Palm Cove to Port Douglas

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The only way to get from Palm Cove to Port Douglas is by road along the Captain Cook Highway. There is no real public transport between Palm Cove and Port Douglas but there are shuttle buses and some free options. The drive between Palm Cove and Port Douglas is officially one of the most beautiful drives in the world. To find out how much a rental car will cost, use this comparison tool for free.

The Palm Cove to Port Douglas Rd view
The road from Palm Cove to Port Douglas is incredibly scenic, with lookouts and a few attractions along the way.

The Captain Cook Highway is the main coastal road between, Cairns, Palm Cove, and Port Douglas and it hugs the coast offering stunning views of the Coral Sea.

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From Cairns to Smithfield it is the No 1 highway, north of this junction is State Route 44.

North of Mossman the Captain Cook Highway ends and the main Highway is the Mossman Daintree Rd. into the Daintree Rainforest.

Palm Cove Beach
View of Palm Cove Beach showing the jetty at the north end of the beach and Double Island

Along the drive, there are beaches, natural beauty spots, plus a few tourist attractions that you may like to explore.

In this post, we tell you about places of interest on the Palm Cove to Port Douglas drive, viewpoints, distances, directions, and other ways to get to Port Douglas from Palm Cove.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas Distance

palm cove to port douglas road.
Palm Cove town, Queensland.

The distance between Palm Cove and Port Douglas is 45 Km or 28 miles. Obviously, this depends on which part of either you are starting from or finishing in.

How To Book Transport Between Palm Cove and Port Douglas

If you do not have your own vehicle, you can book the Palm Cove to Port Douglas shuttle bus here with SR Coaches. They do have a way to make online bookings, but it’s normal to just phone this company.

 stone cairns Cairns Australia
The “cairns near Cairns” are also on the drive north to Port Douglas. You can pull off the road and park here but it’s quite dangerous.

Alternatively, if you are familiar with the site 12GoAsia, Exemplar shared coaches can be booked on that platform from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas, (use the link)

You do not need a car to explore Port Douglas, it’s a very small town and it’s easy to see everything on foot.

If you plan to see nearby attractions, you can book tours or the cheaper option, shuttles. Consider the tour options below.

Tours and Transport Options To Book For Local Sight-Seeing

From Cairns, book a full-day tour to Mossman Gorge and Daintree, including an optional river cruise and Indigenous experience. Book here.

Daintree Discovery Tours are a good choice as they take you to Mossman Gorge, for a cruise on the river, and to the Daintree north of the river on a day tour. This tour is only available from Port Douglas, people staying in Cairns or Palm Cove can drive up and join the tour in Port. This is a great tour, including an Aboriginal “welcome to country” with the Kuku Yalangi. Book here.

From Palm Cove, book a full-day tour to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree here.

Departing Port Douglas, book the shuttle to Mossman Gorge (return) and enjoy the walkways and freshwater stream independently. You’ll need to organise that with one of the shuttle bus companies.

From Port Douglas, book a half-day (morning or afternoon) tour to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree River. This is a cheaper option and great if you’re short of time. Book here.

To book a crocodile and wildlife cruise (only) on the Daintree River, you need this link. Read our post on which river cruise to choose, Daintree or Lady Douglas.

Is There a Bus Service Between Palm Cove and Port Douglas?

No, there is currently no bus or other public transport between Palm Cove and Port Douglas, but there are various private shuttle bus operators on this route. These include SR Coaches and Exemplar.

It is also possible to book a taxi, Uber, or private transfer, but the shared shuttle buses should be your cheapest option.

Does The Train Go To Port Douglas?

No, there is no train to Port Douglas, the passenger train service ends in Cairns.

If you see train lines on the map, these are cane train lines.

Some of these old steam trains can be seen in Port Douglas, notably at Choo Choos, one of the marina restaurants with a view of the water.

From Cairns to Port Douglas there is very little public transport.

Is Palm Cove Closer to Cairns or Port Douglas?

Palm Cove is almost halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas, it’s roughly 25 minutes from Central Cairns, 35 minutes from Port Douglas, depending on road conditions.

