Tips For Travelling to Cairns and Port Douglas With The Family

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a round-up post of all the things I’d share with you if we were gabbing at the school gate.

Actually, we’d have to go for a coffee too… there’s quite a bit to say.

My four children and I visited Cairns and Porth Douglas in the September/October spring school holidays. I had been to Cairns and Townsville a few times in the dim and distant backpacker past, and had really just been there to jump on boats to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

So this was the first family visit.

I haven’t put in many photos to this post. It’s eminently printable, just click the ‘Print Friendly’ button at the bottom of the post.

Here’s what I’ll cover, you can click on the headings to go straight to that section if you like.

Tips visiting Cairns port douglas with family

When to go

Ah well, that depends on what you are looking for. In Australia, we often think the best time to go is the winter school holidays time, around June – September as the weather is so much better in north Queensland than it is in the southern states.  Also, the stinger season, when you need to swim on netted parts of the coastal beaches, is from around November to May. Now that doesn’t affect your time on the Great Barrier Reef though as they aren’t found there.

I like the hotter months as I love snorkelling and diving with no wetsuit which you can really only do when it’s very hot, over the Aussie summer. School holidays in summer will always be busy, best bargains to be found in February/March.

We went this time in late September and early October, we did need wetsuits on the reef. The daytime top temperatures were 25 – 30 degrees C which was very pleasant, and a lovely change to Sydney’s weather.

October – December is described as the best time to visit the GBR as the wind tends to be low then which means for smoother seas and less seasickness. Works for me.

The wettest time of year in December – March, but it often rains at night and there’s still heaps of good stuff to do even when it’s wet.

What I say is… go when you can, when it suits you, when you can get away, when the price is right… there’s no best time.


Lovely – very tropical!  Here’s the annual summary from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Cairns annual weather

Keep your eye on the weather before you go at Cairns Weather.


Where to stay

We wanted to be right in the heart of Cairns so we stayed very happily at the Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort, see our full review and photos here.

Other places that look good include:

The Shangri La right on the Marina looks gorgeous- mentioned by my friend Deb on Dive Planit  here.

The Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort is a Big4 resort with great kids facilities and a wide variety of accom.

In Port Douglas, we stayed at some very new (expensivo) apartments on Macrossan Street, great location, called Coconut Grove.

I liked the sound of the Peppers Beach Club in Port Douglas as described by Mrs Woog here.


What to pack

I’m glad you asked that… click below on a post I wrote with a packing list. There’s a printable list there for you too.

Family Holiday Packing List For Cairns And Other Hot Spots

Sydney kids food travel

Kids and I at Daintree Far North Queensland 2014

Things to do with kids

This is the biggie.  Here’s a list of the stuff we did and which we highly recommend.

Visit the Lagoon on Cairns Esplanade

Visit Muddy’s Playground on Cairns Esplanade

Coral Sea Dreaming – A Sleepover Yacht Trip To The Great Barrier Reef

River Tubing On The Mulgrave River

Whitewater Rafting Adventure – Teen17 did this

Visit  Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure

Have lunch at cafe with fab sea views at Palm Cove

Jetski around the Marina at Port Douglas

Take a trike ride with Grub’s Trikes

Walking and kicking balls on Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Aboriginal Dreamtime Tour at Mossman Gorge

A Day In The Daintree Rainforest with Ziplining and a Croc Cruise

Jet ski trip Port Douglas

Photos the teenagers took when jet skiing- lucky ducks

Good stuff we didn’t do but will next time.

The Skyrail and Kuranda Railway, Cairns

Cairns Night Zoo

 Visit the Atherton Tablelands


Get more ideas from these four bloggers

 Kate from The Adventure Mumma 

Jan from Budget Travel Talk 

Danielle from Bubs On The Move has a big North Queensland section as she used to live there.

The Fealy Family’s Are We There Yet?


Queensland and Cairns official tourism websites

Cairns and Great Barrier Reef Tourism

Tourism Port Douglas


Do we need to book activities ahead?

We booked the yacht trip ahead as it involved accommodation and we knew it would get booked out. You really don’t need to book other trips and tours ahead, although you may be wise to if you want to get onto a tour on a specific day.


Where to eat

Ummm… I am so not the best person to ask about this as eating out with my kids is always a stressful activity…. ummm….we ate mainly at the Novotel in Cairns.  

In Port Douglas we did enjoy our meals at the Jade Inn Chinese on Macrossan Street, also at the Indian called Maharaja in Grant Street just off Macrossan Street and at the Sushi Train also on Macrossan Street. We also frequented the ice cream shops several times a day.

But here’s my advice, pop over to visit Mrs Woog at Woogsworld where she describes some good spots she found to eat in Port Douglas.


Flying into Cairns

Cairns Airport is pretty small, you tend to exit the aircraft onto the tarmac…and be hit by a wave of tropical heat.

The airport is 6km from the city so it’s a quick trip. We used a taxi to get into the city, then arranged to drop our rental car off there. You can also book airport shuttles, try or phone (07) 4099 1191.  Many hotels arrange pickups from the airport.



We chose to stay right in the centre of Cairns so that we could walk to all the central locations. The tours we did when staying at the Novotel picked us up at the door.

We then hired a car (big enough for five of us, five big bags and a guitar – expensive!) and drove to Port Douglas. This was handy for stopping off on the way and for  driving around Port Douglas and beyond. Next time I will aim to have a car for a few days in Cairns and explore further afield.


I can imagine that I will be often adding to this post. And as I add more photos to this blog, I will update the links.


You’ll love these posts

If you’re thinking of a holiday to Cairns or Port Douglas start with..

 Family Packing List for Cairns, Port Douglas and Other Hot Places

And here are detailed posts on what we enjoyed

Coral Reef Dreaming – Overnight Yacht Trip to the Great Barrier Reef

 River Tubing On The Mulgrave River With The Kids

 Why We Are Loving The Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort

Muddy’s Playground On The Esplanade In Cairns

 Miracle on the Great Barrier Reef – Kids Take Photos of Mum For Once!


Now then… what have I forgotten?

Have you visited Cairns?

What’s your fave thing to do there?

Who’s coming snorkelling!?



PS If you have any questions about holiday up in Far North Queensland, do ask in the comments and if I don’t know the answer already I will find it out for you.

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Posted on: October 29, 2014