Port Douglas beach and ocean on sunny day, Queensland, Australia.

Port Douglas, Australia

Known as Terrigal, Island Point, Port Owen, and Salisbury in the past, the town of Port Douglas is perched picturesquely on the coast of Queensland, some 60 km north of the important transport hub, Cairns. Adjacent to two World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef and the world's oldest, Daintree Rainforest, the town thrives on tourism with its unsurpassed scenic vistas and many other natural attractions, including the Mossman Gorges and the Daintree River. Its tropical downtown center has many restaurants, walks, and entertainment options. The favorite outdoor pursuits include scuba diving and snorkeling, offered through regular tours departing the marina to the outer reef and the Low Isles.

Port Douglas
Panoramic view of Four Mile Beach from Flagstaff Hill in Port Douglas. Editorial credit: Vidit Luthra / Shutterstock.com

Named after a former Premier of Queensland, John Douglas (1877-79), Port Douglas's history is varied, having initially thrived through mining to quickly develop as a town. Timber cutting around the Daintree River area also helped the economy, simultaneously creating a place for settlement on lots around the Mossman River. Upon establishing the Port and a sugar-growing period, Port Douglas suffered after the 1911 cyclone, with tourism finally reviving the town in the 1980s. Today's population of fewer than 4,000 in Port Douglas often doubles during the tourist season from May to September. 

Early History Of Port Douglas

Port Douglas
Aerial view to the City of Port Douglas on the east coast of Australia.

The establishment of Port Douglas rooted from its convenient location to tranship goods, first for the inland goldfields at Palmer River in 1873, then to the north-west of Port Douglas via the Hodgkinson River, and south to Kingsborough in 1876. By 1877, a wharf, stores, 27 hotels, and a post office were built near the new Port. Gold was discovered on the Hodgkinson River by James Venture Mulligan in 1877, with miners settling the area, and the township, peaking at 12,000 residents, was surveyed and named. The town's school, courthouse, and hospital opened in 1879, and the construction of the St Mary's Catholic Church commenced the next year.

In competition with Mourilyan and Cairns for the location of an inland railway in 1884, the privilege was given to Cairns. Following that, investment in Port Douglas began to fall. A year prior, a privately funded sugar mill opened for cane growers, but productions faltered shortly after until a new mill opened in 1897. By 1900 there was a tramline from the Port Douglas wharf to Mossman, while the first description of the town came out in 1903, in the Australian Handbook. Hit by a severe cyclone in 1911, many important buildings in town were destroyed, including the Government bond store and the tramway station and engine shed. Hardships continued for the next few decades, with the town choosing what to keep open and what to replace according to the needs. The town's population also dropped and stayed at 200-some until the 1960s. 

Revival Of Port Douglas

Port Douglas
The Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort is a luxury hotel located near the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Handbook's description of the beach, mentioning "magnificent," "five miles along the coast," and "sand is white and hard underfoot," and with investor Christopher Skase sitting on the very beach in 1968 planning out the future resort, comprised the start to the town's revival. The proximity to the Barrier Reef and the establishment of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation national parks in the 1980s improved the town's prospects as a resort destination. The approved Mirage resort in 1985, financed by Skase, coming inclusive with a golf course, 300-room hotel, and 400 condos, catapulted the town into its present-day fame, with the resident population growing by 270% to over 3500 in just five years.

Recent Events In Port Douglas

Today Port Douglas is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Queensland, having catered to Bill Clinton and his wife, who stayed there in 1996. Also dining at the resort town's Salsa Bar and Grill in 2001, it was there that he was advised of the September 11 attacks. Steve Irwin, the charismatic Australian wildlife handler, died immediately upon getting lashed by a toxic stingray while snorkeling near Batt Reef in September of 2006. Named after the man who discovered gold years prior, the Mulligan Highway opened in 2006, replacing an unpaved road for tourists to complete the same journey in almost half the time. 


Port Douglas
Picturesque lookout over Port Douglas. Editorial credit: Alex Cimbal / Shutterstock.com

Port Douglas is known to have the most extravagant accommodation options and resorts in all of Queensland, including the Pullman Port Douglas with a 3,000 square meter lagoon-style swimming pool. The Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort has two lagoon pools, seven villa pools, an adjacent Mirage Country Club with a fitness center, lap pool, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course. The many varied restaurants serve local produce and delicious interpretations of other cultures'. Flames of the Forest dining experience offers one to learn about Australia's indigenous history through an Aboriginal-style dinner and a cultural performance by two brothers.

