road trips from cairns

Blog Post

5 Road Trips From Cairns

TNQ Writer

From swimming in wild waterfalls, to exploring hidden coves and outback tracks, it’s time to hit the road to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime on these road trips from Cairns.

As a city flanked by two World Heritage sites, it should come as no surprise that Cairns is just a stone’s throw away from an abundance of natural and cultural attractions. Venture outside Cairns city and gear up your holiday with one of these road trips. All you have to do is choose is which direction to drive….

Cairns to Port Douglas

Distance: 67km (one way)

Highlights: Wildlife, beaches & dining

Those looking for the road to paradise can find it in its dictionary definition form on the Great Barrier Reef Drive. Starting in Cairns, this picturesque drive winds its way through a scenic coastal stretch peppered with secret coves and sleepy seaside hamlets. From Cairns, head north to Palm Cove and stroll down the iconic palm tree avenue before fuelling up for your adventure at one of the many cafes and restaurants. If you’re still craving the feeling of sand between your toes stop off at Ellis Beach, or find your own personal stretch of sand at one of the many beaches between Cairns and Port Douglas.

Take a walk on the wild side at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, or if jumping crocodiles isn’t enough to get your adrenaline pumping, try tandem hang gliding at the scenic Rex Lookout. If you’re feeling less thrill more chill head to nearby Thala Beach Nature Reserve and enjoy lunch with stunning coastal views at Osprey’s Restaurant.

Pull into paradise at Port Douglas, a high-end resort hub with a barefoot edge. With so many things to do in Port Douglas, it’s worth putting aside multiple days to explore. Venture 20 minutes north to the edge of the ancient Daintree Rainforest and visit Mossman Gorge. Take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear rainforest pools or join a local Kuku Yalanji guide for a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk.

Cairns to Chillagoe

Distance: 204km (one way)

Highlights: Markets, caves, outback

Head from the coastal city of Cairns to the dry bushlands near Mareeba, to the rocky outcrops of Chillagoe, for a drive adventure that offers a smorgasbord of landscapes. A road trip this colourful deserves a rainbow-hued start, which you is exactly what you will find in Kuranda. Step back into the groovy 70s and get your shopping fix at the Original Rainforest and Heritage Markets. Soothe your decaffeinated soul at Skybury Coffee near Mareeba, or if you’d like a natural cold bath to wake you up, take a detour to the invigorating Emerald Creek Falls or Davies Creek Falls.

As the landscape transforms from grassy farmlands to red dirt, keep your eyes peeled for giant termite nests. The pièce de résistance of the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park are the caves themselves, which are best seen on a ranger-guided tour. Join a guide to explore three majestic caves, then bring a torch and live out your Indiana Jones dreams exploring three more self-guided caves on your own.

Step back into the turn of the 20th century with a visit to the historic Chillagoe Smelters. As the sun begins to set, make your way to Balancing Rock and watch as the sun sets the sky ablaze against the rocky landscape of the outback.

Cairns to the Cardwell Spa Pool

Distance: 183km (one way)

Highlights: Beaches, freshwater swimming holes, wildlife

Pick up some local produce from Rusty’s Markets then immerse yourself in the unique flora of Tropical North Queensland at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Continue your quest for nature and drive south to the aptly named Cassowary Coast, where you may just end up spotting one of these iconic birds yourself.

Waterhole hop your way from Cairns to Mission Beach, beginning with a hike at Behana Gorge to the beautiful Clamshell Falls in the southern Cairns region. Cool off in a crystal-clear rainforest pool at Babinda Boulders, then slide down a rainforest waterslide at Josephine Falls and marvel at this triple-tiered wonder from the various viewpoints. Take a well-worth 9km detour off the main road to Etty Bay, where you may spot one of the local cassowaries wandering along the beach.

If you’re too dry for your liking by the time you reach Mission Beach, drive via the El Arish Mission Beach Road and soak yourself in Lacey Creek. Or if you feel more like just wetting your whistle, pop by Murdering Point Winery to taste an assortment of wines, ports and liqueurs. With 3 beaches, 4 villages and Dunk Island just a stone’s throw from the shore, it’s well worth putting a few days aside to explore Mission Beach.

If the en route rainforest swims have you craving more, head further south to the bright blue queen of all swimming holes, the Cardwell Spa Pool. Whilst you drive your way to the ultimate gem, it’s well worth stopping at other points along the Cardwell Forest Drive, including the beautiful Attie Creek Falls.

Cairns to Atherton Tablelands

Distance: 176km (one way) – via the Palmerston Highway

Highlights: Castle, waterfalls, rainforest

It may come as a surprise that one area can encompass Wet Tropics Rainforest, volcanic crater lakes and historic villages, but you can see all of this and more in the Atherton Tablelands. There are several routes to access the tablelands, however if you wish to add visiting a Spanish castle and exploring the rainforest canopy to your trip, you’ll need to head from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands via Paronella Park and the Palmerston Highway.

