If you want to explore the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest and outdoor adventures, Port Douglas is a beautiful base with lots of Port Douglas accommodation options.
Handy Hint: When travelling into Port Douglas you’ll want to stay on the eastern side of town as this is quieter with less traffic. We stayed for a couple of weeks in Port Douglas and enjoyed numerous local tours, but we also personally experienced a number of accommodations.
As a Travel Designer, my recommendations are based solely on places I have seen for myself and can recommend at the time of my visit. Skill is needed in matching travelers expectations to their budgets, and accommodation needs. Couples don’t necessary want to stay in a family resort and families require child-friendly apartments with kitchen and playground facilities. So folks, here’s my list:
If you’re are staying in Port Douglas you may wish to be fairly central within walking distance to shops, restaurants and supermarkets. Naturally, you’ll want peace and quiet too. Cayman Villas are perfectly located for both.
I loved the layout of their 2- and 3-bedroom apartments. They’re spacious and stylish. This resort has three main buildings, each with three levels. There is no elevator, but there is a heated swimming pool in the middle of the complex. Heated Pools are a great facility for children especially in the more moderate winter months between May and September. (Price Indication: A$300-450 per night per room per apartment.)
First impressions are very important and the one consistent thread with all these accommodations is their commitment to maintaining both plants and building to a high standard.
Peppers gave a very good first impression with it’s beautiful large pools surrounded by sand. Couples are also likely to stay here as well, as there is a bar and grill restaurant and a gym. The ground floor rooms have direct access to the pools and it’s a very short walk into town. There is complementary guest parking and a 24 hour reception service. Elevators serve the majority of rooms.
These sister properties are managed by one Company and are only 100 metres from the Port Douglas beach. The resort has two pools, one of which is heated.
There is a well maintained tennis court, BBQ facilities and childrens playing area. There is no complimentary wifi, gym or spa facilities. The 1-, 2-, 3- bedrooms apartments are spacious and modern. (Price indication: A$300-450 per night per apartment.)
Mowbray is located with close access to the Port Douglas beach (sorry, no photo). It’s also very close to the central village (5-10 minutes walk). Mowbray caters for a family or two couples together. It has 3 levels, a heated lap pool, Formerly managed by a corporate company, it is now owner-operated. And the personalised attention by the owner is already paying off with facilities being updated and guest services (such as complimentary wifi) enhanced. The apartments are roomy with a balcony attached. As with most apartment options in Port Douglas, full kitchen facilities are included. (Price indication: A$200-350 per night per apartment.)
Garrick House is on the preferred side of town and is now an owner-operated business. The apartments are a different level down from the previous properties I’ve mentioned and this is reflected in the price.
Options include Studio, 1- and 2-Bedroom apartments. The 2-bedroom apartments are on the third level and accessed by stairs. Garrick House has a small (currently) unheated pool and offers complimentary wifi. The owner is very approachable and helpful. Price level: (Price indication: A$120-200 per night per apartment.)
Shantara is a privately owned dedicated couples-only apartment resort within a short walking distance from the village. This three-level property has 2 pools but no restaurant or bar. There is a separately owned award-winning Health and Spa that we can also personally recommend.
We stayed in one of Shantara’s spacious apartments for five nights and enjoyed it’s lovely interiors. This property is maintained to a very high standard.The kitchen is well equipped. There is a complementary wifi with a generous daily limit of 1GB – such a pleasant surprise from other properties we stayed at! (Price Indication: A$300-400 per night per room (2 person).)
For travellers seeking a totally different experience with rural and peaceful setting in native bush, Mai Tai is the perfect retreat. Anthony Roxburgh and Andre de Walsche are the owners/managers and their personal touches are everywhere.
The property has a strong Asian influence and offers four individual rooms, each with their own spacious courtyard. Breakfast is served on the veranda overlooking the bush. At the top level of the Resort is a self-contained apartment with full kitchen, wifi and two bedroom facilities. This is definitely an adult-only retreat with a truly peaceful and tranquil setting.(Price Indication: A$250-350 per night per room (2 person).
While talking to local tour operators, we were made aware of the Port Douglas Boutique Hotel, which is located next the the local beach.
