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Tropical North Queensland has to be one of the most enchanting regions in Australia, if not the world. And the little section from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation reveals some of the best of the region.
Just a little way offshore you have the world’s biggest reef system – the Great Barrier Reef and then hugging the coastline is its very good friend, the oldest rainforest in the world, the 140-million-year-old Daintree Rainforest.
Yep. The Amazon doesn’t even come close to reaching its wisdom.
This area is filled with amazing natural beauty, viewpoints, hiking trails, and notable landmarks. If you’re thinking of taking a road trip from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation, then you’re onto the right idea.
In this guide, we’ve detailed the stops you should take along the way and how to make the most out of your journey.
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Is it worth the drive to Cape Tribulation?
The drive from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation is one of the most scenic in Australia. It boasts amazing ocean scenery, hiking trails into the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, pristine beaches, adventurous attractions, and refreshing swimming holes.
Considering it’s only a short drive along a well-maintained road, and your alternative is to take a bus that doesn’t stop at all these amazing sites, it’s definitely worth it to self-drive to Cape Tribulation from Port Douglas.
How Long Is the drive From Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation?
The drive from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation is about 84.1km and can be completed in about 2.5 hours to 3 hours if you drive continuously without stopping.
However, there is so much to see and do on the way, it would be a shame to just drive straight through in one day.
Please do yourself a favour and dedicate at least 2-3 days to soaking up all that this incredible coastal drive has to offer. There is no reason to rush, you might miss just why it’s so much more special than the labels could ever give an inkling to.
We spent almost a week exploring the region on a road trip from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation.
Here is a Google map of our road trip:
When is the best time to do the Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation drive?
The best time of year to do the Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation drive is in the dry season, which runs from July to November.
You can also have good weather in April – June, but you will want to avoid the wet season which runs from December until March.
The dry season not only brings out the best weather, but there is less of a risk of stingers.
The wet season raises the water levels and it’s common to see road closures because of flooding.
Stops on the Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation Road
Below are some of the must-see landscapes, attractions, viewpoints, and iconic landmarks between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. Be sure to add a few, if not all of these stops, to your driving itinerary!
1. Port Douglas
Just because our road trip starts in Port Douglas doesn’t mean you should rush away so quickly!
Port Douglas is a fantastic place to spend a few days exploring the local area, enjoying sunset views from the marina, eating good food, partying, and shopping.
It’s a perfect base to head out to the reef from and explore more of the surrounding region.
For things to do in Port Douglas, don’t miss a walk on the stunning four-mile beach, hiking up to Trinity Lookout, and taking a boat out for a snorkelling adventure on the Great Barrier Reef.
For food and drinks, we really love these places:
- Surf Club Bar and Bistro – A local favourite for lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks.
- Yacht Club – Fantastic location and seafood. Great value meals and well-priced drinks.
- Courthouse Hotel – It’s an absolute must for beer and fresh prawns.
- The Tin Shed – Watch the boats come in the late afternoon and enjoy the cheapest drinks in town.
- Salsa Bar – Excellent ambiance and food. Fantastic cocktails and margarita jugs!
2. Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge is at the southernmost end (and my favourite part) of the Daintree Rainforest.
It’s ancient, pristine, and full of high vibrational energy. Mossman Gorge is free to enter but you do have to purchase a pass to catch the shuttle bus into the main walking area. Or you can walk the 2km yourself.
A boardwalk takes you to the Mossman River and a beautiful swimming area. The river can be dangerous after heavy rain, which is why it was recommended we not swim when we visited.
The Mossman River water is said to be the second purest in the world.
Isn’t that just so amazing? The rainforest is 140 million years old and it will touch your soul walking amongst twisting vines, strangler figs, epiphytes, and cycad trees that date back to prehistoric times.
We highly recommend that you take one of the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks. Your Aboriginal guide will take you into a private section of the forest teaching you about Aboriginal customs, sharing about the food and medicinal properties of the plants, and sharing a few Dreamtime stories.
This was such an amazing experience.
