We’ve visited Port Douglas three times and found all occasions to be quite pleasant.
The first time was for our birthdays in 2013, when we flew over from Darwin and met up with our friends and family, who flew up from Melbourne to celebrate with us. It was a week of eating and drinking, late nights and plenty of injury, and it was during the peak tourism season so there were plenty of holiday makers around. The second time was with the Troopy, as we began our descent down the east coast of Australia. Tourism was still bustling in October but it just seemed a lot quieter without our mates around.
The third time was during our seven-month stint in Cairns. We’d been playing trivia every week at the Red Beret Hotel and the prizes were vouchers for various places in Port Douglas. After collecting a booty of vouchers, we put aside a day to drive up and use them. Despite being warm and sunny, March is right in the middle of cyclone season, and one was expected to hit the coast in a day or two – Port Douglas was deserted.
We felt like we had the whole town to ourselves and had an amazing, action packed day that included a delicious breakfast at Cafe Fresq, shopping at various gift stores, a mind-blowing sandwich from the Little Larder, a walking tour around town, and a sunset dinner at the Yacht Club.
Port Douglas is essentially a tourism town that can be fully experienced in a day or two. If you can’t afford to stay at one of the lavish resorts and spend the rest of your time drinking cocktails by the pool, Port Douglas has a few budget accommodation options, including a YHA, and is a great place to base yourself while you visit the various attractions in the region.
- Port Douglas is #3 on Australian Traveller magazine’s list of Australia’s 100 Best Towns. It’s about 1 hour north of Cairns.
- It is the gateway to two World Heritage listed areas – the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef.
- There have been several films shot in and around Port Douglas – Sniper (1993), Paradise Road (1997), The Thin Red Line (1998), Paradise Found (2003), Fools Gold (2008) and Nim’s Island (2008).
- Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, died off the coast of Port Douglas after a stingray shot its barb into his heart. He was filming a new documentary called The Ocean’s Deadliest.
The traditional owners of the area are the Kuku Yalanji people, and their country stretches from the Mowbray River to the south of Port Douglas to the Annan River just south of Cooktown.
Port Douglas was established in 1877 after the discovery of gold in a valley near the Mowbray River. At its peak, it had a population of 12,000, with 26 legal and registered pubs and even a few opium dens! The schoolhouse built in 1878 and it is the oldest building in the region and was still operating until the 1960s when it was closed due to lack of population.
Scandal hit Port Douglas in 1887 when Ellen Thomson was convicted of murdering her husband. She pleaded innocent but she and her lover were both sent to Brisbane where they were sentenced and hung. She became the only women to ever be hung in QLD.
In 1911, a devastating cyclone hit Port Douglas and once it had past, two people were dead and only seven buildings were left standing. The impact of the cyclone lingered for several decades, and the population dwindled to abound 100 people in the 1960s.
Who would have thought that the town’s saviour would later be known as Australia’s most wanted fugitive and fraudster. In 1988, Christopher Skase unveiled his new 5-star Sheraton Mirage Resort, which triggered a massive tourism boom. Because of this, it’s said that Skase is responsible for reviving Port Douglas and thus creating a successful tourism-based economy. He is also responsible for the relocation the St Mary’s Church from up on the hill to down near the water’s edge in 1988, because its position was on valuable real estate land! The non-denominational church was originally built in 1880 but was flattened by that cyclone in 1911. It was rebuilt and remained in its spot on the hill until Skase’s arrival.
These days, the St Mary’s By The Sea is a popular place to get married. Port Douglas is a thriving tourism town with a population is around 3,200, but this figure can double during the tourist season between May and October.
Places of Interest
There are a few things to do in town, such as browsing shops along the main street, having a drink and a meal at one of the pubs, or lazing on the best beach in town – Four Mile Beach. The sand at Four Mile Beach is so flat and firm, that many years ago planes were often landed on the sand. There’s also a market on every Sunday in the park opposite the Courthouse Hotel.
If you are interested in learning about the town and the area, we recommend going on a K-Star Walking Tour. Kevin is really knowledgeable about the geography, history and flora in the area and it’s a great introduction to tropical Queensland. Alternatively, hire some electric bikes; an easy and super fun way to get around town. Prices start at $20 for 2hrs.
As we said earlier, Port Douglas can be explored in a day or two, but it is a great place to station yourself while you explore the surrounding wonders.
Located within the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation is a headland that was named by Captain Cook after his ship was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef. It was named so because it was where Cook’s troubles began, but despite this, it is a wonderful beach to visit. On the road to Cape Tribulation are various cafes and ice creameries which certainly don’t hurt to visit.
Due to efforts to conserve this naturally beautiful place, a regular shuttle bus that runs from the Mossman Gorge Centre is the only way to visit the Gorge. It has a relatively low fee and does allow multiple trips on the day of purchase if required. We recommend exploring the walking trail before having a dip in the cool waters.
Flames of the Forest
This is a very indulgent experience for special occasions only. Enjoy a gourmet meal in a romantic atmosphere of illuminated trees while being serenaded by a wonderful performer.
Bloomfield Track & CREB Track
For the off road enthusiasts, check out the two tracks that go through the Daintree. We only did a small portion of the CREB Track before turning around to follow the Bloomfield Track. Our brakes weren’t in great shape at the time and we had been told by locals that the Bloomfield Track was the safer option – plus, there were a few bush fires around and we needed to put safety first.
Food & Drink
There are heaps of places that offer a great feed in Port Douglas. For a decent coffee, check out Moonshine Bay and while you’re there, browse through all of the colourful things in the shop. Moonshine Bay uses coffee from Four Mile Roasters, local coffee bean aficionados who have a great little cafe called Origin Espresso. Located in the backstreets away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist-ridden main street, sip a quality coffee while sitting on hessian sack milk crates and contemplating which baked treat to eat next. Very Melbourne…
Many of the good cheap eats in Port Douglas are on Grant Street. The French toast at Cafe Fresq is delicious, all the food from Menu Thai Restaurant is incredible and for a late night snack after the pub, go to Get Ya Kebabs for a juicy meal. However, one of our favourite places was an award-winning bakery…
Not only do they have a great selection of pies, including Kangaroo and Crocodile Laksa, but they are absolutely scrumptious. Mocka’s regularly participate in the Official Great Aussie Pie Competition and their pies win medals every year.
On The Inlet
This restaurant is a little on the pricey side, so it should probably be put aside for special occasions, but the food is quite good and they have a resident groper called George… and by groper, we mean fish, not pervert.
The Little Larder
This place is a popular spot amongst the locals and visitors alike. They do a wicked breakfast and cup of coffee but the main attraction is the ‘serious sandwiches made by chefs’. We had lunch here and our lives are ruined because all future sandwiches will never be as good as the sandwiches we had here! Check out our post about this excellent food outlet…
Off The Track
There is a wicked food joint on Warner Street, just behind Coles. They have an awesome selection of gourmet burgers, including beef, pork, chicken and vegetarian, and each burger comes with a little pile of perfectly cooked chips. They also do breakfast and can brew a very nice Lavazza coffee.
Port Douglas Yacht Club
For a more local experience, you must visit the PDYC! This open air bar and restaurant is a great place to meet friendly locals and watch the sun set over the estuary. We enjoyed a delicious and well priced dinner that included fresh, crisp chips and a lovely side salad. Their chicken parma is juicy and thick with all the correct toppings, and they also offer Cargill steak.
Information & Accommodation