A strategic location of Port Douglas at the very edge of the peninsula in the northern part of Queensland allows diving at spectacular Ribbon Reefs being part of the Great Barrier Reef. Giant Potato God feedings, remarkable Wobbegong Sharks, and impressive night dives at Challenger Bay invite divers of all levels.
Port Douglas lies within 67km (41mi) from Cairns between Four Mile Beach and the Reef Marina. The nearest airport can be found in Cairns. In order to get from Cairns to Port Douglas, you can hire a car or arrive by a charter bus.
5 reefs named by numbers from 1 to 5 are usually referred to as Agincourt Ribbon Reefs. They are situated in parallel with the Continental Shelf and deep oceanic waters and you can reach them within 1-2 hour boat transfer from Port Douglas.
Diving is typically performed either as a drift dive or as a tender drop at the wall. Besides it is possible to find shallow dive sites with beautiful coral gardens more suitable for the beginners.
Best Dive Sites Overview
The Agincourt Reef area offers about 45 dive sites; some of these sites are famous all over the world. If you would like to try something absolutely different from the Great Barrier Reef, you can experience fresh water diving into Lake Eachim located within 2-hour drive from Port Douglas.
Steve’s Bommie or Pinnacle is one of the most famous dive sites located next to the Ribbon Reef No. 3. A person who might have found this spot is commemorated with a plate which can be found 25m (82ft.) below the surface. The depth of the dive usually ranges between 5-25m (16-82ft.). Here you can find Wobbegong Shark, Stonefish, and Leaf Scorpionfish blending in with their surrounding, schools of pelagic like Batfish, Snapper, Barracuda, and Trevally. This dive site is full of small creatures attracting macro photographers.
Giant Potato Cod have been living in this area for a long time already. Friendly Potato Cod like posing in front of the underwater cameras. Dive clubs are allowed to perform their feeding. However, the Park officials control the amount of food provided to Potato Cod. It is not allowed to give them more than 0.9 kg (2 lbs) every day. Thus, Potato Cod stays hungry and hunts fish instead of being totally dependent on divers.
The maximum depth at Cod Hole is 25m (82ft.). Potato Cod is not the only resident of this dive site. It is possible to see Pygmy Seahorse, Napoleon, Jacks, Snappers, Triggerfish, and Whitetip Reef Shark.
Challenger Bay is located a little further, between Ribbon Reef No. 9 and No. 10. The average dive depth is 10m (32ft.) with the maximum depth of 20m (65ft.). There are several pinnacles followed by a coral wall. Usually, this place is full of Trevally, Surgeonfish, Garden Eels, Stingrays, White Tip Reef Shark, Triggerfish, Sweetlips, and Barracuda. It is one of the best spots to meet Cuttlefish.
Challenger Bay is famous for its impressive night dives. You will have a chance to see plenty of activity, especially Red Bass, Marble Moray Eel, Lionfish, and Trevally hunting around. At the same time, other marine creatures can be found sleeping, like Parrotfish asleep in a mucous bag. Such bags decrease their scent and protect Parrotfish from hungry predators.
Lake Eacham is located in a volcanic crater at 760m (2500ft.) altitude in the Atherton Tablelands and it is surrounded by the rainforest. It takes about 2 hours to get there from Port Douglas. Diving is usually performed in shallow areas while the maximum depth of the lake is 65m (213ft.). The deepest areas can be reached only by technical divers. The average visibility is 3-10m (9-32ft.). When diving in this fresh water lake, you should take care of special altitude diving regulations like modifications to decompression tables and settings in dive computers.
The underwater landscape of the lake features unusual rock formations, fallen trees, and old rowing boat wreck. You should be ready for serious thermoclines here as the surface temperature usually stays between 17-29ºC (62-84ºF) while below 13m (42ft.) it drops to 7ºC (44ºF). A dry suit is highly recommended for diving in the Lake. You can see such creatures as small lobsters called Red-Clawed Yabbies, Rainbowfish, and Freshwater Turtles. The only dive operator providing daily trips from Port Douglas to Lake Eacham is Blue Dive.
Best Dive Season
If you prefer to avoid the main crowds in Port Douglas then it is better to arrive at the end of September-December. The best visibility can be experienced in June and September-November.
It is possible to dive in the area around Port Douglas all the year round. Nevertheless, it is good to know that the months of January-March feature heavy rainfall because of the tropical monsoon influence.
The water temperature is around 29ºC (84ºF) in February when it’s summer in Australia and 23ºC (73ºF) in July. The visibility stays between 15-40m (49-131ft.) while in some areas of Ribbon Reefs it can be 60m (196ft.). Strong currents can be witnessed at these remote dive spots while the dive sites close to Port Douglas have mild current.
You might consider always wearing a wetsuit, especially during November-March to avoid possible stings by Jellyfish.
You can encounter most of the Great Barrier Reef inhabitants in the diving area close to Port Douglas: Molluscs, Crustaceans, Sea Snakes, Mammals, Turtles, Reef fish, Pelagic and various types of Sharks. In comparison with diving around Cairns diving at Ribbon Reefs offer encounter of Palette Surgeonfish and larger size of Grey Reef Shark. It is common to see Whitetip Reef Sharks, Bluespotted Stingrays, Barracudas, Tunas, Potato Cods. Manta Rays and Dugong also inhabit the area, though they are not so commonly seen as in some other parts of Australia.
Large Stingrays can often be seen here. They draw more attention due to the tragic accident at Batt Reef where the Australian wildlife expert was killed by a stingray’s barb in a sudden attack.
If you are looking for some specific marine calendars, then it might be useful to know that June-August is the highest season for watching Minke Whale, while Humpback Whales are coming between June-November. Annual Coral Spawning can be seen during 4-5 days in October-November right after the full moon.
