Do You Need A Car For a Port Douglas Vacation?

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Port Douglas is a small town and if you’d rather not hire or rent a car for your time in Port Douglas, you can manage without one. If you choose to visit Port Douglas with no car you need to think about the following points.

The points in this list are clickable and will take you to the relevant section on this page.

  1. You will need to book the shuttle bus or a private transfer to and from Cairns Airport. Uber is not huge in this area.
  2. Book a hotel close to Macrossan Street, the heart of Port Douglas town, to be close to shops, the marina, the beach, and restaurants. (suggestions below)
  3. If you plan to visit Mossman Gorge, The Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, The Tablelands, Kuranda or Cairns, you will need to book a tour that includes a pick-up from your Port Douglas Hotel. Sightseeing options here.
  4. There are bikes, scooters, and local buses, plus a weekly bus to Cairns.
  5. Costs of hiring a car versus booking transport and tours

There are plenty of car hire places in Port Douglas itself, it’s easy to pick up a rental car for a day or two. We suggest you use this car hire comparison tool to find the best deal. Here for pick up in Port Douglas, here for pick up in Cairns. Or just use our search form below.

Do you need a car for a port douglas vacation
You can have a lot of fun if you hire a car, and see some cool places, but tours will also get you to where you want to go. This is the Daintree Rainforest road, you can self-drive into the Daintree and you don’t need a 4×4.

Port Douglas Without a Car

The owners of this site lived in Port Douglas for years without owning a car. For long trips, we were able to hire cars in Port Douglas for a day or two. We used bicycles for shopping. It’s very possible to live in Port Douglas without a car, or to vacation in Port Douglas without a car. Just bear the following in mind.

The Shuttle Bus and Airport Transfers

Allow at least an hour for your journey to and from Cairns Airport. The road between Cairns and Port Douglas is still under repair because of the cyclone damage at the end of 2023. At the moment there are still occasional planned closures at night, mostly. If your arrival or departure flight is around the time of these closures there is an alternative route via Julatten, Mt Molloy, and Mareeba, this journey is at least an hour longer and the shuttle bus companies charge an extra $20 or so for this longer journey.

The coast road (The Captain Cook Highway or Great Barrier Reef Drive) is closed or partially closed for the annual Ironman event. In 2024 the Ironman Cairns race is on June 16th, a Sunday. Sunday is market day in Port so the market on this day will probably be smaller.

You can book an airport transfer shuttle bus here, it normally costs about $50 each. A private taxi or Uber may cost around $200 (more details in our post about Uber in FNQ.)This means a group or party may be better off booking a private transfer than multiple seats on a minibus.

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There is a transfer bus desk at Cairns Airport if you fail to book the shuttle in advance. You may have to wait a while.

Where To Stay in Port Douglas With No Car

If you don’t plan to hire a car for your Port Douglas stay, book a hotel within easy walking distance of Macrossan Street, The Marina, and The Beach. Everything in Port Douglas village is easily walkable. Most of the restaurants and shops are here.

For a central Port Douglas Stay, we recommend these.

  • Beaches Port Douglas. This one is on the PD Esplanade with views of the beach. It’s right behind the lifeguard station and swimming enclosure. This accommodation has one and two-bedroom apartments with a kitchen to help cut costs. Eating out is expensive in Port Douglas.
  • Coconut Grove. This is a great place to stay right on Macrossan St. It’s a 5 star resort with luxurious apartments, from 1 bedroom to 5 bedroom. There are kitchens, spa pools and private plunge pools available here, Check it out.
  • By The Sea Port Douglas is a more affordable option, right opposite the top end of Four Mile Beach, on Macrossan St.
  • Both Backpackers Hostels in Port Douglas are within walking distance of the centre. Global Backpackers is on Macrossan St, Port Douglas Backpackers is a street away. Both cost about the same. Dougies Backpacker Resort is a short walk away, but it has been sold and won’t be there much longer.

If you plan to stay further out of town, for instance at the Pullman Sea Temple, at the bottom end of Four Mile Beach, a shuttle loops from here into town fairly regularly. Take a look at Sea Temple’s amazing pool and swim-out apartments here.

Sightseeing With and Without a Car From Port Douglas

The top 3 “things to do” for Port Douglas are trips to the reef, Mossman Gorge and Daintree Rainforest (Cape Tribulation, north of the river). The latter two can be combined into a single day trip with a tour guide and bus. The Mossman Gorge is a part of the Daintree National Park. For these trips you don’t need a car if you plan to book a tour. You can of course self-drive into the Daintree Rainforest and explore the beaches and boardwalks by yourself. You will have to pay to take the ferry over the Daintree River, but there is no admission fee for the Rainforest itself.

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A lot of visitors like to take a wildlife and crocodile spotting tour, you can take a cruise on the Lady Douglas, from Port Douglas marina, you don’t need a car. Alternatively a croc spotting tour on the Daintree River may be incorporated into your full-day or half day rainforest tour. If you have a car you can drive up to Daintree Village and the Daintree River and book a cruise at several places, they run frequently.

You might want to look at our post on visiting Mossman Gorge, we go through your options there, we also have a post on Daintree and the Cape.

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If you do choose to hire a car you have more options. There is a lot to see on the Tablelands, you can visit various swimming holes and war=terfalls, plus chocolate, coffee, wineries and distilleries. Having a car will undoubtedly give you more freedom, but having a guided tour will give you more insider insights. Both are good options.

Scooters, Bike Hire and Buses

Bikes in Port Douglas
Port Douglas is mostly flat and there are bike lanes. Cycle helmets are required.

You will see purple electric scooters all over Port Douglas. There is also bike hire available from Port Douglas Bike Shop and Hire. This team also organise bike tours and mountain biking adventures (their website is here). If you’re planning to stay in POrt Douglas for a while and want to buy a bike Port Douglas Bike Shop and Hire sell off ex hire bikes cheaply at times. Alternatively try Facebook Marketplace or the Port Douglas and Mossman Buy Swap Sell Facebook Group. When there are a lot of backpackers living and working in Port Douglas there’s quite a trade in used bikes.

There’s no regular public bus service in Port Douglas. Instead we have multiple private companies providing a scheduled or pick-up minibus shuttle service. You can call them for a pick up, or catch one at a regular stop, for instance, outside Coles at Port Village shopping centre. It’s always best to call them and book. S&R Coaches provide day passes on their shuttles along with single and return tickets. They operate between 6am and midnight, 1am on Saturdays. Their phone number is 0469 723 071. Just call and request a pick up. A single day pass is around $12 for a child, $24 for an adult. If you book multiple day passes this becomes cheaper. Single tickets start at $8 Au. Visit their website for more info.

Costs, Hire a Car or Book Tours?

Wether or not to book a car, or take tours shouldn’t really come down to cost, it’s more about your personal choice. Which style do you prefer?

Which is more expensive depends on how many people in your party and how much yu want to explore.

For families with young kids a vehicle is often a better option. Most younger children won’t be happy on a full day guided tour. I’m a mum, I know first hand! Some tours won’t take small kids. The number of people in your vehicle will help balance out costs.

All of the tours from Port Douglas are pretty expensive, Australia is an expensive country and that’s just the way it is.

For adults I’d say take a tour, for families, hire a car.

Your choice depends on how much you want to see and how many days you plan to spend exploring.

Car hire can cost as little as $50 per day in low season, but prices fluctuate enormously. Use the comparison tool further up the page and see how much a car will cost at the time of your visit. If you have any questions you can email us, or ask in the comments we’re here to help.

About the author
Alyson Long

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