Port Douglas is one of Australia’s best-loved towns for many reasons—the friendly North Queensland hospitality, incredible beaches, warm Coral Sea, amazing wildlife, and the fact it’s the gateway to two World Heritage-listed sites; the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Port Douglas is a must-do for anyone travelling the coast of Australia, and an excellent starting point to see all tropical North Queensland has to offer. Check out our list of awesome day trips from Port Douglas to get that anticipation brewing.
The World-Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests of its kind in the world, and the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the continent. It’s also one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth. It’s fraught with history, as well as a diverse range of animals and plant life to explore. One of the most appealing aspects of the Daintree is its abundance of secluded swimming holes, perfect for cooling off after a day hiking in the heat.
A specialised tour company is ideal for taking you on the journey, because they’ll have expert, insider knowledge on the best walking trails and swimming holes. Hike all the way to the edge of the rainforest where it cascades down to meet the sea, and you’ll meet another World-Heritage listed site—the world famous Great Barrier Reef.
Daintree Wonder Tours are those kind of experts, running full day trips that explore the tranquillity of Mossman Gorge, cruise the mighty Daintree River in search for crocs and other native animals, and take you through some of the best walking tracks and swimming spots in the region. Lunch, morning tea and scoops of delicious tropical ice cream are included—which is a great incentive and well-needed after a full day of sunny adventures. Incredible memories and photo opportunities await!
Well, this was always going to top the list because let’s face it, the Great Barrier Reef is the reason you’re even in Far North Queensland. The largest living thing on Earth and visible from outer space, the reef is home to hundreds of kinds of coral, and thousands of species of marine life. Dotting the surface are hundreds of sun-soaked islands, with isolated white beaches. There are several ways to appreciate this natural wonder of the world, including diving, snorkelling, helicopter tours, glass-bottomed boat expeditions and whale and dolphin watching.
The best way to get close to the reef is on a snorkelling day trip. Local tour companies offer several options, but one of the best reefs to see the diversity of marine life is the pristine Low Isles, where you can see fish and coral up close, hopefully spot a sea turtle, and explore the beautiful beaches on the surface.
Locally recommended tour company Wavedancer offers unique day trips to Low Isles, an unspoilt tropical paradise. Sail on their 30-metre sailing catamaran Wavedancer, it’s the perfect way to get as close to the reef as you ethically can. The friendly crew will take you to the best snorkelling locations, and a marine biologist will point out the different species and give an informative talk on the preservation of the reef. Relax on deck and enjoy a buffet lunch with fresh seafood, as well as morning and afternoon tea—it’s a long day of swimming and exploring the fringed paradise you’ll have all to yourself, so you need the energy.
Visitors are limited each day to protect the reef’s ecology, so it’s a great way to get an intimate view of one of the most breathtaking natural wonders on Earth with an informed crew that will be able to answer your every question.
If you want to experience the local wildlife of tropical north Queensland (read: giant saltwater crocs) a river cruise is a must. Even without the 95% guarantee you’ll see a crocodile, the mangrove ecosystem and the views of the mountains are reason to go in itself. The dry season is the best time to spot a crocodile—although their population is dwindling—the cruise companies know their favourite sunbathing spots and their territories. Crocs tend to be solitary and very territorial, so it’s always an adrenaline rush when you spot the creature in its native habitat.
There’s other wildlife to see aside from crocodiles—large birds of prey such as brahminy kites, ospreys, and white-bellied sea eagles can be spotted swooping the river for their lunch, with mangrove herons and majestic kingfishers watching on, perched high in the mangroves.
The boats also pass along the harbour and waterfronts for amazing coastal views, as well as through Dickson Inlet, where the mangroves are thick—the flora you can see there is the most characteristic of estuarine areas in Far North Queensland, as your captain will point out.
A great eco-friendly company is Lady Douglas River Cruises. Their cruises depart daily, with each adventure exploring as far up Dickson Inlet as you can possibly go. An entertaining and informative commentary covers mangroves, crocodiles, local history of Port Douglas and all there is to know about the area.
Watch the sun go down behind the breathtaking Mossman Gorge, enjoying a glass of wine or cold beer and nibbling on cheese on the deck of a boat—just the way Port Douglas is meant to be seen.
A sunset cruise is the picture-perfect way to remember your visit to Port Douglas. Indigo is the only vessel that runs two-hour twilight cruises, giving you plenty of time to hit up the complimentary finger food. It takes a capacity of 12 guests, so there aren’t any crowds and you’re guaranteed prime views of the harbour and surrounding mountains. The cruises are BYO drinks, so take as many bottles as your esky can carry and arrive early to snag a good seat. The cruises depart from the Reef Marina at 4.30pm and return at 6.30pm—close to all the fantastic harbourfront restaurants and bars to continue your night out.
If you want to learn about the history and culture of the land surrounding Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge, take a guided Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk. Conducted by the local indigenous people, Ngadiku (pronounced nar-di-gul) means stories and legends from many years ago, in the local Kuku Yakanji language.
The walks take visitors on a private, historical journey through the culture of one of the oldest tribes in the world, visiting culturally significant sights, traditional bark shelters (or ‘gunyahs’), and through the beautiful rainforest of Mossman Gorge. Your guide will welcome you with a traditional smoking ceremony, cleansing the air and warding off bad spirits. They guide you through the overgrown rainforest, teaching you traditional plant uses, identifying read bush tucker, and telling you some of the oldest stories of the Dreamtime.
There’s nothing like being taken through such an enchanting part of Australia with a tribe that has the most connected history with the land, and being shown how to make bush soaps, and painting with traditional ‘ochre’, a paint made with clay found in certain parts of the rainforest. At the end of your walk, they even make you traditional bush tea and damper—regular bread and a cup of Lipton will never be as satisfying again.
Mossman Gorge Voyage Centre runs half-day tours, picking you up from Port Douglas and taking you to Mossman Gorge. The groups are made up of a maximum of 15 people and allows exclusive access to the Kuku Yalanji Land.