Australia is endlessly vast, elegantly diverse, and teems with many awe-inspiring natural wonders. A visitor to Australia can easily be spoilt for choice. While every state in Australia has its own unique charm and awe, Queensland State on the northeastern side is usually a show-stopper. There’s the Great Barrier Reef, a mind-blowing natural artwork found on the eastern coast of Australia. There are also many stunning beaches covered by silk-soft sand. Also, no state has as many national parks as Queensland. If one adds in the spectacular landscape that features both ice-capped mountains and flat tablelands, the die is almost cast.


Yet the state, Australia's second-largest, is still huge. And travelers will still have to narrow down their choices. Two destinations that frequently feature are Port Douglas and Airlie Beach. Deciding between these two is no stroll in the park. With this article, however, your decision should be easier.

Where Are Port Douglas And Airlie Beach Located?

While both locations are in the state of Queensland, Airlie Beach is in the Whitsundays region in Central Queensland. The distance of Airlie Beach from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland located at the southern tip of the state— is a good 681 miles and 1, 166 miles from Sydney—the most popular of Australian cities. Port Douglass, however, is 425 miles to the north of Airlie Beach. Proserpine Airport which serves Airlie Beach is 16 miles away on the inland side. On the flip side, the airport that connects travelers to Port Douglas is Cairns International (CNS), 41 miles before the city. While Port Douglas is farther from the airport than Airlie Beach, the distance is more than compensated for by the abundance of spectacular views on a road that is as twisty as it is jaw-dropping.

Between Port Douglas And Airlie Beach, Which One Has Better Beaches?

That’s always a tough call. Things to do with beauty are some of the hardest to settle. Still, we think the beaches at Airlie Beach are better—with an important caveat: most of the finest beaches are around Airlie Beach and not within Airlie Beach itself. These include Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach which is located on Whitsunday Islands. The beachfront sands here are just as white as their name suggests. Still, Hamilton and Whitehaven may not be as quiet for one’s liking. So there’s some give and take. Then take into account that few people would just go to the beach, soak up the sun and the views—however spectacular—then just go away. One will have to consider where water sports such as snorkeling, surfing, and diving are best experienced.

For surfing, Airlie Beach is better than Port Douglas. Because of the coral reef, the waters at Port Douglas don’t have a lot of surf. However, for snorkeling and diving, Port Douglas triumphs. Again, the abundance and proximity of coral reefs have to do with it. In Airlie Beach, the reefs are a bit farther from the shoreline than they are at Port Douglas. So one will have to go quite a distance from the shore or hop on several far-spaced islands. That said, for those who want to tour the Great Barrier Reef, the Port Douglas tours feature boats that are usually more packed than their Airlie Beach counterparts. The take-home here is that if someone wants the beach, and the beach alone, then Airlie Beach has an edge over Port Douglas. However, if someone wants the beach plus other beach experiences, then the scales tilt slightly in favor of Port Douglas.

Related: 10 Of The World’s Best Surfing Locations

Between Port Douglass and Airlie Beach, Which One Has More Activities?

A vacation is hardly just a beach experience. And for a more range of activities on offer, Port Douglas beats Airlie Beach hands down. There are just too many other fun things to see and do. For instance, there are many waterfalls around Port Douglas, though the best are on the Atherton Tablelands, a one-and-a-half-hour drive away. The breathtaking Daintree Rainforest, a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, is only about 34 miles away. A number of beautiful trails and caves also dot the area around Port Douglas. The Chillagoe Caves, about three hours drive from Port Douglas, has some of the most impressive tunnels in Queensland and provide a delightfully frightening way to experience the underworld. On the flip side, at Airlie Beach or the many beaches around, there’s almost nothing else one can do—when he or she steps out of the silky sand.

  • Cost of Visiting Daintree Forest: There’s no entry fee, but there’s a $21 ferry fee when crossing the Daintree River.

That said, the palate and taste buds may just have a different take. Looks and views rarely satisfy them. Yet still, Port Douglas has an edge, especially when it comes to the food scene. There are just more restaurants at Port Douglas and more diverse cuisine. But for wetting the whistle, there’s just no clear winner as Airlie Beach also has many pubs—in addition to a very vibrant nightlife.

Related: 5 Overrated Spots In Australia (& 5 Things To Do Instead)

Here’s what shines through: choosing between Port Douglass and Airlie Beach is a decision that can go either way—especially for the beach and beach activities. However, for other land-based activities necessary for a more wholesome vacation, Port Douglas is the clear winner. But there’s a third, unspoken option: Combining the two destinations so one can get the best of both worlds.