Rex Lookout Cairns to Port Douglas Sarah Latham Copyright

Arriving in Cairns and travelling to Port Douglas? Travelling from Cairns to Port Douglas is very popular for tourists and travellers in the region. Also known as the Great Barrier Reef Drive, it is the scenery from Cairns to Port Douglas that makes this drive one of the best roads in Australia. But did you know there is more to the journey between Cairns and Port Douglas than just its incredible good looks? Read on to discover what you need to know about travelling between Cairns and Port Douglas as well as your must do Cairns to Port Douglas itinerary.

Suggested read: How to spend a weekend in Port Douglas

Where is Cairns and Port Douglas?

Cairns and Port Douglas are found in Tropical North Queensland in, you guessed it, the northern part of Queensland in Australia. Cairns is the bigger of the two and is home to both domestic and international airports, making it the most common entry point to the region. Port Douglas is found just over an hour’s drive north of Cairns and is accessible by the road, but also (like Cairns) has a cruise port, so can be accessed directly via a cruise ship. You can see the Cairns to Port Douglas drive on Google Maps here.

Cairns to Port Douglas Google Maps

How far away are Cairns and Port Douglas from each other?

As mentioned above, Cairns and Port Douglas are just over an hour’s drive from each other. For Cairns locals, driving to Port Douglas is a popular day trip and Port Douglas is very accessible from Cairns as a day trip. However, Port Douglas is also a popular getaway destination so many people will visit Port Douglas from Cairns for several nights. Please note that road trip timings will change with different stops along the way and, of course, traffic.

Suggested read: The best easy day trips from Cairns

How to get from Cairns to Port Douglas?

You have a few options to travel from Cairns to Port Douglas. There are a number of Cairns to Port Douglas shuttle buses available to book. Note that these are not public buses and the prices will reflect this. The most popular way to get to Port Douglas from Cairns is via car so if you are visiting, car hire is highly recommended due to not only the convenience of being able to plan your trip, how you like, a lot of the best places to see between Cairns and Port Douglas are accessible by car.

What you need to know about travelling between Cairns and Port Douglas

The road between Cairns and Port Douglas is very well maintained. Hugging the coastline between the Coral Sea and the oldest tropical rainforest on Earth (suggested read: How to experience the Cairns rainforest), you will need to focus your concentration on the road as the scenery truly is spectacular. We drive on the left in Australia and there are signs on the Great Barrier Reef Drive to remind you of that (suggested read: Things you need to know before visiting Australia). Obey the speed limit, as due to the windy roads this road has experienced a lot of car crashes and be sure not to tailgate the person in front of you. However, please always be mindful of those travelling behind you and use the slow turn out lanes and let people over take you where they can. Many locals use this road and are very experienced with it – while you may not be comfortable as the road is new to you, please be mindful that they don’t want to be stuck behind you (and you don’t want to put up with them behind you!) so move into the frequent slow turn out lanes to let them pass.

Sarah Latham Rex Lookout Cairns Port Douglas Drive

Continue on to read your must do Cairns to Port Douglas itinerary. If you are short on time heading either way, all of these options can be enjoyed either heading to Port Douglas or heading back to Cairns at the end of your trip. There is so much to see between Cairns and Port Douglas you can enjoy these experiences both going and returning!

Cairns to Port Douglas Must Do Itinerary

1. Mayhem at Machans

Start your Cairns to Port Douglas itinerary with breakfast at Mayhem at Machans. Machans Beach is the first northern beach as you leave Cairns (and the closest to the Cairns Airport). Mayhem by Machans is a cute and quirky cafe found in this suburb and has great acai bowls on their all day menu (so if you’re setting off later in the morning, you’re still in luck!). This is a great spot to fuel up before your adventure ahead. Suggested read: Where to find the best acai in Cairns.

Sarah Latham Mayhem at Machans Cairns Food

2. Clifton Beach

After you’ve left Machans Beach behind, continue driving north along the Captain Cook Highway. After approximately 20 minutes, you’ll find yourself at Clifton Beach (Google Maps directions here). Clifton Beach is one of the beautiful, but lesser-known, northern beaches in Cairns. Stop for a walk along the foreshore. If you fancy a swim in the ocean, there is often a swimming net you can swim in. You can find out more about Clifton Beach here.

