Port Douglas and the Daintree

Port Douglas and the Daintree

Sure, it's a long way to go for a weekend, but words and photos do little justice to the Daintree rainforest — you simply have to see it for yourself.

Getting there

Virgin Blue, Jetstar and Qantas fly to Cairns, where you can pick up a hire car or shuttle service to Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a bit over an hour's drive north up the scenic Captain Cook Highway (great for views, sometimes not so good for the stomach) and then onto Port Douglas Road.

When you get there

If you fly into Cairns late in the day, consider stopping at the resort village of Palm Cove, about half-an-hour's drive north of Cairns, for some dinner by the beach, en route to Port Douglas. Nu Nu, on the esplanade, is probably the best restaurant in town, or you'll find plenty of cheaper options if you go for a wander.

If you fancy a drink when you get to Port Douglas, the old Court House Hotel (on the corner of Wharf and Macrossan Streets, you can't miss it) always has a good atmosphere and gets you straight into the tropical-north swing of things, with its white decor, large verandas and churning ceiling fans. There are four bars to choose from, or you can eat in the bistro, which has great steaks and seafood platters.


Take a hire car or an organised tour and head to Mossman Gorge, one of the most accessible sections of the Daintree National Park. It's less than half-an-hour's drive from Port Douglas, up the Captain Cook Highway and then turn left into Johnston Road.

This section of the park is known for postcard scenes of the crystal-clear Mossman River tumbling over granite boulders, with thick rainforest either side. The giant stranger figs, for which the Daintree is well known, are prevalent here — and they're not kidding when they say giant.

Take a 400m trek out to a viewing platform over the river and there's also a 2.5km trek that teaches you about the rainforest plants and their uses to the Aboriginal people of the area.

If you have any interest in Aboriginal culture, you can do a guided Dreamtime walk with some of the Kuku Yalanji people. Or you can hike further afield on your own, but you have to talk to the rangers (and even do some paperwork) first.

Then again, you could just have a picnic and a snooze against a tree.

Make your way back to Port Douglas in the afternoon and laze on Four Mile Beach or explore the shops and galleries of Macrossan Street.

Poke your head inside the 1880s-era weatherboard church on the esplanade (if you can squeeze in between the endless stream of weddings). It's a beautiful building and the back wall has a huge glass window with views out to sea.

You'll probably find yourself back at the Court House for a sundowner drink — not because there's nowhere else to go but because it's where it all seems to be happening.

You could easily become paralysed by choice over where to have dinner — Port Douglas is absolutely groaning with good restaurants and cafes. One of the best is Zinc, an alfresco eatery with plenty of local seafood on the menu. There's also a tapas-style menu with dishes around the $10 to $15 mark if you only want to graze.


It will be an early start and a quick breakfast if you want to use this day to go out onto the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling or scuba diving. There are numerous trips on offer, but the general rule is the smaller the boat, the better the experience.

There are plenty of cruises that depart direct from Port Douglas but if you're flying out of Cairns in the afternoon, you might want to choose one that will collect you from Port Douglas in the morning and return you to Cairns at the end.

If the reef doesn't grab you or you want to spend more time in Port Douglas, the Sunday markets, starting at 8am on the esplanade, are worth a visit. Like most markets, they have their share of rubbish, but there's good stuff, too.

If you're making your own way back to Cairns and you didn't stop at Palm Cove on the way up, you might want to do it this afternoon. Palm Cove has a great atmosphere and you can soak up a bit more of a holiday feeling before you go home.

What to bring home

Take home a great suntan, so everybody knows you had a fab weekend away. Or maybe pick up a piece of art from one of the Port Douglas galleries or market artists.

What to splurge on

Palm Cove is the spa capital of the tropical north, so book yourself in for a super-duper treatment before you get back on the plane. Try the Reef House Spa at the Sebel Reef House, the Angsana Spa on Veivers Road or the Mii Spa at the Sea Temple Resort.

Where to stay

Port Douglas has an oversupply of accommodation, so search online booking sites for a hot deal and you'll get great value for your money. Make sure the property is right in Port Douglas because many of the resorts are a long walk from town.

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