The Best of Port Douglas for your family holiday
Seeing the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, exploring the Daintree Rainforest – the world’s oldest rainforest, and playing along stunning beaches with your family, is the stuff dreams are made out of. When the weather starts to get a bit too cool throughout most of Australia, the best place to head is Tropical North Queensland and the beautiful town of Port Douglas is the perfect place to start.
In order to discover the best things to do for families in and around Port Douglas, we got talking to the locals and past visitors, and have just returned from testing everything out for ourselves on our recent holiday. We spent five nights at Port Douglas and two nights in the Daintree in early June, and this is what we discovered. (Our family guide to the Daintree coming soon)
Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef
Over the years we have seen a lot of spectacular places, but nothing will ever compare to snorkelling the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver Cruises. We got up close to hundreds of fish, sea creatures, coral and even a turtle and a barracuda. It was by no means cheap and the weather wasn’t great, but is something we will remember forever, and worth saving up for. (Keep an eye out for our story next week on snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef).
Ride bikes along the beach
We had so much fun exploring the beautiful Four Mile Beach on bicycles. Peddling up the beach with the boys was a great way to spend the morning. We packed a picnic and water bottles, and set off through town towards the beach.
We hired our bikes from Port Douglas Bike Hire. Half-day hire cost us $16 for each adult bike and $12 each for the boys, which included helmets and suggestions on which route to take. They also had trailers, baby seats and tandem bikes for hire.
Tropical North Queensland including Port Douglas is blessed with beautiful beaches, however in a cruel twist, many like Cape Tribulation Beach you can never swim at due to crocodiles and deadly marine stingers. Others like Port Douglas’ Four Mile Beach, you can swim, however you really need to understand about marine stingers before you decide to dip your toe in.
The stingers we’re talking about are Irukandji and Box Jellyfish. Stinger season typically runs from October through to May and during this time, protective nets are placed at one section of beach to reduce the likelihood of stingers getting through, and swimmers are urged to wear head-to-toe lycra stinger suits. I’m okay with wearing a full lycra suit when you’re out on the reef snorkelling, but am not that desperate to wear at the beach for a quick dip.
Although more prevalent during the hotter months, these marine stingers can be found at any time of year, so the best bet is to talk to the Lifesavers and read the signs. One thing I did notice when we were there in June was that holidaymakers took a quick swim and got out and there weren’t too many (if any) locals to be seen. We braved the water but felt so uneasy, it wasn’t worth doing again.
Bottom line is, talk to the Lifesavers, and weigh up the risks. There are plenty of other ways to get wet if you decide to ditch the ocean, and you can still enjoy the long stretch of sand.
Please note it is a different environment out on the reef and you are less likely to encounter these stingers when you’re out snorkelling. Take a look at this comprehensive article from World Travel Family on stinger season in Cairns and Port Douglas.
Other places to swim
With the warm weather all year round, you are going to want to swim. First stop will be your hotel pool. We haven’t found one hotel, apartment or resort that didn’t have a pool up there but make sure you check. There are also a few fresh water swimming holes to enjoy including Mossman Gorge, Spring Creek and Shannonvale, but talk to a local before swimming in them to make sure conditions (including crocs) haven’t changed.
Port Douglas Sunday Markets
It’s not every day you get to try freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, taste unusual tropical fruits, or get a fresh coconut cracked opened for you to enjoy. If you are in Port Douglas on a Sunday, make sure you head to the markets in Rex Smeal Park. This is a great place to pick up some souvenirs, local fruit and vegetables, art and jewellery. The markets are open from 8.00am until 1.00pm every Sunday.
Sunset at Rex Smeal Park
Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the beautiful sunset from Rex Smeal Park. There’s plenty of space for the boys to run around while you enjoy the view. Just don’t let them go in the water because of crocodiles in the area.
Best view in town
Go for a walk or drive up Flagstaff Hill for spectacular views of Four Mile Beach and the surrounding rainforest.
If you’re into fishing then this is the place to come. Head out on a fishing charter for your chance to catch (and keep) Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Sea Perch and Mackerel, and if you are really lucky you might even catch a Giant Trevally or Spanish Mackerel. We decided to send just the big boy (Dad), out on a full day reef fishing trip with MV Norseman as they came highly recommended. Unfortunately for him, the weather wasn’t in his favour and the trip was cancelled. Maybe next time!
