Looking for the best things to do in Port Douglas in 2021? As a local and with a flair for adventure, I’ve rounded up my favourite activities to help you plan your trip.
Back in 2014 when the Sailor and I first hopped on a one-way flight to Australia, we quickly followed the sunshine up the coast from Sydney and landed in Port Douglas. It was a place I’d never heard about but always dreamed of- it took all of two minutes to decide to settle here! If you’ve visited then you’ll understand why.
Port Douglas- or simply Port or Port Dougie to her residents, is a unique and special beach town that I’ve happily called home for three years.
We’re surrounded by so much incredible nature like the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest & Great Barrier Reef, plus a jaw-dropping beach, award-winning restaurants, the friendliest locals, stunning scenery, access to waterfalls, waterholes, remote hiking trails and aboriginal culture… the list goes on.
Despite being just a pocket-sized peninsula, I’d say there’s enough going on to keep you occupied for a good week or more. So whether you’re in town just to relax or adventure in nature, here are my favourite things to do in Port Douglas! ✣
Best Things to do in Port Douglas for 2021
As Port Douglas is about the same size as The City of Westminster in London, you have the luxury of being able to cycle anywhere in town in less than 20-minutes (my preferred way to get around) and many resorts loan bikes for free. If you need a ride though, I’d recommend local taxi service 131 008 who charge $5 one-way, or $10 return.
Most activities in this article are on the peninsula but a few are a 20-minute drive away in the Douglas Shire. If you don’t have your own wheels then there’s a few car hire companies in town. Uber does operate here but there’s not always drivers available so it can’t be relied upon.
Best On Water
Visiting the GBR is undoubtedly the most popular activity for visitors in Port Dougie, as it should be. A perk to going from here over Cairns is that many operators take a smaller number of guests, so local spots will be less busy.
My favourite Great Barrier Reef experience so far from Port Douglas was visiting Mackay Coral Cay. There are a number of snorkelling sites between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation but visiting more remote Outer Reef spots like this is worth the extra time it takes to get there.
The diversity of marine life was some of the best snorkelling I’ve encountered- we saw everything from stingrays to turtles and awesome coral gardens. You can find out more about my experience snorkelling with Sailaway here.
Here are my top four picks for smaller, locally owned eco-certified reef operators that all offer tours with a marine biologist.
◇ Sailaway ~ snorkel & sail
I’ve had really memorable experiences both snorkelling and sunset sailing with Sailaway. The company is committed to sustainability and their luxury catamaran is primarily driven by wind power which is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Outer Reef tours are small (45 people max) – see this outer reef experience.
◇ Wavelength ~ snorkel only
Wavelength are involved in a number of conservation projects and are committed to low impact tourism. They visit three snorkel friendly spots along Opal, St Crispin & Tongue Reef, chosen on the day by the skipper and their maximum tour group size is 48. View their full-day outer reef tour.
◇ Poseidon ~ snorkel & dive
Poseidon lead a snorkel & dive cruise to Agincourt Ribbon Reefs (there’s a few reefs here) and Escape Reef along the the Outer GBR. They also have a special permit which allows guests to swim with Dwarf Minke Whales. Certified scubies can enjoy 3 dives, and they offer diving courses at an additional cost. See their full-day outer reef cruise or view their diving course.
◇ Calypso ~ snorkel & dive
Calypso also lead a snorkel & dive cruise to three outer reef sites along the Agincourt Reefs, though if there’s no divers in your party then it’s best to hop on their snorkel only boat which takes you to shallower, more snorkel-friendly sites along Opal Reef. Half-day tours to Low Isles are available too, as well as certified diving courses. Check out their outer reef trip or see their certified dive courses.
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There are heaps of sunset spots in Port Douglas, but this is a more fancy and special way to enjoy it. If you don’t manage to get out on a reef trip, then heading out for a sunset sail is another great way to appreciate the thrills of the ocean without getting your hair wet.
The experience usually lasts for an hour and a half and it’s a super chilled evening that finishes right before dinnertime, with great coastal views, good vibes, good company (optional!) plus complimentary drinks and finger food upon arrival. As a local we don’t often get out on the water as much as we should and the experience reminded me what we’re missing!
There’s a few local operators offering this tour:
◇ Sunset Sail with Sailaway : We went with these guys as they offered a 2-for-1 deal for locals during the Feb-March low season. The team were super hospitable and took good care of us from start to finish. We had canapés & bubbles upon arrival on their super saucy catamaran (+ drinks to purchase after). I left feeling really revitalised, if not a little tipsy!
◇ Shaolin Sunset Sailing : The newest addition to the sunset sailing club since 2016, Shaolin is a unique timber junk boat that originates from China and offers a slightly different experience. Yum Cha canapés and drinks are offered upon arrival.
◇ Indigo 2 : Also a luxury catamaran but offers a 2-hour sunset sail with BYO drinks, and they cap numbers to 12 guests only for a more intimate experience.
This is one of my favourite things to do in Port Douglas. Mossman River runs through the Daintree National Park which is a truly majestic place, and SUP-ing here is a really low-impact way to enjoy these surroundings. I always leave feeling really energised and inspired.
