The waters off Port Douglas are home to dramatic coral spires and swim-throughs at the Cathedrals; giant clams at Barracuda Pass; a village of parrot fish, anemone fish, unicorn fish, and two moray eels at the pinnacle of Nursery Bommie; fan corals at Split-Bommie; and many other wonderful sites.
Without a doubt, the most popular large vessels visiting the Outer Reef are the Quicksilver Wavepiercers ( tel. 07/4087 2100; www.quicksilver-cruises.com), based out of Port Douglas. These ultrasleek, high-speed, air-conditioned 37 m (121-ft.) and 46 m (151-ft.) catamarans carry 300 or 440 passengers to Agincourt Reef, a ribbon reef 39 nautical miles (72 km/45 miles) from shore on the outer edge of the Reef. After the 90-minute trip to the Reef, you tie up at a two-story pontoon, where you spend 3 1/2 hours.
Quicksilver departs Marina Mirage at 10am daily except on December 25. The cost for the day is A$225 for adults, A$115 for kids 4 to 14, and A$572 for families of four. Guided snorkel safaris cost A$54 per adult, half-price for kids; introductory dives cost A$155 per person. Qualified divers take a dive-tender boat to make one dive for A$110 or two dives for A$155 per person, all gear included. Booking in advance is a good idea.
The dive boat Poseidon ( tel. 1800/085 674 in Australia or 07/4099 4772; www.poseidon-cruises.com.au) welcomes snorkelers. It presents a Reef ecology talk and takes you on a guided snorkel safari. The price of A$180 for adults, A$125 for children 4 to 14, and A$549 for a family of four includes lunch and transfers from Port Douglas hotels. The Poseidon is a fast 24 m (79-ft.) vessel that visits three Outer Reef sites. The day-trip price of A$220 for adults, A$152 for kids 4 to 14, and A$670 for families of four includes snorkel gear, a marine-biology talk, snorkel safaris, lunch, and pickups from Port Douglas hotels. Certified divers pay an extra A$20 for one dive, A$40 for two dives or A$55 for three, plus A$20 gear rental. Guides will accompany you, free of charge, to show you great locations. Introductory divers pay A$60 extra for one dive, A$100 for two, or A$140 for three, including all gear and tuition. The vessel gets you to the Reef in just over an hour, giving you 5 hours on the coral. The boat departs Marina Mirage daily at 8:30am. Among the 15-plus dive sites visited by Poseidon are Turtle Bay, where you may meet a friendly Maori wrasse; the Cathedrals, a collection of coral pinnacles and swim-throughs; and Barracuda Pass, home to coral gardens, giant clams, and schooling barracuda.
The snorkeling specialist boat Wavelength ( tel. 07/4099 5031; www.wavelength.com.au) does a full-day trip to the Outer Reef for A$220 for adults, A$165 for children 14 and under, and A$699 for families of four. The trip visits three different snorkel sites each day and incorporates a guided snorkel tour and a reef presentation by a marine biologist. It carries only 30 passengers and includes snorkel gear, sunsuits, lunch, and transfers from your hotel. Both beginners and experienced snorkelers will like this trip, which departs daily at 8:30am.
Another way to spend a pleasant day—closer to shore—on the Great Barrier Reef is to visit the Low Isles, 15 km (9 1/2 miles) northeast of Port Douglas. The isles are 1.5-hectare (3 3/4-acre) coral-cay specks of lush vegetation surrounded by white sand and 22 hectares (54 acres) of coral—which is what makes them so appealing. The coral is not quite as good as the Outer Reef’s, but the fish life is rich, and the proximity makes for a relaxing day.
The trip aboard the 30 m (98-ft.) luxury sailing catamaran Wavedancer, operated by Quicksilver ( tel. 07/4087 2100; www.quicksilver-cruises.com), is A$173 for adults, A$90 for kids 4 to 14, and A$442 for families. Once there, you can snorkel, take a glass-bottom-boat ride or do a guided beach walk with a marine biologist. Coach transfers are available through Quicksilver from your Port Douglas accommodations for A$10 adults, A$5 kids, or A$25 for a family.
