One of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders and so close to home (New Zealand). This place has been on my bucket list ever since I can remember. It combines everything I love in a trip water, nature and wildlife. I’ve done all the research for you and tested it out compiling it here for you to guide you on your way around the Great Barrier Reef. You can use bits of it to incorporate into your own travels or use the entire thing as a blue print to unlock Cairns. How-ever you choose to use it this destination is a MUST!
Our trip starts with me taking all my leave which ended up being 45 days off and while that amount of days would usually mean a huge trip I had uni work to complete so a mini tropical get away sounded perfect. We had been contemplating The Great Barrier Reef as a potential destination for the past month so it was the perfect fit!
As per usual we left Auckland international airport to fly to Brisbane then on to Cairns! We used a combination of three different airlines, Air New Zealand, JetStar and Qantas. Obviously, you’ll check the deals at the time you travel but usually Jetstar will be the cheapest. Don’t get caught out with hidden add ons, you will need to purchase baggage if you intend on taking anything more than a 7kg carry on. Sometimes based on these costings it may be worth booking with another airline that has baggage included. Furthermore, don’t expect refreshments on the Jetstar flight but it’s a 2-hour flight (you won’t die). Air NZ and Qantas are usually neck and neck when it comes to pricing however on the Tasman sector for Air NZ you will need to pre-purchase or purchase food on the plane this isn’t included in a normal ticket. Qantas is all inclusive and the costing will reflect this. This may clarify why there is such a large price difference.
Auckland to Brisbane – NZ733 (which is a late flight to Brisbane). We stayed in Brisbane for about three and a half days before leaving for Cairns.
Brisbane to Cairns – JQ930 (which is a morning flight from Brisbane to Cairns)
Cairns to Brisbane to Auckland – Multiple Qantas Flights
Arriving into Cairns is like being on a tropical island it doesn’t feel like Australia at all!
There isn’t a more convenient way of getting around Cairns then hiring a car. After researching ALL the car rental companies, the best and significantly cheapest company to hire from is Avis! We hired a “small” SUV.
Dates: 6th– 13thAugust
Type: Small SUV, Mitsubishi ASX
Details: Pick up and drop off located right outside the departure/arrival terminal. You can’t miss it!
I highly recommend Avis, in fact I really mean this when I say don’t waste your time on other companies unless they have a discount or special on at the time. Price differences between Avis and other companies were considerable, as much as $600 (cough cough* Hertz)! Money better spent on other things in my opinion. There are terms and conditions that may restrict you from hiring a car so make sure you know before you go. Otherwise airport transfers can often be organised with your accommodation free of charge, Uber to get to activities and the old fashioned beating the feet will be an easy alternative.
When they ask you if you’d like to add insurance I highly recommend you take it! I know that an extra $50 per day isn’t ideal but the amount you’ll have to pay if anything happens will exceed your insurance costs. I learnt this lesson the hard way and scratched the side of the car on a pole! So let me learn the lesson for you and take my advice, $5000 is the amount they froze in my account to cover potential costs.
All these locations are within Port Douglas. When I was researching this trip a lot of people were asking where the best place is to stay in Cairns; Port Douglas would continuously pop up. Hence why we chose to base ourselves in Port Douglas. After staying in the area I give Port Douglas a big thumbs up and would highly recommend this location. We stayed at the following three spots.
Airbnb: Beach Side Apartments ($224 pn) 6th– 8thAugust
I love Airbnb and think it’s a great opportunity for people to experience other types of accommodation that doesn’t restrict them to a hotel room. The particular place we stayed at was so fresh and clean and reminded me of Santorini. If you can I highly suggest you request unit 3 as each is decorated differently. Our host Bec was so friendly and helpful. If you’re staying at this spot I would recommend hiring a car as it is a tad too far to walk to anything yet close enough to be amongst it all. The beach is at the end of the street.
Low Budget: Uyoung Diving Resort ($150 pn) 8th– 9thAugust
Now while I understand $150 may not be the cheapest available nor will this price be considered cheap for all but this type of accommodation is plentiful at varying costs. After backpackers this type of accommodation would be the next step up. Uyoung is clean and comfortable and the owners were so lovely with amazing hospitality.
Luxury Resort: Thala Beach Nature Reserve ($379 – $935 pn) 10th– 13thAugust
If you ever get the chance to treat yourself even if it is just for the night or two Thala Beach Nature Reserve is the place to do it. We stayed in room 38 and it felt like we were staying high up in the trees with stunning views of the ocean and mountains in the back ground. If your intention is to just stay in Cairns to visit the Reef, then splurge a little and book a room at Thala Beach Nature Reserve. It will absolutely transform your trip. With two beautifully designed pool areas, its own beach they have created an estate that compliments the environment they’re in which is important to me and is probably why so much wild life remain on the reserve. There are so many activities included in the cost of your stay, along with nature walks throughout the site. Everywhere you turn there is wildlife from tiny Geckos, a variety of bird life and we even saw a Lace Monitor scaling the tree while eating breakfast. I would recommend this location to all my friends and family. If you choose to stay here I recommend you hire a car so you can take the 10 minute drive to town, you cannot walk from this location. They have a great service at this hotel that parks your car for you and brings it back to reception when you need to use it at no extra cost. If you choose to get transfers to and from the airport and activities this would be fine too it will however limit the availability of what you eat while on holiday as the Menu at Thala is expensive with a main meal costing $40-$50. We had such a luxurious stay at Thala, with a buffet breakfast included in the price of our stay, we’d venture out during the day or visit the resort beach and pools then eat on the main street of Port Douglas for dinner.
