A family trip around the World – Port Douglas, QLD

I was travelling with my family – my parents and my brother and sister-in-law on a Round the World ticket with multiple stops in Australia before we returned via Los Angeles having circumnavigated the globe. After an enjoyable start to our adventures in Melbourne, it was time to briefly leave city-living behind as we flew north for a few days on the coast.

We were flying to North Queensland and Cairns Airport but rather than staying in the city of Cairns, had unanimously decided to venture further north to the small coastal town of Port Douglas. We had arranged transfers to and from Port Douglas in a shared shuttle and quickly found the company upon arrival. It took about an hour to make the journey along the Captain Cook Highway and our driver happily pointed out crocodiles lazing roadside near the river and hunting birds nesting at the top of tall telegraph poles as we travelled. Our apartment complex near the beach end of the main town was the last drop off. After settling in, we went for a walk up the main high street, finding a supermarket to get some groceries from then, after dropping our shopping off back at the apartment, took a stroll down to Four Mile Beach.

A friendly cockatoo

On our first full day in the area, we decided to make use of a voucher we had for discounted entry into the Port Douglas Wildlife Park. Catching a shuttle bus which ran from the main street to the park, we only planned to spend the morning there before having an afternoon relaxing at the beach but there was way more to see and do at the park than we had expected. It was great to have a bit longer to spend hanging out with the kangaroos and other Australian animals after our flying visit to Moonlit Sanctuary while in Melbourne a few days earlier and before we knew it, it was 3pm!

The beach closes after a croc sighting

The sun still shining on our return to town, we still ventured down to the beach – only to find it closed after a crocodile sighting in the ocean, something which sounded quite bizarre to us and was a bit of a novelty!

That evening, we made use of the barbecue facilities at our apartment complex for some outdoor dining then took an evening stroll into town for some ice cream desert, boysenberry ice cream instantly becoming my new favourite flavour!

Above, Port Douglas marina, and below, on the way to the Great Barrier Reef and getting ready to snorkel and spending a day on the reef

We had booked a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef the next day, something I had always wanted to do. Opting for the pontoon based trip to the outer reef over the island based inner reef trip on offer, we made our way to Port Douglas Harbour early the next morning. It was another beautiful, hot day, perfect for a boat trip. On the way there, we were shown a video about how the day would go and given safety advice. We were told it was ‘stinger’ season but having a bit of a jellyfish phobia after being stung as a child, I decided to take up their offer of a stinger suit anyway!

Once we were docked at the pontoon, we could collect our stinger suits and snorkelling equipment and the rest of the day was at our own leisure. While my brother, sister-in-law and I happily spent plenty of time snorkelling, my parents who are not confident swimmers, mainly stayed on board the pontoon looking at the reef and the many fish from an underwater viewing platform and taking a narrated trip out on a semi-submersible vehicle between plenty of sunbathing out on the deck. Lunch was buffet-style with plenty of meat and salad options to fill us up and towards the end of the day, a selection of cheese and crackers were brought out.

It was an amazing day and we were all really sad when the siren went to signal we had to re-board the boat and leave the pontoon behind. The boat journey back proved to be exciting though when we spotted whales swimming in the distance!

Above, and below, a crocodilecruise down the Daintree River

It was another day of excursions the next day with my parents heading off on a Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail trip while my brother, sister-in-law and I took a tour to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. Our trip included a stop at Mossman Gorge before we headed to the Daintree River for a scenic cruise spotting lots of huge crocodiles lazing on the banks as we went.

Above, at a Cape Tribulation lookout point, and below, a rainforest lunch spot

Then, after a quick stop at a Cape Tribulation lookout point and a barbecue lunch at a rainforest picnic spot, it was on to the beautiful Cape Tribulation Beach itself, right on the edge of the rainforest.

Above, and below, on the beach at Cape Tribulation

We were given a bit of free time to laze on the beach or paddle in the crystal clear waters before a stop in Daintree Rainforest where we followed a boardwalk through the forest as our guide talked to us about some of the many trees and plants around us. After one final stop for some exotic fruit tasting on the way back, we were dropped back in Port Douglas where we met back up with our parents to swap stories.

