At a quick glance, Port Douglas appears to be a resort more focused toward adult holidays than it is a place for families to stay. Investigate further, and you’ll find Port Douglas is very kid friendly and there are lots of things for families to do there.
As parents, you know full well, running around on the beach or splashing about in the hotel pool just isn’t enough to keep youngsters occupied for a couple of weeks. When boredom strikes, finding activities suitable for a family can put a big strain on your holiday budget. The good news is, there are lots of family-oriented activities in Port Douglas who offer special rates for adults travelling with children. Not all suppliers advertise their discounted family rates, so it’s always a good idea to ask if they have a family deal before purchasing individual child and adult tickets.
You can make your family outing in Port Douglas educational by introducing the kids to Australian culture at one of Queensland’s Indigenous theme parks. Introduce them to the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef with a glass-bottomed boat cruise and a fish feeding session or by taking them on a visit to the Cairns Aquarium. Show them how transport worked in bygone days with a ride on a steam train or let them get up close to a koala in a rainforest setting. Port Douglas really does have so much to offer families which will leave your kids with not just great holiday memories, but memories they’ll treasure for their entire lifetime.
1. Balley Hooley Steam Railway
There is something timeless about steam trains which appeals to all age groups. A train ride through the countryside is a great way of doing some leisurely sightseeing while still being exciting enough to keep the kids happy. The Balley Hooley Steam Railway has two stations plus two more stopping points along its Port Douglas line. One, the Marina Station, is in the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina and the other, the St Crispins Station, is on St Crispins Avenue near the Sheraton golf course.
The multi-coloured trains pull the carriages along a sixty-centimetre gauge track which was once used to transport sugar cane and freight from the sugar mills to the wharf in Port Douglas. The journey takes around twenty minutes including the brief stops at the Mirage Country Club and the QT Resort. Single and return tickets are available. The Choo Choo St Crispins restaurant at the end of the line is a good spot to stop for drinks or snacks before catching the train back.
Tip: The Train and Lunch Special package offered by the Balley Hooley Steam Railway is excellent value for money and well worth checking out. The meal deal includes return tickets plus lunch in the Choo Choo St Crispins restaurant overlooking the lagoon and the golfing greens.
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2. Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
If you have youngsters who are awake at the crack of dawn even when they’re on holiday, take them on an early morning visit to the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas. The kids will be happily occupied and enthralled from the moment you step foot inside the wildlife park gates.
A major role of the Wildlife Habitat is education and conservation as well as family diversion among the many species which roam the park freely. Start your visit with a breakfast with the birds, a daily interactive feeding event where you and the young ones get to peck away at a huge breakfast buffet and meet lots of tropical aves. The one on one experiences continue throughout the day, and there are different feeding times for many of the animals so you don’t need to miss out on any of the action. Get up close to snakes and crocodiles or go exploring the rainforest environment and meet the Cassowary birds who will feed from your hand.
Thrill the kids with a scary walk over the Predator Plank, a bridge suspended above the crocodile ponds or with watching croc feeding time before meeting the cuter animals like turtles and koalas for souvenir photos. The Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is an animal experience the kids will love so much they won’t want to leave.
3. Lady Douglas River Cruise
Not sure if your children will be okay on a boat because they’ve never been sailing before? To test their sea legs, a good option is to take a short sailing which heads up the tranquil inland waterways instead of going straight out on a sea-going cruise to the reef.
The Lady Douglas River Cruise sails out of the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas and into the Dickson Inlet. The inlet has many mangrove-lined channels which are home to several species of birds of prey including sea eagles and ospreys. Take binoculars for the youngsters, and they’ll be fascinated to keep a lookout for crocodiles and crabs under the mangroves plus all the other wildlife native to the estuary. During the trip, the captain makes a running commentary about the area, the fauna and Port Douglas history so they’ll learn lots of interesting facts while the paddle boat floats along.
Tip: The river cruise sails four times a day and lasts for around ninety minutes. There are family discounts on three of the tours – morning, midday and afternoon. There is no family discount or reduced fare for children on the sunset cruise when all passengers are charged an adult fare.
