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The Top Things to do in Port Douglas

Port Douglas is an adored destination for soaking up the sun and exploring the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re after a coastal break with a laidback atmosphere and the ability to tap into the finer things in life, then this is the destination for you. No tropical break is complete without a fantastic beach, a couple of palms trees, cocktails and some fierce aquatic adventures. And Port Douglas most certainly delivers. Discover the Great Barrier Reef above and below the water’s surface with sailing cruises, snorkel and dive adventures, glass-bottom boat rides and stunning helicopter flights that will leave you spellbound. Find inspiration for your next getaway here with our huge range of things to see and do in Port Douglas.

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The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas

QLD's Port Douglas is perhaps the Great Barrier Reef's most exclusive holiday destination, boasting an up-market atmosphere and additional feeling of seclusion that helps to separate it from its nearby bigger brother, Cairns. It only takes an hour to travel from Cairns to Port Douglas and it is one of the most scenic stretches of highway in Australia.

Located in an idyllic position amongst the triad of natural attractions that are the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and the reef itself that's all augmented wonderfully by tropical weather, Port Douglas offers a true “getaway” in every sense of the word. If you are keen to visit the Great Barrier Reef, there are also Port Douglas reef tours at your doorstep.

While it's generally pricier than Cairns and other similar alternatives, Port Douglas' magnificent surroundings and laid-back nature make this extra investment more than worth it; if Cairns is one of Australia's best places to visit in your 20's, then Port Douglas is the oasis of choice for those 30 and over.

In addition to pure relaxation, Port Douglas offers a myriad of activities and attractions within easy reach of its main hub including both the nature-oriented and man-made so you will never be left searching for things to do in Port Douglas. But what are the absolute must-do experiences while you're here? We break down our list of the Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas in detail here to ensure you get the best out of your visit to the Tropical North. From the best Port Douglas reef tours to the Wildlife Habitat, Daintree Rainforest and The Cape Tribulation - we are here to help you decide what the top things to do in Port Douglas are.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Dive the Outer Barrier Reef

1. Dive the Outer Barrier Reef

Location: Quicksilver & Calypso Cruises: Wharf St, Port Douglas

While snorkelling is all well and good to get an initial sampling of the wonders the Great Barrier Reef has to offer, it's hard to dispute that those who want the most immersive and complete experience available are going to have to go the extra mile, suit up, and embark on a diving trip.

It's only fitting, then, that Port Douglas serves as one of the most popular departure points for dive spots in the country – the reefs located closer to Port Douglas are generally slightly less damaged than those closer to Cairns due to a lesser degree of overuse, and allow divers to see unfettered marine life at its absolute best.

Port Douglas also benefits by being physically closer to the “true” Outer Great Barrier Reef than Cairns is, which can make for a slightly shorter trip out.

While there are many quality operators who service the Great Barrier Reef as a whole, your choice of who to go with will likely depend on which particular reef you're interested in diving and how confident you are in deeper water; however, the two most popular individual reefs accessible from Port Douglas tend to be Opal Reef and Agincourt Reef – with each offering something slightly different.

Opal Reef, which is differently-shaped and offers more sheltered conditions is perhaps the better choice for novices and beginners.

"The coral reefs close to Port Douglas are generally healthier than those near Cairns due to less visitation allow divers to see unfettered marine life at its absolute best. Join a Great Barrier Reef cruise from Port Douglas and you'll be blown away by this natural wonder.

Due to its size, only smaller vessels are allowed to visit here, which in turn means both less people in the water overall and thus less of a rowdy and undisturbed atmosphere in the water; this also helps with a greater degree of personal attention and guidance to some extent.

Operator Calypso Cruises comes highly recommended in this regard, with renowned good service, modern and well-equipped “smaller” (relative) vessels that that guests on tours to visit three separate dive sites around Opal Reef and each comes with generally excellent visibility.

The trip out with Calypso takes around 90 minutes from Port Douglas and is a good choice for nervous first-time introductory divers.

