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River Drift Snorkel

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The Ultimate ‘Only in Tropical North Queensland’ guide

Hannah Statham

TNQ Writer

It might be a well-known fact that Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world where two natural World Heritage sites collide, but there’s more first and only’s to this destination than its reef and rainforest.

See how many of these exclusive experiences to Tropical North Queensland you can tick off during your next trip.

Float your way downstream with a river drift snorkel experience

Why swim when you can drift? Take relaxation to new levels drifting down the Mossman River on board an inflatable raft, as you ride the current which ambles through the world’s oldest rainforest. With nothing but water-power, there’s no sound interference between you and the bird song that surrounds this experience. More than just a float experience, you’ll be provided with a snorkel mask so you can plunge below the surface to spot turtles and fish species who dart around Mossman River’s emerald waters.

Swim with Dwarf Minke Whales

Swim with Dwarf Minke Whales on the Ribbon Reefs

For two short winter months, the Ribbon Reefs north of Port Douglas welcome a different kind of visitor, as Tropical North Queensland’s warm waters become the only known aggregation of Dwarf Minke Whales in the world. You can even swim with these eight metre marine mammals, joining a handful of operators who run liveaboard adventures to see them.

Enjoy a heli picnic on a sand cay

Heli picnic on a sand cay

Vlasoff Cay

Take a helicopter ride to Vlasoff Cay

The way you normally picnic is about to be ruined forever, because in Tropical North Queensland picnics come catered, chauffeured by helicopter and enjoyed on a private sand cay in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Expect tropical fruit, champagne and gourmet cheeses, all prepared for you while you’re out snorkelling the surrounding crystal-clear waters or adding your footsteps to Vlasoff Cay’s pristine white sand.

Marvel at the power of nature at Barron Falls

Barron Falls in peak Green Season

Barron Falls during drier months

Discover the true meaning of “when it rains, it pours” by witnessing the thundering power of Barron Falls (Djabugay: Din Din) during peak Green Season. The site of the falls with millions of litres gushing over per second will stop you in your tracks as you stand in absolute awe of the sheer force of nature.

During this period, the volumetric flow rate of water over the gorge can reach almost 265,000-megalitres in a day, compared to drier times of the year when the mean daily flow can sit as low as 350-megalitres*.

*Source: Queensland Government Water Monitoring Information Portal

Walk on country through the world’s oldest rainforest

Discover the secrets of the rainforest

learn about culture of the rainforest with Walkabout Cultural Adventures

Go on a Dreamtime Walk at Mossman Gorge

Where else in the world can you walk through the world’s oldest rainforest hosted by a guide from the world’s oldest culture? Find your answer joining Walkabout Cultural Adventures to go spear-hunting in the mangroves that fringe the Daintree or visit the Mossman Gorge Centre for a Dreamtime Walk through the Wet Tropics Rainforest. You’ll learn about the connection of the Indigenous people to land and sea, and their relationship with the rainforest which spans more than 60,000 years.

Swim in a volcanic crater lake

Kayak your way through Lake Barrine

Swim in a volcanic crater lake at Lake Eacham

Crepes for breakfast at Lake Barrine Teahouse

It’s not every day that you can say you’ve taken a dip in the crater of an ancient volcano, but with a trip to the Atherton Tablelands you can. Take a swim in Lake Eacham, paddle Lake Barrine by kayak or pace the perimeter on the 4km perimeter walking trail. Or, if you’d prefer a more leisurely pace, soak in the views of a crater lake with a famous Devonshire Tea at the Lake Barrine Tea House.

Taste 300 days of sunshine

Locally grown tropical produce from Rusty's Markets

Mud crab at Nu Nu restaurant in Palm Cove

Davidson Plums

If “what will I eat” sits as high on your priority list as “what will I do”, you’ll be happy to know Tropical North Queensland will have your tastebuds tantalised. One of the perks of the Tableland’s 300 days of sunshine, is a fresh produce scene to match. Taste your way through the tropics working your way through this list of local produce that will make sure you don’t forget you’re in North Queensland.