4. Dinner At Central Hotel
Spread your family holiday budget a lot further by having an early dinner at the Central Hotel on Macrossan Street. A more kid-friendly restaurant in Port Douglas would be hard to find. Arrive there between five and six in the evening and with every adult main meal ordered you’ll get a child’s dinner free. While the food on the children’s menu is basic, nuggets, fish and chips, burger and pizza, the portions are more than enough to keep the young ones satisfied.
Port Douglas Family Friendly Restaurants
Though they don’t offer free children’s meals, both the Hi Tide Restaurant on the Esplanade and the Courthouse Hotel on Macrossan Street, do have special low-priced menus for kids. If you’d like to dine outdoors with the family without worrying about the kids wandering off, Chilly’s Pizza and Trattoria on Mowbray Street has a great terrace area which is securely fenced. Chilly’s have a reasonably priced kid’s menu too, serve up very tasty pasta dishes and some incredible family-size, wood-fired pizzas guaranteed to keep the youngsters in their seats.
5. Kuranda Village
Take the kids on an exciting expedition into the mountains and rainforest with a trip up to Kuranda. Plan to be out for a full day, because there is so much for them to do and explore in the Kuranda Village; you won’t be able to drag them away until they’ve seen it all. They’ll enjoy wandering around the colourful houses, seeing the street art and discovering the unusual handicrafts on the market stalls, but what makes Kuranda special for kids, is the fantastic forest and wildlife.
Kuranda Koala Gardens is a wildlife park in Kuranda Village where the children can have interactive experiences with koalas, wombats, kangaroos and wallabies. The park has a walk-through snake house and a reptile enclosure.
Birdworld Kuranda is a walk-through aviary housing many species of tropical birds in a recreated rainforest environment. Inside, the children will have an opportunity to see macaws, lorikeets and cockatoos flying freely and cassowaries wandering at liberty.
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary houses the largest collection of butterflies in Australia. The landscaped gardens of the sanctuary are home to many tropical species that create a magical and colourful sight as they flit from plant to plant.
Tip: While there is no admission charge to the village itself, not all of the activities in Kuranda are free. Birdworld, the Koala Gardens and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary all charge an entrance fee. If the kids want to do all three, the best bargain is to purchase a combined entry ticket rather than paying at each individual place.
Kuranda Village Free Activities
Some of the best activities for children in Kuranda don’t cost a penny to do, will keep them completely fascinated and even make them feel like real adventurers.
Kuranda Candy Kitchen on Coondoo Street in the Kuranda Village is a bright, multi-coloured shop you’ll have no problem getting the kids to visit. They’ll love it. Not only does the store have shelf after shelf stacked high with all types of traditional homemade candy, they also have several daily demonstrations showing how the different sweets are made.
Rainforest Walks are a superb free activity to do with the kids when you’re in Kuranda Village. It’s a surreal experience walking through the dense forest along tracks and boardwalks. There are many trails graded as easy which will take you and the family alongside the river and through parts of the rainforest where wildflowers grow.
There are also shorter walks closer to the village itself. The three-kilometre-long Jum Jum Creek loop is one and takes around an hour to complete. Another one great for kids is the forty-minute trek over elevated boardwalks to the Barron Falls Lookout. Both are kid-friendly and not too strenuous on little legs. If your youngsters are not short on energy and stamina, take them venturing on the Barron Gorge National Park Walks which are accessible from Kuranda, but make sure you go prepared with adequate footwear, and enough water and provisions for a few hours of hiking.
Tip: The Kuranda Village Information Centre has a free brochure mapping all the walking routes in the area. It is also downloadable from the Kuranda Village website – here.
6. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Introduce the kids to the culture of Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants with a visit to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. The youngsters will be fascinated by what they find out when they join in with the interactive experiences the park offers.
Inside the Tjapukai Cultural Centre they can enjoy a digital media display of dreamtime stories and tribal history as well as seeing examples of Aboriginal art. Outside they’ll be thrilled and surprised by the native dancers performing a traditional corroboree celebration and an impressive fire ceremony.
