Port Douglas: 67km (42 miles) N of Cairns; Mossman: 19km (12 miles) N of Port Douglas; Daintree: 49km (30 miles) N of Port Douglas; Cape Tribulation: 34km (21 miles) N of Daintree
The fishing village of Port Douglas is where the rainforest meets the Reef. Just over an hour’s drive from Cairns, through rainforest and along a winding (sometimes treacherously so) road beside the sea, Port Douglas may be small, but stylish shops and seriously trendy restaurants line the main street, and beautiful Four Mile Beach is not to be missed. This is a favorite spot with celebrities big and small. Travelers often base themselves in “Port,”as the locals call it, because they like the rural surroundings, the uncrowded beach, and the absence of tacky development (so far, anyway). Many Reef tours originate in Port, and many of the tours in the Cairns section pick up here.
The waters off Port Douglas boast just as many wonderful reefs and marine life forms as the waters around Cairns; the reefs are equally close to shore and equally colorful and varied. The closest Reef site off Port Douglas, the Low Isles, is only 15 km (9 miles) northeast. Coral sand and 22 hectares (55 acres) of coral surround these two coral cays; the smaller is a sand cay covered in rich vegetation, and the larger is a shingle/rubble cay covered in mangroves and home to thousands of nesting Torresian Imperial pigeons. If you visit the Low Isles, wear old shoes that you can get wet, because the coral sand can be rough underfoot.
The coral is not quite as dazzling as the Outer Reef’s—which is where you should head if you have only one day to spend on the Great Barrier Reef—but the fish life here is rich, and you may spot sea turtles. Because you can wade out to the coral right from the beach, the Low Isles are a good choice for nervous snorkelers. A half-day or day trip to the Low Isles makes for a more relaxing day than a visit to Outer Reef sites, because in addition to exploring the coral, you can walk or sunbathe on the sand or laze under palm-thatched beach umbrellas.