How To Get To Port Douglas From Cairns

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In January 2024, the Captain Cook Highway (the main coastal road between Cairns and Port Douglas) was closed because of landslides during Cyclone Jasper. It is due to be open today, 20th January 2024. Various boats have been transporting people between Cairns and Port Douglas (the boats charge about $50, comparable to the usual fee for the shuttle bus), or you can normally drive up one of the range roads from Cairns, via Smithfield or The Gillies, travel along the Tablelands and drop down the range just north of Port Douglas via Julatten. Get a comparative quote on car hire here. This road to Port Douglas is closed by flooding at Spear Creek, Mount Molloy this morning. These floods come and go pretty fast normally.

The drive to Port Douglas from Cairns
Spectacular views of the Coral Sea on the way to Port Douglas from Cairns.

We had 8 days with no power during the cyclone and tropical storm Jasper in Julatten (near Port Douglas) but the floods went down, the road is dryer, and there are roadworks in places and some minor delays. It’s the start of the wet season, we may see flooding again and some roads close intermittently. Hopefully nothing like Jasper!

Port Douglas was without water for a while, it’s back on, and boats are taking tourists to the reef. The Outer Reef is looking great now! (I work out there)

I’ll try to keep this page updated as best I can, if you have any questions put them in the comments, I will reply, I was in Port Douglas this morning and on the reef yesterday.

The ferry over the Daintree River is still closed but Mossman Gorge has re-opened, I was there this week. Daintree tour operators have created new waterfall and rainforest tours, you can still see parts of the Daintree Rainforest in January 2024.

All of this is so new that I can’t give you booking links, but I’m working on it!

Rex Range Road View Lookout Port Douglas
The view from the lookout on the Rex Range Rd, descending from the Tablelands from Julatten to the main highway between Port Douglas and Mossman. It’s a very scenic drive. I use this road every day.

The rest of this post covers the options for travel between Cairns and Port Douglas under normal conditions, including driving to Port via the Tablelands. If you need a place to stay in either Cairns or Port Douglas, or nearby, use this interative map.

The only way to get from Cairns to Port Douglas is normally by road (unless you take a helicopter or charter a boat) and it’s officially one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

The Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas clings to the coast offering stunning views of the Coral Sea and various beaches.

Along the way, there are places of interest and attractions that you may like to explore. They are in our post.

This post first deals with how to get from Cairns to Port Douglas and places to stop or visit, viewpoints along the way, and more.

The easiest and most affordable way to travel from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas is to book a shuttle transfer here, online. It’s a much cheaper option than taxi, Uber, or car rental. You don’t necessarily need a car in Port Douglas as most tours and cruises (you’ll see some tour options on this page from our trusted provider) offer pick-ups from your hotel. If you’d prefer to hire a vehicle, use Europcar in Cairns or use this car hire comparison tool to find your best deal. If you use 12GoAsia, open here, Exemplar shared coaches can be booked on that platform from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas, (use the link) the cost per adult was $33 US ($50 Au) at time of writing, it may have changed, journey time is 1 hour 20 mins normally, with multiple pick ups and drop offs for customers. The actual drive time is much shorter in a private vehicle. These shared minivan taxis are usually available around the clock, day and night. For more options and information, please continue reading.

Book the Cairns to Port Douglas Shuttle here.

Travellers staying in Port Douglas arrive at Cairns by air (Cairns International Airport CNS), road, or rail before making their way 65 km north along the Captain Cook Highway.

Port Douglas 2024 January Update. We are into the wet season, we’ ‘ve already had one cyclone/tropical storm, there may be more. It is stinger season in Far North Queensland. The school holidays in Australia are usually quite a busy time in Port Douglas, but after Australia Day things become quieter. Many of Port Douglas’s restaurants take a break in February but the reef boats will run if there are customers and the weather is good, it often is. January can be a very good time to visit the Great Barrier Reef, with calm seas and good visibility. But you have to be lucky with the weather. The Daintree Rainforest, north of the river, is inaccessible by road at the moment as far as we know. Here’s that car hire tool again, it’s really good in our experience.

The Captain Cook Highway is a single-lane winding road with a few overtaking spots between Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Drivers should take care, especially in the wet season when it can be dangerous.

