Best Things to do in Port Douglas with Kids
Seeing the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, exploring the Daintree Rainforest – the world’s oldest rainforest, and playing along stunning beaches with your family, is the stuff dreams are made out of. There are so many iconic and incredible things to do in Port Douglas with kids, you’ll remember this family trip for many years to come.
When the weather starts to get a bit too cool throughout most of Australia, the best place to head is Tropical North Queensland and the beautiful town of Port Douglas is the perfect place to start.
In order to discover what to do in Port Douglas with your family, we got talking to the locals and other visitors on our one week family holiday in Port Douglas and the Daintree.
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Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas
Over the years we have seen a lot of spectacular places, but nothing will ever compare to snorkelling the outer reef of the Great Barrier Reef. We got up close to hundreds of fish, sea creatures, coral and even a turtle and barracuda. It was by no means cheap and the weather wasn’t great, but is something we will remember forever, and was worth saving up for.
We’d advise paying the extra and going on a snorkelling tour with a Marine Biologist. That way you get the family away from the bulk of the people, you see and experience more than you would in the roped off area. Take a look at our full story on snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef.
Ride bikes along Four Mile Beach Port Douglas
We had so much fun exploring the beautiful Four Mile Beach on bicycles. Peddling up the beach with the boys was a great way to spend the morning. We packed a picnic and water bottles, and set off through town towards the beach.
We hired our bikes from Port Douglas Bike Hire. Half-day hire cost us $16 for each adult bike and $12 each for the boys, which included helmets and suggestions on which route to take. They also had trailers, baby seats and tandem bikes for hire. This is great cheap thing to do in Port Douglas and is lots of fun.
We had a few busters off bikes with one of the boys seeing how fast he could go and then getting a speed wobble when he hit wetter sand and coming off. No damage, so much so that he tried it again!! Same result!
Port Douglas Beaches
Tropical North Queensland including Port Douglas is blessed with beautiful beaches, however in a cruel twist, many like Cape Tribulation Beach you can never swim at due to crocodiles and deadly marine stingers. Others like Port Douglas’ Four Mile Beach, you can swim, however you really need to understand about marine stingers before you decide to dip your toe in.
The stingers we’re talking about are Irukandji and Box Jellyfish. Stinger season typically runs from October through to May and during this time, protective nets are placed at one section of beach to reduce the likelihood of stingers getting through, and swimmers are urged to wear head-to-toe lycra stinger suits. I’m okay with wearing a full lycra suit when you’re out on the reef snorkelling, but am not that desperate to wear at the beach for a quick dip.
Although more prevalent during the hotter months, these marine stingers can be found at any time of year, so the best bet is to talk to the Lifesavers and read the signs. One thing I did notice when we were there in June was that holidaymakers took a quick swim and got out and there weren’t too many (if any) locals to be seen in the water. We braved the water but felt so uneasy, it wasn’t worth doing again.
Bottom line is, talk to the Lifesavers, and weigh up the risks. There are plenty of other ways to get wet if you decide to ditch the ocean, and you can still enjoy the long stretch of sand.
Please note it is a different environment out on the reef and you are less likely to encounter these stingers when you’re out snorkelling. Take a look at this comprehensive article from World Travel Family on stinger season in Cairns and Port Douglas.
Other places to swim near Port Douglas
With the warm weather all year round, going for a swim is one of our favourite things to do around Port Douglas . First stop will be your hotel pool. We haven’t found one hotel, apartment or resort that didn’t have a pool up there but make sure you check. There are also a few fresh water swimming holes to enjoy including Mossman Gorge, Spring Creek and Shannonvale, but talk to a local before swimming in them to make sure conditions (including crocs) haven’t changed.
Port Douglas Markets
One of the iconic Port Douglas attractions is the Port Douglas markets. It’s not every day you get to try freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, taste unusual tropical fruits, or get a fresh coconut cracked opened for you to enjoy. If you are in Port Douglas on a Sunday, make sure you head to the markets in Rex Smeal Park. This is a great place to pick up some souvenirs, local fruit and vegetables, art and jewellery. The markets are open from 8.00am until around 2.00pm every Sunday.
Sunset at Rex Smeal Park
Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the beautiful sunset from Rex Smeal Park. There’s plenty of space for the boys to run around while you enjoy the view. Just don’t let them go in the water because of crocodiles in the area.
Best view in Port Douglas
Go for a walk or drive up Flagstaff Hill for spectacular views of Four Mile Beach and the surrounding rainforest.