Clifton Beach Cairns to Port Douglas Sarah Latham Copyright

3. Palm Cove

Now onto one of the must see places on your Cairns to Port Douglas itinerary: Palm Cove. There’s no doubt if you’ve been doing your research into Cairns, you’ll have come across images of the beautiful Palm Cove. Found only a 5-minute drive north from Clifton Beach (Google Maps directions here), save an hour to wander the coast line, snap photos underneath the iconic palm trees that give this Cairns northern beach its name and grab a coffee or a smoothie from Nu Nu Restaurant or Chill at Portofino.

Palm Cove Sarah Latham Copyright 1

4. Take in the views

Now it’s time to hop back in your car and continue north onto the Great Barrier Reef Drive. Once you pass Palm Cove, the Cairns to Port Douglas road really does turn from highway to gorgeous scenery – where the rainforest clad mountains dramatically rush down to meet the sparkling blue of the Coral Sea. Wind your way along the coastal road – and if you’ve called shotgun on being the passenger, be sure to have your camera ready to snap photos!

Ellis Beach Sarah Latham Copyright
Ellis Beach, on the Great Barrier Reef Drive

5. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Once you’ve soaked in the views to your heart’s content, you’ll be pretty close to arriving at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Found about a 20 minute drive north from Palm Cove (Google Maps directions here), keep your eyes out for Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures as you approach Wangetti. One of the oldest running attractions in the Cairns region and a must do when travelling from Cairns to Port Douglas, here you can get up, close and personal (but safely!) with crocodiles plus other animals like snakes and cassowaries. Save a couple of hours for this experience as you travel from Cairns to Port Douglas. You can find out more about the experience here.

6. Hartley’s Creek Falls

It’s time to cool off and refresh – after a walk, of course! Hartleys Creek Falls is found in Wangetti and the car park for these falls are found just next door to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures (Google Maps directions here). Unless you arrive early in the morning, you’ll likely see a number of cars parked up on the grassy car park which signals your entrance. This walk is approximately 7km return so be sure to pack your hiking shoes – although the majority of this walk is flat ground. Save at least 2 hours for this walk, and time to spend admiring the beautiful waterfall you’re trekking to. You can find out more about what to expect of this waterfall situated between Cairns and Port Douglas here.

Hartleys Creek Falls Sarah Latham Copyright

7. The Rex Lookout – Cairns to Port Douglas iconic lookout

Once you’ve left Hartley’s Creek Falls, you only have a short drive – 2 minutes in fact! – to your next destination (Google Maps directions here). Rex Lookout is the pinnacle of must do experiences on the Cairns to Port Douglas drive. Pull over in the parking bays and be sure to bring your camera because this is the best spot in the region to snap a photo of the scenery you have just driven through.

Rex Lookout Cairns to Port Douglas Sarah Latham Copyright

8. Thala Beach Nature Reserve

After you’ve goggled at the scenery at Rex Lookout, hop back in your car and continue north along the Great Barrier Reef Drive for about 15 minutes (Google Maps directions here). Your next stop is Thala Beach Nature Reserve – or more specifically the driveway on the way into Thala Beach Lodge. As you approach Thala Beach, you’ll notice on your right-hand side a plantation of seemingly never-ending coconut trees. Turn right into the driveway, park your car to the side out of the way and if you own a drone, this is your time to use it as drone shots of the coconut trees and the winding driveway are one of the most Instagrammable pictures you can take in the Cairns and Port Douglas region! Suggested read: The best places to drone in Cairns.

While you’re here this is a great spot to have lunch as by now I’m sure your stomach is rumbling from all the activities. Thala Beach Lodge is home to Osprey’s Restaurant but if you are planning to eat here be sure to make a reservation in advance.

