Cairns to Port Douglas

A scenic drive along this road, the Captain Cook Highway is one of the most beautiful road trip that anyone can do in Far North Queensland. The scenery along this road promises a spectacular views, fascinating beaches, pristine coastline and parklands.

Taking a short road trip up this scenic coastal bitumen road to Port Douglas is a “Day Visitors” hot spot, a coastal scenic drive with a touch of adventure along the way. Whether you’re up there for sightseeing, relaxing by the beach or exploring more of this seaside town, it gives you an insight of what tropical paradise atmosphere is like. Just only 66 kilometres stretch of scenic drive to Port Douglas from Cairns is one of Australia’s most stunning section of the coastline. Also, known as the Great Barrier Reef Drive, this road winds its way past palm-lined beaches and a horizon of forest-clad mountains. It doesn’t matter what is the best time to tackle this highway, it can be access all year round. It goes around some of the nations national treasures such as the World Heritage-Listed Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Starting in Cairns, this tyre-turning journey to Port Douglas might just become your most memorial road trip ever. 

Along this scenic route, takes you through some of the incredible sea views, coastline and mountain ranges as you bypass some of the major award wining tourist attractions in the far north Queensland – Skyrail, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure park, Thala Eco-lodge and views of some of the untouched beautiful coastlines and breathtaking lookouts. This road is one of the most wonderful coastal scenic route in far north Queensland. I have appreciate every views of the coastline and the surrounding mountain ranges from the very moment I started my journey. It has perfect views and scenery for photographers dream route. For any visitors to the region, this is the great road trip to kick-off your perfect holiday and you will never be disappointed.   

1. Tropical Time-Out

Catana Wetlands

The scenic drive began with a short 15 minutes drive north-west of Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway to Cattana Wetlands. This is an incredible hot spot for nature and bird lovers paradise. A hidden gem away from the busy tourist radar and little known by visitors. With almost empty parking area, I parked my car under a shady tree and took a short walk around the lake with well maintain pathways and boardwalks. Here I was guaranteed to see an abundance of wildlife and camera was on-hand to capture some of the amazing scenery in and around the area. This spot is pristine and peaceful. 

Trinity Beach

As I continued further along the highway from Cattana Wetlands (5 minutes) was the Trinity Beach – A perfect beach holiday destination. As I took a short stroll along this white sandy haven, which is located between two headlands, attracts a mix of both locals and tourists. Just wiggle your toes in the mounds of glistening granules, go for a wander or slide into the sea. Many visitors and locals simply come to relax on the waterfront benches and enjoy the coolness of the sea breeze.. After a short walk along the beach, I relaxed with a cup of mochacino in one of the waterfront cafe whilst enjoying the cool breeze before continuing my drive further on the Captain Cook Highway 

Palm Cove Beach

A further 5 minutes drive along this paradisiacal stretch of highway lies the coconut-palmed wonder of Palm Cove. A popular spot for visitors and locals to jog, walk or cycle along the town’s tree-lined paths. Palm Cove is virtually surrounded by forest and the beach front is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in the Far North Queensland. It also offers some of the best fine dining places in North Queensland which are very popular among locals and tourists. To enjoy this popular beachfront holiday destination, I had a lazy stroll along this beautiful waterfront and the Palm Cove jetty. Such a popular hot spot for holiday makers, I tried one of the local cafes for coffee before heading further north to begin my scenic drive

Ellis Beach

When I was ready to peel myself off the squeaky-clean sand, I drove further north-west to Ellis beach. This beach is a very popular beach spot for families as well as visitors to the region and is the beginning of the scenic drive to Port Douglas. With only one cafe and a bar on the beachfront here you can enjoy a beer or two before continuing your journey. This is the last cafe that is only accessible by public on the side of the road until the next 45 kilometres of drive. Locals say that on the weekends this roadside bar and grill and the beach, is bustling with activity, a very popular among families and beach goers. 


Hartley's Crocodile Adventures

My drive continued further north of Ellis Beach was just remarkable, as sections of the sea-lined highway had to be carved out of the mountain it winds through. Hop off Captain Cook Highway by turning left as I headed into Hartley’s Crocodile park. It is one of the few wildlife parks in the world bordered by a World Heritage forest. Entered the park with a fee and took a boat cruise along Hartley’s Lagoon, where you can see the world’s largest reptile – the saltwater crocodile – snap, leap and roll during a feeding session. The park has an abundance of different and varied species of wildlife from snakes, cassowaries to birds and Koalas.

Rex Lookout

Getting back onto the highway again, I stopped at Rex Lookout on the side of road, just two minutes from Hartley’s Crocodile park. The view from here was absolutely breathtaking – as I looked out to the open Coral Sea and forested mountains that loom impressively in the background. On a good clear day, you will be able to see Ellis beach and Double Island. Rex Lookout is a regular spot for hang-gliding, so make sure you look upwards to see these daredevils soaring high above this breathtaking part of the world. It is also a very popular stop for tour buses and self-drive dwellers to capture the views and for photo opportunity. 


Thala Lodge

As I drive further along this scenic route and within twenty minutes drive from Rex Lookout, I reached Thala Beach Lodge. This lodge is a luxury eco-resort situated on a private headland with its own beach and hectares of coastal rainforest. Located just off the Captain Cook Highway, the lodge offers plenty of comfort. If you want to pamper yourself, this is the place to do it. Visitors welcomed in the area, whether you’re having lunch at the restaurant or simply having a coffee or drink at the ultimate viewing deck, you’re sure to enjoy the incredible views of the Coral Sea and forested mountains and see bird life on the treetops.


Finally, arriving in this paradise tropical beachside township of Port Douglas. This picturesque township is full of excitement but also has a distinctive laid back atmosphere, and a low-rise tropical old world charm. As I walked along the main street of Port Douglas – Macrossan St, either pathways of the street is filled with endless of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and designer clothing to souvenir shops. It is a great place to see the sun rise apart from shopping and dining. It is entirely possible to get around the township of Port Douglas by foot or you can indulge yourself by trying some of the local cuisine which are absolutely mouthwatering. If you plan to stay the night in town, take an evening cruise along the harbour and it will blow you mind-away as you enjoy the evening sunset with a glass of champagne on your hand. 

Things to see and do in Port Douglas?

  • Wander the town, especially few back streets
  • Visit the Port Douglas Lookout
  • Step inside the old chapel, the outside doesn’t do it justice
  • Visit the Marina wharf
  • Take a short ride on the train located next to the Marina
  • Sample the locally produced beer at the Marina
  • Visit the famous outdoor market, operates only on Sundays

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Papua New Guinean living in Cairns, Australia. Weekend getaway adventurer and Free-Independent-Traveller (FIT). Lover of unique and exotic travel experiences with a touch of luxury. Follow me to my travel world, brining you closer to your destination.

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