Port Douglas, in Australia’s far north Queensland, has seduced many who have come before and it’s not hard to see why. The gateway to the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage sites intersect, the pristine Great Barrier Reef and the oldest rainforest on Earth, the Daintree Rainforest, Port Douglas is the ideal base for exploring this lush, pristine environment. Once a sleepy beach town, it now boasts luxurious eco-retreats, high-end dining and offers a host of activities to showcase the prized natural wonders of this untamed region. Only have three days? Here’s our guide on how to spend the ultimate 72 hours in Port Douglas.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day so fuel up with a nourishing meal at the ever-cute Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café on Macrossan Street. Take a seat outside on the terrace, which is almost as pretty as the meals themselves.
Caffeinated and ready to go, it’s time to get your bearings. Walk down Macrossan Street in the direction of the beach and head for the trail to Flagstaff Hill lookout. The easy stroll up the hill hugs the cliffside, offering sweeping views over the Coral Sea and Four Mile Beach, one of northern Queensland’s most popular and celebrated beaches.
The ascent up will have you breaking a sweat and there’s no better place to cool off than in the very turquoise waters you’ve just been admiring from above. Descend straight back down and head directly for Four Mile Beach this time. During the summer months (November to May), marine stingers are present in these waters, but stinger nets at this patrolled beach means that you can swim without fear year round. Take a refreshing dip in the warm water which never falls below 23°C (73°F).
All that morning exercise will have you hungry again and today’s lunch will be one to remember. A short five-minute drive away is the multi-award winning Wildlife Habitat where you can have ‘Lunch with the Lorikeets’ and dine in the rainforest amongst a host of native Australian birds including water birds, curlews, lorikeets, cockatoos and other wildlife. Afterwards, spend some time exploring the site, which is Australia’s leading environmental wildlife experience with an advanced eco-tourism accreditation. Spanning four distinct North Queensland habitats, this is a fully immersive experience where visitors can feed the kangaroos by hand, observe the endangered Southern Cassowary (the world’s third largest bird) and even cuddle a koala.
Returning to central Port Douglas, spend some time browsing the small boutiques and art galleries lining Macrossan Street. Maybe stop in for a refreshing gelato at Shakes Gelati Bar or a freshly squeezed juice from Fresco Juice Bar. Walking in the opposite direction to the beach, slowly make your way to the end of the street and into Rex Smeal Park. Take a seat under the shade of the palm trees in the late afternoon and watch the boats return from the Great Barrier Reef.
Make your way down to the marina for a drink at the iconic On the Inlet restaurant, which overhangs the water, but don’t be late! At 5pm sharp the enormous, resident groper fish, ‘George’, makes his appearance most days to be fed by the restaurant’s staff. Sip your drink and catch a glimpse of this huge fish, weighing in at approximately 250kg!
No visit to Port Douglas is complete without experiencing the ultimate in outdoor dining at the prized Nautilus Restaurant. A narrow path ascends into the lush rainforest above the town’s main street where you’ll find the most ambient of dining settings: white-clothed tables lit only by the warm glow of flickering lanterns and surrounded completely by the natural tropical vegetation. With a strong focus on local, Far North Queensland ingredients, the food here is the benchmark of Modern Australian cuisine in the area. Experience the very best of Nautilus Restaurant with either the 5 or 7-course degustation menu with matched wines. From the seared scallops with cucumber, avocado, salsa roja, spiced popcorn and beetroot to the beef duo of chargrilled grass-fed eye fillet, sticky short-rib, Asian mushrooms, wilted kangkong, cassava chips and shallot béarnaise, the flavours are delicate yet full of complexity. Make sure you save room for a pineapple bombe alaska – it’s divine.
There’s no better lullaby than the sounds of the rainforest, so rest your head in one of the raised Coral Sea Bungalows at the five-star, deluxe eco retreat of Thala Beach Nature Reserve, just 15 minutes outside Port Douglas. This beautiful reserve is situated on a private headland that spans 145 acres and encompasses six different natural habitats. Achieving the highest eco-tourism accreditation, Thala is committed to preserving this rich ecostystem filled with indigenous plants and animals through conservation initiatives.