To visit the Reef we chose Calypso Reef Charters. They take you to the outer reef and visit three separate locations, so you get the best experience while on your Reef Tour. You get all the equipment you need on board to snorkel or dive and food and drinks are included. The day is fully interactive so some of the crew will even get in the water and take you on a swimming tour of the reef if you want to participate. If you suffer from sea sickness you will get sick but this isn’t something you want to miss out on so take all the medication you have. We also saw dolphins and sea turtles, along with so many fish and amazing Reef formations.
Company: Calypso Reef Charter
Price: $266pp + $6.50 (Reef tax which you pay onboard, all companies will make you pay this)
We also visited the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas. I mainly visited so I could feed Kangaroos but the Kangaroos were not hungry (obviously with so many people visiting to feed them). The birds in the enclosure with the Kangaroos were the only ones eating the Roo feed. I love animals I enjoy being around them but this activity won’t be for everyone.
Price: $36 per adult (you can visit with your entrance ticket for 5 days)
This attraction was highly recommended and reminded me so much of New Zealand. Mossman Gorge is a World Heritage Listed Site and has the oldest surviving rainforest. This location is one of the few places where visitors can learn about the Indigenous people of Australia. From the information centre you can walk to the Gorge which isn’t a strenuous walk but is about 4kms away, if you choose to walk there you have to walk back. We took the bus from the information centre this costed us $9 each. You can swim at Mossman Gorge, we headed up stream away from everyone else and sat in a little rock pool to ourselves.
This particular location was well worth the drive and search to find. This particular activity won’t be for everyone either. Tully Falls along with many other falls and nature walks is located in Atherton Tablelands. From Port Douglas it took us almost 3 hours to get to. I highly recommend a visit to this location they have a number of walks with beautiful scenery. The spot I’m going to tell you about isn’t frequently visited by tourists and is mainly visited by locals as it isn’t an easy place to find nor is getting there very easy either. However, once you’re there it is a spectacle like no other. A little pool on top of a cliff that looks out onto the expansive gorge covered with dense forest.
From Port Douglas we drove out to Tully Falls. Using google maps which got confused at one point. It told us to take a dirt path which leads to other falls, you’re going to stay on the paved road. There will be a big Tully Falls sign and you’ll continue driving right to the end until you get to a gravel car park. Park up and take the walk track for about 100m, keep an eye on the left side of the track because you’re going to see an unmarked path leading into the bush that will quickly lead you out onto a large area of rocks and water pools veer left and keep going until you reach the edge of the cliff. You’ll spot the pool. Be cautious and tread carefully!
I do not recommend this for families with young children. It is dangerous so seriously consider you capabilities before visiting this site. We had the best time there, the water hole is small but so deep so you can jump in and not touch the bottom at all!
Other Spots to Visit
- Four Mile Beach
- Sugar Wharf
- Trinity Bay Look Out
- Rex Smeal Park
Most importantly what to eat! Almost every eatery in Port Douglas is expensive. Here’s the roundup of the places we ate at.
- Salsa Bar and Grill
This place came highly recommended! It didn’t disappoint, if money doesn’t concern you then this place is for you! If $35-$40 dishes aren’t in your price range save this as a treat for you last night.
- The Beach Shack
What makes this place so fun is that the floor is covered with sand! There is the restaurant section or a walk-in pizza and bar section. The pizzas are popular and tasty! Double the price of a domino’s pizza though. I’d say it’s worth the price.
- Han Court Chinese Restaurant
My favourite place because it didn’t cost an arm and a leg to eat here and its just really tasty Chinese food. Highly recommend if you’re looking to eat out on a small budget.
- Siam by the Sea
This is a Thai restaurant; also a cheaper place to eat. So tasty I had the best Red Duck Curry. Highly recommend for people looking for a cheap-ish Thai meal.
- Choo Choo’s at St Crispins
This restaurant was recommended by our Airbnb host Bec. Such a relaxed beautiful setting to eat in. Real hearty meals for reasonable prices too. One of the cheaper establishments with bigger portions then most of the restaurants in the area too. They have award winning breakfast meals too so definitely a must eat location. It has an outdoor setting looking out over a golf course.
Tips to eating out in Port Douglas
- If you’re staying for more than a few days book accommodation with a kitchen because it is going to be PRICEY eating out for every meal your entire stay.
- Every restaurant here is overpriced, there really isn’t any way to get around that.
- During peak season in Port Douglas, which is actually their winter months restaurants get fully booked out so book a table at the restaurant you want to eat at.
Know before you go
- Peak season is May – October (Best weather months to visit).
- Port Douglas is a beautiful place to stay in Cairns and I would recommend it. You might need a rental car if you choose this location. It is a 50-minute drive from the airport.
- Airbnb will give you the best accommodation for your stay. Price wise and facilities.
- Port Douglas is expensive!
- To do everything that we did you’ll need approx 4-5 days.
I know the Great Barrier Reef is on the bucket list of many and living in New Zealand made it an easy Natural Wonder to visit. Devastatingly it is being destroyed faster than it can regenerate itself. Not only is it a living breathing organism itself but it is home to so many species of life. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to see it in this life time; we need to work harder to ensure its survival for other generations too.