Port Douglas on the north-east coast of Australia easily fulfils anyone’s idea of a tropical holiday paradise. Miles of deserted beaches fringed with palm trees and dense mangroves, all fronted by the endless blue of the Coral Sea stretching uninterrupted to the distant horizon. It looks idyllic, but do a quick Google search on Port Douglas before you go and it may well leave you asking the spine-tingling question – is it safe to swim in Port Douglas?
Yes, it is safe to swim in Port Douglas, but err on the side of caution. Check out the daily status report for the beach you’re planning to visit before you go, and if you’re wise, you’ll stick to the lifeguard patrolled beaches.
Surf Life Saving Australia
The safest place to swim in Port Douglas is on a beach supervised by lifeguards of the Surf Life Saving Australia organisation. Active throughout Australia, the voluntary members of the non-profit group belong to local surf clubs and take on the responsibility of keeping swimmers safe on the country’s beaches.
On most patrolled Port Douglas beaches, you’ll find sections marked at each end by red and yellow flags. These flags are erected by the lifeguards to show the zone between them has been inspected, deemed hazard free and is under constant supervision. They are the safest areas to swim.
On the website of the SLSA, you can find general information on every beach in Australia and the common hazards found on each one. The SLSA also publish daily updates on regional weather conditions, the days and hours lifeguards are patrolling and current beach closures.
If a Port Douglas beach is closed, it’s closed for a good reason, so don’t go in the water.
The Safest Beaches For Swimming In Port Douglas
Port Douglas has more than its fair share of beautiful beaches. Some are just a few minutes out of town, others a short drive away. What you need to know before you strip off, run across the sand and dive into the waves, is which ones are safe for swimming and which are not.
Four Mile Beach
Four Mile Beach is one of the safest beaches in Port Douglas for swimming. The superb stretch of almost endless sand curves around a picturesque bay, is sheltered by mountains and backed by lush rainforest.
The best time for swimming at Four Mile Beach is when the tide is high. There’s always space to spread your towel too as even when the tide is up, the waves break gently against the shore which makes it an unpopular beach with the surfing crowd.
On the safety front, Four Mile Beach is patrolled daily by the Port Douglas Surf Life Saving Club, and there’s a net enclosure located in front of the club headquarters for swimming during the marine stinger season.
Tip: If you do happen to notice something long and dark in the water when swimming at Port Douglas’s Four Mile Beach, get out quick. It’s more likely to be a stray crocodile than a wiped-out surfboard.
Oak Beach is a stunning stretch of sandy coastline ten minutes outside of Port Douglas. Take a stroll along the one and a half kilometre long beach, and you could be forgiven for imagining you’d somehow washed up on a desert island.
Part of the beauty of Oak Beach is its isolation. It is relatively safe for swimming and rated as low hazard on the beach-safe scale published by the Surf Life Saving Organisation who patrol it.
Tip: It’s recommended to avoid getting in the water at Oak Beach when the waves reach half a metre high as these can produce dangerous rip tides.
Ellis Beach is one of the most popular beaches for swimming near Port Douglas. The paradisiacal broad sweep of white-gold sand stretches for almost five kilometres along the coast between Port Douglas and Cairns. Lined with palm trees, beautiful Ellis Beach easily rivals any Caribbean seashore for both scenic views and tranquillity.
The safest section of Ellis Beach for swimming is in front of the surf clubhouse at the centre of the beach where there are lifeguards on duty during the daytime and nets are in place during stinger season.
Tip: There is a nudist area at the far end of the beach, but this part is not patrolled so exercise caution if you go swimming there.
Cooya Beach just outside of Port Douglas extends for two kilometres around a small bay and is backed by a thick growth of mangroves. At low tide, the beach’s tidal flats are great for taking a walk but too shallow for swimming. It’s only at high tide the water is deep enough to get in.
Though Cooya Beach has a two out of ten rating from the SLSA making it one of the safest beaches in Port Douglas, it’s not patrolled by lifeguards. Before swimming there, make sure you’re aware of the hazards you need to keep an eye out for.
Tip: The Mossman River and Saltwater Creek both intersect Cooya Beach. Neither of the tidal inlets are safe areas for swimming because of the risk of crocodiles.
What are the dangers to look for when swimming in Port Douglas?
Port Douglas and the Coral Sea are the natural habitats of some amazing, but very dangerous creatures. A good precautionary measure is to know which they are, how to react if you run into one of them and what to do if the worst happens.
Saltwater crocodiles are common along the Port Douglas stretch of Queensland coastline. Salties are an aggressive species best avoided so take any – crocodiles live here – warning sign seriously if you see one and don’t be tempted to swim in tidal inlets. Keep a keen eye out for slide marks in the sand too which are the tell-tale signs there’s a croc nearby and if you spot some, head in the opposite direction. It pays to be crocwise in Port Douglas.
Jellyfish pose a real risk for swimmers during some months of the year in Port Douglas. Stinger season as it’s known locally runs from November to May and is when the highly venomous species of Box and Irukandji jellyfish are most likely to be floating in the water. To stay safe swimming in Port Douglas during stinger season, don’t venture out of the specially constructed net enclosures and for extra protection, wear a sting-proof Lycra suit.
Cone snails have beautiful shells, and if you come across one washed up on the beach or spot one in shallow water, you might be tempted to pick it up as a keepsake – don’t. Cone snails have poisonous barbs which can deliver a potent sting powerful enough to cause paralysis. Forget taking it home as a souvenir and leave it undisturbed where you found it.
Stone Fish are found along the entire length of the Queensland coastline. The ugly, stone-like, super venomous fish likes to hide among weeds or rocks where it’s camouflaged or in the shelter of fallen trees. If you go exploring shallow water where there are rocks, wearing thick sole shoes can prevent the Stone Fish’s poison-filled spines penetrating the skin of your soles. If you don’t have the right footwear, avoid exploring the areas where Stone Fish might be.
How To Stay Safe Swimming In Port Douglas
Swimming in Port Douglas is safe and great fun so long as you keep certain things in mind and follow the guidelines set by the Surf Life Saving Australia – that’s what they’re there for.
- Only swim on beaches supervised by lifeguards.
- Swim in the marked zones between the red and yellow flags.
- Read and heed all safety signs posted on the beaches.
- Don’t swim alone. Always enter the water with someone else.
- If you’re not sure it’s safe to swim – ask the lifeguard or someone local who is in the know.
- Don’t swim at dusk or after dark.
- Rip currents are more dangerous than sharks. Learn how to spot a rip current and how to avoid them.
- Be first aid savvy and carry vinegar with you during stinger season.
- Wear a one-piece suit for extra protection during stinger season.
- Be croc-wise and stay away from places where they like to be.
Are there sharks in Port Douglas? Yes, sharks do inhabit the warm waters of the Coral Sea along the Port Douglas coastline. That said, shark sightings and attacks are very rare, but many beaches have shark nets installed as a precautionary measure. Following the Queensland authorities suggested rules for safe swimming in Port Douglas also minimises the risk of running into a shark.
What should I do if I get stung in stinger season? If you think you or someone you’re with has been stung by one of the tropical jellyfish species, Box or Irukandji, pour vinegar on the bite site if available and call 000 for emergency medical assistance.