With Australian's being unable to leave the country for the foreseeable future, we are all looking for local places to holiday. Recently we traveled to Port Douglas with kids for an extended family holiday and it was the perfect location to visit with kids of all ages. Our ages ranged from 3 - 22, plus adults.
I'm going to take you through everything we did, where we stayed, how we travelled and what we ate, so that you can plan the perfect trip to Port Douglas with kids, and not lose your minds in the process.
Port Douglas with kids
How we got there
We flew with Jetstar to Cairns. We were travelling with a party of 10, so I booked three suitcases (20kg) and then everyone had 14kg of carry on. One more suitcase would have been helpful though.
Because Jetstar is pay for every add on, it can get expensive if everyone checks their bags. Also, make sure you pay the extra $30 or so for the second price rather than the cheapest option because level 2 offers travel vouchers and changing flights. In this post Covid world, that is essential, because you never know what is going to happen. If you pay the cheapest fare, you lose it if you have to cancel.
Be aware that you will probably have to walk onto the tarmac to get on the flight if departing from Sydney. This was an issue for us as my mother had recently injured her knee and wasn't supposed to climb steps.
On the way home our flight was cancelled and we were rescheduled onto a Qantas flight. If you can afford it, fly Qantas. It's just so much better. We checked all our bags for no additional cost, got food and entertainment, and the entry and exit is all via the airbridge, with no stairs.
Once we arrived we rented two cars from Budget, which cost $1000 per car for a week. This is the cheapest we could fine, so be aware that Far North Qld is in demand and so are rental cars. So it's not cheap. It's definitely worth hiring the car though - we got two matching 4WD to fit everyone in. They were giant! We called ours the Beast!
Where we stayed in Port Douglas with kids
The number one priority for us when travelling with kids is to stay somewhere that is self catering, and has bedrooms and a lounge. We need space and it makes holidays so much more affordable to be able to make your own food. Plus, I don't know about you, but my daughter, my niece and my nephew will only eat hot chips and plain pasta at a restaurant.
We booked three apartments at Nimrod Resort Apartments in Port Douglas. Each apartment was two bedroom, and cost $1100 for 7 nights in high season. So it was really affordable. I booked through Booking.com because it's pay when you arrive and cancellation until the day before. Which means I didn't have to pay anything upfront. This was really important for me because of the high chances of cancellation.
The Nimrod Resort Apartments aren't super fancy, but they are perfect for kids. They are comfortable, come with everything you need including kitchen implements, towels, sheets, blankets etc. Also, the managers, Leanne and Gus, are just the best. Nothing is too much trouble and they are an absolute delight. There is a pool and a tennis court and it's a 5 minute walk to the beach.
Where we ate in Port Douglas with kids
There's a giant IGA about 3 minutes drive away from the Nimrod Resort Apartments, and also a Coles in town in Port Douglas. We placed a click and collect order from Coles we could pick up the morning after we arrived. We planned for dinners at home and to eat lunch out and about, to reduce cost and make sure the kids ate something decent, at least once a day.
When we flew into Cairns it was quite a late arrival so we booked to eat at Hogs Breath Cafe in Cairns before we drove the hour to Port Douglas. They have a good menu for kids, colouring in, and best of all, they are fast to serve so the meal doesn't take ages.
We ate one other dinner out, in Cairns at the marina. It was at Piato on the Pier, and it was a great place to try the fresh reef fish. The food was amazing but be aware kid's meals are $15.50, and that includes just a bowl of plain pasta (as we found out the expensive way!)
What we did - a 7 day itinerary in Port Douglas with Kids
Day 1 - Port Douglas Sunday Markets
We arrived on Saturday night, so Sunday was our first full day in Port Douglas with kids and we decided to spend it relaxing and exploring. We started off the day at the Port Douglas Sunday markets. When you are there, make sure you try the fish tacos in the van next to the church, and then the crepes from the van next to it. The coconuts are also a must eat/drink. You drink the coconut water, take it back and they shave the coconut in the shell and serve it with banana and syrup. Sooo good.
Port Douglas markets has a range of homewares, clothes and bits and pieces. The kids loved buying a crocodile tooth necklace. There's a lovely walk along the pier there, and keep your eye out for crocs!
