For the last few months, I haven’t driven out of Cairns city for a while and I decided go on a self-drive scenic tour and explore the lovely town of Port Douglas. The scenic drive along the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of the most beautiful road trip that anyone can do in Tropical North Queensland. Just only 66 kilometres of scenic drive through the centre of the Great Barrier Reef Drive, this picturesque stretch of highway in the region promises a spectacular views of the ocean and the pristine coastline. It is one of Australia’s most stunning section of the coastline. As you drive along this scenic coastal windy road, you past palm-lined beaches, a horizon of forest-clad mountains and see that you’ve the rainforest on one side and the ocean on the other. It makes this route one of the most enjoyable drive in this beautiful part of the world.
The beauty of this drive, it doesn’t matter what is the best time to tackle this highway, it can be access all year round. This region has some of the nations national treasures such as the World Heritage-Listed Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest that lie side by side. Starting in Cairns, this tyre-turning journey to Port Douglas might just become your most memorial road trip ever. While in Port Douglas, 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.
My journey began from Cairns to Port Douglas, bypassing some of the popular tourist attractions in far north Queensland, including Skyrail but stopping along the way at some ‘must-see’ places that worth seeing, including Cattana Wetlands, popular Cairns northern beaches, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure Park and Thala-Lodge before arriving in Port Douglas.
My scenic drive began with my first stop at Cattana Wetlands, just 15 minutes drive, north of Cairns city, off the main Captain Cook Highway. Cattana Wetlands 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 leisurely walk around the lake with well maintain pathways and boardwalks. Here I was guaranteed to see an abundance of wildlife and it certainly disappoint me. My camera was on-hand to capture some of the amazing scenery in and around the area. This spot is pristine and peaceful.
Just a short five minutes drive away from Cattana Wetlands was Trinity Beach, where I had my first stop at one of the Cairns popular northern beaches. Trinity Beach is a perfect beach holiday destination, where many holiday-makers and locals simply come to enjoy sun and beach as well as relaxing on the waterfront benches and enjoying the coolness of the sea breeze.
This beautiful white sandy haven is located between two headlands, which attracts a mix of both locals and tourists. Just wiggle my toes in the mounds of glistening granules, went for a wander and slide into the sea. I took a short stroll along the beach and enjoying the morning cool breeze before continuing my drive further north along Captain Cook Highway.
Palm Cove Beach
From one beach to the other, my second stop on Cairns popular northern beaches was further five minutes drive along this paradisiacal stretch of Captain Cook 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. For me 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 on the waterfront while enjoying the cool sea breeze.
When I was ready to peel myself off the squeaky-clean sand of Palm Cove, I drove further north of Palm Cove to Ellis beach. This beach is a very popular picnic spot for families as well as visitors to the region.
With only one cafe and a bar on the beachfront, here I thought, i’ll enjoy a beer or two before continuing my 50 kilometres 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 Adventure
Once I left Ellis Beach, it was the beginning of the windy scenic drive along the coast to Port Douglas. The drive further along this road was just remarkable, as section of the sea-lined highway had to be carved out of the mountain it winds through.
Along this scenic open road, I 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. I entered the park with a fee and took a boat cruise along Hartley’s Lagoon. Here I could see and was entertained by the world’s largest reptile – the saltwater crocodile – snap, leap and roll during a feeding session. I enjoyed the park’s abundance of different and varied species of wildlife from snakes, cassowaries to birds and Koalas.
Getting back on the highway again and within minutes drive away from the Adventure Park was the Rex Lookout on the side of the road. It is a popular stop for any travellers along this scenic road. The view from here is absolutely breathtaking – as I looked out to the open Coral Sea and forested mountains that loom impressively in the background. Locals say, on a clear day, you will be able to see Ellis beach and Double Island which is off Palm Cove beach.
As I stood there, enjoying the views, I noticed that Rex Lookout is not only popular stop for visitors but also a regular spot for hang-gliders. Because of the constant wind breeze, makes it a hand-gliding hot spot. I made sure to look upwards to see these daredevils soaring high above this breathtaking part of the world. I was lucky on that day to capture one of their moments. It is also a very popular stop for tour buses and self-drive dwellers to capture the views and for photo opportunity.
As I drove further along this scenic route, I reached Thala Beach Lodge, with stunning views of the coastline. This lodge is a luxury eco-friendly 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.
Here, I stop for a delicious refreshing mocktail drink and relaxation before continuing to Port Douglas which was twenty mintues drive away from this location.
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 your 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
The drive along this coastal route is incredibly stunning. I thoroughly enjoyed my self-drive tour from the moment I began. For those travellers planning to stay longer in this beautiful town, make sure to visit Mossman Gorge and Daintree – Cape Tribulation region north of Port Douglas. You will be amaze how beautiful this place is and the unspoilt scenery it offers.
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