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Port Douglas encapsulates tropical Queensland like no other place. A slice of palm-treed heaven, it’s everything you dreamed of when imagining being stranded on a desert island when that work just piles up.
The beachside town rests about 70km north of Cairns, which is around a two-hour flight north of Brisbane, and is nestled between the infamous Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park. While the town has a reputation for upscale resort and hotel getaways, there are also stays for every budget.
An important piece of information to take note of when planning a trip to tropical North Queensland is stinger season. From November to May, jellyfish teem in the water, surrounding the mainland and the islands. Irukandji jellyfish can be deadly, so make sure you read up on ways to stay safe if you’re visiting during these months.
Despite what the name suggests, Four Mile Beach is not in fact four miles long – it was named after a local family with the surname Fourmile. It’s actually only four kilometres long, beginning at Island Point and ending at the rocky mangrove reef of Mowbray River – plenty of space to stretch out despite the beach’s popularity. The beach is flat and easily accessible, and one of the most beautiful places to relax, sunbathe, go for a swim, or try your hand at surfing and even fishing. The beach is constantly patrolled by lifeguards and has stinger enclosures so everyone can enjoy a refreshing dip year-round. Swimming is best at higher tides, as the water is deeper and there’s a shorter walk to the break. The low waves and the winds offer perfect conditions for wind surfing, but if you prefer a more relaxing activity, the northern headland offers the best fishing spots.
If seclusion is more your style, you can’t ignore the 10-kilometre stretch of deserted sand and turquoise waves that is Wonga Beach. Wandering along the beach at low tide is something only music videos are made of. It’s where reef meets rainforest, offering landscape views of Port Douglas, Snapper Island, and the mouth of the Daintee River. Overhanging trees, mangroves, and coconuts spur a tropical vibe that makes it the perfect place to relax with a glass of wine. Be careful when it comes to swimming – locals often spot crocodiles hanging around at certain times of year, so make sure you know if it’s safe to swim before donning your swimsuit!
Palm Cove beach is meticulously taken care of by the local community, and therefore arguably the most pristine of all north Queensland’s beaches. Its postcard-perfect qualities mean you can walk around barefoot, choose to ride a bike instead of hire a car, and buy your food fresh and cook them on the barbeques at the beach as the sun goes down. Hire kayaks and paddle directly off the dock or go for a cheeky fish off the long Palm Cove jetty. The promenade lining the beach is traced with centuries old paperbark Melaleuca trees, creating perfect shade to relax with a book. It’s surrounded by world-class restaurants and spas if you’re looking to indulge, but if you’re on a budget, you can’t go past buying produce and seafood from the fresh food market and having a barbeque and a few beers at sunset.
Not so much a beach as a beautiful bay, Dickson Inlet isn’t famous for swimming – at all. While the clear blue water and the tranquil lapping of tiny waves are alluring, swimming is wholeheartedly advised against. Crocodiles have made the inlet their home, and if you take a boat out from the inlet and have a cruise around, locals reckon there’s a 95% chance of spotting a croc. Numerous river cruisers travelling through the unspoiled labyrinth of mangroves are offered from the inlet, and it’s a great way to spot wildlife such as sea eagles, kingfishers, herons, crabs, mud skippers, waders, and even turtles – and of course, the notorious crocodile. There are beautiful views of the coastline as well as the rainforest and mountains as the cruises pass through the Port Douglas waterfront and through the inlet. It’s an especially beautiful place to watch the sun go down over the beaches.
Okay, also not technically a beach but a range of beaches. Day trips to the Reef are a must-do for every visitor to Port Douglas. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is a bucket list item many want to explore through snorkelling to see first-hand the 3000 species of marine life that dwell beneath the turquoise waters. It’s bigger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing that can be seen from outer space. There’s nothing like putting your head beneath the tranquil waters and seeing for yourself the rainbow that lives beneath – over 400 different types of corals, sponges, molluscs, rays, dolphins, tropical fish, sea turtles and giant clams that are centuries old. It’s everything you ever dreamed of after watching Finding Nemo.
Several boats leave daily from Port Douglas for day snorkelling or diving trips (you must be PADI qualified if you want to dive) and include lunch. It’s worth doing the research and selecting an eco-friendly tour company to travel with – the condition of the reef is deteriorating rapidly and it’s become Queensland’s primary project to keep ecotourism at its highest level.