Stand up paddle boarding is also a great activity to do on the Mossman River.
3. Cooya Beach
Just east of Mossman is Cooya Beach, there’s not much to do here aside from spearfishing and mud crab hunting!
We highly recommend you take a Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour with Brandon Walker. You’ll spend the afternoon learning the traditional ways of the local Aboriginal culture and having a lot of fun doing it. You get to eat what you catch after.
4. Daintree Village
So this was a delightful find!
We stayed in a lodge at the Daintree Riverview Lodges and Van Park and had the most divine views from the common balcony overlooking the river. The sunset was just magnificent.
While staying at the Daintree Riverview join an Argo 8×8 tour through the owner’s cattle property and the Daintree Rainforest. It was wild fun!
The girls squealed as we went up really steep and rough terrain, past herds of cattle, and to the hill peaks for sensational views out over the Daintree River and rainforest.
Many tourists miss the Daintree Village by heading straight over on the ferry to go into the Daintree National Park, but those people are wrong to do so. We absolutely loved this area; Craig and I couldn’t work out if we felt like we were in Asia, Victoria, or Ireland.
The rainforest here was cleared many years ago (during settlement times before it was protected) for cattle farms.
The peaks of these impressive rolling mountains are covered in rainforest and down into the valley on the banks of the river are emerald green fields.
5. Cape Kimberley
Cape Kimberley is the first of the beaches you come to in the Daintree National Park and just over the Daintree River crossing.
It’s a 5km detour from the main road, but if you’re after serenity, this is it. It’s very quiet with lovely views of Snapper Island just offshore.
6. Mount Alexandra Lookout
Perhaps the most famous lookout on the whole drive is Alexandra Lookout. Stop in here for beautiful views out over the Alexandra Range and Snapper Island.
Here is where you see the Daintree River going into the sea and can get a clear picture of where two World Heritage Sites – the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef meet.
What a special part of the world.
7. Daintree Discovery Centre
The Daintree Discovery Centre is a definite must do. Not only did the girls have a ball, they learned so much about the rainforest and its surroundings as well.
The aerial walkway takes you up into the forest canopy and climbs up a 23m high tower, each level giving you the opportunity to experience a different rainforest layer and learn about the various plants, insects and butterflies, and other wildlife that live there.
There are also paths that go on the lower floor of the rainforest as well.
Your entry includes a self-guided audio tour with a shortened version for the kids. They loved hunting for the numbers, punching them into the guide, and then listening to the stories of the forest.
It was great to listen and see in front of them exactly what they were learning from the narrator. It also offers an indigenous interpretation, which we all enjoyed learning more about traditional food and medicine.
The center has rainforest talks throughout the day. I enjoyed sitting in on one about ants. It’s an animal no one pays much attention to apart from trying to keep them out of your picnic basket.
I was fascinated by just how clever they are and how vital their role in the thriving ecosystem of the rainforest is.
8. Cow Bay
I didn’t think this beach was as pretty as the Lonely Planet made out – I’m still confused as to how they came up with the “beautiful white-sand beach to rival any coastal paradise description.”
No matter how I looked at it, I could not get the white sand to appear.
I do think the other beaches in the Daintree are prettier, but it’s worth a look to judge for yourself.
9. Daintree Ice Cream Company
Who doesn’t love ice cream on a hot day in a rainforest?
Well, I’m the one who usually says no. I’m not a huge ice cream lover, but I did say yes to the four exotic flavours on offer at the Daintree Ice Cream Company.
For $6 you get a bowl of ice cream with four scoops. The flavours depend on what they’ve made at that time based upon the exotic fruits that have been harvested from the orchard. We had coconut, wattle seed, yellow sapote, and blackberry.
The wattleseed had a slight coffee flavour to it. My favourite was definitely the yellow sapote and coconut. This is the type of ice cream I could eat buckets of.
9. Thornton Beach Cafe
The Thornton Beach Cafe is a lovely spot to stop for lunch or breakfast right on Thornton Beach.