Thala Beach Lodge Sarah Jane Griffiths Copyright
Photo Credit: Sarah Jane Griffiths

9. Spring Creek Falls

Now your next experience is either one for the adventure seekers or one to come back to when returning from Port Douglas to Cairns: Spring Creek Falls. This is found in Mowbray, about a 10-minute drive from Thala Beach Lodge (Google Maps directions here). This waterfall hike is not for the faint hearted and will have you walking alongside a rainforest creek and scrambling over rocks, for about 90-minutes each way. I’ve included it here for the avid hikers, but it is also a great option to come back to if you’re spending a few days in Port Douglas, because it is found nearby (about a 15 minute drive) to Port Douglas town! You can find out more of what to expect from the Spring Creek Falls trek here.

Regardless if you decide to stop at Spring Creek Falls, a must do when heading from Cairns to Port Douglas is looking for crocodiles from Mowbray River Bridge. While you can’t stop on the bridge, at low tide keep your eye out on the banks as large crocodiles are often spotted as you cruise on through.

Spring Creek Mowbray Sarah Latham Copyright

10. Mossman Gorge

Continue along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, and for now, we’re going to go pass the turn off into Port Douglas itself and head along to Mossman Gorge (Google Maps directions here). This is where you’ll enter the Daintree Rainforest! One of the must visit places in the Daintree, Mossman Gorge is an iconic and beautiful rainforest gorge. Admire the emerald green pools of water that swirl over the smooth pebbled boulders before wandering through the ancient tropical rainforest paths. You can find out more of what to expect (and entrance fees) to Mossman Gorge here.

Suggested read: How to experience the Cairns rainforest

Mossman Gorge Sarah Latham

11. Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

After enjoying the rainforest at Mossman Gorge, it’s time to head towards Port Douglas! Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is one of the best places in Port Douglas to experience Australian animals. Here you can interact with wallabies, kangaroos and emus before walking over a crocodile exhibit or even swimming (in a protected glass cage, of course!) with a crocodile. Wildlife Habitat is found just outside of Port Douglas and about 15 minutes from Mossman Gorge (Google Maps directions here) and is particularly good if you are travelling Cairns to Port Douglas with children as it is one of the best family friendly activities here.

Girl standing on boardwalk at Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

12. Port Douglas Town

And you’ve arrived! But your Cairns to Port Douglas must do itinerary has not come to an end yet. Once you’ve settled into your accommodation, head into Port Douglas town to soak in the relaxed, holiday atmosphere. Wander down Macrossan Street, the main street of Port Douglas (Google Maps location here) and enjoy the beautiful views of the Port Douglas Sugar Wharf.

Port Douglas Sarah Latham Copyright 1

13. Flagstaff Hill Lookout

Now you’ve admired Port Douglas from below, it’s time to take in the view from above. Flagstaff Hill Lookout is found in Port Douglas (Google Maps location here) and is accessible via car or foot. The footpath includes beautiful coastal views over the Coral Sea before arriving at Flagstaff Lookout as it admires the famous Four Mile Beach. If you’re going to snap just one photo of Port Douglas, make it the view from Flagstaff Hill Lookout.

Flagstaff Hill Lookout Sarah Latham Copyright

14. Four Mile Beach

Now you’ve seen Four Mile Beach from above at Flagstaff Hill Lookout, you need to see Four Mile Beach in front of you (Google Maps location here). Follow the pathway down to Four Mile Beach where you can spend a few hours relaxing underneath the palm trees (just check there aren’t any coconuts above you that could fall on you while you do!) with a good book. Did you know that although it is named Four Mile Beach, this beach is actually about four kilometres long and the name Four Mile actually came from a local family ‘Fourmile.’

Port Douglas Sarah Latham

15. Rex Smeal Park for Sunset

And finally, the best way to finish your Cairns to Port Douglas adventure (or really any day in Port Douglas) is to visit Rex Smeal Park for sunset. Found in the centre of Port Douglas (Google Maps location here), this is a popular spot to sit with a picnic rug and some food and watch the sky turn golden. I’ll save the photos for your own experience so you can see what it is like the first time when you’re there.

Google Maps locations

You can find all the must do locations from Cairns to Port Douglas mentioned above on this Google Maps link here.

Cairns to Port Douglas Itinerary Google Maps

And you can find all the Port Douglas locations mentioned above on this Google Maps link here.

Port Douglas Google Maps

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