Above, a final stop in the Daintree Rainforest, and below, my parents’ trip to Kuranda

We had decided to take different tours due to the description of our rainforest tour saying it involved plenty of hiking and needed a moderate amount of fitness – I was unsure my father, with his 2 replacement knees would be able to cope with that. But as it turned out, the amount of walking on our trip was very little and was mainly along flat boardwalks so my parents would have coped fine.

Luckily, they both really enjoyed their day out on the scenic railway and skyrail, had a lovely time in Kuranda itself at the market and enjoying tea and cake at a cafe there and had a great time visiting Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure, a crocodile farm open to the public near Cairns, which was included in the trip.

The Sunday market at Port Douglas

The next day was our last full day in Port Douglas. Being a Sunday, there was a market on in the town so we began our day there wandering around the many stalls and sampling some of the Sugar Cane juice we’d heard so much about. Then, with it being another warm, sunny day, we spent the rest of the day on the beach enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the sea to cool off.

Above, and below, at the Cane Toad Races

That evening, we walked to a local bar to see something we’d heard a lot about since we arrived – Cane Toad racing! These toads, introduced to Australia in an attempt to control a crop-eating beetle, have since spread rapidly and have become pests themselves but in Port Douglas, they have found a use for them with Cane Toad Racing Nights at a local bar.

Upon entering the bar, we were given a raffle ticket. 5 numbers were then called out, one of which belonged to my dad.

He was invited up to the racing area along with the other lucky participants and allocated an amusingly-named toad which he then had to encourage to race across a table and into an awaiting bucket.

One last visit to Four Mile Beach

I’m not sure how much the toads enjoyed the experience but the noisy, enthusiastic audience certainly did as the whooped and cheered the toads on. After the race, we were even given the opportunity to meet and greet the toads. A bizarre way to spend our last night in the town!

We were sad to be leaving the beautiful town of Port Douglas the next day. We’d had a lovely few days enjoying the sunshine and taking excursions out to the reef and the rainforests.

After breakfast at a local cafe overlooking the beach though and a final walk along Four Mile Beach, it was time to meet our shuttle back to Cairns Airport where we’d be catching a flight to the final Australian destination on our family trip – the city of Sydney!

The Whitsundays

After spending New Year in Sydney, I was now on a road trip up the coast of tropical Queensland to Cairns.

Having arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays a few days earlier, we had spent the last few days exploring the local area and now planned on using Airlie as our base for getting out into the Whitsunday Islands themselves.

We had pre-booked a package ticket giving us access to 3 days worth of excursions – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a one day island-hopping ticket to use at our own leisure and a full day sailing trip through the Whitsundays on a catamaran – and had booked to do them on consecutive days in that order.

Spotting a clown fish on the reef

So today, we were up early to walk down to the Port of Airlie, home of Cruise Whitsundays. Here, we checked in and boarded a Cruise Whitsundays boat which would be dropping passengers off at Hamilton Island before continuing on to Knuckle Reef pontoon docked at the Great Barrier Reef. The boat ride itself was thrilling, speeding through the ocean past all the Whitsundays Islands.

Once at the pontoon, we had the day to spend at leisure – snorkelling the reef, viewing the reef from the underwater observatory, taking a ride out on the semi-submersible for a guided commentary on the reef or just enjoying the sunshine from the deck. A buffet style lunch was also included.

There were some optional extras such as Go Pro hire and scuba diving sessions and we had decided to book the guided snorkel safari. On the boat out to the reef, we were talked through the procedures for this and told where to meet and at what time once on board the pontoon – it would take place right after we arrived so we’d then have the rest of the day to explore ourselves.

Looking out from the pontoon

After arriving at the pontoon, we were supplied with snorkelling equipment and ‘stinger suits’ – a thin full body suit to protect us from any jellyfish in the water then went to meet our guide for the snorkel safari. There was just a small group of us on the safari and we were taken out to look at sections of the coral while our guide explained a bit about what we were seeing and some of the fish that lived there.

We also got to meet Wanda, the areas resident Maori Wrasse, a huge but very friendly fish!

On the snorkel safari, and throughout the day, Cruise Whitsundays team members took photos of us and the reef which we later had the option of purchasing.