Fishing charter Port Douglas
If you’re into fishing then this is the place to come. Head out on a fishing charter for your chance to catch (and keep) Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Sea Perch and Mackerel, and if you are really lucky you might even catch a Giant Trevally or Spanish Mackerel. We decided to send just the big boy (Dad), out on a full day reef fishing trip with MV Norseman as they came highly recommended. Unfortunately for him, the weather wasn’t in his favour and the trip was cancelled. Maybe next time!
If you would rather go fishing in the estuary, we were advised those trips were catch and release, so please check if you have your heart set on having fish for dinner.
A full day reef fishing with MV Norseman costs $295 per adult and $250 per child. (current as at March 2020)
Other things to do in Port Douglas
There just isn’t enough time to do everything during your stay and these are some of the things we didn’t around to experiencing but have heard are great.
- Learn to Stand up Paddleboard or Kite surf
- Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
- Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Dining Experience (not for children under 6)
- Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
- Barron River Half Day Rafting with hotel transfer
- Port Douglas Scenic Helicopter Flights
- Full day Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation tour
Day Trips from Port Douglas
A visit to Mossman Gorge is an absolute must day trip from Port Douglas. The Mossman Gorge Centre is located 20km north of Port Douglas. You will need to buy tickets to board the shuttle bus from the centre into the Gorge ($29.50 for 2 adults and 2 children as of March 2020). They have excellent walking tracks, so it will be an easy walk once you get dropped off in the National Park.
Take your swimwear and if you’re lucky, the conditions will be suitable to swim. There is a sign as you board the shuttle bus telling you what the swimming conditions are for the day. The water is cold but so beautiful.
We didn’t have enough time to experience a Dreamtime gorge walk or Indigenous half-day tour but they would certainly be worthwhile looking into if you have the time. You can also try something new with a bush tucker inspired lunch at the café and a look through the Indigenous art gallery.
If you need any groceries on your way back to Port Douglas, there is a large Woolworths at Mossman, which you will drive past to get to the gorge. Much larger than the Coles at Port Douglas.
If you don’t have a car, you can organise a tour of Mossman Gorge that inlcudes transfers from Port Douglas.
High on our list of places to discover was Kuranda but unfortunately the Kuranda Skyrail was closed while we there, so we decided to leave Kuranda for another time. Our wishlist for a day at Kuranda includes going on the Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.
Daintree National Park
Although you can do a day trip from Port Douglas to the Daintree, it is a place that deserves staying for at least a night or two. We spent two nights staying in the rainforest and what a magical place it was.
We went jungle surfing through the rainforest, went searching for crocs on a river cruise, explored the beaches at Cape Tribulation, swam in private water holes, ate yummy tropical fruit ice cream, explored at the Daintree Discover Centre, and so much more. One place I can’t forget was our visit to the Daintree Entomological Museum (insect museum). The kids absoluetly loved it.
Port Douglas family accommodation
Trying to work out where to stay in Port Douglas that’s reasonably priced and has everything a family needs can be quite daunting. For a small beachside town, there are a lot of options, and many of those are highly-priced. Take a look at what we found to be the best Port Douglas family accommodation.
When we were looking to book accommodation in Port Douglas, there were a few really important features we were looking for. These were:
- It had to be near Four Mile Beach plus close enough to walk to Macrossan Street to go shopping or to a restaurant. I didn’t want to have to drive everywhere.
- The accommodation needed to be in a quiet area. With around 50 restaurants, cafes and pubs around Macrossan Street, we wanted to make sure we were going to be able to sleep at night.
- It had a decent sized pool
- A kitchen and laundry were essential
- It had to have great reviews from past visitors.
With all this in mind we decided upon Balboa Apartments.
Balboa Apartments Port Douglas
Balboa Apartments is on the “quiet end” of Macrossan Street, less than 50 metres from Four Mile Beach. It’s spacious living areas and bedrooms were a big bonus, meaning we never felt like we were living on top of each other. Our apartment had a partial ocean view and featured two bedrooms, two bathrooms, laundry, full kitchen, tv, lounge and dining area, and balcony with table and chairs. It was very clean and had minimal things the boys could break.
With only 12 apartments, there was always plenty of room in the heated saltwater pool for the boys to do their thing. We didn’t need to beach supplies as Balboa had sand toys, beach umbrellas and chairs to borrow for free.
Balboa Apartments have 1, 2, and 3 bedroom fully air-conditioned apartments available and can be found on the corner of Macrossan and Garrick Streets.
We loved: It’s spaciousness and it’s position between the beach and shops
We’d change: The queen bed could do with a bit more comfort and the clothes drying rack could be bigger but that’s about it.
Best for: Families with kids of any age, who want a lovely self-contained apartment to relax in.
Be aware: There are no lifts
Tip: Go in shoulder season to make it much more affordable.
