33 things to do in Port Douglas and the Daintree
Of all the things to do in Port Douglas and Daintree, we’re pretty sure “sweet, sweet nothing” is high on your list of priorities. With beach, reef and rainforest within reach – not to mention the kinds of temps that make you believe summer is a year-long season in Tropical North Queensland – you could easily while away your time here with a book and a sun lounger and have a damn fine holiday.
But if you’re headed north to eat, drink, swim, hike, bike, snorkel, sail, drive and explore like you’ve never explored before, consider this list your personal challenge.
1. Drive the Great Barrier Reef drive
The good news is if you’re flying into Cairns and transferring the 1.5 hours north to Port Douglas by road you’ll be ticking half of this epic road trip off your bucket list before you’ve even arrived at your resort.
Stretching from Palm Cove to Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef Drive serves up a snaking slab of bitumen, wedged between the rainforest-coated mountains and beaches of the Great Barrier Reef and the kind of views you’ve been wistfully staring at on your screensaver.
Local’s tip: Take a detour to swim in the granite rockpools of Hartley’s Creek near Wangetti.
2. Have lunch at Silky Oaks
You don’t have to sleep the night to enjoy lunch overlooking the gin-clear waters of the Mossman Gorge at Silky Oaks Lodge. Just be sure to book ahead.
3. Fly to your own private sand cay
Nothing says #lifegoals louder than catching a ride in a helicopter over the mindboggling coral formations of the Great Barrier Reef to your own private sand cay during an exclusive two-hour experience. It’s pretty much the best place in the world for a beach picnic.
4. Visit a Daintree Estates’ cacao plantation
Learn the bean-to-bar story of Australia’s first single-origin chocolate, Daintree Estates, by visiting one of their farms with Sweet Farm Tours.
5. Wake up with a hot air balloon ride
There’s a special kind of magic cast over the earth at sunrise. Catch a ride with Hot Air Balloon Port Douglas you’ll be one of the first to greet the day over the Great Barrier Reef and world’s oldest rainforest.
6. Experience an Indigenous spa treatment
Let’s face it, it’s not a holiday until you’re face-down on a massage table. But at Daintree Eco Lodge the massage table is swapped for the rainforest, or as the local Kuku Yalanji have named it, ‘Wawu-karrba’, which means ‘healing of the spirit, where ancient traditions are infused into your treatment, beside a sacred waterfall.
7. Catch the Bally Hooley steam train
Harking back to the pioneering days of the sugarcane farmers, the romance of steam train travel is alive and well in Port Douglas. Catch a ride on the Bally Hooley – to get from Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina to Sheraton Grand Mirage, QT Port Douglas and St Crispins – on Saturdays, Sundays, when cruise ships are in town, and most public holidays.
8. Night walk through the Daintree
In the Daintree, the nightlife is thumping, but you might have to tune your senses a little more than usual to find it. When you join a night walk through the rainforest with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours you’ll have the chance to spot one of these 10 animals you won’t find outside the Daintree.
9. Walk the Flagstaff Hill Trail
Start your day with a stroll along the Flagstaff Hill Trail to the viewing platform – stretching out to the Coral Sea and especially pretty at sunrise! The newly constructed 1.5km trail provides a link between Four Mile Beach and Rex Smeal Park with plenty of photo-snapping opportunities.
10. SUP on the Mossman River
Take your morning meditation to the waters of the Mossman River for a guided stand-up paddleboard tour with Windswell. The core workout is an added bonus to feeling calm and serene.
11. Visit the Port Douglas Markets
Sunday may be the day of rest but if you stay in bed too long you’ll miss a local institution. The weekly Port Douglas Markets offer up everything from local handicrafts to fruits and veggies. Grab a fresh coconut or sugarcane juice and get ready to meet the locals.
12. Taste weird and wonderful tropical fruits
If you thought it was all bananas and mangoes in this neck of the woods, set your GPS towards Cape Trib Fruit Farm for an introduction to the sweet, sour and downright delicious tropical fruits falling from their trees. Don’t worry, the jackfruit tastes better than it looks.
13. Spot some crocs
If you’re crossing over to Cape Tribulation on the Daintree car ferry, you might spy some prehistoric predators lurking in the river for free but if you join a croc-spotting tour with Bruce Belcher or Solar Whisper, you’ll have the advantage of expert commentary, hawk-like spotting skills, and birdwatching bundled into one.
Psst! Make like Mick (Dundee, that is) and check out these other top croc encounters across Queensland.
14. Go crazy for coconuts
Just south of Port Douglas, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Thala Beach Nature Reserve when you spot the 700 coconut palms standing sentinel at the entrance. Guests can join their free Coconut Odyssey tour to learn all about the health benefits of this magic nut.