After our snorkel safari, it was time for lunch – a selection of cold meats, salad, bread and pasta which we could help ourselves too. We then took a trip out on the semi-submarine before spending the rest of the day snorkelling at our leisure. In the blink of an eye, the day was over and it was time to board the boat back to Airlie Beach.

On Hamilton Island

The next day, we were back at the Port of Airlie and the Cruise Whitsundays terminus once again. Today we would be using our Island-hopping ticket starting with a boat trip out to Hamilton Island. We planned to spend the morning there and a couple of hours to explore before we had our scenic flight over the Whitsundays booked.

After that, we planned to hop on a boat over to Daydream Island where we would spend the afternoon before returning to Airlie Beach.

Arriving on Hamilton Island, we began exploring finding our way to Catseye Beach. From here, we walked along to the village then up to One Tree Hill where we enjoyed the beautiful views from its lookout.

Wandering back down to the village, we then made our way to the airfield to check in for our Hamilton Air scenic flight.

On board a small aircraft for a scenic flight over the Whitsundays, and below, views from the flight

Boarding a small aircraft with just 2 other couples, we were very excited but the flight exceeded even our expectations. It was perfect weather with mainly blue skies and just a few small clouds as we soared above the many Whitsunday Islands and out across the Great Barrier Reef.

Highlights included seeing Heart Reef, where the coral has naturally formed into a heart shape, and flying over Hill Inlet, an amazing stretch of white silica sand and crystal clear waters. The flight was definitely worth every penny!

Once back on land, we returned to the Hamilton Island Cruise Whitsundays terminal and caught the next boat over to Daydream Island.

Arriving just after 2pm, it was past our lunchtime and we were pretty hungry but we struggled to find somewhere to eat.

Daydream Island

The kiosks at the main resort stopped serving its hot snacks of pizza slices and burgers at 2 so we’d just missed out. We eventually found a restaurant open further along the island near its Mermaid sculptures and ended up paying slightly more than we’d have liked for a sit down pizza meal!

A kangaroo wandering through Daydream Island, and below, exploring the island

After lunch, we walked down to Mermaid Beach to get photos with the three mermaid sculptures then spent the rest of the afternoon following some of the island’s trails past its resort hotels, along the coast,through rainforest and out to some of its small bays before catching the boat back to Airlie Beach.

Above, and below, sailing on Camira

For our final day in the Whitsundays, we had booked a full-day sailing adventure on Camira, a distinctive purple catamaran. Unfortunately, we had awoken to overcast skies and while it was still warm, it took the shine off cruising past all the Whitsunday Islands a bit.

A quick stop for some snorkling

After sailing out past some of the Whitsunday islands, the boat docked for a while to give us the chance to get out into the water and snorkel. We were provided with stinger suits and snorkeling equipment and it was fun to get out on the reef again and snorkel.

Whitehaven Beach

Back on board, we had a delicious barbecue lunch provided as we cruised to our next stop, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. We were hoping we’d dock by Hill Inlet which we’d seen from our scenic flight the previous day but instead we were dropped at the other end of the beach and warned not to go off in search of Hill Inlet as it was too far a trek and we’d not make it back in time.

Overcast weather on Whitehaven Beach, and below, more photos from our day on Camira

The overcast weather had not cleared so it wasn’t really sunbathing weather. The boat crew had brought various beach games and equipment ashore so instead we grabbed buckets and spades and amused ourselves building sandcastles out of the white silica sand before cooling off with a dip in the ocean.

Then it was back aboard Camira for a leisurely sail back to the Port of Airlie, the clouds starting to break up a bit as we neared our destination.

While we enjoyed our day sailing on Camira, it was our least favourite excursion of the week although this was possibly due to the weather not being quite as nice – everything looks better in the sunshine and unfortunately that was mainly missing from our day.

Back in Airlie, we walked back to our Magnums hostel accommodation grabbing some snacks on the way.

Exhausted from a busy week, we began to pack up our things as we had a very early start the next day to catch the Greyhound bus up the coast to Townsville at the crack of dawn. I’d loved my time in the Whitsundays. I’d be passing through again on the way back to Sydney just a few weeks later and I couldn’t wait to return!