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Port Douglas is a great base for activities on the mainland and reef. Several tour companies conduct day trips into the rain forest and beyond in four-wheel-drive buses and vans; most include river cruises for crocodile-spotting and stops at local attractions. Various reef operators either base vessels at or pick up from Port Douglas Marina (formerly Marina Mirage). You can also horseback ride, bungee jump, raft, go off-roading, hike, mountain-bike, and balloon on and around the Atherton Tablelands, or go Outback for excellent bird- and wildlife-watching west of Mareeba, less than two hour's drive from Port.
Norseman. Long-established MV Norseman is one of the best game-fishing boats on the Great Barrier Reef for novice and experienced anglers alike. Head out to the best spots on the reef's edge on a 60-foot, purpose-designed, high-tech vessel to fish for large pelagic species including Spanish mackerel, tuna, wahoo, and the elusive giant trevally. Closer in, find sea perch, mangrove Jack, red and spangeled emperor, and coral trout. It's A$215 for a full day (bait, equipment, instruction, refreshments, fuel levy, and reef taxes included; rod and reel hire is A$45 per day). Port Douglas accommodation transfers are free; it's A$45 for transfers from Cairns or the northern beaches. Closehaven Marina, Port St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4099–6668. www.mvnorseman.com.au.
Crocodile Express. Birdwatchers and photographers flock to Crocodile Express's flat-bottom boats to cruise the Daintree River on crocodile-spotting excursions; you may also see rare birds and outsized butterflies, flying foxes, snakes, and lizards en route. Sixty-minute cruises leave the Daintree Gateway, near the ferry crossing, at regular intervals from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm (A$25 per person); or you can board at Daintree Village Jetty and cruise the Upper Daintree regularly between 10 and 3:30 (A$25 pp). Extra cruises from both access points are scheduled in peak periods. 5 Stewart St., end of Mossman–Daintree Rd., Daintree Village, QLD, 4873. 07/4098–6120. www.crocodileexpress.com.
Back Country Bliss Adventures. This company is based in Port Douglas but ranges much farther afield; its customized, culturally and eco-sensitive small-group day and multiday trips take you to nature and adventure hotspots from the Atherton Tablelands and Mareeba Wetlands to Cape Trib and Cooktown. They'll take you sea kayaking, wakeboarding, kite-surfing, rafting, mountain biking, drift-snorkeling in rain-forest streams, or "jungle surfing" over the canopy. Well-chosen wilderness locations, quality equipment, excellent staff including indigenous guides, and Wet Tropic World Heritage Tour Operator accreditation give the Bliss team the edge. QLD, 4877. 07/4099–3677. www.backcountrybliss.com.au.
Daintree Tours by Deluxe Safaris. This operator conducts day-long, well-guided trips in top-of-the-line 4WD vehicles and custom-built trucks. Visit the Atherton Tablelands, Mossman Gorge, and Cape Tribulation (A$185) or take the rugged track to Bloomfield Falls (POA). All safaris stop for guided walks, swims, and croc-spotting cruises, and visit the Daintree Ice Cream Factory if time permits. You can also arrange a day-long private wildlife-spotting charter to the Outback, west of Mareeba. Ample lunch and refreshments, included in all excursions, ensure you keep your strength up. Port Douglas pick-ups and drop-offs make the early-morning starts simple. Shop 3A, 23 Warner St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4099–6406 or 1800/005–966. www.deluxesafaris.com.au.
Reef and Rainforest Connections. This long-established, eco-friendly operator offers day trips to Kuranda's attractions, including the historic Scenic Railway, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park or Rainforestation (A$155-A205); excursions to Cape Tribulation, the Daintree rain-forest, and Mossman Gorge; and Great Barrier Reef cruises with Quicksilver. The company also runs excursions to Cape Tribulation, the Daintree, and Mossman Gorge, and Great Barrier Reef cruises with Quicksilver Connections. 40 Macrossan St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 1300/780–455 reservations; 07/4035–5566 administration. www.reefandrainforest.com.au.
Tony's Tropical Tours. This company gives entertaining small-group day tours in luxe land cruisers that take in rain-forest sights and attractions as far as Cape Tribulation (A$180) or, if you're prepared to get up earlier, the renowned and ruggedly beautiful Bloomfield Track (A$205). Well-informed, witty commentary from Tony and other local experts, and non-rushed, well-chosen stops and activities—from interpretative ancient-rain-forest walks and Daintree River wildlife (croc) cruises, to handmade ice-cream and tropical-fruit tasting—make these trips crowd-pleasers. Refreshments, included in the cost, are a cut above the norm: think plunger (French press) coffee, rain-forest tea, and a satisfying BBQ lunch with damper (traditional Aussie bushmen's bread). There's also a terrific charter tour to the crater lakes, Atherton Tablelands, and Mareeba Wetlands (A$1020 for 4 people), on which you might see kangaroos, birdlife, and the famed Curtain Fig tree. QLD, 4877. 07/4099–3230. www.tropicaltours.com.au.