If the weather permits, crawl out of bed and make your way down to the beach to catch a beautiful sunrise off the coast of the Coral Sea. If you can’t face the pre-dawn hours, linger in bed a little longer before making your way up to breakfast in the open-air treehouse restaurant and dine as the forest awakens below.
With its constantly changing kaleidoscope of natural wonders, be sure to book in for one of the complimentary guided morning nature walks with resident botanist Brett and his team. You’ll have the chance to learn about the indigenous vegetation and spot wallabies, sea turtles, and all manner of native birds and creepy crawlies – maybe even a tarantula!
Since today’s all about exploring Australia’s natural wonders, continue the theme by renting a car and driving an hour north of Port Douglas. Take the ferry across the Daintree River and drive head first into the oldest tropical rainforest on Earth, the UNESCO listed Daintree Rainforest. It’s here in this dense, prehistoric forest that you’ll find the highest diversity of plants and animals found anywhere on Earth. Stop in at the Daintree Discovery Centre and take one of the self-guided trails or gain a new perspective by climbing the 23m-high canopy tower or the 125m-long aerial skywalk. Keep an eye out for the colourful, endangered Southern Cassowary!
Continue driving north and if you’re feeling hungry and adventurous, stop in for a burger (with a difference) at Mason’s Café in Cape Tribulation and take your pick of crocodile, emu, kangaroo, wild boar or camel meat. After lunch, be sure to visit the beautiful swimming hole out the back for a dip, which is safe from crocodiles.
Now that your belly is full, it’s time to explore this remote headland and the only place in the world where two spectacular World Heritage sites meet: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Spend a few hours relaxing in Cape Tribulation, spending your time on the beach, walking one of the boardwalk trails through the rainforest, ‘jungle surfing’ through the lush canopy on a zipline, or croc-spotting on a crocodile cruise.
For a taste of the tropics, stop in at the Daintree Ice Cream Company on your way back to Port Douglas. The ice cream sold here is handmade from the tropical fruits harvested from its expansive fruit orchard, with flavours changing daily according to what’s in season. For $6.50 you’ll get to sample four exotic flavours like wattleseed, jackfruit, durian or mamey sapote to enjoy in the tropical flower garden.
Returning to Thala Beach Nature Retreat, relax over a long dinner in the open-air Osprey Restaurant. As the sun sets, listen to the chorus of nocturnal critters begin to awaken in the forest below. The slow-cooked lamb and the pan-seared, line-caught Yellow Fin Tuna are particularly fresh and delicious.
Your last day in Port Douglas is another big day full of adventure so you’ll need a big breakfast to match. Head back into Port Douglas to The Little Larder, a local’s favourite, where the coffee is top notch and the food is equally satisfying. It gets busy here, so it’s a good thing you’re stopping by early.
No visit to North Queensland is complete without a trip to the UNESCO Great Barrier Reef. Take a day trip with Quicksilver to the outer Agincourt Reef, a magical ribbon reef 72km out to sea at the very edge of Australia’s continental shelf. A 90 minute journey will deliver you to Quicksilver’s unique pontoon where you’ll have the opportunity to dive or snorkel, observe the marine life from the underwater viewing platform and observatory, take a semi-submersible trip around the surrounding reef, or even observe the reef from above on a scenic helicopter flight. Exploring the majestic underwater world of this pristine eco-system will bring home a lifetime of memories.
Returning to Port Douglas after a full day on the water, check into Niramaya Villas & Spa for a luxurious final night. Here, the outdoors and indoors become almost indistinguishable, with open-air showers and a strong Balinese architectural influence. Spend the last hours before sunset relaxing by your private plunge pool or perhaps indulge with a pre-dinner spa treatment. Trust us, you’ll be very tempted to extend your trip…
After being on the reef all day, it’s only appropriate to head into town for a fresh and affordable seafood dinner at Lanternfish. Bring your own bottle of wine and order a generous serving of grilled Moreton Bay bugs and barramundi with a side of wasabi coleslaw.
Celebrate the end of your 72 hours in Port Douglas with a famous north Queensland tradition: a drink and a cane toad race at the Iron Bar. Come by at 8:30pm, pay the $5 entry fee, grab a cane toad from the bucket and watch them go head to head in a race off the dance floor – the only fitting way to end your trip!