Port Douglas does not have a railway station nor an airport but don’t worry, it isn’t far and below I’ll cover the quickest, cheapest, most luxurious, budget and comfortable ways to get between Cairns and Port Douglas.

You may have seen a train line and stations marked on some maps, these relate to cane trains and the Ballyhooley steam train. St Crispin’s Station is a very nice cafe today and the old steam train is now part of a restaurant on the marina.

Getting From Cairns To Port Douglas

All of the information below is about getting from Cairns to Port Douglas under normal conditions. Today you’ll need to take the alternative routes, we describe these below.

What’s The Drive Time From Cairns To Port Douglas?

It is an easy, and very scenic drive from Cairns to Port Douglas and this route makes a great day trip from Cairns. Either from Cairns airport or Cairns itself, it’s an easy 40 min (airport) or 50 minute (Cairns City) drive to Port Douglas along the Captain Cook Highway, also known as State Route 44. The road is winding, but is easy to navigate, being a direct route once you’re out of Cairns itself.

The road is very scenic and you really can’t get lost if you just head north. However, driving conditions aren’t always good, slow drivers may experience agressive tailgating.

There are several passing points along the highway and if you find you have traffic behind you, do pull over to let these drivers pass.

There are beautiful views of the Coral Sea, beaches and tropical vegetation along the drive, to your right heading north towards Port Douglas.

There are a few places to stop and enjoy the views, or park up behind one of the beaches along this route.

If you choose to use a shuttle bus, try to sit on the right. These private buses are probably the best way to travel from Cairns to Port Douglas if you don’t have a car, unless you book accommodation in Port Douglas that includes a pick up service from Cairns, some do offer this service, including backpackers and hotels. See that section further down the page.

There are a lot of accidents on this road and tailgating is a big problem. Drive with care, particularly in wet weather and we really don’t recommend cycling on this route, having done it ourselves.

If you’re not used to driving on Australian roads keep a close eye on speed limits, they fluctuate with various restrictions and road repairs. Police speed traps are common.

If you’re prone to car sickness, or have dogs or children who struggle with travel sickness, you, or they, are very likely to feel unwell on this road.

Port Douglas From Cairns – Map

The three points marked on our Cairns to Port Douglas map are Cairns City, Cairns International Airport and Port Douglas Macrossan St.

As you can see the route to Port Douglas passes the airport just to the north of Cairns City. Port Douglas is closer to the airport (by about 15 minutes drive) than Cairns Itself.


Private Transfer From Cairns To Port Douglas

There are numerous private transfer companies that run services between both Cairns and Cairns airport to Port Douglas. Prices vary and you can expect to pay maybe $150 for a transfer per vehicle or $50-$60+ Au per person. Around $30-$40 US per ticket.

You can book a Port Douglas shuttle transfer here at a very good price.

This will be more if you want a luxury car or limousine, which isn’t uncommon for Port Douglas visitors.

Private transfers need to be pre-arranged and your driver will meet you at the airport terminals or in Cairns city.

SR Transport and Coaches offer private transfers from Cairns and Cairns Airport to Port Douglas.

Oasis also offer private transfers from Cairns to Port Douglas and the Northern Beaches including Palm Cove.

Port Douglas Private Transfers, as their name suggests, is another company that will offer transfers from Cairns and Cairns Airport to Port Douglas.

If you’d like to book a transfer online, try this link. This company will also take you from Cairns to Port Douglas and back again, after time to take a look at Port. You can check out the prices and schedules here.


From Cairns to Port Douglas by Public Taxi

The most expensive way to get between Cairns and Port Douglas, flagging down a  taxi, isn’t one I’d recommend.

For the cost and comfort, you’re much better off with a private pre-arranged transfer.

The plus side is that you can flag down a taxi or walk out of the airport and be on your way instantly. If you don’t know what time you land or need to leave then this is a good option.

Expect to pay upwards of $200 with airport taxis having a premium added to the basic fare.


Cairns to Port Douglas by Public Bus

Unfortunately, the public buses from Cairns only run as far North as Palm Cove which isn’t particularly helpful in getting to Port Douglas.

They do cover all of Cairns Metropolitan areas from Palm Cove to Gordon Vale but that’s all they do.

