‘Transformative’ $317m surf park to attract wave of new visitors to Port Douglas

The NorthBreak wave pool and resort is expected to create 742 full-time jobs.  Picture: Visualisation by Hunt Design
The NorthBreak wave pool and resort is expected to create 742 full-time jobs. Picture: Visualisation by Hunt Design

Between the Great Barrier Reef and lush rainforest, visitors to Port Douglas in far-north Queensland don’t want for much, but there is one thing missing: surfable waves.

But that might be about to change, with a development application for a $317 million artificial wave park and resort on the outskirts of town recently approved by the local council, which could be delivering perfect waves as soon as later this year.

Slated as a “next-generation resort set to redefine tourism in the region”, the NorthBreak Port Douglas development includes plans for a 4.5 star 164-room hotel and resort, along with a 1.5-hectare wave pool powered by WhiteWater West’s Endless Surf technology, a four-hectare freshwater swimming lagoon, aqua park and 90 self-contained villas and surf cabins. 

The man-made wave pool will generate waves of up to 2.1-metres every eight to 12 seconds, with rides lasting up to 26 seconds. To be set across four precincts, the development will also include alfresco dining decks, cafes, retail shops, a beach club, wellness centre and spa, conference centre and function rooms.

It’s to be built on a 40-hectare site, currently a sugar cane farm, less than 10 kilometres from the centre of Port Douglas, on the Captain Cook Highway. It will sit at the northern end of the new Wangetti eco-tourism trail, to tap into the current surge in domestic tourism.

‘Once-in-a-generation’ development

Having worked with developer David Imgraben since mid-2020, the Douglas Shire Council recently approved NorthBreak’s detailed development application.

The finer details of the project are still being worked on and there is still time for potential opponents to appeal through Queensland’s Planning and Environment Court.

Douglas Shire mayor Michael Kerr said when realised, the “transformative project” would “significantly lift summer tourism by creating a world-class surfing experience and year-round swimming option down the road from Port Douglas”.

“With no recognised surf breaks in the tropics, council believes this once-in-a-generation development will attract a wave of new visitors and keep our beautiful pocket of the world at the forefront of travellers’ minds,” Cr Kerr said.

He said NorthBreak Port Douglas could inject more than $117.5 million in wages into the local economy during construction and once operating, create 740 full-time jobs, attract more than 120,000 visitor “nights” and generate $79.2 million in direct expenditure each year.

“The wave park development will play a vital role in helping the region recover from the economic shocks felt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A key goal of our economic development strategy is to expand and diversify our tourism offering, particularly by capitalising on lucrative sports tourism and adventure markets,” Cr Kerr said.

He said the developer had “committed to a range of sustainability initiatives such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting and landscaping”. NorthBreak will also be required to offset demands on the council’s water supply and sewer network.

‘Beyond the wave’, experience matters

Noel Dempsey, business director at Pico Play, a consultancy firm that specialises in the delivery of tourism and leisure attractions, said the development would complement the region’s natural attractions.

“A new surf lagoon will add to the mix of experiences; sitting somewhere between the natural environment and the physical interaction with the reef,” he said.

“As we know, the one thing missing from the destination generally is sometimes the ability to enjoy a surf-based and beach experience. In this respect, NorthBreak can provide a highly engaging physical engagement with the beach and surf. I think it will work,” he said.

Mr Dempsey said offering a “total destination experience” is smart.

“Surf lagoons need to be so much more than just the wave and that is why the master planning for the surrounding beach area, facilities and other activities is essential to appeal more broadly. As I see it, NorthBreak is creating a full range of lifestyle experiences.

“Beyond the wave, there is outstanding accommodation in a natural tropical design, the relaxation of a beach club and the provision of a wellness centre with gym and spa.”

Artist's impression of the retail stores at the NorthBreak wave pool and resort

NorthBreak Port Douglas will also have a wellness centre, cafe and other retail shops. Picture: Visualisation by Hunt Design

Lori Modde, general manager of tourism consultancy Visitor Economy Development, said the development would appeal to domestic and overseas visitors.

“As the waters are challenging in the summer months in the northern areas of Queensland, the park would attract leisure visitors to cool off or have a bit of adventurous fun. Families will be the prime target to take in both of these aspects,” she said.

She said NorthBreak would further enhance the region’s already strong tourist appeal.

“Products like this can add value to a destination as it is combined on a ‘must see’ list with other ‘destinational’ attractions and [which then] increases a visitor length of stay and expenditure, thus adding value to the tourism economy in a location.

“Adding a surf park to the mix will provide a safe opportunity for people to experience the water, regardless of season, in a unique way that avoids the challenges or perceptions of the ocean stingers and other dangers,” Ms Modde said.

Groundswell of money for wave pools

NorthBreak Port Douglas is the latest in a growing list of proposed surf parks across the country. There’s only one currently open to the public; URBNSURF Melbourne.

Another, a wave-generating surf pool near the Queensland town of Yeppoon, built in 2018, remains a working prototype and sales tool for Aussie start-up Surf Lakes. It could be open to the public by the end of the year, but a full $187 million development won’t be complete until 2031.

On the Sunshine Coast, the developers behind two planned rival parks are embroiled in a legal stoush, with one claiming there is only room for one such facility.

Late last year, URBNSURF began construction on a $50 million diamond-shaped surf lagoon as big as the SCG at Olympic Park in Sydney. It’s due to open early next year.

Australia’s first private resort-style surfing destination at Wisemans Ferry on the Hawkesbury River is still open for investment. To be set among 18.2ha of bushland an hour from North Sydney, the Wisemans Surf Lodge – slated to be open this year – will have a 12,600sqm ocean-like, wave-generating pool.

Also, surf superstar Kelly Slater wants to build a $1.1 billion surf resort in Coolum, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and there are also plans for an $80 million park in Western Australia.