Sing in the rain in Australia’s wettest town

Golden Gumboot in Tully

There’s irony in the fact Queensland’s wettest town, Tully, is just a few hundred kilometres from Tropical North Queensland’s sunniest one, Mareeba, but it’s yours to discover on the Cassowary Coast.  To show you’ve been there, you’ll want a photo with the giant gumboot – the fibreglass statue that proves the 4.4m of annual rainfall received each year is enough to earn this town its title. For more reasons to love Tropical North Queensland’s Green Season, jump over here.

Stand in awe of the world’s best-preserved ancient lava tubes

Explore this incredible volcanic cave system

Railway carriage accommodation at Undara Experience

Swags Tent Village at Undara Experience

Billy tea breakfast experience

If you like your history ancient, how does exploring caves carved out of lava from 190,000 years ago sound to you? Join the Undara Experience to go beneath the surface to see this volcanic cave system. The cave system is accessed by guided tour only, dipping below the terra firma to see the oldest and best-preserved lava tube systems in the world, which was once responsible for spitting out over 23 cubic kilometres of lava – enough to fill Sydney Harbour three times over.

Sleep in a treehouse in the world’s oldest rainforest

Daintree Ecolodge

Daintree Ecolodge's spa is set amongst lush rainforest

Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat on the Atherton Tableands

The Canopy Treehouses on the Atherton Tableands

If you’re tired of the same four accommodation walls, try a treehouse on for size. Tropical North Queensland is full of them – from the Atherton Tablelands to the Daintree Rainforest – making the most of the leafy surrounds of the world’s oldest rainforest. To lay in the lap of luxury, book into Daintree Ecolodge which blends seamless into the forest, just by the Daintree River.

Discover ancient fossils that turn back time at Riversleigh Fossil Fields

Riversleigh Fossil Fields

Named one of the top 10 places to see fossils in the world, bring your walking shoes to discover Riversleigh Fossil Fields in the south-eastern corner of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. What was once a thick rainforest is now distinctly outback in its terrain, which is fitting for this national park’s location in the Gulf Savannah. You’ll discover fossils that date back 25 million years, pointing to a time when Tasmanian Tigers and marsupial ‘lions’ roamed these parts. Getting there will require you to take the iconic Savannah Way from Cairns, from the beach to the bush.

Visit one of the most significant rock art sites on earth

Explore ancient rock art sites with Jarramali Rock Art Tours near Laura in Cape York

Quinkan Rock Art Site

Explore ancient rock art sites with Jarramali Rock Art Tours near Laura in Cape York

Hidden in the hills of Laura in Cape York, you’ll find the internationally significant, Quinkan Rock Art Sites. Protected by the Australian National Heritage list for its significance as one of the largest bodies of prehistoric art, your best way to visit it is through a guided tour with a local Aboriginal Guide. Join Jarramali Rock Art Tours to see why UNESCO ranked these ancient painting, stencil and engravings among the top 10 rock art sites in the world.

See two living dinosaurs in the wild

Cassowary on Myall Beach in the Daintree National Park

Go on a croc-spotting tour to find some creepy creatures

A trip to Tropical North Queensland provides encounters with not one but two kinds of living dinosaurs, the Saltwater Crocodile and the Southern Cassowary. Evolution has been kind to these one-of-a-kind creatures. Take Saltwater Crocodile for instance, they have been around for over 240 million years, making the cassowary who has been around for a mere 65 million years look more like a spring chicken than living dinosaur.

To see them in the wild, join one of the many croc-spotting tours and make tracks to the aptly named Cassowary Coast or Daintree & Cape Tribulation for the best chance of a wild encounter. If you’re short on time or miss seeing them in the wild, opt for a guaranteed encounter at one of the many wildlife parks across the region.

Take a plunge off Australia’s only bungy tower

AJ Hackett Cairns Bungy Jump

If your idea of a good time is throwing yourself off a 50-metre tower and travelling 120km/hour in just 3.5 seconds, you’ll be happy to know Cairns is home to Australia’s only bungy tower. AJ Hackett Cairns have been the specialists of adventure and adrenalin since 1986, perfecting its ‘jump menu’ which could rival some restaurant’s degustation ones. From the classic ‘swan dive’ to free falling riding a BMX bike, one thing is for certain – your heart rate will be up by the time you have two feet back on the ground.