Heading to Agincourt Reef with Quicksilver Cruises, meanwhile, is quite a different experience as they're a larger, extremely efficient and streamlined operation that specialises in augmenting their dive trips with additional activities both in and out of the water for guests to take part in.

Trips with Quicksilver are based on floating activity platforms moored at the reef, and this comes in particularly handy if you're the type – or are travelling with someone who is – a non-swimmer, as they'll have greater opportunities to enjoy themselves by taking part in the likes of glass-bottom observatory viewing, semi-submersible trips and even just he simple confidence boost of being able to enjoy the water immediately surrounding the platforms themselves.

Likewise, this comes with the bonus of a full array of facilities on-board such as showers, bars, plenty of seating and more, so it's a comprehensive and balanced experience if slightly more touristy.

In terms of reef structure, Agincourt differs to Opal in that it's a large ribbon reef that offers a slightly more diverse array of coral and fish varieties.

Due to its exposed nature, Agincourt is also thus slightly more conducive to diving rather than snorkelling, and its various drifts and walls have plenty of isolated pinnacles teeming with varieties of pelagic fish and vibrant gardens of coral; expect to encounter massive wrasses and groupers mixed in with clownfish (Hi, Nemo!), anemones and much more.

If you're still having difficulty deciding, the general rule is this: Opal Reef for beginners and those looking to mix in some snorkelling, and Agincourt Reef for more experienced divers and those travelling with non-swimmers who want more to do out of the water.

Regardless of your choice, diving the reef at either of these spots is the quintessential Port Douglas experience and thus hard to dispute as the top thing to do in the region.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation

2. Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation

Location: 1.5 hours north of Port Douglas

Port Douglas and the greater Tropical North QLD region in general are blessed to have not one, but two incredible natural wonders on their proverbial doorstep, and while the Great Barrier Reef often receives the majority of the attention on the global stage, don't sleep on the Daintree in terms of impressiveness – it's incredible in its own right.

Featuring a diverse ecosystem and some of the oldest preserved plant life on the planet, the Daintree is home to over 3000 species of plants and contains 395 species that are listed as either rare of threatened, making for a delicate balance of organisms that have existed in harmony since time immemorial.

While it's possible to drive yourself, planning and getting to all of its highlights in a comprehensive itinerary can be quite a chore, and that's where tours come in.

Exploring the Daintree is thus a wonderful adventure, and The Adventure Company offer trips with pickups from Port Douglas that will take you on a journey into its heart. Getting to the most popular entry points for exploring the Daintree (in particular, the section near to highlights such as Mossman Gorge) from Port Douglas takes roughly 1.5 hours via drive along some incredibly scenic coastal road on the Cook Highway.

Upon arriving, you're then able to make your way deeper into the rainforest, when the real journey commences with a walkabout amongst the lush surroundings. Guides will provide detailed commentary during the walk on various plant and animal life encountered while absorbing all the scenery and rainforest landscapes.

Sights such as wild mangroves, massive ferns and, of course, the towering canopy above are breathtaking for their vibrance and akin to stepping back in time a few million years.

Continuing on down to Mossman Gorge – a great spot for a cool-down swim during the warmer months – is another highlight, and there are plenty of opportunities for grabbing some great photos and getting an overall view at the expanse of the rainforest.

"While the Great Barrier Reef often receives the majority of the attention on the global stage, the world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest is just as incredible in its own right. Join a Daintree Rainforest day tour from Port Douglas to see the world's oldest rainforest.

Pressing onwards, the journey reaches the cable ferry crossing at the Daintree River. Vehicles are taken across via the ferry and then able to travel further ahead to what for many its one of the major highlights of the greater Port Douglas region – Cape Tribulation.

Perhaps one of the most impressive panoramas available in Tropical North QLD, this is the exact point where the “rainforest meets reef” promotional spiel truly comes to fruition; it's still a relatively untouched region and the sheer vibrance of the water/sand/rainforest combination clashing against one another is remarkable.

Cape Tribulation's iconic boardwalk is a staple of postcards and calendars Australia-wide and a living promotional tool to the beauty of Tropical North QLD in a nutshell – the walk provides a truly dramatic lookout point. Couple this with a walk on Cape Tribulation Beach and you've got a quintessential experience of this region all included as part of the tour itinerary.

