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Port Douglas vs. Airlie Beach

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I thought I had my itinerary all worked out for an 18 day trip to Australia. The final 6 days were to be spent in Port Douglas. Our goal was to visit Daintree National Park, scuba on the Great Barrier Reef, and enjoy 4 Mile Beach. But I recently discovered that the potentially deadly box jellyfish might already be in Port Douglas in October. Needless to say, our enthusiasm for 4 Mile Beach has dropped dramatically.

Lately, I've been investigating Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. You can take Great Barrier Reef tours out of Airlie Beach, and the Whitsunday Islands sound beautiful. But there don't seem to be any nice beaches on the mainland. We looked into the Whitsunday Island resorts and they're pretty pricey (> $500/night).

So we're not sure what to do. I get the impression that the reef tours out of Cairns are better than the ones out of Airlie Beach. And I would really like to see Daintree National Park. But the idea of not being able to swim at the beach up there is a bummer. They have barriers that are supposed to protect swimmers, but I have read that 50% of the people who get stung are INSIDE the protected areas.

Does anyone have experience in Airlie Beach? Can anyone directly compare a vacation in Airlie Beach to Port Douglas? Does anyone have any alternate suggestions for a location to enjoy the beach, the Great Barrier Reef, and local land-based activities?

Thanks in advance for any help. I'm having a tough time figuring out what to do....

Ed Fletcher

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