Port Douglas may be the grand entrance to the Great Barrier Reef, but it is not only the reef that makes this place special. It is also within close reach of spectacular rainforests, including the World Heritage Listed Daintree, the magical Mossman Gorge, and the Cape Tribulation National Park. The reef and the rainforest are what make this area one of my all-time most memorable destinations to date.
Situated an hour north of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, the town of Port Douglas offers gems of old Queenslander buildings, traditional pubs, fine dining restaurants, and a bustling up-market marina to soak up the nautical atmosphere as the sun sets on another day in paradise.
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and swimming at the Mossman Gorge were without a doubt the highlights of this trip. We will never forget them, and I hope that others can follow in our footsteps to experience these wonders. Here’s a bit more about our adventures in this diverse and mind-blowing region…
It’s one of the Seven Wonders Of The World, visible from space, and spans over 3000 km along the coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef has over 1500 species of fish, and more than 400 types of coral, making it one of those places you simply have to add to your bucket list. Sadly though, the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing massive changes as a result of climate change and other environmental impacts. Don’t put off a trip for too long. Witnessing this place and educating yourself about the reef is one way that we can all help to protect it for future generations.
We took to the reef with Tropical Journeys and I can’t recommend these guys enough. Their beautiful, well-equipped boats were coupled with a friendly, knowledgeable and helpful crew who ensured that everyone felt happy and safe throughout the day. All that was left to do was take it all in and enjoy every single moment.
Our daughter was apprehensive about going in as she had cut her foot the day before (on land). One of the crewmembers chatted to her excitedly about the array of different fish she might spot, and told her that she would be able to see Nemo at one of the snorkelling sites. Before we knew it, she was in the water and cruising around like a pro. She hasn’t stopped telling people about the six Nemo’s and the giant clam she saw in the coral that day. What an experience for a seven-year-old to have.
Unlike some of the large operators who moor on one jetty all day, Tropical Journeys took us to three incredible snorkelling/dive sites which meant that we got to experience different reef systems and far more species of fish, including a baby whitetip reef shark, a two metre Maori Wrasse, stunning parrot fish everywhere, stingrays, a thriving coral system, and hundreds of colourful tropical fish that brought smiles to our faces that we still haven’t managed to wipe off.
We had visited the reef previously (with one of the large tour operators – naming no names) and had been rather disappointed with the reef site we visited. But this trip blew us away and exceeded our hopes and expectations on so many levels. This was a Great Barrier Reef trip to remember forever.
From the reef to the rainforest we went. Mossman Gorge is only 15 minutes from the centre of Port Douglas and is part of the World Heritage Listed, Daintree Rainforest. Mossman Gorge itself has survived for over 135 million years. That’s a long time. It is also home to over 30,000 plant and animal species and is as rich in culture as it is in wildlife. Pretty amazing huh! So what did we discover in this heavenly place?
Our Mossman adventure started with a Dreamtime Walk at the Mossman Gorge Centre. Matty from the Kuku-Yalanji tribe was our guide and took us on an intriguing journey through history, ecology, and culture.
We learned about how Indigenous tribes have lived and still live in these areas, utilizing bush food and bush medicine to help them both survive and thrive for hundreds of thousands of years.
As we cracked nuts on rocks, painted ourselves with ochre (coloured clay used in traditional Aboriginal art) and ate damper bread with tea, we found ourselves immersed in Matty’s knowledge and gentle demeanour as he shared his people’s culture; a complete privilege for anyone to be part of.
As our Dreamtime Walk came to a close, we took a short shuttle ride back to Mossman Gorge itself. If heaven exists, then I’m pretty sure it might look like this place. Fairytale images became reality as we walked along the treetop platforms and spotted the green emerald water glistening like pure green diamonds in the distance. I’ve never seen water like it.
Whilst the water looked icy cold, I couldn’t resist diving straight in (something quite unusual for me and cold water). I swam with a shoal of catfish and dived underneath the water feeling like the luckiest person alive. I still do.
This place really struck something in my soul. I couldn’t help but feel like life was being lived to its full right there and then. I swam to one of the large boulders and basked in the sunshine as the water flowed around me.
NOTE: Whilst this place is irresistible for swimming, it is very important to note that the currents here can be extremely strong (for both adults and children). It is highly important to follow the safety guidelines at the Centre. Ask the official guides and staff for more information.
The town of Port Douglas is a mix of up-market bistros and restaurants, and Queenslander pubs and bars that have an old-fashioned charm often hard to find in other parts of Australia. You’ll also find a range of boutiques and gift shops for those looking to take home something from the region.
The marina offers a pretty view to enjoy a drink or meal whilst watching the boats cruise by. You can also organize different reef tours from the marina itself.
If like me you love taking photos, take a walk along the waterfront starting at pretty St Mary’s Chapel by the Sea, up to the headland past the giant fig trees, where you’ll find Anzac Park dotted and lined with tall palms overlooking the ocean. It’s a picture-perfect backdrop no matter where you look.
If you’re in Port Douglas on a Sunday, head to the waterfront and browse through the market stalls selling everything from handcrafted gifts to locally made food and beverages.
We stayed at the perfectly positioned Cayman Villas, a close stroll to the shops and restaurants one-way, and the marina the other. You can also take the short 6-minute walk to Four Mile beach.
These spacious apartments have all the amenities you could possibly ask for, with an additional outdoor living area, and the prettiest of balconies overlooking the stunning pool.
With large bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, dining areas and lounge, there is plenty of room for the entire family. But the resort still manages to maintain an air of tropical tranquillity. As people tend to be out on the reef or in the rainforest during the day, the pool is usually quiet, and you can often find yourself having a peaceful swim alone. It’s wonderful to get back from a day on the reef and rinse away the salt.
When you’re exploring the great outdoors, you want somewhere that you can return to and feel instantly at home. This is exactly what the Cayman Villas provide. Somewhere you can kick back and reminisce over the day’s epic adventures in absolute comfort and impeccable cleanliness.
Whilst we made the most of the fully appointed kitchen, the friendly managers were full of local knowledge and gave us some wonderful insights to some of the town’s best restaurants and tours. We certainly made the most of our stay and we will be back here without a doubt.
The easiest way to get to Port Douglas is to fly into Cairns (you can fly there from most airports in and around Australia) and then take the short leisurely drive (around an hour) to Port Douglas.
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas along the scenic Captain Cook Highway is a joy in itself. If you want a refreshment break then stop along the way at Palm Cove and have a coffee or bite to eat before commencing the winding road North. Drive carefully, be sure to take your time, and enjoy those views.
North Queensland is home to saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. Never swim in areas unless they have signs to show they are safe for swimming. If in doubt, don’t swim. Always follow the local authority guidelines.
Book your reef trip in advance as they can book up fairly quickly, and make sure you wear a stinger suit during the stinger season. Ask your tour guide if you have any concerns.
Make sure you see both the reef and the rainforest for an out of this world holiday of contrasts. The Mossman Gorge blew us away and after a trip to the reef, we felt like life couldn’t get much better.
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Parts of this trip were kindly gifted, but all opinions and recommendations are strictly our own.
Welcome along. I’m Clare, Founder of Take Me To Australia. Having moved to Australia six years ago, I made it my mission to learn more about this epic country we now call home. As we travel across the country to unique destinations, we share with fresh eyes the most extraordinary places we are lucky enough to experience. We aim to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, live their absolute best life, explore what Australia has to offer, and even encourage people further afield to make a similar move. We’ve grown a like-minded community of over 120,000 people. Be sure to join them by signing up to receive all the latest inspo, and connecting with us on Instagram and Facebook. See you soon.