Capping off the journey is a boat trip down the waters of the Daintree River with a key focus on wildlife spotting and watching, and it's a true treat to see ancient reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes in their natural environment.

As Cape Tribulation is the veritable “end of the road”, and the tour is very much a full-day affair, many take the option of booking a night in Cape Tribulation village to recharge their batteries before returning refreshed the next day.

If you're making the effort to travel to Port Douglas, don't let the reef overwhelm your schedule without sparing time for the Daintree- neither are any less essential "bucket list" items than the other.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

3. Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

Location: Port Douglas Rd, Port Douglas QLD

A favourite of families and wildlife lovers in general, Port Douglas' Wildlife Habitat is a great, reasonably-priced showcase of the diversity of Aussie animal life with some of its own interesting quirks and offerings to set it apart from other standard zoos in the big cities.

Featuring a huge and diverse range of flora and fauna, the facility offers the chance to truly get very close to a wide range of birds and other animal life; it puts a real emphasis on getting “hands-on” with the animals and encouraging interactivity that is always a hit with the kids and visitors from abroad in particular.

All your essential Aussie wildlife staples are covered here – standards such as kangaroos, koalas and snakes are interspersed with other species that are more representative of Tropical QLD.

The crocodiles in particular are a highlight as many of them are huge and watching them being fed is quite a thrill, while other varieties of animals like cassowaries, pythons and tree kangaroos are all living reminders of Australia's natural diversity.

One major point in the Wildlife Habitat's favour is that the animals on offer are given quite a large degree of freedom; their enclosures are far more open than your average zoo, and it's all designed with a natural and organic layout that helps to maintain its feeling of immersion in the rainforest surrounds.

"The Wildlife Habitat puts a real emphasis on getting “hands-on” with the animals and interactivity has always been a hit with the kids and visitors from abroad. The budget-friendly, family attraction is one of the top things to do in Port Douglas.

Feeding, patting, and otherwise interacting with the animals is encouraged, while regular talks and presentation by the friendly staff are held at regular intervals throughout the day with highlights such as reptile presentations and croc feeding highlights.

It's also obvious that the animals are all happy and well cared for, which goes a long way in this kind of facility. Optional additions available to the standard Wildlife Habitat entry include the Breakfast with the Birds – which provides a tasty meal as birds wander freely amongst the guests and provide a tableau of natural noise and colour that's exceptionally lively – and the Lunch with the Lorrikeets featuring a barbecue and the rainbow-coloured “Lorries” with a range of bird friends. It's a truly immersive and wonderful experience that expands the habitat into the realm of humans.

Feeding, patting, and otherwise interacting with the animals is encouraged, while regular talks and presentation by the friendly staff are held at regular intervals throughout the day with highlights such as reptile presentations and croc feeding highlights. It's also obvious that the animals are all happy and well cared for, which goes a long way in this kind of facility.

Optional additions available to the standard Wildlife Habitat entry include the Breakfast with the Birds – which provides a tasty meal as birds wander freely amongst the guests and provide a tableau of natural noise and colour that's exceptionally lively – and the Lunch with the Lorrikeets featuring a barbecue and the rainbow-coloured “Lorries” with a range of bird friends.

Lastly, price is one of the main factors in making the Wildlife Habitat so highly recommended; not only is it a quality attraction, but the standard entry price of $33 per adult and $16.50 for kids is incredibly reasonable, particularly given the comparable prices of other zoos throughout the country.

Expanding the experience to the optional Breakfast with the birds or Lunch with the Lorikeets does increase the price slightly, but given you're getting a meal and some interactive animal entertainment along with it, it's still great value for money.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Visit the Low Isles

4. Visit the Low Isles

Location: Shop 18, The Reef Marina, Port Douglas

A slower, extended and more leisurely Reef experience that still provides the benefits of ease of access is desirable for many, and the nearby nature of the aforementioned Low Isles present the opportunity for a leisurely, stress-free visit exemplified by operator Sailaway's – you guessed it – sailing trips.

