Port Douglas is one of Australia’s most-loved holiday destinations for both locals and overseas visitors, and it’s not hard to see why. White-sand beaches, warm ocean waters, iconic wildlife and friendly northern Queensland hospitality all come as standard with a trip up north, and when you throw in the fact that Port Douglas is the gateway to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef – it’s all too understandable why tourists flock to these sandy shores.
Another bonus to a holiday in Port Douglas is that you can do most things on your own, without joining a tour. All you need to do is hire a car, take a look at a map and decide what to do around Port Douglas. There are so many exciting day trips from Port Douglas that you can easily use the town as your base and simply journey out into the wild each day for a new, unforgettable adventure.
Before you hit the road though, a few tips for driving in Far North Queensland. You’ll quickly find that not all roads are created equal up here, so be sure to slow down whenever you venture onto an unsealed road (which will be quite often if you’re delving into the Daintree). Always keep your eyes open for wildlife, as many of the area’s native animals have a tendency to wander onto the road without looking both ways first. In fact, for added safety and awareness, be sure to use high beams when you can (but turn them off for oncoming traffic!). And always check the weather report before you head out each day. It can get mighty wet in Port Douglas at certain times of the year, so always drive with care.
So, with all this in mind, here are some of our favourite Port Douglas day trips.
A trip to Cape Tribulation is an absolute must when visiting Port Douglas. This stunning coastal region marks the spot where the region’s two aforementioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet, providing the perfect combination of ocean views and rainforest tranquility. Located just a two-hour drive away, getting to Cape Tribulation couldn’t be easier either, making a Cape Tribulation day trip from Port Douglas a non-negotiable. Aside from simply soaking up the views and the vibe, you can go snorkelling, hiking, jungle surfing (yes, it’s a thing), horse riding, or simply relax on one of the area’s picturesque beaches. You’ll also want to make sure you check out some of the incredible eateries in the area celebrating local produce, or simply stop at one of the many roadside fruit boxes selling mangoes, passionfruit, papaya, bananas and other weird and wonderful tropical fruits. The area’s resident population is incredibly low too, with slightly more than 300 people calling Cape Tribulation home in the dry season, so you are also guaranteed to meet some true blue locals willing to share their passion for this unique pocket of Australia.
As mentioned, Port Douglas is the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest, so you’d be remiss not to include at least one Daintree day trip in your itinerary. The Daintree is one of the oldest rainforests of its kind in the world, boasting one of the most complex ecosystems on Earth. It is also the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia, and is home to a diverse range of animals and plant life. As such, the Daintree Rainforest is a magical playground for any lover of the great outdoors.
For those wondering how to get to Daintree Village from Port Douglas, the route is actually much more straightforward than you might expect. The drive will take you only 45 minutes, but you’ll want to take it slow so you can stop off at various attractions for a look. Once you get to the village, you’ll find access to many hikes, Daintree River cruises, crocodile spotting tours and fishing adventures, but if you delve into the rainforest a little deeper, you’ll find an abundance of secluded swimming holes and hidden waterfalls. Keep the camera at the ready, as every inch of this place is truly picture-perfect.
If you’re comfortable getting off the beaten (and tarmacked) track, drive a further hour north from Cape Tribulation to Wujal Wujal along the Bloomfield Track. This is one of the most scenic 4WD tracks in Queensland, extending for 30 kilometres through some seriously beautiful terrain. The track provides access to the Bloomfield Falls and provides stunning views of dense rainforest, exhilarating creek crossings, secluded beaches, a rainforest archway and so much more. Do note that while you can join a local tour, if you intend to self-drive, you will need to obtain a 4WD, as a zippy little hatch back just won’t cut it out here.
Another non-negotiable day trip while visiting Port Douglas is out to Mossman Gorge. Located in Mount Lewis National Park within the traditional lands of the Kuku Yalanji people, Mossman Gorge is less than a 30-minute drive from town. The gorge is set within a lush rainforest, and allows for ample hiking and swimming opportunities. You’ll feel miles away from everything here, with the thick air filled with the sounds of birdsong and the canopy of trees providing a little bit of a reprieve from Queensland’s notorious heat. If you would like to learn more about the cultural significance of this place, you can even join a tour led by a member of the local indigenous community.
Kuranda is a lovely mountain village located an hours’ drive from Port Douglas along the scenic Great Barrier Reef Drive. The town is known for its lively daily artisan markets, but these are hardly all the town has to offer. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway promises a beautiful treetop adventure, while the Kuranda Scenic Railway provides another perspective of this lush rainforest. The Barron Falls is another striking sight in the area, located a short 10-minute walk from the village. So, if stunning scenery and quaint villages tickle your fancy, a Kuranda day trip from Port Douglas is a necessary adventure.
Great Barrier Reef
You can’t visit northern Queensland and not stop by the Great Barrier Reef. This place is absolutely legendary. As the largest living thing on Earth, this world-famous reef is home to hundreds of kinds of coral and thousands of species of marine life, not to mention a seemingly countless number of sun-soaked islands with secluded white beaches.
While there are numerous entry points to the reef along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, Port Douglas is a very popular option, with many tour guides operating out of the town. You can experience the magic of the reef on a snorkelling tour, a scuba diving trip, a helicopter tour, a glass-bottomed boat expedition, or via a whale and dolphin watching tour. Of course, the best way to get up close and personal with the fish and coral is on a snorkelling day trip, which includes a relaxing boat trip out onto the reef. Be sure to be mindful of your impact on the reef however, so always operate a look-don’t-touch mantra.
Located near Mossman Gorge and therefore easy to include in a single day trip, the Atherton Tablelands is an area of lush green that offers access to spectacular rainforest and waterfall scenes. A self-drive tour of the area is a wonderful option, as you can easily travel along the famous Waterfall Way to visit some 10-odd waterfalls, including Millaa Millaa, Ellinjaa and Zillie Falls. The area is also well known for its produce, with chocolate, cheese, coffee and wine all produced in the region. This day trip isn’t to be missed!
Don’t let the name put you off! The hike up Mount Sorrow is an absolute delight, with this seven-kilometre return trail climbing up from the coastal lowlands of Cape Tribulation to a rainforest-clad ridge. From the top, you’ll be treated to incredible views over the Daintree coastline and Snapper Island, making the reward well worth the effort. That said, it’s not for the fainthearted, and will take you about six hours to complete. If you’re up to the challenge, it’s best to start before 10am to take advantage of the coolest part of the day, and be sure to pack plenty of water. With the trailhead located just under two hours’ drive from Port Douglas, this is a full-day adventure, but one every experienced hiker won’t want to overlook.