The rest of the day we spent relaxing at the pool, picking up our groceries and getting settled.
Day 2 - Crocodile Cruise/ The Daintree
The next day we headed to the Daintree. Cape Tribulation is a bit over an hour and a half from Port Douglas, not counting what can be a really long wait for the ferry.
We started our day at Bruce Belcher's Daintree River Cruise. It was really affordable and Bruce has been touring the Daintree River since 1987, and he knows his stuff. We saw so many crocodiles in the wild and Bruce knew about every one of them. Their age, sex, who their babies were, and their habits. He knew all the best places to get really up close and we saw crocodiles resting on the bank and swimming in the river. When you are researching you'll see a lot about Hartley's Crocodile Adventures (and we did go there - will sum it up on day 7) but if you want a real crocodile experience this is the way to go. I'd rather see crocodiles in the wild that performing ones any day.
After our cruise we headed onto the car ferry and into the Daintree. Be aware that wait times for the ferry can be long. We waited about 30 minutes. So pack snacks for the kids.
Daintree Discovery Centre
Our first Daintree stop was the Daintree Discovery Centre. It's like Daintree light, and perfect for younger kids if you don't want to do the longer Daintree walks. It is a series of board walks when you can see the Daintree from the rainforest floor to the top of the canopy. They also have cassowary sightings. There are a number of different trails you can walk with the kids.
Next stop was somewhere we have been talking about since our last visit, 10 years ago. The Daintree Ice Cream Company! Now this can be confused with the other ice cream shop, but it's the one of the left, as you head towards Cape Tribulation. It's truely worth going to the Daintree just for this. They grow their own tropical fruit, and make the ice cream fresh every day. They sell tasting bowls with four flavours and they change multiple times a day. It's to die for. If you are heading to Port Douglas with kids you MUST stop here.
Finally, we headed up to Cape Tribulation. On the way, about 5 minutes from the beach there, we spotted a cassowary in the wild! It was just casually crossing the road. It was such a highlight!
Day 3 - The Great Barrier Reef
On day 3 we headed to the Great Barrier Reef! This was the most exciting part of the holiday for Tully. She wants to be a marine biologist and the Reef has been a dream for her. We went out to the reef with Quicksilver Cruises, which takes you to the outer reef. I did a lot of research on the best option with such a big age range, and settled on the Quicksilver pontoon because it offered so many options and activities. I knew the kids wouldn't snorkel the whole time (and that Trixie, at 3, probably wouldn't at all), and I needed other activities.
Quicksilver has a pontoon, about 1.5 hours away from Port Douglas by boat. You travel on a large cruiser out to the pontoon, where you are supplied with snorkels, goggles, stinger suits, life jackets and pool noodles.
From the pontoon you can snorkel straight off the back, where there is an easy to access platform with seats to suit up. Little kids can even just stay on the platform and put their face under, as the fish are right there, swimming on the platform.
There are a number of guided ropes that you can use to snorkel in sections. If you or the kids are getting too tired, you can just use the ropes to pull yourself back to the pontoon.
Other activities are the semi submersible submarine, where you can see the sea creatures of the reef up close (the kids saw turtles this way), scuba diving if you are qualified, a full lunch and morning and afternoon tea. You can also do a 10 minute scenic helicopter ride, or a 30 minute one back to the mainland. My oldest daughter had a helicopter ride on her bucket list so she took the chopper home!
It really was the experience of a lifetime for the kids. Tully said it was, "The most amazing experience of my life!"
My friend, who went a few weeks after us, and has kids between 8-14, went to the Sunlover pontoon and she highly recommended that as well.
A tip for you
if you can plan your trip to the pontoon for low tide in the middle of the day you'll have the best experience because the coral is so close to the surface. The beautiful colours that coral turns, happens when it's exposed to light. That's why deep down it all looks quite grey. But if it's close to the surface you'll get to see all the colours!
Day 4 - Mossman Gorge
On our fourth day we headed to Mossman Gorge. It's only about 15 minutes from Port Douglas. You drive to the Mossman Gorge centre and then they shuttle you to the gorge. Mossman Gorge Centre is run by the local indigenous people, and is almost entirely staffed by Aboriginal people, primarily the local Kuku Yalanji people.