Given the relatively smooth waters between Port Douglas and the Low Isles as well as the quieter, wind-propelled nature of a sailing vessel, it's a combination that makes for a trip of peace and serenity while still getting to take part in all the essential reef activities such as snorkelling, glass-bottom boat trips and the simple enjoyment of strolling on pristine white beaches amongst the palm trees.

This feeling of solitude is also carried over in the offered itinerary times – trips departing in the morning or later in the afternoon mean that you'll avoid the busiest times on the Low Isles as most other tours will either be just arriving or packing up to leave by the time you arrive.

Cruises are conducted aboard a lovely, decked-out sailing catamaran that has all the mod-cons one would expect of larger vessels, and tour group numbers are purposefully kept low in order to maintain a less busy atmosphere throughout.

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"Given the relatively smooth waters between Port Douglas and the Low Isles as well as the quieter, wind-propelled sailing vessel, a day cruise to the Low Isles offers peace and serenity." You can take part in a snorkelling tour or have fun relaxing on the island.

During the course of the tour you'll get to enjoy a variety of inclusions such as morning/afternoon tea, fruit platters and a delicious buffet seafood lunch as well as all the equipment you'll need to enjoy both the beach and the water.

Once arriving at the Isles you'll have them basically to yourselves other than your fellow travellers, and then be able to take part in your choice of two guided snorkelling tours – one beginner, another more advanced – and head straight into the highly accessible water for some reef exploration just off the island.

Plentiful soft corals, clams, turtles and, of course, fish can be found immediately offshore, and those who would prefer to avoid getting wet can instead choose to laze in the sunshine and then take part in one of the offered glass-bottom boat tours that provide not only great views but a guided, interpretive commentary on the reef as a whole.

While both the morning and afternoon itineraries have their benefits, our recommendation is the afternoon tour as you'll have the chance to take in some gorgeous Tropical North QLD sunsets from the boat while enjoying a glass or three of wine, which is what tropical island getaway relaxation is all about.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Flames of the Forest Dining Experience

5. Flames of the Forest Dining Experience

The Flames of the Forest is a unique rainforest dining experience in the heart of Port Douglas. Enjoy a romantic 6-course dinner in the rainforest under candlelight with drinks included.
The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Scenic Helicopter Flights

6. Scenic Helicopter Flights

Location: Hangar 10, Bush Pilots Avenue

While most Great Barrier Reef experiences from Port Douglas showcase the wonders of the reef from the water, things take on an entirely new perspective when viewed from the air on a scenic helicopter flight.

– the sheer scale of the Reef and its status as the world's largest living organism only truly sink in when you see it stretching out for miles below.

Thus, while helicopter flights are a more expensive choice, few other options can match the panorama on display than a flight with Great Barrier Reef Helicopters who offer a variety of different courses showcasing the amazingly vivid colours of both the reef and rainforest from high above.

The juxtaposition of greens and blues on display is incredible and depending on your choice of routes you'll be able to get an even amount of rainforest and reef in the one itinerary.

It's truly an awe-inspiring spectacle and you'll want to bring along a proper camera – smartphones simply don't cut it – with plenty of SD card memory space as you'll be taking pictures left, right and centre of coral cays, marine life, coral reefs and much more (although the glare of the sun on the glass can sometimes make getting the perfect shot difficult).

Helicopters provide the added benefit of being able to get a close-up look at each of these natural attractions at low altitude, with the pilots adept at hovering stably to give you a good glimpse at the various animal and plant life beneath the water.

It's a good thing that the helicopters are designed with maximum transparency in mind, as passengers will all have access to window seats for an additional unrestricted view.

In terms of flight itineraries available, options with Great Barrier Reef Helicopters range from 30-minute trips out to the Daintree Rainforest (an incredible array of World Heritage-protected, ancient tree life with highlights including Mossman Gorge and the expanses of the Alexander Ranges), 40-minute reef-focused trips (providing unmatched views of aquatic spectacles such as the Low Isles and marine-life-filled Batt Reef), and 1 hour combined reef-and-rainforest packages that are the most expensive of the lot but provide the best of both worlds into a single itinerary.

