The quieter, yet no less beautiful sister to the bustling city of Cairns, Port Douglas is a tranquil seaside town nestled right on the edge of the Coral Sea. Its serenity offers a haven for families, couples and solo travellers looking to take a break from city life, but don’t be fooled by the slow pace of life here – Port Douglas also promises adventure and excitement.
1. Visit the Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas is the perfect diving board for a snorkel or scuba trip: because of its proximity to the larger reefs like Tongue Reef and Batt Reef, you get an up-close-and-personal experience with coral that remains relatively unspoilt by Cairns tourist crowds, and they’re just an hour’s boat ride away. This is your chance to swim among tiny blue tangs and glowing parrotfish, watch clownfish darting in and out of anemones, and even spot reef sharks and sea turtles!
The snorkel tour operators here cater to smaller groups, so you’ll get a more personalised experience with them. While there are several established operators to choose from, some like Wavelength Tours offer the guidance and expertise of marine biologists on board, whose explanations of the intricacies of sea life make for a great educational experience. If you’re planning to dive, there are small boat charters available, with experienced guides on board to ensure you get the most out of your experience with the coral reefs.
Booking your Great Barrier Reef experience already? Remember to bring your swimsuits, sunglasses, and some medication for the boat ride if you get seasick easily. The tour operators take care of the rest – providing anti-stinger body suits, snorkel equipment, flippers, and even pool noodles – so you know you’re well looked after.
Address: Shop 12,The Reef Marina, Wharf Street, Port Douglas, Australia
Price: 185 USD per adult
Opening Hours: 7am - 6pm
Duration: Full day tour
Access: Pickup from hotel provided
Contact: + 61 7 4099 5031
Near by Food: Lure Restaurant and Bar, On the Inlet Restaurant
Website: Wavelength Tours
2. Dine with a 250kg (551lb) fish at sunset
The name George might bring to mind an English singer or a certain charming Hollywood actor, but the name rings an entirely different bell here. George, you see, is the name of a beloved local celebrity here, who takes the form of a 250kg (551lb) grouper fish.
The fish, possibly the largest in local waters, is about the size of an average human adult, and has good taste. It visits the award-winning restaurant, On the Inlet, every day at about five in the afternoon for its dinner of tuna, which is lowered on a frame by one of the restaurant’s waiters, and makes for excellent dinnertime entertainment. Grab a ringside seat early – the best ones are all taken by 4.30pm – settle in with a bucket of prawns and a glass of chilled wine, and watch George gobble up his dinner. On good days, he even leaps out of the water to snatch a bite!
On the Inlet
Address: 3 Inlet Rd, Port Douglas QLD 4877, Australia
Price: about 15 - 30 USD per person
Opening Hours: 12pm - 12am
Duration: around 1 hour
Access: Walk or cycle from Macrossan Street
Contact: +61 7 4099 5255
Website: On the Inlet
3. Savour the freshest Australian produce in the tablelands
Just a short drive away, fields of crops lie ripening in the Australian sun – row after row of macadamia trees with their green clusters of nuts half-hidden in the lush leaves, spruce coffee bean shrubs arranged in ridges on the landscape, neatly trimmed tea leaves fanning out to form a verdant horizon as far as the eye can see.
These plantations are nestled high in the Atherton Tablelands, named for the flat, wide land expanses in the hills, perfect for growing produce.
If you’re visiting Port Douglas, a day trip through these tablelands is a must-do for foodies. Whether it’s an independent drive or a decadent tour, you’ll get to taste all that these farms have to offer. Most of the food in the city of Cairns and Port Douglas is grown here, so you can be assured that this is the best and the freshest.
It’s not just fruits and vegetables, either – there are breweries, boutique wineries, even small chocolate factories where you can watch the dark delicious slabs being made by hand. You can even savour a range of cheeses (look out for the pepper-infused one!) at Gallo Dairyland, while looking out at a field of grazing cows!
If you’re planning to take a bit of the tablelands home with you, stop by The Humpy, a small quirky grocery shop that sells an array of choice produce at the lowest prices we daresay you’ll find in all of Queensland.
Outback Tasting Adventures
Price: 127 USD
Opening Hours: 8.30am - 5.30pm
Duration: full day tour
Access: pickup from hotel provided
Contact: 07 4098 5059
Website: Outback Tasting Adventures
4. Get married in St. Mary's By the Sea chapel
We’re only half-kidding. If you are planning to get hitched (congrats!) and like the notion of a quiet seaside wedding, you might want to consider having the ceremony here. Situated in a tranquil spot overlooking the translucent turquoise waters of Port Douglas, St. Mary’s is a tiny chapel that houses 100, built in 1880 and restored over time. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its focal point of a large altar window featuring a breathtakingly picturesque view of the sea – the perfect backdrop for saying ‘I do’ in an intimate ceremony with family and close friends. It’s little wonder that even married couples want to renew their vows here.
Even if you’re not here to get married, the little chapel is worth a visit, with its air of romance and simple beauty. The pier outside is perfect for photo ops as well, with the occasional cruise sailing by.
St. Mary's By the Sea
Address: 8 Dixie St, Port Douglas QLD 4877, Australia
Duration: 20 minutes on average per visit
Access: Walk or bicycle from Macrossan Street
Contact: +61 418 456 880
Near by Food: On the Inlet
Website: St.Mary’s By the Sea
5. Get up close and personal with wildlife
If you’re an animal lover, or simply want to experience the rich biodiversity of Australian wildlife, look no further than the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas.
More of a sanctuary than a zoo, the place is literally ‘no holds barred’: there are no railings or enclosures separating you from most of the animals. As you wander from section to section, wallabies hop right across your path, small, brightly coloured birds flit above your head, and kangaroos lazily raise their heads from their fruit trough to gaze at you. There are even crocodiles – though those are definitely surrounded by a railing for visitors’ safety – don’t be alarmed if you cross a bridge and find a pair of them nestled right under your feet, dozing in the afternoon sun.
The Wildlife Habitat offers a much more personal experience with Australia’s native animals, and can be a great educational trip for families. All you’ll have to do is follow the designated path, which will take you through the various sections, from the Savannah to the Wetlands. Adults and children alike will enjoy the featured experiences, particularly Breakfast with the Birds, where a tropical breakfast spread is followed by an interactive session with the sanctuary’s colourful birds.
Address: Port Douglas Road, Port Douglas PO Box 1077, Port Douglas QLD 4877
Price: 26 USD per adult, 13 USD per child
Opening Hours: 8am - 5pm. Closed on Christmas Day.
Duration: around 3 hours
Access: Bicycle or shuttle bus
Contact: +61 7 4099 3235
Website: Wildlife Habitat
Your next blue-sky holiday awaits!
With its plethora of activities, Port Douglas offers a vacation you can tailor for adventure or relaxation. Even without a car, it’s easy to get around by shuttle bus or by renting an electric bicycle from one of the many operators available on Macrossan Street, and while the attractions are varied by nature, they’re relatively close together. If you’re seeking new experiences, this just might be the next place to book a plane ticket to.
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