Corrals in the area around Port Douglas are overcoming the coral bleaching as of the beginning of 2016. The most damaged are Staghorn Corals and Soft Corals in the shallowest areas, especially around Lizard Island.
Port Douglas is famous for a large choice of luxury accommodation in hotels, resorts, and private villas or houses. Though, budget options are also available.
15 Wharf Street
This is a luxury Holiday House situated in the most prestigious area of Port Douglas with views over the Coral Sea and the Rainforest. There are 4 bedrooms in the house and each of them offers a spectacle 180º view; 3 of the bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms. Each floor features a lounge area. There is also a huge heated or cooled swimming pool, pool lounge area, spacious verandahs, fully equipped kitchen, a laundry, and BBQ area. WiFi is provided for free in the House.
Port Douglas Holiday House
This is another award-winning luxury Holiday House located on Four Mile Beach. The 2-storey building can accommodate up to 6 guests. The House is famous for its privacy and tranquility. The guests can accommodate in one of the 3 bedrooms with private balconies. The House features a swimming pool, a garden with passion fruit and lemon trees, large outdoor entertainment area with BBQ, a fully-equipped kitchen, A/Cs, fans, secure electric gate entry, and free WiFi.
Niramaya Villas and Spa
This Resort offers accommodation in 1, 2, 3 or 4 bedroom Villas resting in a private garden. Each Villa has its own pool, dressing room, en-suite bathroom, outdoor shower, and outdoor dining area with BBQ. Villas come with a kitchen, a laundry, satellite TV and BOSE music systems. There is also a 35m (114ft.) pool, a gym, Spa, and a tennis court right on the territory. Diving services are provided by Blue Dive PADI Resort.
Port Douglas Peninsula Boutique Hotel
This is the only luxury boutique hotel which is located on Four Mile Beach. There are 34 rooms which are divided into Poolview Suite, Oceanview Suite, Coral Spa Suite, and Peninsula Suite. Each suite is equipped with cooking facilities, a private terrace or balcony, a bathroom with a twin-bath, shower, and bathrobes. There is a pool with a waterfall and a “Hi Tide” restaurant on the territory of the Hotel.
Beachfront Terraces Port Douglas
This Apartment Resort which is located on Four Mile Beach offers 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. Each of 17 apartments has a balcony or a terrace, a private bathroom, a washing machine, a fully equipped kitchen, and a living area. The Resort offers a tennis court, a pool, and BBQ facilities for the guests.
Liveaboard is one of the most popular options for the Great Barrier Reef exploration. There are several boat operators in Port Douglas who offer private diving charters to Lizard Island, Agincourt Reef, Osprey Reef and the northern islands of Ribbon Reefs. The itinerary of a private charter is flexible and it depends on your requests and the length of stay. Charters usually service diving trips from 2 days up to 2 weeks.
If you do not want to hire a private charter, then you can join one of the liveaboards usually starting from Cairns.
Blue Martini belongs to the fleet owned by Blue Dive. It provides private charters from Port Douglas. The 16m (52ft.) long liveaboard services up to 8 divers who can be accommodated in 2 Queen Cabins, 2 Twin Share Cabins, and 1 Quad Cabin with bunk beds. 2 shared bathrooms are located aboard as well as a fresh water shower on the back deck. All meals, linen, and towels are usually included in the package.
Port Douglas Reef Charters
Port Douglas Reef Charters offer 2 vessels for private charters with the requested itineraries. One of them is a hi-speed liveaboard diving catamaran. It takes up to 8 guests. It is recommended for bookings by a family or a small group of friends. The package includes diving, accommodation, all meals, fishing gear, and snorkeling gear.
The other vessel is a 26m (88ft.) long Mothership Liveaboard which can accommodate up to 16 divers. There are 10 cabins each with an Internet outlet and a TV. The boat features 5 shared toilets, 6 shared showers, 5 living areas and a saloon over the three decks.
A 30m (98ft.) long liveaboard provides trips from Cairns. It was custom built for Mike Ball Dive Expeditions. You can choose your accommodation in one of the 14 Cabins: Queen, Double and Twin-share Cabins. The vessel is ready to take aboard up to 28 guests. You can relax on a sundeck and a lounge deck. Meals are provided by a chef and any dietary requirements can be serviced. The liveaboard usually covers the farthest islands off Cairns.
Spirit of Freedom
Spirit of Freedom is 37m (121ft.) long liveaboard from Cairns. She can accommodate 26 divers. There are 1 Standard and 1 Deluxe Cabin on the upper deck with ocean view and 9 cabins on the lower deck. Each Cabin has a private bathroom, a wardrobe, and A/C. The boat is famous for its wine cellar. Complimentary wine is provided during the meals.
Other Activities For Non-Divers
You can enjoy snorkeling along the beach of Port Douglas or you can take a daily trip to the Great Barrier Reef. One of the biggest snorkeling operators in Port Douglas is Quicksilver. They service a floating Agincourt Reef Platform. Besides snorkeling around the platform you can enjoy the underwater world through an Underwater Observatory and Quicksilver Submarine. It is recommended always to wear a Lycra suit or a wetsuit for protection from Jellyfish stings.
Excursions and Activities
There are many excursions and tours which can be taken around Port Douglas. Among the most popular attractions, there are Daintree National Park, Billabong Sanctuary, and WildLife Habitat. In the latter, you have a chance to get acquainted with typical Australian birds, mammals, and reptiles, like Cassowary, Cockatoo, Koala, Spotted Tail Quoll, and Crocodile.
You can also take a trekking tour, rent a bicycle, explore the area around on a hot air balloon, or enjoy different waters sports like Water skiing and Kite Surfing.