Discover local specialties and hidden gems on a mini road trip through Tropical North Queensland. Lee Mylne has six itineraries to get you out and about.
1. Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation
On the road out of Port Douglas, the coastal landscape gives way to lush rainforest. This is where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef and time seems to stand still.
Start the day on the water with the Daintree River Cruise Centre. Spot crocs, lizards, snakes and butterflies in one of the world’s most densely populated mangrove estuaries.
After a lunch stop at the Daintree Village Hotel – choose the crocodile salad (pictured) or a classic chicken parm — take the car ferry across the Daintree River and head further north to Cape Tribulation.
There you can zipline through the rainforest canopy — it’s called “jungle surfing” — with Jungle Adventures on Cape Tribulation, or snorkel with sea turtles on a Great Barrier Reef adventure with Ocean Safari.
Beautiful Cape Tribulation beach is protected by a headland, with a lookout that provides stunning views of the coastline, where Queensland’s two globally significant World Heritage sites come within touching distance.
Total drive time: 3hrs 40mins
2. Port Douglas to Daintree
Heading north from the beaches of Port Douglas, you’ll soon be exploring the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park. On the way, drop by Mossman Gorge for a swim, a rainforest walk (pictured) and a guided Dreamtime Walk.
Carry on to laid-back Daintree Village, a pretty spot on the banks of the Daintree River, with plenty of opportunities to spot birds and crocs.
On the other side of the river, the Daintree Discovery Centre gives easy access to the rainforest wilderness via boardwalks, a 23m Canopy Tower, and an aerial walkway.
About 12km north of the river, take half an hour to explore the Jindalba Boardwalk, in Kuku Yalanji country. This 700m loop winds beneath a canopy of giant fan palms and ferns, and is also home to Bennett’s tree kangaroos.
Tackle a big Aussie burger – croc burger, anyone? – at Mason’s Cafe. There’s a secret, croc-free swimming hole behind the cafe (which doubles as an information centre), perfect for cooling off on a steamy tropical day.
Total drive time: 1hr 40mins
3. Cairns to Mission Beach
Breakfast at the legendary Babinda Bakery in pretty Babinda awaits as you head south from Cairns on the Bruce Highway. The bakery opens at 8am so grab a coffee and a cream bun, and something extra for the road.
Carry on to Mission Beach, where you can see cocoa being grown and processed into chocolate at Charley’s Chocolate Factory. Tours run on Thursdays and Sundays, and include a tasting of Charley’s award-winning product.
There are multiple lunch options at beautiful Mission Beach. The pizzas are excellent at Millers Beach Bar & Grill or stop at Bluewater Cafe for share platters, burgers and tasty salads.
Retrace your steps to Babinda and the Babinda Boulders, scattered along the Babinda Creek (pictured), which has a beautiful swimming hole. There’s another at nearby Josephine Falls, where a 750m rainforest walk – with several lookouts along the way – leads to the bottom pool.
Total drive time: 4hrs
4. Cairns to Mamu Skywalk
Head south from Cairns on the Bruce Highway to discover the Mamu Skywalk, in Wooroonooran National Park. From the main road, it’s 27km west on the Palmerston Highway.
A short rainforest walk leads to the cantilever and elevated skywalk. Climb the stairs to the observation tower for uninterrupted views of the forest and the Johnstone River from 37m above ground level.
Not far up the road you’ll find the Henrietta Creek Campground. Follow the track to Nandroya Falls, stopping at one of the swimming holes along the way to cool off.
For lunch, grab a table on the balcony at the Queenslander-style Mena Creek Hotel, on the scenic Canecutter Way. In the afternoon, wander through nearby Paronella Park (pictured), a castle built in 1935 by Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella for his new bride.
Set on 5ha beside Mena Creek Falls, the romantic ruins are now surrounded by lush tropical gardens and rainforest.
Total drive time: 3hrs
5. Cairns to Yungaburra
From Cairns, it’s an easy drive south-west to the Crater Lakes National Park, in the eastern part of the Atherton Tableland. Lake Eacham provides a wonderful spot to swim, kayak, or have a picnic. Walk the 3km circuit track around this clear blue lake through the rainforest.
Stop off at the giant Curtain Fig Tree (pictured) before heading to the lovely town of Yungaburra, with its historic old pub. Just out of town is the Avenue of Honour, the national war memorial dedicated to Australia’s veterans who served in Afghanistan. Other attractions worth a stop on your roadtrip through the Tablelands include Gallo Dairyland and Mt Uncle Distillery.
Halfway between Atherton and Malanda, Gallo Dairyland is a working dairy farm, which offers something for all the family: milking demonstrations, an animal nursery, gourmet cheese factory (with tastings), handmade chocolates and a cafe and restaurant.
Nestled at the foothills of Mount Uncle at Walkamin and set in landscaped gardens within a banana plantation, Mt Uncle Distillery produces whisky, gin, rum and vodka – all with a local flavour.
You’ll also get the chance to meet the resident alpacas, donkeys, goats and peacocks.
Total drive time: 2hrs 20mins
6. Cairns Waterfall Circuit
Pack your swimmers and walking shoes for a tour of what are literally the region’s coolest attractions.
Drive south from Cairns to Innisfail, then head inland up the Palmerston Highway. Here you’ll find three falls in quick succession – Tchupala, Wallicher and Nandroya. Stop for a swim and debate with your companions about which is the most beautiful.
Continue driving uphill until you reach the beautiful Atherton Tablelands, where you’ll find the fairytale drop of Millaa Millaa Falls, the region’s most photographed.
Nearby are Zillie and Ellinjaa (pictured), where you can climb behind the tumbling water for a cool rest.
Drive north through the lush Tablelands countryside to Malanda Falls, next to the Malanda Visitor Centre. This one is a short walk from the carpark, perfect for those travelling with tired little ones.
From Malanda, follow Lake Barrine Rd to picturesque Yungaburra, stopping at the Whistlestop Cafe for a bite to eat. Take the scenic and winding Gillies Range Rd back to Cairns, or continue via Atherton, dropping into the fascinating Crystal Caves on the way, where an unassuming shopfront hides an unexpected crystal-laden experience.
Total drive time: 3hrs
These one-day wonders are just a taste of the hidden gems you can find in Tropical North Queensland
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