Other accommodation in Port Douglas for families
There is a great variety of accommodation in Port Douglas and no matter what your budget, it doesn’t have to mean you’re far away from everything. You’ll find cheaper motels, right next to boutique ones and there is quite a selection of AirBnB’s available too. The other thing to consider is going in shoulder season (out of school holidays) and that is much cheaper.
Budget family accommodation Port Douglas
Lychee Tree Holiday Apartments Check latest prices and availability
Mid-range Port Douglas accommodation with kids
Seascape Holidays – Driftwood Check latest prices and availability
Port Douglas Luxury Accommodation for families
Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments Check latest prices and availability
Port Douglas Family Resorts
Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Check latest prices and availability
Where to shop in Port Douglas
For a small beachside town, Port Douglas certainly has a lot of shops, cafes, restaurants and services. Most things you will need, you’ll find in or around Macrossan Street. It’s easy to do the whole street on foot, so no need to get in the car.
Where to eat
Port Douglas has around 50 cafes and restaurants so you are not going to go hungry or thirsty by any means. Our favourites include:
We ran out of time to eat or drink at the wharf but heard great things about Hemmingway’s Brewery, and the nearby On the Inlet.
How to get to Port Douglas
Port Douglas is a pleasant 50-minute drive up the Captain Cook Highway north from Cairns Airport. We hired a car at the airport, which was fantastic as it gave us the flexibility to stop along the way, as well as to venture outside of Port Douglas. Take a look at the latest car hire prices.
Driving from Cairns to Port Douglas
It’s not far from Cairns to Port Douglas but there’s no rush, so take the time to check out a few of these places.
Palm Cove is a beautiful beach side village only 25 minutes from Cairns Airport. There were so many cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops along the beach, we want to go back there to stay for a while.
We had heard that a great place to stop and eat with the boys was Ellis Beach Bar and Grill and the reports weren’t wrong. We weren’t quite sure we’d found the right place when we arrived, but this unassuming café and bar served up a delicious brunch in lovely surrounds. It was easy, friendly, spacious and unpretentious which is just what you need after getting off a plane.
A quick and fun stop for the whole family about 7km past Ellis Beach, is a great little beach full of rock towers. We had a fantastic time here checking out the hundreds of rock towers, adding a few of our own and taking a few photos. Yes I know another stop can be painful with kids but if you only stop once, make it this one. You can pull off the side of the road but only on the beach side.
How to save money on your Port Douglas family holiday
Port Douglas is a tropical paradise and a brilliant place for families to explore. What puts many families off going is the cost, but it can be done on a tight budget. Here are our top tips on how to holiday at Port Douglas with kids on a budget.
Save on airfares to Cairns
The closest airport to Port Douglas is Cairns, which is a long way away from major cities in Australia. Keep an eye out for heavily discounted fares and be flexible with dates if you can. I saw half price tickets through Jetstar and jumped at the chance. They were for flights a few weeks before school holidays, which we decided was worth doing to save a lot of money on airfares and accommodation.
I was a bit worried about flying Jetstar, as the last experience I had with them (10 years before) was terrible. How wrong was I!! The entire crew couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. These flights now sit in the top five flying experiences I’ve ever had. Sorry for doubting you Jetstar.
Saving money on food
The cheapest way to eat and drink is to buy your own. There is a Coles supermarket in town but it’s not huge and certainly one of the more expensive in Australia, but it does the job. Buying alcohol at the bottle shop is a lot more expensive. You’ve got to remember how far you are from major distribution centres.
If you are really trying to save money, we would suggest stopping off at Smithfield Shopping Centre on your way from Cairns to Port Douglas where there is a Woolworths, Coles, Kmart and Dan Murphy’s liquor.
Save on Port Douglas activities
Nearly all activities in and around Port Douglas have a discounted family rate. Often it means you’ll pay full rate for two adults and one child, and the second child goes free. There are a lot of amazing free things to do in Port Douglas as well as the paid activities , so look before you go and decide where you want to spend your money.
Best free activities in Port Douglas with kids
- Swim in the pool, fresh water hole or at the beach if it’s safe (always ask the Lifeguards)
- Walk and play on the beach (our accommodation had sand toys, umbrellas and beach chairs to borrow for free)
- Walk or drive up Flagstaff Hill for spectacular views
- Spend a Sunday morning walking around the markets (even the kids will enjoy it)
- Watch the sunset at Rex Smeal Park
Is it worth saving the extra money to take your family to Port Douglas to see the world’s oldest rainforest and largest coral reef? Absolutely yes!
We hope you enjoy your trip if you’re going soon, or that this has given you the inspiration to start saving.
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