Additionally, packages that provide time out on the reef and combine with cruises for the option of heading out in the air and returning via the sea (or vice-versa).

It's an entirely efficient and well-run operation that never feels rushed or hasty that has the added benefit of avoiding any of the seasickness of getting out to the reef that cruises can entail.

In the end, if you're only going to be making the trip to Port Douglas once, it's worth biting the bullet to pay for an experience that many often cite as their most unforgettable part of their trip to the region.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Hartley's Crocodile Adventure Park

7. Hartley's Crocodile Adventure Park

Location: Captain Cook Highway, Wangetti

North Queensland is crocodile country and visitors can learn more about these ancient and mighty predators at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.

The wildlife park is set amongst the Kuranda National Park just 25 minutes drive from Port Douglas and is your best chance of guaranteed crocodile sightings.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures has five distinct areas within the park including Hartley’s Lagoon, Cassowary Walk, Wildlife Discovery Trail, the Crocodile Farm and the Gondwana Gateway.

There are dozens of wildlife parks in Australia but the point of difference at Hartley’s is the way in which they have made a concerted effort to protect and embrace the natural environment giving visitors the illusion that you are experiencing animals in the wild.

If you are going to visit the park then you must visit Hartley’s Lagoon. Here, you will be able to tour the wetlands on a cruise and watch crocodiles, birds and wildlife in the melaleuca habitat.

In addition to wildlife presentations, you can take a walk along the Cassowary Walk to see these endangered and quirky birds of the rainforest.

"There are dozens of wildlife parks in Australia but Hartley’s Crocodile Park have made a concerted effort to protect and embrace the natural environment giving visitors the illusion that you are experiencing animals in the wild."

The wildlife park balances entertainment with an educational element and you can even feed, touch or have your photo taken with some of the animals including snakes and baby crocodiles.

Given the park’s location within a national park, Hartley’s has a number of self-guided walks through the national park. See plants that were incredibly dinosaur food and indigenous food and medicines important to the local aboriginal tribes.

The Gondwana Gateway also takes visitors on a journey through evolution to see how Australia’s unique and endangered animals have adapted to the harsh climate and ever changing tropical climate.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is an ideal half day activity for those visitors staying in Cairns or Port Douglas to learn more about the local Australian wildlife, environment and geology of Australia.

The park also serves up some tasty meals. Crocodile anyone? If you are not keen on trying this unique delicacy after watching a crocodile feeding presentation then you could always opt for their chicken, fish, steak or vegetarian options at Lilies Restaurant overlooking the wetlands.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is open everyday from 8.30am- 5pm except on Christmas Day (December 25).

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Hot Air Balloon Flights

8. Hot Air Balloon Flights

Location: Various locations, Port Douglas

Hot Air Ballooning has a romanticised history as one of the first human flight technologies dating back to 1783 and a symbol of adventure. Fast forward a couple of centuries and you can still find scenic hot air balloon flights operating all over the world over beautiful locations.

First-time flyers will find it quite remarkable that you can get into a basket and with the help of hot air and gas, be up in the air floating peacefully above the countryside.

The novelty of a hot air balloon flight alone is one reason why you should put it on your must do list. The second reason is because from up above it is far easier to appreciate the beauty of the world down below.

And third, in case you needed another reason, dawn happens to be the best and safest time to fly so you will get to experience a tropical North Queensland sunrise floating up in the air in a hot air balloon.

Choose between a 30 minute or extended 60-minute flight and watch the world and wildlife wake up to the day below as you float on by.

"First-time flyers will be amazed that you can get into a basket and with the help of hot air and gas, be up in the air floating peacefully above the countryside. A hot air balloon flight is one of the top things to do in Port Douglas.

Port Douglas hot air balloon flights will transfer you to the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland’s food bowl where views of rolling green hills and rural countryside will unfold before you as the sun begins to rise.

Stand back and watch the balloon inflate before you step inside the balloon and get ready for lift-off. In the air, enjoy a cross country balloon chase and keep your eyes peeled for some kangaroos often spotted jumping through the fields.