You cannot take a public bus or buses from Cairns to Port Douglas, there is no public transport north of Cairns, to Port Douglas, you need to book a private shuttle bus, take a taxi or Uber, or book accommodation in Port Douglas that includes a transport from Cairns.


You Can Get From Cairns Airport to Port Douglas by Shuttle Bus

A shuttle bus or minivan is one of the best ways of getting to Port Douglas if there are three people or less in your party. The shuttle buses are the cheapest way of getting from Cairns to Port Douglas and there is a frequent service.

Children are normally free up to 3 years old and then child rate to 12 years but check as each operator can be slightly different.

Several companies run shuttle services with some having a fixed timetable, others offer services on request.

SR Transport and Coaches offers mini bus transport between Cairns Airport and Port Douglas, as do Exemplar coaches. This is on request and is best booked at least a day ahead of your travel.

BTS Port Douglas buses offers a set service between anywhere in Cairns and Port Douglas. BTS also services Hartley’s Creek Crocodile farm and runs tours to the Daintree Rainforest.

With a set schedule this is probably the easiest bus to catch if you’re not sure exactly when you’ll be travelling. During busy holiday periods the popular times such as early morning and afternoon these will fill up fast.


Uber From Cairns to Port Douglas

Uber still isn’t very big in either Cairns or Port Douglas compared to other places. While you can probably get an Uber in either, catching one between the two won’t be an easy feat especially if you’re just arrived at the airport and expect a quick transfer.

The cost is significantly less than a taxi if you can arrange one. Expect to pay between $130-$160 depending on the time and day of the week.

At time of writing there was just one Uber driver in Port Douglas and no Grab or Grab bikes available.

From Cairns to Port Douglas on to Mossman Gorge

Most visitors to this region, either staying in Cairns or Port Douglas, will visit Mossman Gorge.

Again, transport options are limited. If you don’t have your own vehicle it’s probably best to book a tour which will pick you up from your hotel.

Read up on Mossman and Mossman Gorge here.

Car Hire in Cairns for Port Douglas

Some car hire or car rental offices in Port Douglas closed during the lockdown, and not all have re-opened at time of writing. You can use this car hire rental comparison tool to find your best option. We used Budget in Port Douglas most often but they seem to have gone permanently, replaced by Sixt.

There was a branch of Europcar at Cairns Airport in the terminal building. There is a Sixt Car Hire office just outside the airport too, with shuttle bus for customers.

Alternatively try a car hire comparison site like this one.

If you don’t want to hire a car straight off the plane or from Cairns don’t worry as Port Douglas has 5 different car hire companies at last count, both international and local companies, that can assist if you need a car later on. However, these car hire companies seem to be permanently in flux, they open and close continuously.

We have a full post on car hire in Port Douglas here. (As mentioned above, some have closed)

Formerly, Thrifty, Avis, Budget, Paradise Wheels Car Rentals, Port Douglas Car Hire and Comet Car Hire were all located in central Port Douglas within easy walk of the main hotel and accommodation areas. We now have a Sixt where Budget used to be.

A lot of these service cruise ship arrivals.

Some of the further out hotels may require a pick-up and drop off service for guests wishing to visit Port Douglas’s shops, restaurants, and The Superyacht Marina. Pullman Sea Temple Resort (it’s a great hotel!) is quite a long way from the centre of Port Douglas, about a 45 minute walk along the beach. However, regular shuttle buses take visitors between the hotel and Macrossan St.

Prices vary depending on the hire company and also the time of year. Low season February will see prices plummet while in July you’ll need to book ahead to reserve a car as there is limited stock and cars can sell out quickly.

Shop around to get the best deal and, as always, read the fine print in regards to insurance. Australia has some of the highest excess levels in the world with some companies charging up to $5000

Hotels and Hostels in Port Douglas with Airport or City Transfer Services

Check with your Port Douglas Hotel to see if they offer airport or Cairns pick up. Port Douglas’s favourite backpackers’ hostel and camp site, Dougies (book here) usually has a pick up service from Cairns, 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

But you do need to book and have a reservation at Dougie’s. They say they can pick up anywhere in Cairns including the huge central Cairns hostels, Gilligan’s , Central YHA and  Mad Monkey. 

