade, walls of course bar. Every night at 8pm, the dance-floor is transformed into a racing arena where the likes of Donald Jump, Jerry Springer and Pigeon Toad take to the stage. It’s described as “side splitting bogan mischief for the whole family” and those lucky enough to participate might even get a little kiss from a toad – will it turn into a prince? You’ll have to give it a go to find out.
Tip: Be there early to secure your ticket to enter as there are limited spaces available.
Details: Nightly 8pm, additional family show at 6.30pm on school holidays – IronBar Macrossan Street
Beneath an avenue of raintrees more befitting to a Game of Thrones location, each Saturday morning in Mossman you’ll find an array of stalls stocking locally grown produce, handmade goods and food. On Sundays, the famous Port Douglas Markets overtakes the Port Douglas waterfront at ANZAC Park. Whether you’re a window shopper, after some mementoes from your Port Douglas getaway, or are in it just for the food, you’ll love the laidback vibes of these markets.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring a hat and wear sunscreen.
Details: Mossman Markets – Saturday 7am-1pm, Port Douglas Markets – Sunday 8.30am-1:30pm
Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail
Linking Four Mile Beach to Rex Smeal Park and Little Cove, the 1.3km walking trail of Flagstaff Hill is an easy and spectacular way for you to get the body moving after your holiday indulgence. You’ll be greeted with views over the Coral Sea, to the Low Isles and Snapper Island, and the golden sands of Four Mile Beach.
Tip: Wear walking shoes. While the trail is graded easy, it does get steep in parts and good shoes are welcomed.