Interesting enough there are not many hotels with breakfast or restaurant facilities in the area (most of them are further out of town). Most studio rooms are beautifully appointed facing the beach (except 4 pool view units). They are spacious and very comfortable. The hotel has a breakfast buffet included in the daily rate, which is a unusual, as most other hotels in this area, charge heavily for breakfast. (Price Indication: A$250-400 per night per room (2 person).
If you’re looking for ‘knock-out’ views on a private headland between Cairns and Port Douglas, you might want to consider the tree chalets at Thala Beach Resort…
…and try to book a bungalow overlooking the shimmering Coral Sea:
The buffet breakfast at Thala Beach is top notch with every conceivable hot and cold option, however at the time of our stay, the same could not be said for the night dining, the standard of which did not match the prices charged. I would strongly suggest you travel the 15-min drive to Port Douglas where there are some excellent dining choices to be had. (I voiced my concern to Management about the dinner and I’m hopeful that this ‘glitch’ can be resolved.) Although wi-fi is not provided in the chalets, there is complimentary access throughout the main lodge.
Silky Oaks is a luxury retreat set in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest, adjoining the Mossman River. Mossman is a 20- minute drive from Port Douglas or around 1.5 hours from Cairns. Silky Oaks has the perfect blend of native bush and the luxurious, private setting of individual chalets.
Those chalets are just gorgeous with polished wooden floors, stylish interior and all the mod-cons. The hammocks on for verandah of each chalet, were a very nice touch.The restaurant dinner facilities are available for in-house guests only. The lodge provides a top-notch spa and health retreat and offers guided rainforest and cultural tours, bird watching and complementary cycle hire. (Price Indication: A$400-700 per night per room (2 person)
We enjoyed our stay in Port Douglas during the month of July when the temperatures were between 25-27 degrees. It was also a little less busy. BTW, our fav place for excellent coffee was the Bookshop Cafe!
This is the tour I enjoyed the most from Port Douglas – sailing and snorkelling on the Aquarius, a beautiful 62ft Catamaran with a maximum of 23 guests.
There’s a different level of comfort and service here folks. Today, we sailed out under blue skies and a beaming sun.
With a gentle breeze, we headed out to Low Isles a beautiful white beach surrounded by marine life, including large green turtles. The two crew members of Aquarius, Skipper Andy and Hostess, Jo, provided a very personalised level of service. Andy understands the male obsession for being at the helm:
And Jo? Well Jo just sparkles with personality and doesn’t mind me watching her every move. She’s happy if her guests are happy.
On these boutique sailing tours, there is a different type of guest. No children under the age of 16 are permitted. There are mainly couples on-board and the conversation is relaxed and easy.
Snorkelling Low Isles:
First, we’re transferred from the Aquarius into a glass-bottomed boat to the beautiful white beaches of the Low Isles. Here’s me, clutching my flippers and measuring each step.
When we reach Low Isles the snorkelling begins and once again I observe the meticulous care of the crew. The snorkel, mask and mouthpiece are checked on every guest and adjustments made. Jo then invites the less confident to latch on to a rubber ring which she pulls along on a rope. The energy this must take, absolutely staggers me! These crew members are incredibly fit.
Every now and then Jo stops when she sees something of interest, like the gorgeous fish known as Cleaner Wrasses. Larger fish hover underneath us, waiting patiently for the Cleaner Wrasses to remove their parasites and dead skin. Unfortunately there’s an imposter that’s able to mimic the Cleaner Wrasses. Sometimes these little ‘nasties’ burrow through the gills of the trusting fish, helping themselves to chunks of flesh, before swimming off. How thrilling to see the Black-tipped reef sharks and yes we swim with those sharks. In fact the sharks in these waters are totally harmless and are known as the ‘puppy dogs’ of the ocean. You’ll be amazed when they shy away from you!
Low Isles Island Tour:
I could remain snorkelling but opt for a walking tour around the island with Andy. Can you believe the size of this clam shell! Later on when we all go snorkelling again, we’ll see giant living claims many times the size of this one.
The lighthouse you see in the far distance of the second to last photo is actually quite impressive. It’s the first lighthouse in Northern Queensland. Such a pity that the first light-keeper’s wife died within 2 weeks of arrival. We spend a quiet moment at her grave.