Local operator Windswell offers daily SUP sessions from here at 9am or 2pm. (Or you can do a sunrise SUP with them along Four Mile Beach if you’re good at getting up early!)
As a beginner kiteboarder, I’m finding Four Mile Beach a really good spot to learn (particularly when there’s fewer waves!) and it’s equally great for experienced riders. The water is perfectly shallow with sandy bottoms, zero obstacles and the weather is tropical year-round.
May to October is the main wind season where we get a good stream of cross-onshore northwesterlies where speeds are typically between 12-20 knots.
If you’ve never tried kiteboarding before then you can test the waters with an intro-lesson using a trainer kite first (a smaller version of the real thing). Or if you’re ready to go all in then Windswell offer ‘zero to hero’ courses which teach all the fundamentals before you [hopefully] get up and riding your first 50 meters.
Find out more about my experience doing the course in Thailand!
Fancy board-riding but don’t want to kitesurf? Windswell also offer wakeboarding sessions on Four Mile which is another fun sundowner activity. 🤙🏻
SUP or Kayaking
During the high season from May to October you can hire SUP boards and kayaks from Port Douglas Watersports who pitch up near the Surf Life Saving Club at the North end of Four Mile Beach. I’d suggest paddling around the rocky headland towards Rex Smeal Park for a good ride (and keep and eye out for turtles!).
Windswell also hire SUP boards at the South End of the beach all year round.
As you’re probably aware, not all fauna around here is cute and fluffy! There’s a few saltwater crocodiles living up Dickson Inlet and going out to spot one is a bit of a Port Douglas pastime. It’s even where the Sailor proposed to me six years ago!
You can hire a tin boat with Port Douglas Boat Hire and drive yourself up around the mangroves. It’s a really relaxing way to enjoy these surroundings and you can hire fishing gear too if you’s like. We spent two hours here last time but wished we did three as it went really fast.
Be sure to book in advance as they can get pretty busy.
Best On Land
There’s a good handful of walking tracks in and around Port Douglas, but this is the only one actually on the peninsular. It offers a range of perks, like a beach walk, bush walk & banging views, so it’s the most popular local hike and well-attended by residents.
If you time it right, you can also reach Rex Smeal Park at the end in time for sunset before heading for dinner at one of Port’s pukka restaurants.
For more details about this hike, check out my latest post.
When it’s pumping, the Port Douglas Sunday Markets are the soul of the town and each year they keep on getting better.
It fluctuates in size depending on the time of year and flow of tourists, but it’s always a great way to start a Sunday before embarking on lunch somewhere across the street.
We’re often here to stock up on locally sourced produce, but you can also find a range of boutiques, crafts, clothes, jewellery, food, beauty products and various tropical themed offerings.
Prior to colonisation, Far North Queensland’s rainforests was one of the most densely populated Aboriginal regions in Australia. Although Port Douglas never had any permanent year-round camps, nearby Mossman was a popular settlement for The Kuku Yalanji people who occupied the surrounding rainforest. Here are four highly-rated experienced I’d recommend that are all Aboriginal owned and operated.
Walkabout Cultural Adventures
Kuku Yalanji man Juan Walker is a bit of a local legend and he offers one of the most highly praised cultural tours in the Douglas Shire. You may have seen him on telly before as he’s been in quite a few tourism promos, was featured in the Amazing Race Australia giving a Welcome to Country, and gave a tour to Nick ‘Honeybadger’ Cummins for a TV show.
Juan and his team offer a range of cultural tours around the Daintree and Wonga Beach. They’ll lead you on an interpretive walk learning about plants & bush tucker, and show you how they catch mud crabs. If you’re lucky you might catch one too!
Located near Mossman Gorge, local Aboriginal artist Binna invites you to learn about his culture through art. You can simply come to check out the gallery or paint your own piece whilst listening to stories. Visit his website to find out more.
Dreamtime Walk at Mossman Gorge
The Mossman Gorge Centre is an eco-tourism hub in the rainforest and immersive Dreamtime Walks are offered by a local Aboriginal guide. They’ll take you along private tracks to identify traditional plant use & bush food, share ancient stories & legends and show you a traditional smoking ceremony. Check here for more details.
Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours
Lead by Kubirri Warra guides on Cooya Beach, just a 15-min drive North of Port, this traditional Aboriginal fishing experience will get you catching mud-crabs, spear-fishing and learning about local Indigenous culture on an interpretive walk.
For foodies coming to Port Douglas, Oak Kitchen & Garden is a real gem. I’ve eaten many banging curries from here and as well as their hatted Chefs Table experience, they also offer a Thai cooking class at their working garden in Oak Beach.
Benjamin Wallace leads the kitchen and worked for most of his career at hatted Thai restaurants in Melbourne. His wife Rachel Boon grew up in Port Douglas and leads their organic garden, growing everything from kaffir lime trees and mangos, to Southeast Asian herbs, Thai eggplants and an array of fruit & veggies.