Getting Around in Port Douglas

After you arrive in Port Douglas from Cairns, will you need a car? No, Port Douglas is small and pedestrian friendly. Cycling is popular, as are electric e scooters which can be rented locally. There are also options for bike hire in Port Douglas. Local shared sghuttle buses are also available.

If you with to visit Mossman Gorge, or the Daintree Rainforest, most tour providers will pick you up from your hotel or from a designated meeting spot.

Some backpackers and visitors do hitch-hike, but we don’t recommend it.

Cairns to Port Douglas, What to See on the Way?

This is a beautiful drive, but the road is winding, can be car sickness-inducing, and is potentially dangerous. Don’t let those stunning views distract you too much.

Heading north of Cairns on the road to Port Douglas, you’ll pass through The Northern Beaches before hitting The Douglas Shire. There are places to stop, campsites, and tourist attractions along the way.

We’ll give you a simple list below of things to see or places to stop between Cairns and Port Douglas

Cairns To Port Douglas Distance

The distance between Cairns and Port Douglas is 58 Km, 36 miles, as the crow flies and just under 67 Km, 42 miles, by road. The drive should take you roughly an hour but there are roads under repair and delays on this road currently.

Cairns To Port Douglas Train

There is no train service or rail line between Cairns and Port Douglas. Cairns has a train station, Port Douglas does not.

Port Douglas has disused steam trains and disused train stations formerly used for sugar cane and passengers, you may see these marked on maps. There is no railway line between Cairns and Port Douglas

Cairns to Port Douglas Cycle Path

There is a cycle path under construction between Cairns and Port Douglas and onward to Mossman. As yet it is incomplete.

We cycle on this highway and, it’s not a very safe road for cycling. The new cycle path, when it’s finished, will be great.

Cairns To Port Douglas Alternative Routes

If you don’t want to take the coastal road you can drive up onto the Range Road at Cairns, via Kuranda and continue your journey through the Atherton Tablelands, Mareeba and Julatten before dropping down the range road between Port Douglas and Mossman.

This is a steep winding, rainforest road and accidents (and speed traps) are common, particularly when it’s raining.

We drive this road almost daily. Taking this route will take you longer, but it’s a nice drive. Any questions, drop them in the comments.

There are campsites, accommodations, and places to buy food on either route.

In the wet season either or these routes can occasionally be closed because of landslides or accidents. Flooding sometimes closes this road between Mt Molloy and Julatten.

Road Closure Cairns – Port Douglas, June

Because of the annual Cairns IronMan event in June, the Cairns to Port Douglas Rd (Captain Cook Highway) may be closed.

The only alternative route is to drive up to the Atherton Tablelands from Cairns, continue north through Atherton, Mareeba, Mt Molloy and Julatten, and then drop down the Rex range road between Port Douglas and Mossman, just north of Cooya Beach.

This is a much longer route but it is a pleasant drive through interesting scenery, spanning savannah and rainforest.

Check if the bridge at MT Molloy is open if you plan to take this alternative route to Port Douglas from Cairns. The bridge at Mt Molloy is under repair and long closures or certain days have been scheduled. There is no alternative route that we know of, if this bridge is closed. There may be a dirt track if you have a 4×4 vehicle.

Beyond MT Molloy, Bushy Creek can flood and the waters stay high for days. To check the road conditions there, use this Facebook Group. (link opens in a new tab).

How else can we help with your trip to Port Douglas? For things to do in Port Douglas you need this post. Likewise, things to do in Cairns. Both cover surrounding areas and northern beaches too. For where to stay in Port Douglas, try here.

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Chef is James Long, a professional chef, world traveler and endurance athlete. He has spent almost a decade traveling and working internationaly.

2 thoughts on “How To Get To Port Douglas From Cairns”

  1. HI Chef, We’re scheduled to come up to Port Douglas on 20th January. Could you please provide an update on access to PD from Cairns and access to reef and other tourist destinations?
    Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Cara, the 20th is the day the road *may* be open, according to the latest. If not, the shuttles are running from the airport via Mareeba, we asked, $70, so a bit more that usual. The reef is open, I was out there yesterday. It’s been raining the last two days but before that it was perfect weather. Mossman Gorge *may* be open by then too. I’ve taken my wife to and from the airport in the last week, everything fine, no delays. Hope you have a great time!

      Reply

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