Try the Thai fish cake burger – delicious. The only downside to this cafe is the toilet block is currently under construction so you have to use the porta-loo.
10. Maardja Botanical Walk, Noah Beach
This was one of the prettiest and most interesting walks we did in the Daintree.
The 540m interpretative boardwalk follows the creek through a section of rainforest and past the eerily twisting roots and vines of the mangroves to a lookout over Noah Creek.
Your eyes will be fascinated.
Wear mosquito repellent though as the midges are biting.
11. Mason’s Cafe and Swimming Hole
The burgers at Mason’s Cafe are quite legendary. Pick your animal: wild boar, emu, crocodile or kangaroo.
It’s a little challenging to get your mouth around their size, but the burgers are nice enough – although I wouldn’t put them into legendary memorable status.
Take a short walk from the cafe to the swimming hole in the creek. It’s very pristine and, I gathered from all the people standing only up to their knees, very cold!
12. Dubuji Boardwalk
The 1.2km Dubuji boardwalk winds its way through the mangroves, shaded by its canopy of enormous fan palms, strangler figs, and vines. It takes you to another boardwalk leading down to Myall Beach.
We walked over a small bridge that just hovered above the muddy ground beside it – ground that had huge sliding marks and footprints of what could only have been a croc!
I couldn’t imagine being on that path as it was crawling on through – a little too close for comfort!
Certainly made me pay attention to those saltwater crocodiles warning signs everywhere on the Daintree beaches.
13. Myall Beach
If you have your own caravan, camper trailer, or tent consider staying at Cape Trib Camping. This is the social campground with lovely camp spots right on pretty Myall Beach.
Even if you don’t stay It’s a great place to come for wood-fired pizzas of an evening and communal campfires.
13. Cape Tribulation
Definitely the prettiest of the beaches in the Daintree Rainforest and is so serene and empty.
Walk along the beach and then back up to the Kulki boardwalk for stunning views back across Cape Trib beach. Once again seeing where that ancient rainforest meets the sea.
Here are some activities to consider while staying in the Cape Tribulation region:
- Jungle Surfing – I did this activity when we visited last year. It’s a fun adventure zip-lining through the canopy of the world’s oldest rainforest. The last flying fox gives you the chance to slide down upside down like a bat.
- Kayaking Cape Tribulation Beach – Craig loved doing this activity while I was jungle surfing.
14. Emmagen Beach
Just go a little further north of Cape Tribulation, right before the road turns to the 4WD-only Bloomfield Track, to visit Emmagen Beach.
The track is next to the big strangler fig on the right-hand side of the road. It’s a short five-minute walk down to the beach and is definitely worth a look. There was no one around when we went. It is right next to Emmagen Creek so be wary of crocs.
How to Get to Port Douglas From Cairns
It’s quite easy to extend this road trip by starting from Cairns, and adding it on to The Captain Cook Highway, which runs from Cairns all the way to Mossman, just north of Port Douglas.
This stretch of road passes by Palm Cove, which is famous for its palm lined beaches that connect to the lustuous turquoise waters.
The whole road from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is often called the Great Barrier Reef Drive, since it passes along the various stopovers where you can access the iconic reef.
FAQs About A Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation Trip
Here’s what people usually ask us about getting from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation…
Where do you stop Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation?
There are several stops on the way from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation to check out, but we think the best places to spend the night are Myall Beach or Forest Creek.
Do you need a 4WD to get to Cape Tribulation?
To get to Cape Tribulation, you do not need a 4WD vehicle. If you plan to go a little further to the Bloomfield Track, you will need a 4WD for this part.
Do you need a ferry to get to Cape Tribulation?
There is only one way across the Daintree River and that’s by the Daintree River ferry. You can board the Daintree ferry with your vehicle, even 4WDs and buses take this ferry.
Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation videos
Want to see what a road trip from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation is really like? Watch our videos from this trip on our YouTube channel:
More Far North Queensland Tips
Do you need more inspiration about visiting the Far North Queensland? Check out these other resources:
What are some of your highlights between Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest?