Travel with kids: 7 days in Port Douglas and the Daintree for families
With kilometres of pristine beaches, thrilling wildlife encounters, Indigenous culture, World Heritage listed reef, delicious food and adventures in an ancient rainforest, Port Douglas and the Daintree tick all the boxes for travel with kids.
A week is the ideal amount of time to explore this beautiful region with children.
DAY 1: GET THE LAY OF THE LAND
Transporting kids (not to mention the toys, books and equipment they simply had to bring) from one place to another can be exhausting.
So let the sun take the edge off and wander down to Port Douglas’ Four Mile Beach. Explore the clear, shallow rock pools at the northern end or take a dip in the warm waters. Just be sure to swim between the flags and inside the stinger net between November and May.
Once you’ve felt your shoulders drop and the sand beneath your toes, walk to Macrossan Street; the main shopping strip. Here you can scope out great places to eat and shop, as well as which of the three ice cream parlours you want to try first (we love Capannina’s focus on local flavours such as the soursop sorbet).
With its enormous fig trees and palm-fringed outlook, Rex Smeal Park is a great way to burn off the ice cream and ensure the kids are tired and ready for day two.
DAY 2: A CRUISE-Y DAY
Get your first taste of the wildlife on an idyllic morning river cruise through the mangrove forests around Port Douglas.
The iconic Lady Douglas riverboat glides along the Dickson Inlet, and on 95 per cent of trips you’ll spot crocodiles lurking below the surface or sunning themselves on the banks. It’s also not unusual to see sea eagles, ospreys, crabs, turtles and the occasional shipwreck.
Grab a bite at The Little Larder (the Reuben sandwich is epic), or Café Fresq (order the corn and zucchini fritters), before tackling the Flagstaff Hill walking track from Four Mile Beach to Island Point Lookout, with its breathtaking views of the Coral Sea and Low Isles.
For a spectacular sunset over glimmering white yachts and forested mountains, head to Hemingway’s, a family-friendly gastro brewpub for stone-fired pizza and local brews.
DAY 3: EXPLORE AUSTRALIA’S GREATEST NATURAL WONDER
No matter your kids’ age or swimming ability, there’s a family-friendly experience on the Great Barrier Reef for everyone.
AquaQuest vessels take families out to the outer reefs, where you can snorkel in turquoise water over glittering constellations of coral, spot bright yellow trumpetfish, moray eels, luminous parrotfish and giant clams.
Or spend a day on Green Island with Big Cat Green Island Tours. You can hire a canoe or stand-up paddle board, or simply explore the white sand beaches, abundant marine life and tropical rainforest at your leisure. But don’t miss Marineland Melanesia where you can see the largest captive crocodile in Australia and even pat a baby crocodile.
Cairns is the only departure point for Green Island, but transfers are available between Cairns and Port Douglas.
DAY 4: GO WILD
Kids are often up with the birds, so why not have breakfast with some feathered friends? Ten minutes from Port Douglas is Wildlife Habitat – an immersive wildlife park where you can nibble on freshly baked pastries, cereals and tropical fruits while meeting colourful birds like lorikeets, parrots and curlews.
From there, it’s a short trip to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, which has fun and informative education sessions about all the animals housed at the wildlife park, not just crocodiles.
Back in Port Douglas, pick up something to eat from Mocka’s – a local institution serving crocodile and kangaroo pies.
DAY 5: DAINTREE DREAMING
Mossman Gorge is an area with great spiritual and cultural value to the Kuku Yalanji people, who have thrived amongst its steep mountain ranges, wild rivers and ancient rainforests.
Join a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk organised by Mossman Gorge Centre where local Indigenous guides share their exhaustive and fascinating knowledge of this area.
After you’ve grabbed a light lunch at the Centre (the menu features locally-sourced produced and Indigenous ingredients), get ready for an underwater adventure with Back Country Bliss, a river snorkelling tour where you through crystal clear waters surrounded by a rainforest older than the Amazon by 80 million years. Small children can sit on sturdy, inflatable rafts and float down the river with their parents.
DAY 6: DEEP INTO THE DAINTREE
Cross the Daintree River and prepare to be enchanted by the towering rainforest and pristine beaches. Pop in to the Daintree Discovery Centre and come face to face with some ancient mega flora and fauna.
Cool off at Mason’s Creek (access is through Mason’s café and a gold coin donation is appreciated) and indulge any mini naturalists by visiting the Daintree Entomological Museum.
Stop by the Daintree Ice Cream Company for a scoop (or four) of their prized ice cream, which is made on site using organically grown fruit from their own orchards.
Then stretch your legs and wander the boardwalks dotted along the drive to Cape Tribulation (the Marrdja boardwalk is particularly child-friendly).
For many, the highlight of today will be a guided zipline and tree platform tour with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours. It’s not as scary as it sounds – children from the age of three are welcome to participate.
The Daintree Village Hotel is a great place to stop for dinner before making your way back to Port Douglas.
DAY 7: THE FINALE
It’s your last day (sob), so make the most of Port Douglas by wandering the stalls at the vibrant Sunday market (held from 8am – 2pm at Market Park). Don’t go past the Duke’s Doughnut stall (with flavours like milk chocolate and honeycomb custard and lemon meringue you’ll be glad you have to, ahem, order one for each of the kids).
For your final sightseeing adventure, jump on the Bally Hooley; a historic diesel and steam engine that slowly putt-putts past tranquil lagoons and gives you one last look at those Daintree mountains. Until next time.