Unless you are sailing in on a luxury yacht or slashing your way through the tropical rainforest of Cape York most visitors arrive in Port Douglas by driving north from Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway.
Getting out of Cairns is fairly low key but just past the turn off for Palm Cove the highway suddenly offers a spectacular introduction to what lies ahead. The highway hugs the coast with rainforest and mountains on one side, coconut palm fringed beaches on the other. There are so many “wow” moments on this stunning drive it’s impossible not to be in complete awe of the natural beauty of Far North Queensland.
Port Douglas is a one-hour drive north from Cairns International Airport.
It was a sleepy little place until infamous entrepreneur Christopher Skase built the Mirage Resort in the heady days of the 1980s. These days the Sheraton Mirage isn’t the only luxurious resort and golf course. There are plenty of five star options to choose from as well as more moderately priced hotels, motels and a large number of apartment complexes.
Somehow though Port Douglas still retains a lovely, tropical “lazy days” feel but it also has plenty of facilities. There are shops and restaurants a plenty plus some excellent pubs and an incredible Sunday market.
The main hub is Macrossen Street. It straddles the tip of the Port Douglas peninsula, running from Four Mile Beach to the Dickson Inlet marina and wharf precinct.
Further south is the area known as Four Mile and this is a nice choice if you are looking for somewhere quieter. It’s only a five-minute drive or a ten-minute cycle along the beach to Macrossen Street.
For our holiday in Port Douglas during a school break we decided to rent a holiday house. As we were two families holidaying together pooling our resources meant we were able to rent a lovely house across the road from Four Mile Beach.
Casa Blanca, The Tropical House felt more like a home than a vacation rental as the owners of the house had paid incredible attention to every detail. Everything was so thoughtfully considered, there was nothing we wanted for. From the well-stocked basics in the pantry to the DVDs, games, books and information packs; everything was provided. The four bedrooms were all sunny, bright and comfortable and gorgeously appointed. The magical garden was so wonderful that we enjoyed many an hour lying on the hammocks and sun lounges, sitting at the outdoor table and of course enjoying the pool. We had intentions to eat out at a number of recommended restaurants but instead cooked lovely meals and dined in most nights. Hanging in the house is art by local artists, which we loved. We visited one of the featured artists Anna Curtis at the Sunday markets. (And as a beautiful reminder of our holiday we now have her stunning lino prints hanging in our home.)
The Sunday “Cotter’s Markets by the Sea” is a wonderful market full of local arts, crafts and produce, at the end of Macrossen Street from 8am to 2pm every Sunday.
A “must do” when visiting Tropical North Queensland is a day cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. There are lots of companies offering cruises but we decided to support the locally owned and operated Port Douglas business Calypso. We were on the Snorkel & Dive boat, which was big and comfortable. The trip out to the reef was about an hour and a half but with morning tea plus briefings about the activities of the day to pass the time this went pretty quickly. With about 75 passengers there was plenty of staff to help those of us who were snorkeling as well as the scuba divers. The friendly staff also guided us in the water on each of the three dive and snorkel locations. We visited Opal Reef and it was spectacular, with multitudes of beautiful coral and fish.
As we moved between locations around the reef we were treated to a visit from a pair of humpback whales, which made the day even more incredible.
The buffet lunch of cold meats, salads and bread was great, as was the afternoon tea. There was also an educational reef talk as well an array of reference books on board so it was possible to identify all the coral and fish we had just seen.
Another great day trip from Port Douglas is the Daintree River and Rainforest as well as Cape Tribulation. Daintree river cruises offer the chance to spot some crocodiles or just across the river there’s the fantastic Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre. Heading to Cape Tribulation there’s a great sense of being an explorer heading towards the northern tip of our great land but for soft travellers like me it’s all on sealed roads and with nice options for lunch at Cape Tribulation.
The Port Douglas peninsula is very flat so it is great for cycling. We hired bicycles from Port Douglas Bike Hire who kindly delivered the bikes directly to our house.
It was great for the kids as they were able to safely cycle along the bike paths and along Four Mile Beach.
A fun activity for all the family is Breakfast with the Birds at the Wildlife Habitat. If you can’t make it for breakfast just visit any time during the day for some up close and personal experiences with hundreds of Australian birds, animals and reptiles.
But if cycling, reef cruises or day trips are not on your relaxation agenda a leisurely walk along Four Mile Beach any time from sunrise to sundown cannot be beaten.
Port Douglas is a gorgeous place to holiday and has plenty of activities for all kinds of holidaymakers.
How to get there?
Port Douglas is in Far North Queensland an hour north from Cairns International Airport. There are plenty of car hire companies at the airport or there are shuttle bus services – but be careful you may find yourself trapped on a shuttle for over 3 hours as they wait for flights to arrive plus stop everywhere on the way, including places like Palm Cove and Trinity Beach.
Where to stay?
We rented the Casa Blanca house directly via the owner. There are lots of holiday rentals available through various local Port Douglas agencies or via websites such as Stayz or Trip Advisor. Resorts featuring apartments are a great option if you prefer the services of a hotel plus many have huge lagoon pools and other facilities.
What reef cruise to take?
On our “must do” list when we return to Port Douglas is the Low Isles cruise. The outer reef cruise is also a “must do”. There are quite a few companies offering cruises so do your research, read reviews, triple check… We chose a local Port Douglas business to support and found their service excellent.
What to do?
Port Douglas Cotter’s Market
Every Sunday 8am – 2pm Market Park/Anzac Park, corner Wharf & Macrossen Street