15. Hunt for your tucker
You can’t get any more authentically paddock-to-plate than by grabbing a spear and joining Kuku Yalanji brothers Lync and Brandon Walker to tread lightly through the mangroves hunting for your supper. They’ll even cook your catch up for you afterwards.
16. Drive the Bloomfield Track
You might not have the time – or the diff lock – to journey all the way to the tip of Australia but you can take a taste on a road trip along the Bloomfield Track to the Lions Den Hotel, about half an hour shy of Cooktown, and back to Cape Tribulation in a day.
17. Shop till you drop
Grab a coffee from Sparrow Espresso and a shot of sweetness from Duke’s Doughnuts to start your engines for a shopping trawl along Macrossan Street.
18. Cocktails, poolside
Port Douglas is famous for its resorts, swim-out rooms, pool bars and balmy tropical days, which, in any language is the perfect excuse for poolside cocktails, any day of the week.
19. Take an Indigenous art class
Experience your own connection to country by booking a private art class with Brian ‘Binna’ Swindley at Janbal Gallery in Mossman.
Psst! You’ll find this and 49 more ways to connect with Indigenous culture in Queensland in this free ebook.
20. Stay in the house of your dreams
There are plenty of gorgeous resorts, hotels and apartments to stay in during your Port Douglas vacay, but we’re not sure anything could top a stay in an absolute beachfront luxury holiday house like Spice at Oak.
21. See the Great Barrier Reef from all angles
Whether you’re a hardcore diver, fisherman, or first-time snorkeller, there’s a boat with your name on it moored in the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina. Head out to Agincourt Reef with Quicksilver Cruises or Calypso Cruises, or, if you’re short on time, jump aboard Reef Sprinter for a bone-jangling 15-minute race to Low Isles where you’ll spend 1.5 hours drifting over coral blooms and all manner of marine life, and be back in time for lunch.
22. Go horse riding along the beach
Saddle up to
walk trot the line where two World Heritage-listed wonders kiss – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest.
23. Tackle the infamous Bump Track
If you’re a keen mountain biker with no fear of steep, muddy, rocky descents, hook up with the guys from Back Country Bliss, Port Douglas Adventure Tours or Bike n Hike Adventure Tours to get kitted out to take on the Bump Track.
24. Swim with minke whales
And find out why this is the most exclusive marine encounter on earth.
25. Visit Mossman Gorge
You can feel the magic of Mossman Gorge as soon as you arrive but to understand it before you slip into its emerald waters, take a tour with a Kuku Yalanji elder, starting from the Mossman Gorge Centre.
26. Go Jungle surfing
There’s zip lining. And then there’s flying through the ancient Daintree Rainforest with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours.
27. Sail into the sunset
Ditch the Enya soundtrack in favour of the wind in your hair, a cold glass of champagne in your hand, and a show-stopping pastel sunset setting across the Coral Sea with Aquarius Sail and Snorkel.
28. Experience Flames of the Forest’s Aboriginal Cultural Experience
You know you’re in for a special night when you’re picked up and whisked away to a secret rainforest location, where fairy lights drip from the trees and candles blaze in giant candelabras. Find your chair and settle in for an evening of cultural storytelling and native bush foods at Flames of the Forest.
29. Swim in secret waterholes
Ask any local for their favourite swimming spot and you’ll likely be told to head inland in search of freshwater swimming holes like these ones. While you’re exploring the Daintree, drop into Heritage Lodge and Spa and discover their beautiful backyard (natural) pool.
30. Drive to sacred waterfalls
Wake early and head north on an adventure to find Wujal Wujal falls (about 30 minutes along Bloomfield Track), a local Kuku-Yalanji clan name meaning ‘many falls’. While you’re there, don’t miss the Wujal Wujal Art Centre where artists representing three traditional clan groups – the Yalanji, Nyungkul and Jalunji people – translate the land around them into paintings, silks, and jewellery.
Local’s tip: Call ahead to check the centre will be open if you’re planning to visit in the wet season.
31. Go river drift snorkelling
If the thought of diving face-first into the deep blue of the Great Barrier Reef makes you a little nervous, start with a freshwater alternative as you let the current carry you along in the cool fresh water of the Mossman River with Back Country Bliss Adventures.
32. Eat chocolate pudding fruit ice-cream
A visit to Cape Tribulation wouldn’t be complete without stopping to sample a quartet of flavours from the Daintree Ice Cream Company, freshly-made on the premises with exotic tropical fruits grown in their very own orchard. The flavours change depending on when you visit, but if black sapote – AKA chocolate pudding fruit – is on the menu, you might find yourself going back for seconds.
33. Prepare an Insta-worthy picnic
You don’t have to worry about ants cramping your #picnicstyle when you can prep a spread to enjoy under the coconut palms on Four Mile Beach.
What did we miss? What’s your favourite thing to do in Port Douglas?
PS. Looking for more things to do in Tropical North Queensland? Here are 100 ideas to keep you going.