Family-friendly Port Douglas, with a laid-back vibe that makes you feel as though you’re in a cool country town, is a magical spot for children. Just five minutes’ drive down the road from the main street, QT Port Douglas is a perfect, unpretentious base for exploring the area, which offers blissful beaches, wildlife reserves, reef and rainforest in equal measure, making it great for school-age youngsters with a sense of adventure.
Zip across the waves in a high-speed catamaran with Quicksilver Cruises (+61 (0)7 4087 2100), based at Marina Mirage in Port Douglas, before arriving at a pontoon on Agincourt Reef. There’s snorkelling among the flitting fish and colourful coral for all skill levels, underwater walks wearing a helmet, introductory scuba diving and a semi-submersible and underwater observatory if you prefer to stay dry. The pontoon is pram-friendly, and staff can assist with fitting little ones with flotation vests, kickboards or pint-sized snorkelling gear.
For rainforest action, hook up with Daintree Discovery Tours (+61 (0)7 4098 2878). You’ll head inland and visit the Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge, where you can walk through ancient trees, spot wildlife and swim at the base of a waterfall. There’s also a cruise on the Daintree River where you’ll likely spy crocodiles. Half- and full-day tours are available, but the full-day tours aren’t suitable for under-10s.
Be sure to spend time on Port Douglas’s famous Four Mile Beach. At its most northern end – near town – there’s a headland and then it goes for miles if you fancy a stroll. The ‘town’ end is the most popular and is watched over by the Port Douglas Surf Lifesaving Club, who also maintain a stinger net during summer. There are beachfront places where you can hire everything from a paddle board to a frisbee here. Little kids will love exploring the rock pools near the headland, with all their tiny crabs and fish.
When you’ve had enough of splashing at the beach or in the pool, why not take on the children in a couple of rounds of mini golf at Port Putt Putt (+61 (0)410 250 158)? When it’s really hot, there’s also a nine-hole indoor course, complete with air-conditioning. Find it at 2 Mowbray Street, Port Douglas.
For family-friendly feasting beyond the hotel, make for Breakfast with the Birds (+61 (0)7 4099 3235), on the corner of Captain Cook Highway and Port Douglas Road. Set within Wildlife Habitat, a nature reserve with koalas, kangaroos, snakes and other Australian wildlife, it offers a tropical buffet and the chance to be immersed in the sights and sounds of the rainforest (imagine the kids’ faces as a black cockatoo joins them at the table). As an alternative, have Lunch with the Lorikeets. The cost of breakfast includes admission to Wildlife Habitat and guided tours of three of its unique environments.
For a truly magical experience, book dinner in the rainforest at Flames of the Forest (+61 (0)7 4099 5983). Under canvas and illuminated by chandeliers and candlelight, the evening brings together a sharing menu of contemporary Australian cuisine with traditional Aboriginal culture, incorporating storytelling and music. Catch it on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday nights (Saturday night is reserved for romance). The cost (AU$209 for adults; AU$172 for children aged 4–16) includes a six-course plattered dinner, drinks and compulsory transfers from the hotel. This is one for older children who are interested in other cultures and will be quite happy lingering over dinner for a few hours.
Casual seafood restaurant On the Inlet (+61 (0)7 4099 5255), built over the water at Dickson Inlet at 3 Inlet Street in Port Douglas, is a local favourite. The servings are hearty, the outlook calming and the crowd relaxed. There’s a children’s menu and mud crabs for those who like to really tuck in to their meals. Each day at about 5pm, George the 250kg grouper arrives for his dinner of a tuna frame and really puts on a show.
It can get a little crowded at go-to local pub Court House Hotel (+61 (0)7 4099 5181), especially during school holidays or when there’s a major sporting event showing on the big screens, but when it’s not busy, it’s a fab place for the family to refuel. You’ll find lots of space outside and a menu of relaxed pub grub, such as burgers, nachos and chicken parmigiana. There’s a short kids’ menu, and children eat free between 5pm and 6pm when adults order a main meal. It’s hard to miss, on the corner of Macrossan and Wharf Streets, Port Douglas.
It’s worth getting a babysitter for a night out at Nautilus Restaurant (+61 (0)7 4099 5330), at 17 Murphy Street in town. At tables beneath towering palm trees, this elegant restaurant dishes up Mod Oz cuisine using the best of Far North Queensland produce: lemon myrtle spanner crab potstickers or whole coral trout shallow-fried and served with green pawpaw salad, for example. Can’t decide what to have? Try the seven-course chef’s tasting menu.
If you’re the romantic type, book a table in the beautifully illuminated tropical gardens of Harrisons restaurant and bar (+61 (0)7 4099 4011), at 22 Wharf Street. Chef Spencer Patrick’s menu combines classical French techniques, given a light touch, with local produce.