If you would rather go fishing in the estuary, we were advised those trips were catch and release, so please check if you have your heart set on having fish for dinner.
A full day reef fishing with MV Norseman costs $260 per adult and $230 per child. (current as at June 2017)
A visit to Mossman Gorge is well worth getting in the car for. The Mossman Gorge Centre is located 20km north of Port Douglas. You will need to buy tickets to board the shuttle bus into the Gorge ($23.50 for 2 adults and 2 children). They have excellent walking tracks, so it will be an easy walk once you get dropped off in the National Park.
Take your swimwear and if you’re lucky, the conditions will be suitable to swim. There is a sign as you board the shuttle bus telling you what the swimming conditions are for the day. The water is cold but so beautiful.
We didn’t have enough time to experience a Dreamtime gorge walk or Indigenous half-day tour but they would certainly be worthwhile looking into if you have the time. You can also try something new with a bush tucker inspired lunch at the café and a look through the Indigenous art gallery.
If you need any groceries on your way back to Port Douglas, there is a large Woolworths at Mossman, which you will drive past to get to the gorge. Much larger than the Coles at Port Douglas.
Other things to do in Port Douglas
There just isn’t enough time to do everything during your stay and these are some of the things we didn’t around to experiencing but have heard are great.
- Mossman Gorge (open 15 June until 8 October 2017)
- Learn to Stand up Paddleboard or Kite surf
- Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
- Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Dining Experience (not for children under 6)
- Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures (between Cairns and Port Douglas)
Where to shop
For a small beachside town, Port Douglas certainly has a lot of shops, cafes, restaurants and services. Most things you will need, you’ll find in or around Macrossan Street. It’s easy to do the whole street on foot, so no need to get in the car.
Where to eat
Port Douglas has around 50 cafes and restaurants so you are not going to go hungry or thirsty by any means. Our favourites include:
- Port Douglas Surf Club Bar and Bistro (they will do some menu items as takeaway)
- Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café
- The Little Larder
- Courthouse Hotel
- Lantern Fish (for takeaway)
We ran out of time to eat or drink at the wharf but heard great things about Hemmingway’s Brewery, and the nearby On the Inlet.
Day Trips from Port Douglas
High on our list of places to discover was Kuranda but unfortunately the Kuranda Skyrail was closed while we there, so we decided to leave Kuranda for another time. Our wishlist for a day at Kuranda includes going on the Skyrail, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Daintree National Park
Although you can do a day trip to the Daintree, it is a place that deserves staying for at least a night or two. Keep an eye out for our full run down on things to do in the Daintree with boys in the next couple of weeks.
Port Douglas is a pleasant 50-minute drive up the Captain Cook Highway north from Cairns Airport. We hired a car at the airport, which was fantastic as it gave us the flexibility to stop along the way, as well as to venture outside of Port Douglas. Take a look at the latest car hire prices.
Places to stop along the way
It’s not far from Cairns to Port Douglas but there’s no rush, so take the time to check out a few of these places.
Palm Cove is a beautiful beach side village only 25 minutes from Cairns Airport. There were so many cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops along the beach, we want to go back there to stay for a while.
We had heard that a great place to stop and eat with the boys was Ellis Beach Bar and Grill and the reports weren’t wrong. We weren’t quite sure we’d found the right place when we arrived, but this unassuming café and bar served up a delicious brunch in lovely surrounds. It was easy, friendly, spacious and unpretentious which is just what you need after getting off a plane.
A quick and fun stop for the whole family about 7km past Ellis Beach, is a great little beach full of rock towers. We had a fantastic time here checking out the hundreds of rock towers, adding a few of our own and taking a few photos. Yes I know another stop can be painful with kids but if you only stop once, make it this one. You can pull off the side of the road but only on the beach side.
Where to stay in Port Douglas
Stay tuned for our guide on where to stay in Port Douglas
Having just returned from Port Douglas, all we can say is do it now, while you are still young enough to enjoy all of the activities this place has to offer and while you can share it with your kids.
We hope you enjoy your trip if you’re going soon, or that this has given you the inspiration to start saving.
Disclosure: We received discounted tickets to go snorkelling on Quicksilver. The car rental link in this article is an affiliate link. This means, at no additional cost to you, if you book after clicking on the link, we will earn a commission. Booking through these links helps to support us to continue providing you with the best information on family travel. We only ever use links to highly reputable companies that we trust and use ourselves. Thank you for supporting us.