Since coming back from Cairns and Port Douglas I’m a bit of a convert. Those windy roads hugging slivers of sand, rocky pools and yes – the cliched-but-real – turquoise seas with the forest creeping down to it. There’s lots to do and it can get busy, so here’s what to know when planning a trip with the family.
When to visit
Port Douglas is one of the go-to Queensland destinations, particularly for those down South escaping the cold, making peak season during the dry from June to October. The family and I went in August and it did seem like everyone in Melbourne was also there but according to one boutique employee, ‘avoid the September school holidays’. August seemed to be a sweet spot with consistent 26 to 27 degree days.
Getting around and where to stay
We flew into Cairns and decided to hire a car to make life easier with a kid and allow us more freedom to do some exploring further afield. You can get a transfer straight from the airport to Port Douglas though and if you’re planning just to chill by the pool and beach then it’s as easy option.
We spent one night in a resort for a bit of luxury but really, for us – two adults and one pre-schooler, a cabin in the Big4 Port Douglas Glengarry Holiday Park was actually more comfortable and suited our needs better. It’s a bit outside the town but with a car that wasn’t a problem.
Book everything – no, really
Before heading up there I did get an email from one of our accommodation providers saying things were a bit busy in Port Douglas post COVID lockdowns and lots of places were experiencing staff shortages so it was advised to book ahead.
I did not take that as seriously as I should have because once there you realise that staff shortages and high demand make booking a necessity. Luckily there are plenty of hole-in-the-wall coffee places to at least get you a coffee with Sparrow Coffee serving a rare cold brew. The Whileaway Bookshop and Cafe does a brisk trade in hot drinks and cake surrounded by a great selection of books. There are also two pubs at the end of the main strip (Macrossan Street) that are your best bet to get a meal if you didn’t get around to booking.
Food with a view
If you can book ahead there are some great options offering gorgeous tropic views. Housed in a train carriage, Choo Choos at the Marina is a unique setting for a light lunch, while Hemingway’s Brewery is a safe bet for dinner and sunset viewing. St Crispins is a lovely brunch spot on the water with a view to the Daintree Ranges – and even some friendly crocodiles as dining companions.
And although not technically in Port Douglas, I would highly recommend booking lunch at NuNu in Palm Cove either on the way to Port Douglas or the way back, it’s a must-do stopover. The restaurant is a little fancy but not pretentious, and has a comprehensive kids menu with a hearty Bolognese. It’s relaxed, the service is great and the food is delicious.
It’s worth going beyond Mossman Gorge
Visiting Mossman Gorge is an easy morning or day trip, about 20 minutes drive from Port Douglas. From the visitor centre you get a bus up to the Gorge, and then you can spend some time in the shallow waters of the Gorge itself, and walk the loop around.
If you can, plan another day exploring the Daintree Rainforest – the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people have taken back formal ownership of the world heritage-listed rainforest in recent years.
The trip up and the ferry across (plan to go early) is worth it alone for the lush vegetation and Jurassic forests. Stop at the Daintree Discovery Centre and enjoy the view from the tree top platform.
Driving through is an interesting experience – there are lots of houses nestled back off the road, obscured by the forest. It’s home to many residents who live there off grid.
Oh, and spend a minute in Cairns
Many visitors to Port Douglas head straight there as soon as they land at the airport in Cairns, but it is worth spending a night or two here as well. While you might not be able to dip your toes in the sea for fear of crocs, you can instead hang out along the beautiful esplanade which includes playgrounds, cafes, volleyball courts, waterplay and a fantastic man-made lagoon.
Add in the aquarium, a boat cruise out on the reef and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and you’ve got plenty to fill a few days.