Live out your childhood fairytale dream with a 1.5 hour trip south to Paronella Park, a Spanish castle amidst the lush rainforest. Take your rainforest adventure higher at Mamu Tropical Skywalk and wander amongst the tree tops on raised boardwalks. Continue to climb to higher altitudes as you drive along the stunning Palmerston Highway, which has a number of waterfall walks that are well worth pulling over for. Celebrate your arrival on the tablelands with a fuel-up at Mungali Creek Dairy, which serves up biodynamic dairy products and locally sourced organic produce by the plate.

Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, satisfy your hunger for nature by driving along the iconic waterfall circuit, stopping at each of its residents for a swim. Make way from Millaa Millaa to Historic Village Herberton for a spot of time travelling.  Jump into a volcanic crater lake at Lake Eacham or simply gaze at one whilst you tuck into a Devonshire Tea at Lake Barrine. If you are craving more volcanoes, stay at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat, a private slice of paradise on the slopes of an extinct volcano.

Cairns to Cooktown

Distance: 242km (one way)

Highlights: Museums, pubs, off-road driving

If you’re looking for a drive that is literally off the beaten track, veer north to Cooktown via the Bloomfield Track. Although the 242km drive is beautiful itself, the stunning coastal stretch is home to a myriad of natural wonders that will see you pulling over for an adventure every few kilometres. Cairns to Cape Tribulation, the Great Barrier Reef Drive, is one of Australia’s most beautiful drives and is home to world heritage rainforest, Daintree Rainforest boardwalks, scenic lookouts and more

Cool off in Emmagen Creek just north of Cape Tribulation Village and kiss farewell to the sealed road as you head onto the rocky Bloomfield Track for the ultimate 4WD adventure. Marvel at the stunning Wujal Wujal (Bloomfield) Falls and take a tour with the Walker Family to learn about the Indigenous significance of the area. Stop by at the iconic Lions Den Hotel for an Aussie pub feed before washing off the red dirt at nearby Trevathan Falls.

Cooktown itself offers an array of attractions and activities for every kind of traveller. Discover the town’s rich history at the Cooktown History Centre and James Cook Museum and wander through the botanic gardens, Queensland’s oldest regional botanic gardens. Watch the sunset from Grassy Hill or hit the Endeavour River for a sunset cruise.

Don’t have a 4WD? You can still explore Cooktown from Cairns via the Mulligan Highway.

Even More To Explore

Extend your road trip with these ideas.

 

emerald creek falls mareeba
Atherton Tablelands
10 things near Mareeba worth the drive from Cairns

If your ideal holiday involves roaming from providore to providore, seeing 400-million-year-old rock cave formations and exploring waterfalls in between, there’s a town on the Atherton Tablelands you’ll want to get to know.

Read more
Tropical North Queensland
8 mini road trips in Tropical North Queensland

Discover local specialties and hidden gems on a mini road trip through Tropical North Queensland with these one day wonders. Here are eight itineraries to get you out and about.

Read more
Grassy Hill Cooktown
Cape York
10 things to do in Cooktown

Welcome to Cooktown, the Tropical North Queensland town whose history and heritage draws 25,000 visitors to it each year.

Read more
Attie Creek Falls
Mission Beach & Cassowary Coast
12 other things to do when visiting the Cardwell Spa Pool

Whether you’re out to catch a barra, hike Australia’s largest island National Park or adventure your way through a scenic 4WD track, Cardwell is the perfect launch pad for an outdoorsy weekend with a friendly local twist.

Read more
cairns esplanade
Cairns & Northern Beaches
16 things to do your first time in Cairns

If ever the statement “so much to do, so little time” rang true of a destination, Cairns would be it. With the Great Barrier Reef in its front yard and the Wet Tropics rainforest out the back, aside from your bathers, time is the best thing you can pack for a visit to Tropical North Queensland. If it’s your first time in the North Queensland capital, start with these 16 things to do in Cairns.

Read more
Rex Smeal Park
Port Douglas
Things to do in Port Douglas

Don’t let its flop and drop reputation fool you, there are many things to do in Port Douglas. From hunting with Traditional Owners & exploring the Great Barrier Reef, to river floats & wildlife parks. Here’s how to spend your time in Port Douglas.

Read more
Emerald Creek Falls
Tropical North Queensland
20 waterfalls near Cairns

Mighty mountain ranges and Wet Tropics Rainforest create the optimum environment for a myriad of extraordinary waterfalls. Fall in love with these 20 waterfall wonderlands only a short drive from Cairns.

Read more
Musgravea Track swimming hole
Tropical North Queensland
Dive into Tropical North Queensland’s swimming holes

If you’ve been shredding the region’s mountain bike parks, exploring its wilderness trails or simply ambling about on two wheels and need to reinvigorate tired muscles, set your compass for these amazing spots.

Read more
Garners Beach Mission Beach
Mission Beach & Cassowary Coast
Secret Beaches & Coves of Mission Beach

Mission Beach would be better referred to as Mission Beaches with its 14km stretch of sand interlinking three beaches and four villages. Lesser known are the smaller beaches and coves that make up a huge part of its charming appeal.

Read more
Riverside Walk Kuranda
Kuranda
Walks in Kuranda

Experience the famous village in the rainforest along a network of easy trails that introduce you to the surrounding Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Accommodating all types of walkers, discover the amazing scenery that exists a stone’s throw from Kuranda’s shopping experience.

Read more