What was once a sleepy little fishing village is now a luxurious base from which to explore the two World Heritage-listed gems of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. So, aside from these two must-see sites what else is there to do in, and around, this idyllic seaside location? You mean besides the boutiques, cafes, fine-dining restaurants, art galleries, scenic lookouts, tours, spas, and beach activities? Yeah, you get the picture. But let’s say you only have 48 hours and you want to snap the most drool-worthy Instagram pics. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a suggested run down, with a couple of alternative options thrown in for good measure. Enjoy!
As we only have a limited amount of time, we’ll hop straight to it with a reef trip to the beautiful Low Isles – literally. Made up of two islands, one a woody, mangrove island and the other a sandy, coral cay, the Low Isles are only 15km off the coast of Port Douglas. And with our half day reef trip, you’ll be there in under an hour after pushing off from the Reef Marina. You’ll be moored at the actual reef, away from the crowds, and in no time you’ll meet the friendly turtles that this island is well known for. Make sure you take your underwater camera to capture the marine life and colourful corals.
If you are not keen on getting your hair wet, there’s always the glass-bottom boat, where you can watch all the marine life go about their day from up above. You can even take an island heritage walk and learn all about the history of this island and the part it played in the local Aboriginals lives and those of the lighthouse keepers and their families and the many marine scientists that have both come here to conduct research or have relied on the research that has been gathered on this Great Barrier Reef Island for many years.
After disembarking your luxury catamaran, saunter down the boardwalk to Hemingway’s. Overlooking the docked vessels at the marina, with coastal, rainforest-clad mountains in the distance, it’s the perfect spot to contemplate your reef trip. Grab a share plate and relax with a sloop of chilled, hand-crafted beer (their own measurement that’s just less than a pint). If it’s too early for that, they froth up a very decent coffee.
Wander through the boutiques of downtown Port Douglas, stopping for a coffee along the way. Be sure to pop into Ahoy Trader, where Jai Vasicek’s wall tiles are on display among a carefully selected range of clothes, swimwear, and jewellery. This is also home to Sparrow Coffe if you’re keen on another heart-starter. With Sugar is a cute gift store worth a visit as is Coffee Works for locally roasted coffee and delectable delights of the cocoa variety. If you’d prefer to skip the shopping, relax by the pool, or hike up Flagstaff Hill, stopping by at the old lighthouse and then on to the lookout for the ultimate selfie.
After freshening up at your accommodation, it’s time to stake a spot at Rex Smeal Park. This is the perfect location for a sunset selfie. While it never gets over-crowded by city standards, this is a much-loved spot among tourists and locals and has a lovely, buzzy atmosphere at the end of the day. Come prepared with a picnic blanket and some nibbles and watch the sun descend behind the mountains. The waves gently lapping at the shoreline as the sunset sail cruises come in to dock is pure serenity. Don’t get too comfortable though, it’ll be time to head off to dinner soon!
A meal in this quintessential Queenslander is a must for anyone visiting Port Douglas. The food is great, cocktails a treat, and the ambience is lively. It’s hard to pick a favourite from the menu, but listen out for the specials and if they’re offering a tapas plate for an entrée, do yourself a favour and order it. Hone your food and cocktail snapping skills here.
This is optional, as you are on holidays but, nothing beats a stroll down the beach at sunrise. You won’t be the only one. The locals will be walking their dogs, stand-up-paddle boarding, kayaking, or riding their bikes. Keep an eye on the water as you’re walking, jogging, or sprinting along the shoreline if it’s calm enough you could spot a pod of dolphins.
Located in the heart of town on Macrossan Street, is a popular little café that does a roaring trade. Yet the friendly, efficient staff, always manage to seat their clientele quickly. From healthy options, such as a coconut smoothie bowl, to eggs benedict, and pulled-pork tacos, these guys will make sure you are fed well. And they always check whether you’d like another coffee. Grab a Duke’s Doughnut on the way out if you spot one at the counter. Made locally and incredibly fresh, these are heaven. And you deserve one after that walk. If Day 2 for you is on a Sunday, be sure to stop by the markets where you can peruse a selection of crafts, photos, prints, homemade relishes and jams, and much more.
Drive 20 minutes north, past the cane fields, and you’ll reach the sugar town of Mossman. Driving up the main street you’ll see a sign to turn left towards the Mossman Gorge Centre, an Indigenous eco-tourism development located in the southern-most part of the Daintree Rainforest. Featuring a gallery of local Indigenous artwork and a retail gift store, it’s definitely worth a look. But first, you’ll be joining the 11.00am session of the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk. Ngadiku means stories and legends from a long time ago, so while you venture on foot, your guide – of the Kuku Yalanji Indigenous people – will share stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. You’ll be welcomed with a cleansing smoking ceremony, learn about the local flora and fauna, discover the medicinal and culinary qualities of plants, and visit a sacred ceremony site. If you feel like a swim after, hop on the bus to access the swimming holes. Set against a backdrop of steep, lush mountains, gigantic granite boulders, and a flowing stream feeding the most popular swimming spot, you won’t regret it. The scenery is breathtaking and the cool waters will certainly freshen you up. Position yourself on one of the boulders for a photo. It might be best if someone takes it off you unless your phone or camera is waterproof.
By now you would’ve worked up an appetite after all that walking. Head into town to Beechwoods Café. Old photographs of the area decorate the walls of this family-run café. A great joint offering fresh food, good coffee, and friendly service, you can’t go wrong with the BLT. If you’re after something lighter the salads are freshly made.
After the 20-minute drive back to Port Douglas, head towards the marina, where you’ll board the charming Lady Douglas for a peaceful sunset cruise along Dickson Inlet. With a glass of wine or beer in hand, you’ll slowly make your way down the mangrove-lined waterway. Accompanied by entertaining commentary, you’ll see local wildlife, shipwrecks, and coastal views. You may even spot a croc or two. It’s a wonderfully relaxing way to end the day as the sunset throws gorgeous colours over the inlet.
This award-winning restaurant offers up a delicious selection of fresh, beautifully crafted seafood dishes. You’ll find oysters, scallops, local coral trout, bug tails, and barramundi on the menu – each with a matching wine suggestion. There are also meat-lover and vegetarian options.
If you’re up to it, wander down Macrossan Street, to the corner of Grant Street where you’ll spot a flame-lit path. At the end of it you’ll be greeted with the leafy, open-air Watergate Restaurant & Lounge Bar. This place shakes up a mean espresso martini, but if you’d prefer something less caffeinated, all the classics are available, plus their own unique concoctions and they also have a solid selection of wines by the glass. Toast to your time in Port Douglas, and while you’re at it, set a date for your next visit.
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