Walking through the bush we catch sight of the birdlife and their magnificent nests before heading out once more onto the beach and it’s sparkling waters.
Michael and another guests snorkelled their way back to the Aquarius Boat which was anchored a short distance from the beach. The rest of us went back via the glass-bottomed boat to view more marine life. I counted 6 large green turtles in the space of 5 mins!
Lunch on-board the Aquarius:
On tours like this, you won’t find the usual blubbery suspects elbowing their way to the buffet table. It’s an experience to be savoured. The food is beautifully laid out with succulent fresh prawns and other delectables. But it’s the dessert table that seduces me. Who could fault this cheese platter?
The cheesecake squares are delicious, as are those insane little fruit slices that melt in your mouth. It’s all nicely polished off with freshly cut tropical fruit:
There’s more snorkelling to be had directly off the Aquarius but I prefer to kick back and just chill out, totally oblivious to the curious fish on the right.
Luxuriating to the sound of water gently slapping against this beautiful vessel is something I’ve dreamt of for a long time but one of the guests on-board has harboured his own dream. Bin has always wanted to hoist sails and now is his chance. Under careful supervision, Bin’s dream comes true. Mission accomplished.
Our day is over, but not for Andy and Jo. They’ll be getting the boat in shipshape order for the sunset cruise where they’ll sail into a golden sky.
It’s a pain having to get up at 5.30am again! But we need a few hours to catch up on our work (yes, we still need to make a living) and prepare for a day’s tour of the oldest living rainforest in the world – The Daintree. We’re about to join a small tour group and meet our Tour Guide, Kerry.
Kerry has great people skills. He’s an experienced and seasoned traveller with a dry sense of humour. His on-board commentary provides plenty of laughs. First, we drive onto the ferry that will take us across the Daintree River.
We then drive to Cape Tribulation and park near a lovely little beach where further up, there’s a lookout for great photos opportunities. By the time we head back, Kerry’s laid out home-made muffins, chocolate biscuits and freshly cut tropical fruit. Bet he was up earlier than me to make those muffins!
Next we head off for a leisurely river cruise. For me, this was a definite highlight. The boat guide gave an extremely detailed commentary on the Daintree’s ecosystem and some fascinating facts about the crocodiles here.
As we floated upstream, quietness descended. We were all hoping to see those amazing reptiles who survived the Dinosaur Age. We were not disappointed.
Two large crocodiles, one female and a much larger male, came into sight. They’re used to this particular boat and barely gave us a glance. As for us, we squealed like kids. This was such a thrill. Let’s get closer..
The rainforest walk was a great way to get in a bit of exercise. Kerry explained how the different plants and trees of the forest have adapted to flourish in the Daintree Forest. Love those creeping vines.
For all you romantics out there, don’t forget the all-important loved-up shot, because this is the perfect place for it.
As if we need more to eat, yet here we are at the “On the Turps” restaurant, in the middle of a rainforest. The staff are ready with the pre-ordered lunch of our choice. My grilled Barramundi is delicious and it’s a generous portion.This is where you get to have great conversations with your fellow travellers.
The Daintree home-made Ice-cream shop is the next treat and they take cash only. Can I fit more in? Yes I can. These ice-cream flavours are so uniquely tropical, you may never have heard of them. Wattle Seed ice-cream!
Next we’re off the Mossman Gorge, home to the Kuku Yalanji people, the original inhabitants of this area. First we need to park the van before we board a large bus that will drive us to the gorge. This is the only part of the tour where you’ll join a lot of other travellers, but it’s only for a short time.
Look at this panoramic view from the Alexandria Lookout. You get the whole spectrum of the Daintree Forest and beyond to the Coral Sea.
On the way back, we’ve become one big happy family. Before I close my eyes tonight, I’ll be thinking of this untouched and magnificent world.
One of Calypso’s crew likened this aquatic adventure to “an underwater bush walk”. Tropical Journeys is a great family-owned company in Port Douglas with a number of strings to it’s bow. The Calypso snorkelling and diving trip in the Great Barrier Reef, is just one of them.
