If you’ve yet to succumb to the myriad charms of this tropical getaway, then now is a great time to visit. And if you’ve been before, you’ll love checking out what’s new downtown – and beyond.
Best hotels in Port Douglas
Favourites: Port’s hotels and resorts are famed for their lush surrounds, friendly hospitality and sparking pools. There’s an almost bewildering range of accommodation, from the sprawling luxury resorts of Sheraton Mirage and Niramaya to boutique walk-to-everything apartments (two of our favourites are the award-winning Freestyle Resort and Le Cher du Monde on Macrossan Street), plus a host of private house rentals. You can spend many happy hours pinning down the one that suits you best.
What’s new: If you’d like to spend a few days in rainforesty isolation, you’ll love the new luxury chalets at Cassowary Falls, 50km north of Port. Included in your stay is a private 15m-drop waterfall that tumbles into a pristine freshwater pool – a personal highlight of 2023 so far.
Sheraton Grand Mirage is among Port Douglas’ top resorts.
Best Great Barrier Reef tours from Port Douglas
Favourites: Whether you’re diving, snorkelling or sitting in a glass-bottom boat, Port Douglas is hands-down the best place to start your Great Barrier Reef discovery. No arguments, please. We love to take visitors out to the Low Isles because it’s a half-day trip with Calypso Reef Cruises. Just 30 minutes offshore, you can swim off a sandy beach with turtles, reef sharks and a battalion of rainbow-coloured fish. Whole-day tours with Quicksilver Cruises will take you to the crystal-clear waters of Agincourt Ribbon Reef, where there’s a floating pontoon with underwater observatory, a carvery, freshwater showers and even a post box.
What’s new: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to swim at night with sharks? No? Certified divers can join Divers Den out of Cairns for a torchlight encounter with a variety of reef sharks, while snorkellers can peer through their masks into the water from the deck.
Scuba diving at Agincourt Reef on the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas. Picture: Tourism Queensland
Top rainforest attractions near Port Douglas
Favourites: The Daintree National Park is one of the most extreme examples of nature on our planet, and the oldest forest in the world. At the southern end of its 1200sq km is Mossman Gorge, where you can walk through towering rainforest to see waterfalls cascading over its giant boulders. A 40km drive further north is Daintree Village, where you can take a river cruise through mangroves that are home to huge saltwater crocodiles. Across the river, the northern part of the Daintree is crisscrossed by boardwalks and trails, leading to isolated beaches and freshwater swimming holes.
What’s new: Get a bird’s-eye view of this ancient forest from 15 metres above ground on a guided zipline tour with Treetops Adventure at Cape Tribulation. If you want to stay a while and explore more of what the Daintree has to offer, the freshly rebranded Daintree Siesta has comfortable family cabins (and a restaurant) set in the heart of the lush rainforest.
Treetops Adventure in the Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation.
Best breakfast spots in Port Douglas
Favourites: There’s no shortage of spots to take in the early morning sunshine, from a la carte at the beachfront Hi Tide to the queue-up cafes and bakeries of Grant Street, off Macrossan. Nectar serves great açai bowls, smoothies and juices, and is handily next to Wicked ice-cream parlour if you’re travelling with kids. Coffee aficionados, don’t miss Origin Espresso.
What’s new: The beautiful St Crispins Cafe has had a post-pandemic makeover to showcase its idyllic location at the south end of the inlet. Enjoy breakfast favourites, such as smoothie bowls and poached eggs. At the other end of the now-defunct Bally Hooley railway line, Choo Choos at the Marina has converted the old steam train carriages into a dining car. Enjoy your smashed avo with a spirit-lifting view – and cocktails from 10am.
Breakfast at St Crispins Cafe, Port Douglas.
Best restaurants in Port Douglas
Favourites: Port Douglas has a cosmopolitan dining scene with a universal tropical beachy vibe that means your best thongs are always appropriate footwear. On Wharf St, facing Dicksons Inlet, is its grande dame, Salsa Bar & Grill, with a menu spearheaded by fresh, creative seafood. Two doors down, Melaleuca serves modern Australian dishes with an Asian twist under giant mango trees. Across the way and perched over the water, the Tin Shed is the place for sunset views and a bucket of prawns. If you’re travelling with kids, they’ll love the burgers at N17 and if you’re strictly adults-only, don’t miss Nautilus (est 1954) – a secluded alfresco oasis that will spoil all future date nights.
What’s new: Dining options are more diverse than ever, with the recent arrival of farm-to-table Thai cuisine at Jungle Fowl, and The Beach Shack Co-Op at Four Mile where you have a choice of fresh local seafood and/or pizza. Vegans are rejoicing over the opening of plant-based Asian street-food bar, Bam Pow.
Tip: Port’s restaurants are busy. Book your tables when you book your accommodation. Walk in at your own risk.
Dining at Melaleuca restaurant, Port Douglas.
Best fishing in Port Douglas
Favourites: It’s not dubbed the angler’s paradise for nothing. There are many levels of fishy entertainment here. Drop a line into the calm waters of the inlet (barramundi, mangrove jack) or try big-game fishing on the outer reef (coral trout, black marlin). If you’re after an immersive, live-aboard experience, East Coast Angling travels to some of the most wonderful and remote locations in the Coral Sea.
What’s new: Less hardcore fisher-people will enjoy the ultimate barramundi experience at the Daintree Saltwater Barramundi Farm, 30 minutes north of Port Douglas. Learn about them, feed them, catch them and eat them (with chips) on the Hook-A-Barra fishing and lunch tour, complete with door-to-door transfers.
Fishing the Great Barrier Reef with East Coast Angling. Picture: Tourism Queensland
How to get around in Port Douglas
Favourites: There’s no such thing as public transport here in Port. And (shock) no Uber service. The best way to get around if you don’t have a car is via the local minibuses that shuttle between the hotels and Macrossan St. The bigger resorts have regular services, but drivers will pick up from pretty much anywhere if you give them a call and a few minutes notice. Or you can hire bikes – road bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, mopeds and motor scooters, and tandem bikes and trikes – at Port Douglas Bike Hire in town.
What’s new: Beam’s purple electric scooters arrived in Port as Covid left. They’re a convenient way to get around, as most of our main streets are wide and flat. Simply download the Beam app, lift the kickstand and off you go.
Port Douglas is an hour’s drive north of Cairns airport. There’s no public transport north of Palm Cove, so if you’re planning to explore you’ll need to hire a car. If lying by the pool is more your thing, you can book a return airport transfer with one of several local operators.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com