How To Get To Port Douglas From Cairns

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The only way to get from Cairns to Port Douglas is normally by road and The Great Barrier Reef Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas hugs 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 along this drive. They are in our post.

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

Port Douglas From Cairns drive
The Rex Lookout is between Cairns and Port Douglas, right on the side of the Cook Highway. Park here for this view of Wangetti Beach

In January 2024, the Captain Cook Highway (the main coastal road between Cairns and Port Douglas) was closed because of landslides during Cyclone/Ex Tropical Storm Jasper. It reopened in January 2024, the road is open but you may experience delays as there is still repair work going on. If such an incident occurs again, there should be a ferry between Cairns and Port Douglas (the boats charge about $50, similar to the usual cost of 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 inland road to Port Douglas may also be closed by flooding in prolonged heavy rain.

Port Douglas From Cairns

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. There is no public transport to Port Douglas from Cairns City or Cairns Airport, so book the Cairns to Port Douglas Shuttle here. The cost is $33 US ($50 Au), which is much cheaper than a taxi or Uber.

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 noticed a train line and stations marked on some maps, these relate to cane trains and the Ballyhooley railway. St Crispin’s Station and Port Douglas Marina stations are disused and serve as cafes today. There is no passenger train service from Cairns to Port Douglas.

All of the information below is about getting from Cairns to Port Douglas under normal conditions.

  • Drive Time
  • Distance
  • Map
  • Private Transfers
  • Taxi
  • Bus
  • Shuttle
  • Uber
  • Car Hire
  • Accommodation with transfer service
  • Things to see along the way
  • Cycling
  • Alternative (inland) route

This drive is part of the pleasure of visiting Port Douglas, try to experience it in daylight. If necessary stay overnight at a Cairns Airport Hotel and drive or take the shuttle up in the morning for spectacular views, if possible, at dawn. The sun rising over the Coral Sea is something you’ll never forget.

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 the busy city of Cairns.

The road is very scenic and you’d struggle to get lost if you just head north. However, driving conditions aren’t always good and slow drivers may experience aggressive tailgating. On this road slower drivers should pull over at various passing points along the way.

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.

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 a 15-minute 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 walk out of the airport, get in a taxi, 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 for the taxi journey to Port Douglas from Cairns. Airport taxis have a premium added to their 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 Gordonvale but not the the Douglas Shire.

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) 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 the 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

You can use this car hire rental comparison tool to find your best option. We used to find Budget Car Hire in Port Douglas was the cheapest, but Budget seem to have closed 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.

If you don’t want to hire a car straight off the plane or from Cairns don’t worry as Port Douglas has at least 5 different car hire companies at last count, both international and local companies. These car hire companies seem to be permanently in flux, they open and close continuously.

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. Many of these companuies can rent cars to cruise ship visitors.

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 read the fine print. Australia has some of the highest excess levels in the world with some companies charging up to $5000

Some of the Port Douglas 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 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.

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 famous backpacker resort and camp site, Dougies (book here) usually has a pickup service from Cairns, 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Dougies has been sold and is due to close but it is still open at the time of publication.

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

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

The Great Barrier Reef Drive is beautiful but the road is winding. Itcan be car sickness-inducing, and is potentially dangerous. Don’t let those stunning views distract you from the road.

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.

This is a list of things to see or places to stop between Cairns and Port Douglas. We’ll cover these fully in other posts.

  • Yorkey’s Knob
  • Trinity Beach
  • Smithfield (Major shops here between Cairns and Port Douglas, fast food, Bunnings, supermarkets, cinema, etc.)
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (takes visitors to Kuranda and Barron Falls, return by scenic train.)
  • The Military Museum
  • Tjapukai (closed down recently)
  • Clifton Beach
  • Palm Cove
  • Ellis Beach
  • Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
  • The crocodile lookout point on the Mowbray River just south of Port Douglas, with off-road parking.
  • Hartley’s Creek Falls (this is a hike from the road)
  • Wangetti Beach
  • Oak Beach
  • Pebbly Beach

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 Cycle Path

There is a cycle path being built between Cairns and Port Douglas and onward to Mossman. It is not finished. The Captain Cook Highway is not a very safe road for cycling.

The Captain Cook highway is a part of the Cairns Ironman cycle route (normally held in June). If you happen to arrive on that day the road will most likely be closed for several hours and you’ll need to take the Alternative route via the Tablelands.

Port Douglas from Cairns, Alternative Routes

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

About the author
Alyson Long

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