From my experience of tours throughout Australia and New Zealand, the smaller the boat, the better the experience. This tour takes only up to 65 people and is a step up from the mass market. It’s easier to find your way around the vessel and the crew are very accessible. Boarding is easy from the beautiful Marina which is within walking distance from the central hub.
I am extremely impressed with the professionalism of the crew. These guys are very serious about the safety of their passengers and are constantly doing head counts. They’re very approachable and courteous, but they’re not here to be our mates. In an emergency, it’s the crew who must be in charge and I like that. (It would be helpful if the crew used microphones when giving instructions)
For safety reasons all passengers have removed their shoes. It’s now time to relax with the wake of the surf behind me. Tropical Port Douglas is perfect in these winter months between June and August- the days are still warm and balmy – perfect for travellers.
Hey, this wasn’t in the plan. Didn’t we agree to just snorkel? Michael has decided he wants to do some diving and I’m giving every compelling argument for not doing this… and I think it’s working…
The diving instructor has just grasped hands with Michael and is about to gently pull him under the water. He needs to get used to a different way of breathing the oxygen that’s been keeping him alive all these years. Maybe this is the definitive way of exploring the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a mysterious, beautiful world where you’re no longer a spectator, but one of it’s respectful citizens. And someone’ always watching over you.
It’s important to note here that if you cannot understand English, you are NOT eligible to dive. After the instruction session, all participants must read through a very important information sheet which they must sign. Obviously they need to be communicate with the diving instructors. Hey, it’s buffet time!
The buffet provides a variety of meat, salad and bread options. It’s tasty and nutritious. The morning and afternoon tea consists of delicious little home-cooked slices and freshly sliced tropical fruit. You may think this brave and fearless man is quietly reflecting on life. Don’t be fooled, he’s only thinking about the next bread roll.
Remember when I mentioned about all the passengers having to remove their shoes? They were all placed in large crates and I was a little concerned about having to sort through them to find mine. No worries. At the end of the journey, they were all laid out in perfect matching pairs on a large platform. It was a pleasant surprise. On the wharf, the crew were lined up in their uniforms to say goodbye to each passenger. Now that’s a nice touch.
The road from Rockhampton to the city of Mackay is straight and endless, with very few ‘watering holes’ on the way. We’re exhausted from this road trip, but as Michael keeps reminding me, we have to do it to increase our knowledge of the area. My turn to drive and I’m finding it hard to paste a smile on my dial.
When we reach Mackay and check in to our hotel apartment, the receptionist provides us with a map of the city but is unable to say where on the map the hotel is actually located! Although fairly newish, the fixtures and fittings in this establishment are already falling apart. Once again a hotel built to budget specs with thin walls, noisy plumbing and sliding doors that are already coming of their tracks. The doors are not spring-loaded and close with an earth-shattering slam? The only robust part of this hotel is it’s tariff and internet charges.
On the plus side, MacKay is a lovely tropical city with a beautiful wide river and a promenade full of polite cyclists and friendly Aussies. Love those Aussies!
We’re so exhausted and sleep comes fast. This is the first time I can recall Michael snoozing off in mid-sentence. I quickly join him on the nod train.
Today, it’s a different story. We’re up at 6.00am eager to resume our journey. We leave our rabbit warren and find ourselves on a beautiful scenic drive towards Townsville.
As we cross the Tropic of Capricorn, the bush becomes green and lush and reminds me of West Coast forest back in New Zealand. We make a deter to Airlie Beach and find a very touristy destination with lots of backpackers.
This is a base where visitors can visit The Whitsundays, an island group located in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Water sports and aquatic adventures reign supreme. The sea and marina views at Airlie beach are lovely. Even in the off-season it’s busy, but it’s an enjoyable place to be, with predominantly resort-like accommodation.
We leave Airlie Beach and just 9kms out of Townsville we drive into a traveller’s nightmare of traffic jams. No one has advised our GPS of all the road-works taking place. Many detours later we arrive at the newly built Quest Hotel. Our apartment is tastefully decorated. The furniture is stylish and solid and in the spirit of generosity, there’s unlimited Wi-Fi and a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. The bed looks inviting.
Tomorrow our 14-day stay in Port Douglas begins and is the reason I can face one more day on the road!