Exploring Port Douglas
Some companies in Cairns that offer outdoor activities will pick up from Port Douglas hotels.
The best outdoor activity in Port Douglas, however, is to do absolutely nothing on spectacular Four Mile Beach. From May through September, the water is stinger-free. From October through April, swim in the stinger safety net.
The Secret of the Seasons
High season in Port Douglas is roughly June 1 through October 31. Low-season holiday periods run from approximately November to May (excluding Christmas and New Year’s).
Every Sunday from 7:30am to 1pm, a colorful handicrafts and food market is held on the lawn under the mango trees by Dickson Inlet, at the end of Macrossan Street. Stalls offer everything from foot massages to fresh coconut milk.
Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours
Brothers Linc and Brandon Walker will take you on the walk of a lifetime, on the beach opposite their parents’house. This is the traditional fishing ground of the Kubirri Warra people, when the mudflats and mangroves are exposed at low tide and the place where you will spend 2 hours learning to throw a spear, hunt and stalk, and use coastal resources wisely. If you are lucky, you may spear a crab (not so lucky for the crab!), and when enough has been foraged to make a small meal, you’ll take it back to the house where Linc and Brandon’s mother will cook it up for you to eat on the veranda. The brothers also run a night tour, for a maximum of three people. It’s an authentic and unforgettable experience. Don’t forget to take insect repellent (just in case), especially for the night tour, and wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet (bare feet are best!).Bougainvilia St., Cooyah Beach (north of Port Douglas; take Bonnie Doon Rd., off the Captain Cook Highway). tel. 07/4098 3437. www.bamaway.com.au. A$75 adults, A$45 kids 5–15; night tour A$150 per person (no children under 5). Daily at 9:30am, 1:30, 7:30pm. Free parking. Transfers from Port Douglas area A$30 per person.
Mossman Gorge Centre
This is the gateway to wonderful Mossman Gorge, where the gushing Mossman River tumbles over massive boulders through the rainforest. You can visit the gorge on your own and take the short boardwalks along the river, but I highly recommend joining one of the guided Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks, with a member of the local KuKu-Yalanji tribe. You will learn about Aboriginal bush medicines and food, Dreamtime legends, and the sacred sites their families have called home for thousands of years. There are two tours to choose from, starting from A$50 for adults, A$25 for children or A$125 for a family of four. The centre has a gift shop, art gallery, and cafe. You can access the gorge only by taking the shuttle bus which leaves every 15 minutes between 8am and 6pm daily. The cost is A$6 for adults, A$3 for children 5 to 15, or A$15 for a family of four.Mossman Gorge Rd., Mossman (20 km N of Port Douglas). tel. 07/4099 7000. www.mossmangorge.com.au. Daily 8am–6pm. Closed Christmas Day. Free parking. Bus transfers from Port Douglas through BTS Tours ( tel. 07/4099 5665) depart 49 Macrossan St. at 8:15 and 11:30am, returning at 12:15 and 2:30pm, and cost A$22 adults, A$15 children 4–14, and A$69 families.
This is a really great place to see animals that are too shy to be spotted in the wild. Here, 180 animal species from the Wet Tropics are in one place for you to see up close. You can see saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, hand-feed kangaroos, and have your photo taken with a koala. The highlight is the walk-through aviary that houses more than 100 Wet Tropics bird species, including cassowaries. Between 8 and 10:30am, the park serves “breakfast with the birds,”and between noon and 2pm “lunch with the lorikeets.”Each costs A$47 for adults, A$24 for kids, and A$118 families, including admission. Don’t miss one of the excellent free guided tours that run regularly from 9:30am to 3:15pm. You can also do a “behind the scenes”tour for an extra A$20 for adults, A$10 for children or A$50 for families. Allow at least 2 hours here.Port Douglas Rd. (corner Captain Cook Hwy). tel. 07/4099 3235. www.wildlifehabitat.com.au. A$32 adults, A$16 kids 4–14, A$80 families of 4. Daily 8am–5pm. Closed Christmas Day. Free parking.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.