Tropical Queensland is a destination worthy of most people’s bucket lists. Explore it by travelling from Cairns to Port Douglas and experience two of the best destinations on Australia’s East Coast!
Road tripping Australia is a lot of fun (especially after working hard to save up for it!) but it can be confusing when trying to work out where to go and how best to get there. Is it worth driving yourself or is a shuttle bus cheaper? Are there places to stop along the way or is it all about the final destination?
If you’re planning to travel from Cairns to Port Douglas, then you’re in for a treat. It’s a beautiful drive, and it doesn’t take too long either.
We’ve covered exactly how to get from Cairns city centre to a gorgeous lookout high up in Port Douglas, and included the very best lookout spots on the way. Use the interactive map to plot exactly where to stop too!
Whether you have your own car or van that you’ve packed up with the essentials, or you want to be driven the whole way, you’ll see some epic scenic views along the route that is mostly on the Captain Cook Highway.
It’s part of the Great Barrier Reef drive, which follows on from Cairns to Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation. Keep going if you want to but Port Douglas is a great pit stop for a few days!
The Drive From Cairns to Port Douglas
Long windy roads and plenty of lookout points make this road trip so enjoyable. You’ll suddenly turn a corner and be exposed to deep green forest on one side and bright blue ocean on the other.
Don’t forget to bring your swimmers to – you won’t want to get in the water (croc alert!) but you can sunbathe on the beaches as long as you’re aware of your surroundings!
The distance from Cairns to Port Douglas is less than 70km and takes less than an hour to drive nonstop – but you’ll be getting snap happy at lots of lookouts so be prepared for it to take longer!
It’s a little like being in the outback in that there are no petrol stations or shops on the way, so stock up before you leave. There is a restaurant, but remember that you can always bring a picnic and eat your lunch on the beach if you’d prefer.
Lookout Points on the Great Barrier Reef Drive
We’ve highlighted 14 lookout spots where you can pull over and take photos of the spectacular scenery Australia has to offer.
You might not want to stop at every single one, and there are some we haven’t included because they have similar views to others. Pick and choose your favourites, but we definitely recommend number 2 and 9!
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- You’ll turn this corner and the whole ocean opens up to you. It certainly makes a change from city driving in Cairns! You can’t stop yet but it’s an extraordinary sight to see!
- Pull over and be ready to be awed! Park anywhere and follow the sandy path down to the beach. The sand stretches for what seems to be miles and you’re likely to have it all to yourself. Take a towel and enjoy the sun, or just snap a quick selfie and get back on the road!
- Here you can peer over the edge to watch the water. Or, look to your left and admire the huge mountains covered in luscious green rainforest of Kuranda National Park.
- Sometimes you don’t want to share your experiences with anyone else, so if the previous spot is full, just drive on a little bit and see if you can get your photos without any other tourists hogging the scenery!
- Ellis Beach is an official beach stop – you can even stay on the beachfront bungalows here! The 5km strip of sand is perfect for getting out and stretching your legs.
- Taking photos of gorgeous scenery is hungry work so we don’t blame you if you want to stop off for a bite to eat here. Order one of their amazing burgers or the nachos – they’re big enough for 2! OBVIOUSLY don’t drink and drive, but you can enjoy a cold one here in the sun before you get back on the road.
- For those of you on a budget, this spot is the perfect place to eat your picnic and enjoy the views for free. Or, if you can wait to eat then use one of the free barbecues in Port Douglas to cook on!
- Rock stacking is a bit controversial. Lots of people do it but the idea that it can harm wildlife is circulating more widely now. Don’t add to the stacks, but this is still a good spot to stop in and take in the beauty of the drive.
- As you pass over Hartleys Creek, peer out of your window and see if you can spot a sneaky crocodile swimming silently through the water. Bonus points if you get a photo!
- Cross the road and you’ll realise how high you actually are on this part of the trip! If you’re lucky, you’ll turn up at the same time as the hang gliders. You can watch from the safety of the ground as they soar the skies.
- This is another great place to park up and enjoy the bloody good view. Australia is just beautiful and even the waters surrounding it are astounding!
- There’s literally nothing blocking your view out into the ocean here. You might not want to step on the rocky beaches but they’re still incredible natural formations to look at!
- The remarkable sight of the sandy bay as you turn this corner is enough to make anyone hold their breath. This is the last stop on our route where you’ll be so close to the beach, so make the most of it!
- If you make it to the Trinity Bay Lookout, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Four Mile Beach and the Coral Sea. There’s parking here or you can leave your car in the town and walk up (it’s super steep though – you’ve been warned!)
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas truly is striking and we recommend it to anyone visiting Queensland!
We drove the route in our own car but don’t worry if you don’t have your own vehicle. There are other options which will take you on this journey. Here is a breakdown of all of the options when considering the drive from Cairns to Port Douglas.
Self Drive Your Own Car From Cairns to Port Douglas
This is the cheapest and easiest way to experience the Cairns to Port Douglas drive. If you’re backpacking Australia and including this road trip in your adventures across the outback and the coast, the chances are that you will have your own vehicle to get around in (rented or bought).
You’ll have to pay for the fuel of course, but as it’s such a short journey it won’t break the bank.
Driving yourself also means that you can stop at any of the locations. You can also spend however long you want at each one. It does mean that the driver won’t be able to enjoy that extra beer at the restaurant though!
Take the Cairns to Port Douglas Shuttle
There are plenty of different companies who offer an airport shuttle service from Cairns airport to Port Douglas. They can pick you up straight from the airport or in the city, and drive you straight up to your accommodation in Port Douglas.
This is best if you are staying in Port Douglas first and want to make things easy for yourself! The Cairns to Port Douglas bus route will still show you the amazing scenery on the Great Barrier Reef Drive.
Go On A Tour In Port Douglas
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to stop at any of the lookout spots though. If you aren’t bothered by not having photos on the beaches then this is a good option to combine a great drive with a day trip.
Hire A Private Car To Drive You From Cairns To Port Douglas
A more expensive option, but you’ll get the car to yourself. You might be able to ask the driver to stop a few times and take some pictures of you.
You can choose what time to leave and you might learn some interesting facts from your driver. They’re likely to be locals and could have insider knowledge about the area.
Rent A Car To Drive From Cairns to Douglas
Renting a car is an easy way to get from Cairns to Port Douglas. It gives you the freedom and flexibility to stop where you want, and you could hire for a few days to explore the surrounding areas.
Renting short-term is a more expensive way of doing things. You’ll be paying for the car + fuel, plus any added extras or insurances. But if you don’t have much time and you want to explore Far North Queensland, this could be perfect!
It also means that you can drive back from Port Douglas to Cairns, so you get to see the views twice!
Once you’ve arrived, there are plenty of things to do in Port Douglas on a budget. There are also activities, restaurants and tours to splash out on. Our top picks include:
- Scuba diving or snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef
- Walking along Four Mile Beach
- Exploring the boutique shops in the town
- Taking a day trip to Mossman Gorge
There’s much more to see and do in Port Douglas. You certainly won’t be bored spending a few days in this gorgeous seaside town!
How about taking a tour?
Packing List Essentials
Have a look at the best deals in Port Douglas using the map below!
How did you get from Cairns to Port Douglas? Was the Great Barrier Reef Drive as amazing as you thought it would be? Let us know in the comments below!