The silence of the balloon in between bursts of hot air makes this experience incredibly serene and a sense of quiet tends to hush over the group that you share this experience with.

Scenic flights are also accompanied by helpful commentary throughout the flight but most passengers are too absorbed by the views to really take in much of the commentary.

Don’t forget your camera- but if you do there is a giant camera attached to the balloon to capture a group photo of you floating in the air!

Hot air balloon flights often include champagne and/or buffet breakfast with hotel transfers from Port Douglas. Passengers should expect an early wake-up call at 4am or earlier to get you in the air for that sunrise flight.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Four Mile Beach and Flagstaff Hill

9. Four Mile Beach and Flagstaff Hill

Location: 48 Island Point Rd, Port Douglas

The centrepiece of every tropical destination is the beach and Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas is stunning.

Lined with palm trees and the incredible backdrop of the dividing range and the Daintree Rainforest, every way you look is a feast for the eyes and a great spot for those Instagram holiday shots.

The quiet and protected beach is the perfect spot to cool off from the steamy tropical sun or take a scenic stroll along the four miles of hard sand for easy walking.

Swimming is suitable here all year round with life guards and netted areas to protect swimmers from dangerous stingers that can be found in the warmer waters during November to May.

The beach is centrally located to most resorts and Macrossan St which is the hub of this charming town filled to the brim with boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and supermarkets for all your essential holiday needs.

Another popular walk with amazing views is the walk to Flagstaff Hill Lookout, just a few minutes walk from the centre of Port Douglas. The uphill walk is moderately graded so a medium level of fitness is required but it is also accessible by car or bike.

"Discover two of Port Douglas' most popular attractions when you visit Four Mile Beach and Flagstaff Hill Lookout with sweeping postcard-worthy views of golden beaches, the Daintree Rainforest and the Coral Sea."

The Flagstaff Hill Lookout now includes an extended walking trail with hovering lookouts and sweeping views of the Four Mile Beach and the Coral Sea.

On a clear, tropical day see the Low Isles, Snapper Island, the Daintree Rainforest all the while walking under a canopy of tropical palm trees and ferns.

The walk is the stuff that tropical holiday dreams are made of with luscious greenery, turquoise waters and golden sands.

Don’t leave Port Douglas without paying a visit to Four Mile Beach and taking a leisurely stroll along the Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail and Lookout.

We recommend an early morning or late afternoon stroll to avoid the sting of the humid, tropical sun.

The Top 10 Things to do in Port Douglas - Twilight Sunset Sailing Cruise

10. Twilight Sunset Sailing Cruise

Location: Reef Marina, Port Douglas

Port Douglas is one of the most popular honeymoon locations in Australia but even if you are not on honeymoon then a twilight sunset sailing cruise is an experience not to be missed.

Aquarius Sailing gives you the chance to step aboard their luxurious sailing vessel for a relaxing 90 minute cruise through the Dickson Inlet and out over the Coral Sea.

The relaxing sail departing from the Reef Marina is your chance to literally sail off into the sunset. It might sound like a cliché but there is a reason why these twilight sailing cruises are so popular. They live up to the hype.

The quiet, calmer waters around Port Douglas are absolutely made for sailing and unless you have your own yacht then sailing is the ultimate tropical holiday experience.

"Aquarius Sailing gives you the chance to step aboard their luxurious sailing vessel for a relaxing 90 minute cruise through the Dickson Inlet and out over the Coral Sea to witness an unforgettable sunset."

One of the best times to take to the waters is in the late afternoon as the sun starts to set on the day. While on board, you will be offered canapés and glass and ice for the beverage of your choice as this is a BYO vessel.

Sit back, relax and watch the sunset over the mountains of the Daintree Rainforest while you sail effortlessly through the waters surrounding Port Douglas.

The luxurious sailing vessel is scheduled to depart from Port Douglas in the late evening from 4.45pm and return at 6.15pm for a maximum of 47 guests to keep the experience small and intimate.

If you are searching for the best things to do in Port Douglas to make your visit memorable then don’t look past a twilight sunset sailing cruise.