Walk between two natural World Heritage Areas

Cape Tribulation National Park

When you’re visiting the only place in the world where two natural World Heritage-listed sites collide, you might as well make use of their accessibility and walk between the two. For a seamless transition between who World Heritage wonders, visit either Cape Tribulation or Bingil Bay in Mission Beach, the very spots where the rainforest and reef meet.

World’s biggest green turtle rookery, Raine Island

Footage courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation & Queensland Government.

The longest known marine turtle rookery can be found off the coast of Cape York on the 27.5-hectare Raine Island. In peak nesting season, Raine Island’s sands will accommodate up to 60,000 nesting turtle. While Raine Island is protected and home to only the Raine Island Recovery Project (sorry, no visitors), there are still plenty of other places you can see these marine giants in action. Dive in at Fitzroy Island (or visit their Turtle Rehabilitation Centre), Green Island or really, with any of the reef tours which depart from Cairns or Port Douglas for a turtle experience of your own.

Visit the most northern point of mainland Australia

Visit the tip of the Australian mainland

The 1,200km stretch of road that connects Cairns with the most northern point of the country, is what four-wheel driver’s dreams are made of. It’s truly one of the last frontiers of Australia, promising a road trip that’s as challenging as it is rewarding. Join the other Cape York Peninsula pilgrims who make the journey each year for the chance to catch sunrise at the most northern tip of Australia.

Climb Queensland’s highest mountain

Camping on Queensland's highest peak, Mt Bartle Frere

If you’re looking for a new challenge, why not tackle Queensland’s highest peak, Mt Bartle Frere? Standing at over 1600m elevation, you’re literally on the rooftop of Queensland, a title which comes with the perk of panoramic views over the Atherton Tablelands and out to the coast. You could technically walk it in a day – but it will take you 12 hours – so most opt for a camping adventure, which is raw, rugged and requires you to carry everything in and out.

Visit an ancient inland reef turned limestone cave system

Trezkinn Cave (guided tour)

Pompeii Cave (self guided)

Mungana Caves (self guided)

Sunset at Balancing Rock

If you prefer your history told through the geology of a landscape, point your bonnet west to Chillagoe and step back 400 million years. From inside the Chillagoe-Mungana caves, you’ll discover a limestone cave system, which reveals a time when this now arid area was a shallow sea, complete with coral reef. Make the most of the three-hour drive from Cairns, by continuing onto Undara National Park for more ancient natural history.

Witness the world’s biggest orgy aka coral spawning

The greatest live sex show takes place on the Great Barrier Reef each year when the coral polyps of the reef release their eggs for the ocean to fertilise. Ask any marine scientists and they’ll confirm coral spawning is here for a short time, but a good time, lasting just 30 minutes, when the entire network of the Great Barrier Reef spawns in unison. Single night trips and liveaboard adventures depart during the predicated coral spawning dates – but just remember, like any wild encounter, there are no guarantees that the reef will get lucky the night you book.

Only place in Australia to see Tree Kangaroos in the wild

Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo by FNQ Nature Tours

It stands to reason that within the world’s most biologically diverse rainforest, you’ll find animals found nowhere else on earth. The Wet Tropics has two marvellous macropods, the Bennett’s and Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos, who have evolved to their leafy surrounds, with shorter legs, stronger limbs and long tails which can be used to swing through the trees like Tarzan. Keep your eyes to the sky next time you visit the Wet Tropics for your chance to see one in the wild.

Catch the Morning Glory Cloud Formation

Via Facebook | Mary-Anne Langridge

You might be familiar with cloud formations like cirrus, cumulus and alto-cumulous, but have you ever seen morning glory clouds? Time your trip to the gulf with this meteorological spectacle which sees wave-like clouds roll into land in a solid band that seemingly stretches the entire horizon. While there are a handful of locations in the world where you can catch the morning glory, the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only known location where it can be predicted – usually occurring between September and November each year.

Great Barrier Reef tour with Indigenous guides

Cultural experience on the Great Barrier Reef

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have maintained strong connections with the Great Barrier Reef for thousands of years. On Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Indigenous guides are able to showcase their culture to you with an experience unlike any other in Australia. On board this full day reef tour, not only will you be able to explore the depths with Indigenous guides, immerse yourself in interactive cultural demonstrations including didgeridoo, dance and storytelling.

Dive a little deeper

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