Eye to Eye Marine Encounters. On these all-inclusive dive/snorkel live-aboard trips, you can visit world-renowned northern Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea sites, including 2,000-foot drop-offs and pristine coral gardens, top shark-spotting sites, and turtle-nesting grounds. John Rumney, who pioneered swim-with-whales in Queensland, brings 30 years of experience on the Reef and extensive ecological knowledge and nautical expertise to the expeditions, working with highly skilled divers, scientists, and skippers to ensure each trip is as exciting as it is eco-friendly. 10 Captain Cook Hwy., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4098–5417 or 0417/726–622. www.marineencounters.com.au.
Poseidon. This advanced eco-certified operator conducts guided snorkeling and PADI-style diving trips to sites at three separate parts of the Agincourt Ribbon Reef on a small, usually uncrowded boat, and longer cruises to Outer Great Barrier Reef sites, with excellent pre-dive briefings by a marine naturalist, high safety standards, and a wider-than-average choice of dive sites. A day's cruise to three Agincourt sites is A$220 for snorkelers, and includes morning and afternoon tea and a buffet lunch (Lycra suits, masks, snorkels and flotation devices, and wet suits are A$5 per day). The cruise with introductory diving, including dive gear and up to three underwater forays, is A$280 with one dive; subsequent dives are A$40 each. For certified divers, a full day in the water is A$240–A$275 (gear is an extra A$20 per day). Everyone pays a reef charge of A$6 on board. Port Douglas transfers are free; from Cairns or the Northern Beaches, it's A$30. Grant and Macrossan Sts., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 1800/085–674 or 07/4099–4772. www.poseidon-cruises.com.au. From A$220 (cruise and snorkeling); from A$240 (with diving); A$6 reef/admin tax. Daily 8:30–4:30.
Quicksilver Connections. This company runs fast, modern catamarans that speed you from Port Douglas' marina to a large commercial activity platform at Agincourt Reef on the outer Barrier Reef, where options include marine-biologist-guided snorkeling tours (A$54–$72), introductory or certified scuba dives (extra A$110–A$155), 10-minute scenic heli-tours (A$159), and "Ocean Walker" sea-bed explorations (A$155). There's also a semi-submersible underwater observatory, included in the A$215 rate. A quieter sailing excursion to a Low Isles coral cay, closer to shore (A$167), includes a biologist-guided glass-bottom-boat trip and snorkeling. Everyone pays a A$6 reef tax. The staff is patient, efficient, and knowledgeable. The trip includes a varied lunch buffet and dive/snorkel gear. Transfers are available from Port Douglas accommodations, Palm Cove, the Northern Beaches, and Cairns (A$10-A$26). Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4087–2100. www.quicksilver-cruises.com.
The Silver Series: Silversonic. High-end catamaran Silversonic whisks visitors to three pristine dive-snorkel sites on Agincourt Reef, known for its high-visibility waters. There, you can spend five hours amid spectacular corals on the edge of the Coral Sea trench, with turtles, rays, tropical fish, large pelagic species, and, in season, the odd Minke whale. Cruises run daily, weather permitting; the tariff includes a "tropical smorgasbord" lunch, morning and afternoon tea, free Wi-Fi, snorkeling, and gear; guided scuba dives cost extra. Coach transfers from local accommodations are included in the cruise fare; transfers to and from Palm Cove, the Northern Beaches, and Cairns are available for a surcharge. Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4044–9944. www.silverseries.com.au. Full-day snorkeling cruise, A$208; scuba diving A$35–A$65 (1 dive), A$55–A$120 (2 dives), A$75–A$80 (3 dives), A$6 reef tax/admin.
Wavedancer. The palm-fringed Low Isles have a rich history, but the main attractions lie underwater. The surrounding coral gardens shelter a wealth of marine life, including bright parrotfish and "Nemos," giant clams and green turtles. When you tire of snorkeling, you can join a glass-bottomed boat tour, marine biologist–guided shore stroll or heritage walk (on which you'll visit the island's lighthouse, circa 1878, and learn about the Low Isles' pioneering role in coral-reef research), or relax and soak up some rays. Quicksilver's day cruise on 98-foot sailing catamaran Wavedancer whisks you from Port Douglas to the Low Isles in less than an hour, allowing plenty of time for snorkeling, sunbathing and strolling; the rate includes all snorkeling gear, reef presentations, supervised snorkeling (including guided expeditions), glass-bottom boat tours, a tropical buffet lunch, morning and afternoon tea, and transfers from Port Douglas accommodations (and, for a fee, from further afield). Bring a towel, hat, sunscreen, swimsuit, and shirt (to avoid sunburn), cash to buy bar drinks and souvenirs, and a credit card for underwater cameras and extra tours. Departs from Port Douglas Marina, 1 Wharf St., Port Douglas, QLD, 4877. 07/4087–2100. www.quicksilvergroup.com.au. A$167 cruise; A$6 EMC/admin charge, A$10 Pt. Douglas transfers, A$ Cairns/Nthn. Beaches transfers.