As you and the children explore the park, they’ll find out about foraging, hunting and cooking bush food before being able to participate in spear and boomerang throwing. There’s even the opportunity to play the didgeridoo. They’ll also be able to take part in an aboriginal art class and paint their own souvenir to take home.
Tip: The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a fifty-minute drive from Port Douglas and offers family discounts on the entrance fee. There are tours available with transport included from Port Douglas, but for a family, they tend to work out a lot more expensive than hiring a self-drive car.
7.Great Barrier Reef Cruise
Take the kids on a trip of a lifetime out to the Great Barrier Reef, but be prepared to splash out because it will make a big hole in your holiday spending money. The Quicksilver Reef Cruise is moored in the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina on Wharf Street. Board the luxury catamaran there then set sail out to the company’s platform on the Agincourt Reef. The kids will be awestruck by the boat alone not to mention the floating island in the middle of the Coral Sea where they’ll get to spend a good part of the day. Once you and the family have been transferred onto the platform, there is a wealth of activities to participate in. Some are included in the price of the tour and others are not.
Even if the young ones are not great swimmers and don’t know how to snorkel, they won’t miss out seeing the underwater world of the reef. The Quicksilver platform has an underwater observatory where they can spend as long as they want watching the fish swim by. There are also semi-submersibles leaving the platform at a quarter of an hour intervals which they can go on as many times as they wish. No worries if they work up an appetite as there’s a huge buffet lunch included in the tour. Fish feeding takes place once a day, and there’s a marine biologist on-board to answer any questions the youngster might have about the reef, the marine life or conservation.
If your children are aged twelve and over there are extra optional activities like helmet walking, guided snorkelling tours and even introductory scuba diving lessons they may enjoy taking part in. If the reef cruise doesn’t fit within your planned holiday expenditure, check out the Cairns Aquarium below.
8. Sweet Farm Tour
While it’s not exactly Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, the kids will love taking a tour around Sweet Farm on the Daintree Estate. There are not many places you can visit where you’ll see cocoa, sugar cane and vanilla growing in Australia, but Sweet Farm is one of them.
After a guided walk around the plantation, the youngsters get to examine cocoa pods, nibs and beans, watch a film about cocoa production in an outdoor theatre and then investigate how vanilla is grown and harvested from an orchid flower. The best part, tasting the chocolate made from the cocoa and trying the sugar cane juice and molasses made on the farm.
Tip: The Sweet Farm is half an hour’s drive from Port Douglas and pre-booking, either via the farm’s website or a telephone call, is required before visiting.
9. Cairns Aquarium
When a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef isn’t on your holiday agenda either because of the expense or the kids get seasick, take them to the Cairns Aquarium instead. It’s the one place they can see the spectacular underwater marine life of the reef without getting on a boat. They’ll be completely captivated by the stunning array of fish in the aquarium’s tanks which have been designed to recreate the natural habitat of the reef and thrilled as the sharks glide over their heads in the shark tunnel.
There’s a lot more to the aquarium than fish tanks though so be prepared to spend a good few hours there. The Cairns Aquarium has an amphitheatre where there are various talks and films held throughout the day on topics as varied as billabong river monsters and the strange creatures found in the depths of the ribbon reefs. There are also exciting opportunities to get interactive with fish in the marine touch pools and with reptiles in the rainforest touch tank. The kids will also love the Sea Explorer 5D virtual submarine or taking a behind the scenes tour to the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
10. Cane Toad Racing
Take the kids on a fun night out to the Iron Bar on Macrossan Street in Port Douglas for a spot of Cane toad racing. It’s something you or they may never come across again in any of your worldly travels so make the most of the once in a lifetime chance.
The Iron Bar hold the toad races every night, and as the toad jockeys are selected at random, it might even be one of your kids participating in animating the toads around the course. It’s an uproar, totally hilarious and yes, completely politically incorrect, but it’s an Australian tradition so that, at least for the Iron Bar and their clients, is excuse enough. Your youngsters will undoubtedly love it too. You’ll have a good time in Port Douglas with your family, it’s a super kid-friendly town to visit, but just not so great if you’re a Cane toad.