Tips For Travelling to Cairns and Port Douglas With The Family



Cairns, Porth Douglas and the Daintree are magnificent places to visit with kids. Here follows a bit of a round up on how myself and my four spend a very happy trip there. 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. And I was a solo mamma for this trip – busy!

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 which we highly recommend.

Visit the Lagoon on Cairns Esplanade

Visit Muddy’s Playground on Cairns Esplanade

Meet the unique animals of the Daintree Rainforest

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


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 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.



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

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, 2018


  • Seana what an amazing summary of Cairns and Port Douglas. Thanks for linking to me. It is a little difficult to recommend places to eat out with a family in Cairns because our favorites always seemed to close! The Boat Club at Yorkey’s Knob is a good one – lovely view over the marina and mountains, a small playground and nice seafood. Paradise Palms Resort has a wonderful adventure playground and mini golf so with slightly older children parents get to eat in peace.

    • Reply October 29, 2014

      Seana Smith

      That’s great, and we can also refer readers to your recent posts on staying at Trinity Beach near Cairns, which sounded like a great spot for you and your young children. Do pop over to visit Bubs On The Move, dear readers!

  • Reply October 29, 2014


    Lucky for me Seana, I had just made myself a cup of coffee when I opened your post. Wow, your things to do with kids list makes me feel positively sloth like. Nothing like kids to keep us active on holidays (ours have now grown). We don’t often get up to FNQ but we do love it. I laughed when you commented on the blast of hot air when exiting the plane, I feel that every time we arrive home in Townsville – talk about a warm welcome. The skyrail and train to Kuranda is a trip you will enjoy next time. I loved eating at the Court House Hotel on the Macrossan and Wharf Streets in Port Douglas and there is a great Sunday Market over the road in Anzac Park. Thanks for linking to Budget Travel Talk (search Kuranda on the site). I love all of your featured bloggers and am now going to check out Mrs. Woog at Woogsworld – I love that name.

    • Reply October 29, 2014

      Seana Smith

      Thanks Jan will definitely get back there and get inland. My husband has been very envious so maybe we will all go again.

  • Reply October 29, 2014


    Thank you Seana, this list is fantastic!

  • Reply October 29, 2014


    Great post, Seana of a most wonderful place! I’ve been three times, staying at Palm Cove twice and Port Douglas once. I’ve not taken kids…just one husband (once) who unfortunately due to his physical illness found the travel and the humidity not to his liking.
    Back to me!
    I’ve not been to the outer reef or even to the ones where you leave from Port Douglas (too afraid of other people’s seasickness, not mine!) but did the Green Island trip twice from Cairns.
    The places I visited were Hartleys Croc Farm, the Kuranda Rail and Skyways and I also did 2 one day tours with small numbers – to the Daintree & Cape Tribulation and another to the Hinterland.
    All of which was amazing for me with my camera in tow and learning lots along the way.
    My son and his wife honeymooned with the Woogs stayed and then last year took their three kids (one still a bub) back to experience the Beach Club at Port Douglas and like the Woogs found the convenience of a beach on your doorstep (via the hotel) and a beach you walk to really good.
    It is a favourite area of mine and I’d be back in a heartbeat. I particularly LOVED getting off the plane from a cold Sydney into ‘that tropical feel.’ I rented cars twice – picked up & dropped off at the airport and also used the hotel’s transport once.
    Great reminiscences here for me! Denyse

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Seana Smith

      I do love reading other people’s travel blogs and getting my own memory working again. Sounds like this part of Australia works well for ALL the generations of the family. Thanks Denyse

  • So lovely to see photos of all your kids (and you!!) and the photos of Cairns are fab too. I’d love to revisit. I want to raft the Tully river! x A

    • Reply October 29, 2014

      Seana Smith

      I will come with you! I would have enjoyed real white water rafting but twins were too wee.

  • Reply October 29, 2014

    Morag Smith

    Heh Seana, we had part of our honeymoon in Cairns and the Daintree. Coming from Scotland I was blown away with the jungle. So different to home. Being 5 months pregnant we didn’t do too much, but did manage snorkelling on the barrier reef – you have to when coming so far. Also saw a Cassowary with chick at a water hole!! And too many big spiders. We went in December and I found the heat totally oppressive – thank goodness for an air conditioned car is all I can say. But plenty of water holes (without crocs) to throw one self in. I will definitely go again and have ambitions to go right to the top of Cape York. Many moons ago I stayed on a cattle ranch up that way. A beautiful part of Australia. x

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Seana Smith

      Oh was that where you stayed, further north than Cape Trib, we must chat about that. Yes, December is hot, you need to stay in water as much as poss. No trouble! I’d love to have seen a cassowary, fingers crossed for the next visit.

  • Reply October 29, 2014


    This is such a great Seana, I love all the photos and the layout. I would still love to meet up for coffee to hear all about it. I would just LOVE to take my kids up there for a holiday, it looks amazing, I’ve forwarded this article to Mr D to read, just as a little hint hint! xx

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Seana Smith

      We must natter. You and the family would have an excellent time up there… book flights ahead… we didn’t and it was more expensive… word to the wise… I told the kids all about how I visited as a backpacker and Ms8 now says she’s going to be a backpacker when she grows up. Quite right.

  • Reply October 31, 2014

    Rene - Together we roam

    Thought I’d pop over after seeing you at Bubs on the Move.

    Lovely round up as usual. I’m all for the details and you’ve got all the good stuff here. Looks like you’ve had a lovely trip. What great clarity you got at the reef.

    Cairns looks like a lovely place to stay and will keep it in mind for next time. We flew into Cairns and based ourselves in Palm Cove for our trip to Far North Queensland with the little kiddies. With all destinations there maybe a “best time” it also comes with disadvantages going at the peak season, so I love the mantra “go when you can…there’s no best time”. We went in August, it was glorious but the water was a tad cold for a Brissy based girl. Balmy for everyone else 😉 xo

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Seana Smith

      Thanks Renee, loved the clear water at the reef and it was an amazing blue… will I ever get all the photos sorted? Your posts from Palm Cove and around would be great for other families to read when planning a trip – pop over to see Renne folks.

      I remember going to Daydream in winter once and it was lovely but just not warm enough, I do like a bit of heat, so long as I can leap into water.

  • Reply October 31, 2014

    Sally@Toddlers on tour

    I went to Cairns in my backpacking days.

    What I remember the most was the snorkling – absolutely amazing. I still talk about it today and tell anyone who is heading to Cairns it is a MUST DO.

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Seana Smith

      Yes, me too, the snorkelling and diving was all I did when up that way as a young backpacker. It was good to see more and next time I’d go further inland too. That Reef is just amazing.

  • Reply November 17, 2014


    Great summary Seana! Would love to visit there one day!

  • Reply December 8, 2014

    Jess (Are We There Yet?)

    Seana what an awesome trip your had up here in our neck of the woods! Such a great post and you did so much up here! You’ve even alerted me to a few things that I didn’t even know we had going on up here! Can’t wait to hear about the Yacht trip – sounds awesome! Thanks so much for mentioning us in your post! Definitely come up to the Tablelands next time you are up our way and we will tell you the best spots!

  • Reply August 11, 2015


    So many awesome travel tips in there Seana – thanks for sharing! If you’re heading back let us know, we’d love to show you around

    • Reply August 11, 2015

      Seana Smith

      You’re on Dan! I’d love to say we’ll be up again this year but I think it will be next year. We love your part of the world.

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