Tropical hotspot: what to do in Port Douglas

Tropical hotspot: what to do in Port Douglas

Sunshine state of mind

Text: Lucie Clark

Set in lush tropical rainforest surrounds, Far North Queensland's jumping off point for the largest coral reef on earth is a bucket list must

This balmy beach paradise is stacked with natural wonders, from the underwater wonderland of the Great Barrier Reefwhere exquisite sea creature sightings of dugongs and green turtles are par for the course, to the green-lit trails of the Daintree rainforest. Interestingly, the best time to visit Port Douglas is in winter: when the temps elsewhere in Australia are sitting around the freezing mark, Port displays a perfectly climate-controlled 26°C with a water temperature to match.

A town packed with charm, Port Douglas presents showstopping postcard situations at every turn, as evidenced by the ton of movies filmed here, including Hollywood royalty filled adventure flicks Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Fool's GoldI've been lucky enough to hit this tropical paradise for many winter holidays and uncover the ultimate insider's guide to getting the most out of this natural beauty.

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Getting there

Port Douglas is located in a palm-lined pocket about an hour north of Cairns, making the easiest access via a flight into Cairns airport followed by hire car for the 67-kilometre drive north along the sensational coastal road.


Port Douglas is a holiday destination town, so there are a slew of stylish options for laying down your luggage.  Coconut Grove on Port Douglas's main street is two minutes' walk from the beach and is the chic contemporary luxe choice for vacationers looking for apartment-style accommodation with all the upmarket accessories (designer kitchen, laundry etc.). With a fully decked out lap pool, it's a no-brainer why it books out 12 months in advance over the winter months. The Mandalay luxury apartments present a similar slick genre with the added bonus of claiming a beachfront location.  Peppers Beach Club and the Peninsula Boutique Hotel are also excellent tropical paradise choices depending if you're feeling a hotel or resort style  vibe.

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Morning: The two top caffeine hits in town are The Little Larder and Sparrow Coffee Co, both on Macrossan St. The Little Larder is packed from the minute the doors open at 7.30am until quitting time at 3pm; it serves sensational coffee, breakfast boards and a sandwich menu that will blow your taste buds up. Sparrow just does coffee - so you know they're making you a serious cup of Joe.

Midday: Betty's Bohemian Beach Café is an excellent breaky and lunch locale with an all day menu that covers the #cleaneating scene - think daily juice, eggs any way you like them, acai-filled smoothie bowl and a green veg breaky bowl. Opt in for the house-made bliss balls.

Evening: When the dinner gong goes, light and airy Salsa Bar & Grill on Wharf St is where the true foodies go. It features a knockout mod Australian menu that calls on the abundant local fish and produce. But if you're thinking a handsome Italian (who isn't?), hit casual cucina Sassi, also on the wharf side of town.  Then there's Nautilus, the grand dame of the Port eating scene which convincingly combines tropical al fresco dining with a locally produce driven menu. For pre or après dinner drinks The Courthouse Hotel is the watering hole of choice for cool cocktails in traditional breezy Queenslander surrounds.

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Anytime: No self respecting balmy beach port is complete without a chilled out scoop of kickass ice-cream, which in Port Douglas is to be found at Shakes Gelati Bar on Macrossan St. The line out the door speaks volumes about the high quality scoops served up at this mom 'n' pop ice-cream heaven.


The Great Barrier Reef is a must-see. This natural wonder is stacked with more coral and sea life than any other big blue stretch on the planet. There are a ton of options to get the 360-degree experience, from full day boat tours with snorkelling/scuba diving to a speedy 2.5-hour jet boat ride to the Low Isles Reef.

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Mossman Gorge is another gorgeous natural beauty worth a visit. A short 15-minute drive to the sleepy town of Mossman is where you'll find this tropical rainforest walk and spectacular swimming spot.  If you've still got some juice in the tank, head to Cape Tribulation for a birds-eye zip line ride over the stunning rainforest. Getting there involves a drive and car ferry, but the Jungle Surfing Canopy tour is worth it with over an hour of dedicated zip line action.  Or join a walking tour for a ground level Daintree rainforest experience.

Port Douglas' famous Four Mile Beach is stunning to walk, jog or bike along. Swimming between the flags is sublime in winter when the water temp is balmy, if you're visiting in summer (jellyfish season) check with the lifeguards regarding stinger safety precautions.

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Hire a bike and see the town from two wheels, Port Douglas is pretty much completely flat so it requires hardly any leg power and garners the best view of this tropical paradise.

From June through to October you can catch a flick under the stars at the Moonlight Cinema held on the lawns of the quirky QT Hotel.


There are a string of kitschy shops along Macrossan St peddling tropical tea towels and "I've been to" tees but bypass if you have the willpower because there are designer duds to be had. Swimsuit mecca Seafolly has a standalone store under the Coconut Grove resort and coffee hotspot Sparrow has a fashion and homewares collab attached called Ahoy, which includes cool kid brands like LA-based brand Rails and Faithfull the Brand. Twig and Pebble cover the pale tonal beachy homewares corner.


The rainforest resort setting of Niramaya, located on the cusp of town, hosts a sensational day spa, which is open to the public. Any of the treatments are bliss, but the Dr. Rose facial is a complete revelation. It uses local brand, Dr. Rose, which incorporates natural, organic native Australian ingredients alongside high performance anti-agers like hyaluronic acid with visible turn-back-time results.

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If the biking, swimming and beach jogging aren't action enough, head to In The Zone group personal training gym. With spin, core, boxing, PT and functional conditioning classes on the roster taught by seriously Fit trainers (they have all competed in the gruelling Iron Man competition) you can confidently don a bikini the entire time you're in this tropical town.

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