It’s close to Cairns International Airport as this is about 6Km north of central Cairns.

Port Douglas or Cairns are very easy day, or half-day trips from Palm Cove and most of the major attractions in the region can be reached from Palm Cove, with or without your own vehicle.

Arrival in Palm Cove

Travellers staying in Palm Cove will arrive via road (or potentially cruise ship), as there are no available airports within Palm Cove itself.

Some will arrive at Cairns International Airport, which is just 25 Km (about 25 mins drive time) south of Palm Cove.

From Palm Cove it’s 42 km drive north along the Captain Cook Highway to reach Port Douglas.

The Captain Cook Highway is a single-lane winding road with two overtaking lanes between Palm Cove and Port Douglas.

The road can be dangerous during the wet season, so drivers should be careful when driving during that time.

You can get a rental car in Palm Cove. We suggest you use this car hire comparison tool to find the best deal.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas Drive Time

The drive time between Palm Cove and Port Douglas should be about 35 minutes.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas, Places to See on the Way

Ellis Beach and Double Island
Ellis Beach is a sandy swimming beach just north of Palm Cove on the way to Port Douglas. It has a stinger net (in season), a beautiful beach, campsite, car park, surf club, yacht club, and refreshments. Crocodiles have been reported here.

The drive from Palm Cove to Port Douglas is beautiful, but the road is winding, can be car sickness-inducing, and is potentially dangerous. Don’t let those stunning views distract you too much.

This drive is part of the Great Barrier Reef Tourist Drive, which is marked by brown palm tree road signs.

Heading north of Palm Cove on the road to Port Douglas, you’ll pass From Cairns Region into The Douglas Shire. There are places to stop, campsites, and tourist attractions along the way.

Wangetti Beach photo
Wangetti Beach is also between Palm Cove and Port Douglas

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

  • Ellis Beach (has a cafe and stinger net in Season)
  • Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
  • The crocodile lookout point on the Mowbray River just before Port Douglas, with off-road parking.
  • Hartley’s Creek Falls (this is a hike from the road)
  • Wangetti Beach
  • Oak Beach
  • Pebbly Beach
  • The Rex Lookout (with off-road parking)
  • The stone cairns on the way. (picture)

Palm Cove to Port Douglas Cycle Path

There are cycle paths under construction between Cairns and Port Douglas and onward to Mossman. As yet the network is incomplete.

You can get to Port Douglas by bike along the highway but it’s not a very safe road for cycling. As cyclists ourselves we don’t recommend you do this.

That said, there are fairly regular cycling events in which entrants cycle the 42.2 Km or so between Port Douglas and Palm Cove (Grand Fondo, last held in September)

The new cycle path, when it’s finished, should be awesome.

Palm Cove and Port Douglas Map

We made a map for you showing the locations of Cairns, Palm Cove, Port Douglas, Daintree, and other places of interest nearby. See Palm Cove on the map below, it is fully interactive for you to explore.

It is an easy, and very scenic drive from Palm Cove to Port Douglas and this route makes a great day trip or short drive.

The road is winding, and only 2 lanes, but is easy to navigate, being a direct route.

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 are quite likely to experience agressive tailgating.

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

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.

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 or Palm Cove 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.

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.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas by Public Taxi

The most expensive way to get between Palm Cove and Port Douglas, by taxi, isn’t one I’d recommend.

For the cost and comfort, you’re much better off with a private pre-arranged transfer. Contact SR Coaches, as we already mentioned above.

Uber in Palm Cove or Port Douglas

Uber still isn’t very big in Cairns Region and the Douglas Shire 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.

Hotels and Hostels in Port Douglas with 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.

Dougies is due to close soon, it has been sold.

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. 

Palm Cove To Port Douglas Alternative Routes, via the Tablelands

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 Palm Cove – Port Douglas, June

Because of the annual IronMan event in June (16 June 2024), 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 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.

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. Alternatively, our Australia Travel Blog page gives you an overview of travel in and around Australia, covering many destinations and how to get to them.

About the author
Alyson Long

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