Classes are intimate and for all abilities, set in their gorgeous al-fresco kitchen. They’ll teach you how to make a selection of classic and modern Thai dishes like salads, relishes. I’m really keen to try it out and up-skill! See their website for more details.
A few of the wider hiking tracks nearby are ideal for mounting biking. To be honest, I’ve only ever walked them as of yet! But biking through is another fun way to explore these trails and a bigger adrenaline hit.
If you have your own bikes you can pitch up yourself, or if you’re without then Bike’n’Hike Adventure Tours are really well reviewed & offer trips to either:
- Bump Track– On a cross-country ride from the Atherton Tablelands to Mowbray, you’ll descend 2k downhill through the rainforest passing streams, lookouts and finish-up on Four Mile Beach. View this adventure.
- Hartley’s Creek– This track is more challenging as there’s greater uphill legwork involved, but you’ll be rewarded with a waterfall & refreshing dip in a freshwater pool at the end (above). Then you can bomb it downhill back to base. Click to read their reviews.
I’m not really a fan of traditional zoos and prefer to view animals in the wild, but Wildlife Habitat is a bit different. The first time I visited I was really impressed with the spacious and open environment where most animals can roam free within their specific habitat. They’re also committed to conservation and run a wildlife rescue program, whilst being fully eco-certified.
The Wildlife Habitat is a great option for families and people of all ages to observe a variety of native Australian animals, including tree-kangaroos, koalas, kangaroos and cassowaries. Visit their website to find out more, or pre-book your visit online.
This beast is also in the Daintree rainforest just past Mossman. At the time it was the hardest physical activity I’ve ever endured, but it was also the most rewarding. The quote “it’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” is how I’d best describe the experience.
And also Churchill’s “if it feel’s like hell, keep going!” 😄
This devilishly steep trek won’t be for everyone, but steely adventures will be challenged. It’ll put you through your paces as you slog it uphill for 4-5 hours before reaching the summit (although a shorter 5-hour hike is possible too). Expect a remote and isolated track immersed in nature, offering breathtaking views of the Far North Queensland coast that most don’t get to marvel over first-hand.
For more trail details and tips, head to my detailed guide.
Things To Do In Port Douglas:
Best On Land & Water
My favourite nearby falls is located along Spring Creek, a relatively hidden gem just a 5-minute drive away in Mowbray Valley. If you enjoy slightly more adventurous hikes and cooling off in rock pools then this one’s for you.
Spring Creek is a moderate, 4k return track which takes about 3-4 hours and leads to Black Rock Waterfall (if you’re a newbie you may want to add 1-2 hours). There’s no set “trail” as such so your mainly making your own route as you rock-hop along the creek bed.
Although it’s worth noting that completing the full trail may not be for everyone due to the climbing element towards the end, however there are a few mini-falls and opportunities to take a dip before then if you’d prefer. It’s still a really enjoyable nature walk even if you don’t quite get to Black Rock.
Heading out? Great choice, though be sure to read my full Spring Creek Falls hiking guide beforehand!
Otherwise, read all about the Hartley’s Creek Falls trail which is an easier hike.
Like the river that runs through it, Mossman Gorge is an equally majestic nature hit. It offers a leisurely 4k trail through the rainforest where there’s a number of fresh-water pools for you to cool off in, as well as some insane trees and fauna to spot.
The Baral Marrjanga track, accessible via the Mossman Gorge Centre is run by the region’s traditional owners. As this section of the Daintree Rainforest is closest to Port Douglas & Cairns, it’s usually busier than some of the other hikes so it’s best to set out early in the high season.
To find out more about this hike, check out my article.
15. Enjoy Low Isles
The gorgeous Low Isles are the closest islands to Port Douglas. They’re made up of a larger island called ‘Woody’ and a smaller sand-fringed one called Low Island or ‘Little Woody’. It’s a popular spot for day-trippers and a good option for those who don’t think they can manage a 90-minute ride to the Outer Great Barrier Reef or simply if you fancy some island time.
I’ve only snorkelled around the Low Isles which was quite underwhelming to be honest. I don’t think I was taken to the best spots there, but sadly a lot of the coral I saw was dead. The fish life is pretty good though and it attracts a fair few turtles and reef sharks.
Little Woody has a heritage walking trail where you can see the historic lighthouse that’s been operating since 1878 and a variety of birds have been spotted around.
Getting to Low Isles is really easy too and it only takes half hour from Port Douglas (or 15 minutes with Reef Sprinter). As always, I’d recommend feeling the wind in your hair and going with eco-certified operator Sailaway who offer a full day or afternoon tour.
Otherwise for something a little cheaper, Calypso is another highly rated local operator that leads half day tours, a good option if you want the afternoon free or fancy a lay-in.
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I hope you enjoyed reading my article on things to do in Port Douglas and found it useful. There’s plenty of nature to inspire you here, whether it be on the reef or rainforest – this place was doing social distancing before it became a thing!
If you’re seeking a place to stay, I’ve come to know many hotels & resorts over the years. Here are my top picks on where to stay in Port Douglas for a range of budgets.
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