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Port Douglas, a chic retreat on the Coral Sea
A sophisticated seaside village with a laid-back, holiday vibe, Port Douglas is enviably located in between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. The former fishing community is generally considered a bit quieter than Cairns, its neighbour about 40 miles south, though it is similarly stocked with award-winning tour operators, fine restaurants, and shops. Accommodations in Port Douglas range from exceptionally luxurious, five-star resort hotels to homey beach shacks and campgrounds, making this bit of paradise equally beloved by celebrities, backpackers, and young families on vacation.
Shop, dine, and unwind on Four Mile Beach…
Travellers who like to shop are particularly spoiled on weekends in Port Douglas. The traditional Port Douglas Sunday Market features everything from artwork to jewellery, flowering plants, and pineapples—all of which are made, produced, or grown locally. However, avid shoppers can easily spend a few hours (and more than a few dollars!) any day of the week on Macrossan Street; the central shopping district offers a tempting mix of designer clothing shops, art galleries, souvenir stores, and indigenous retailers. Macrossan and its near neighbours, Wharf and Grant, are also known for their award-winning restaurants, though hungry travellers headed for the beach will be happy to find many casual cafes and takeaway places in the neighbourhood as well. Fringed by palm trees and kissed by the Coral Sea, the white sands of Four Mile Beach are just five minutes on foot from the town centre and yet, being well protected from development, also seem to be many worlds away.
Explore the Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas is an excellent base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Snorkelling and scuba diving expeditions are two of the most fun ways to experience its incredible beauty, and day trips depart regularly from Port Douglas. Some of the most popular are headed for the Low Isles, a historic section of the Great Barrier Reef that is home to over 150 species of corals. The islands themselves offer thatched umbrellas for a bit of shade and calm, shallow waters at their edge, ideal for young families. Certified deep sea divers can also explore the famous Cod Hole and Ribbon Reefs for days at a time on a liveaboard cruise; these purpose-built vessels are equipped with many hotel luxuries, such as daily housekeeping, air-conditioning, and flat-screen televisions. Travellers who want to see the reef without getting into a wetsuit can visit one of its many underwater observatories, or tour it on a glass-bottomed boat, semi-submersible submarine, or helicopter instead.
Experience the Daintree Rainforest
At 135 million years and counting, the Daintree is the oldest continuous area of tropical rainforest in the world. This spectacular World Heritage site is within moments of Port Douglas, and there are touring options to suit every sort of explorer. Thrill-seekers as young as three years old can safely zip-line through the jungle canopy, or pitter-patter down the boardwalk to the Daintree Discovery Centre, an award-winning interpretive facility with viewing platforms at every level, from the forest floor to the treetops. River cruises are another popular way to see the rainforest’s incredibly diverse wildlife, which includes prehistoric crocodiles, tree-dwelling kangaroos, and the endangered cassowary. Sightseers can also go bush walking, kayaking, and horseback riding in the jungle, or take a day trip to Kuranda: the idyllic rainforest village can be reached via a historic scenic railway, with a return journey on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
Escape to the Cape…
The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest meet at Cape Tribulation, where they form a string of truly spectacular, unspoiled beaches. Tours depart from Port Douglas regularly, though independent travellers can instead drive 45 minutes north to catch the Daintree Ferry, or follow the sealed road all the way to the Cape, which is where it ends. Whether you prefer to explore its wonders on foot, horseback, or kayak, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars: little kingfishers, great-billed herons, lovely fairy-wrens, and double-eyed fig parrots are just a few of the rarities that have been spotted here. Though half-day tours are very popular, spending a night (or two or three) in Cape Tribulation before heading back to the Port is also an attractive option, especially given the wide variety in accommodations. Backpackers have a vibrant mix of hostels to choose from, and well-heeled explorers will also find retreats that rival the most luxurious resort hotels in Port Douglas.