The shuttle will take you to an area with boardwalks that take you to various parts of the gorge. It says they don't encourage swimming, but this is more a liability waiver, because everyone swims.
Some things you need to know when you get there that would have helped us:
There are only toilets where the shuttle drops you off.
Bring all food and drink because there is nowhere to get anything. That includes water.
The only place to get changed is the toilet block, which is quite far. So if you plan to swim, then wear your swimmers under your clothes.
There are several walks, but it's all poorly sign posted. Take a pic of the map at the start so you can see the walks.
There is no mobile reception so if family members are going on different walks then make a plan to meet at a certain time, because you cant contact each other.
Day 5 - Fitzroy Island
With our itinerary I really tried to alternate rainforest and reef days, for different experiences. So on day 5 we headed out to another reef experience at Fitzroy Island. Fitzroy Island is a resort island that you can day trip to. It's also the home of the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which was a big reason for us to visit. Through their website you can book the boat over and hire snorkelling equipment.
There are also a number of experiences you can book, such as a guided snorkelling tour, guided paddle boarding and a guided kayak tour.
Fitzroy island is beautiful! With that perfect aqua water you see in the photographs and white coral beach. We also booked a glass bottom boat trip, where we saw turtles swimming!
Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
We booked a tour at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which runs once a day at 1pm. You'll get to see a sea turtle up close and hear about the work then centre is doing to save the turtles of the reef.
Some tips for Fitzroy island
The whole beach is dried coral so you are really going to want water shoes. I picked some up at Big W in Cairns for $8 a pair and they were invaluable. Coral hurts to walk on barefoot and hard to walk on in thongs.
You want to plan for snorkelling at high tide. We went at low tide and it meant it was quite hard to get in the water as there were a lot of coral and rocks to get over in flippers before the water was deep enough to swim in. At high tide there is almost no coral and it gets deep fast.
Book with the official island boat, not with the others. We accidentally booked with another company and they have no presence on the island and the snorkelling gear was budget and leaked.
It's quite a walk to the Turtle Rehab Centre, so give yourself a good 20 minutes if you are walking with kids.
Day 6 - SkyRail, Kuranda Village and the Scenic Railway
Another rain forest day and this time it was the skyrail and scenic railway, with a visit to Kuranda Village in between. We visited Kuranda on our visit 10 years ago but we drove. The skyrail was a whole different experience.
We took the SkyRail up to the village. This trip takes about an hour to an hour and a half depending on how long you stay at each of the two stops. But each section is no more than about 15-20 minutes at the longest.
You stop at two places, and the second stop has the most spectacular waterfall view. The rainforest you are travelling through is the wet tropics rain forest and it is millions of years old.
At the top is Kuranda Village, a mountaintop village with a bit of a Nimbin vibe. There are lots of tourist shops, places to eat, Aboriginal arts and crafts and opals for sale. You'll have about three hours there before your train ride back.
The scenic railway travels down the mountain, in an old fashioned steam train, and you'll get a whole new angle of the falls on your way down. The journey takes about 1.5 hours. The kids loved it - they don't get much opportunity to travel by train.
Day 7 - Hartley's Crocodile Adventures
Day 7 was an accidental day, so I hadn't planned anything in advance. We were supposed to fly out that morning but our flight was cancelled and we ended up on a late afternoon flight. We chose Hartley's Crocodile Adventures because it was half way to the airport and they have some fun animal experiences.
Qld is the only state in Australia where it's legal to hold a koala, and you can hold one at Hartley's. There is also reptile holding, crocodile feeding and a whole lot more.
We saw a croc show where they fed the crocodiles, and then we had a boat trip around their lagoon, where they fed the crocs and had them jump for their food.
They had a cassowary exhibit, loads of small crocs that you could see up close, a snakes and spiders exhibit and a fun playground for the kids.
It was a fun place to visit but I'm so glad that we also went and saw crocodiles in the wild. It's great for kids though, especially if you have limited time and want to get a quick experience that covers everything.
I hope my guide to Port Douglas with kids and the 7 day itinerary helps you plan your trip. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or drop me message on facebook or instagram.
If you want any more Australian holiday tips check out my 5 favourite holiday spots with kids, check out Hervey Bay or Canberra, visit the Sunshine Coast, and find out what all the fuss is about in Jervis Bay.