Many A-list celebrities visit the charismatic Port Douglas with an intimate and relaxed town-feel, where food, wine, arts, and culture are appreciated. At the same time, the friendly locals are happy to chat and tell their town's secrets to the everyday tourists over a cup of coffee, a game of golf, or while sharing a fishing spot. The elegant homes and superb apartments complement the grand resorts offering the backpackers and families an equally-catered time within the relaxed atmosphere of the tropical Port. The peaceful town is revitalizing with its beautiful Four Mile Beach for swimming and relaxing, the tropical atmosphere and boutique shopping found on the main street, and the dining with birds at a wildlife park experience.

The Daintree National Park

southern cassowaries - daintree national park
Southern cassowaries at Daintree National Park.

The Daintree National Park containing the famed over 135-million-years-old Daintree, sits in-between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation two hours to the north. It is part of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. At the park, one can simply enjoy an unforgettable picnic, or visit the Mossman Gorge, cruise down the Daintree River, and hike through the rainforest to where it meets the reef in Cape Tribulation. 

Over 1,200 square km in breadth, the park is comprised of two sections, the Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation. The atmospheric Gorge is home to crystal-clear waters cascading over granite boulders, spectacular rainforest, and indigenous cultural experience. The kids particularly enjoy the Hartleys Crocodile Adventures at the Gorge.

Daintree river crocodile
Crocodile dragging its body on sand at Daintree National Park, Australia.

The Daintree River is famous for cruising, croc spotting, and bird watching. Across the river, the Cape Tribulation section of the park covers everything from Cow Bay to the Bloomfield River in a 17,000 ha coastal range. The beach, fringed with an interesting beachside rainforest and reefs, is the meeting spot of the two World Heritage sites, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef. With the nearby accommodations, it is easy to spend one-on-one with nature in the ancient land through the readily available activities. There's bushwalking, kayaking, horse-riding, snorkeling, 4W-Driving, and exotic fruit tasting. 

Other attractions include the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, Rainforestation, Birdworld, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, and the Kuranda Koala Gardens. The expanse of the ancient tropical rainforests offers other-worldly experiences in a land of contrasts, while the tropical fish at the Great Barrier Reef presents a true kaleidoscope of color. One can drive to the park or get a fully-guided 4WD Safari along the Cook Highway north of Port Douglas. The changing, beautiful scenery along the way includes secluded palm-fringed tropical beaches, secret coves, the lush green sugar-cane fields hidden behind the rugged headlands, and rainforest-covered mountains.

Climate Of Port Douglas

Even residents flee to the balmy Port Douglas for the tropical climate consisting of two wet and dry seasons. The wet summertime season comes with high humidity, heavy rain, and stingers in the ocean. The dry season, lasting from April through October, brings cooler nights and comfortable day temperatures between 19 and 24°C. The peak tourist time to visit is during the winters, when humidity is gone and days are dry and clear, offering a warm getaway from their winter-bound homes. The wettest month is February, followed by the rainy March and April that provide relief from humidity, along with spectacular full-flowing waterfalls and rainforests at their best.

Festivals In Port Douglas

There are two main festivals held in Port Douglas annually. The Carnivale at the end of May runs over two weekends for ten days featuring the Macrossan Street Parade attended by more than 10,000 people. The Sunset in the Park Music Festival and Portoberfest, the North Queensland's Festival of Beer, are held during Australia's spring in October. November brings about the Canegrowers Great Barrier Reef Marathon Festival when Port Douglas turns into an athletes' village where competitors race against the Marathon Olympian in the Steve Moneghetti Marathon. Also, the pole-positioned Total Solar Eclipse on November 14, 2012, was best viewed from Port Douglas and attended by thousands from around the globe. 

How To Get There

Tourists on a cruise boat in Port Douglas.

One can simply drive to Port Douglas from Cairns via Australia's most scenic coastal roads surrounded by the rainforest on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other. Although train departures from Brisbane to Cairns are not daily, one can reach the Cairns Central Railway Station in just over one day by rail. Set in the heart of Cairns behind the Central Shopping Centre, one can do some major exploration and stock up before taking a coach to the World Heritage wonders of Tropical North Queensland.

International capitals of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand all have direct flights into Cairns. With the airport just 10 minutes from Melbourne, 25 minutes from Palm Cove and the Northern Beaches, and about one hour from Port Douglas, one can take a coach to the desired destination. The air travel also includes several domestic flights with Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Blue operating from Cairns with daily scheduled services to state capitals and regional locations alike. 

Easily reachable and scenically positioned, Port Douglas is a great getaway on its own for the beach, the many in-town activities, and the natural pursuits in the surrounding area. As the closest mainland port to the Great Barrier Reef and only a short drive into the heart of the Wet Tropics rainforest at Daintree and Cape Tribulation, it also comprises the ultimate base to start exploring the World Heritage wonders of Tropical North Queensland.

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