Northern Queensland is a truly unique area where two World Heritage sites, Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest, encounter and intertwine. Cairns and its surroundings represent the complete opposite of the wild outback: the dense rain forest, tropical rainfall, beachfront drives and idyllic farming towns in the beautiful Atherton Tableland guarantee the kind of diversity that is hard to find anywhere else...
If you are only about to start your trip down the coast, you will quickly learn that swimming in Northern Queensland seas is not always particularly safe. Especially during the wet season, risk of stingers and crocodiles is usually too high. It's a good idea to double check the latest updates and recommendations at a tourist information point.
If you long for something to cool you down, the Esplanade Salt Water lagoon located at the Cairns beachfront is a great alternative for ocean. It is the favorite hangout of both locals and travellers. Yoga classes and zumba lessons take place frequently and good facilities for BBQ and picnics enable a long, pleasant day of wallowing in the sun.
The Great Barrier Reef is undoubtedly on the bucket list of most world travelers. Over two million visitors who go there every year are likely to spot some of the 1500 species lodging the magnificent underwater world. With 900 islands and 2900 individual reefs, Great Barrier is the largest coral reef system in the world - around the same size as Italy or Japan.
Boat excursions, scenic flights, live-aboards and reef walks are all being offered by a large number of shops and operators in Cairns. Buying your own snorkel mask and fins in Australia is generally a good idea, but at Great Barrier Reef the purchase will really pay off. Just remember to be mindful - don't litter the environment or disturb the reef residents.
Are you are after an idyllic, artistic place with a bohemian/hippie atmosphere and excellent outdoor activities? Then the remote village of Kuranda is your perfect escape.
25km northwest from Cairns and covered by Daintree, Kuranda is a true gem for those who love to buy crafts and jewelry. From there you can take a breathtaking scenic railway ride through the forest. Sipping wine and eating local organic products whilst passing the impressive Barron Falls is an experience that you won't forget easily. If the heat bothers you, stop along the way and jump off the rocks into refreshing clear water. Upon return, polish up your day by enjoying dinner in some of the charming restaurants.
If there is one thing you can experience entirely for free, the kaleidoscopic northern skies along your way to Cape Tribulation are worth the special mention. Take the National Route 1 and the Captain Cook Highway to pause at Trinity Beach and Palm Cove, where fine dining and luxury spas are waiting for you. From there you can drive 43km further along the road that reveals magical views of untouched beaches and coral reef. Stop at Rex Lookout to get a proper grip of the picturesque views.
Upon arrival to Port Douglas, you can have lunch at one of its various top notch restaurants. The drive further north will lead to steep mountains and freshwater holes formed by Mossman Gorge, and joining a tour guided by the Indigenous Australians here is highly recommended. They will teach you lots about the ancient culture, customs and arts of local abirigionals.
Cape Tribulation is the touchpoint of the reef and forest. At the ultimate destination of your road trip, crocodile spotting tour, barramundi fishing and bird spotting will further contribute to your experience of being at the mercy of nature. Driving your car onto a cable ferry and crossing Daintree River is possible for a small fee. Spend the night in a rainforest lodge or head back south.
Do you need an urgent vitamin fix? Then driving around the hilly farmlands surrounding Cairns will be a good call. You will find cocoa plantations and fresh fruit like mangoes, bananas and tomatoes, so trotting from farm to another to collect your smoothie ingredients is totally feasible. On top of that, the peaceful area coupled with stunning landscape will astound you.
To collect a range of culinary treats from fresh mango juice to local tea, start from Mareeba, where quality coffee can be savored. Skybury's Australian Coffee Centre, the Coffee Works in Mason Street and Jacques Coffee Plantation in Leotta Road are there ready to spoil you. Tropical, fruity wine is located in Golden Drop Winery on Bilwon Road, and dairy is the best at Gallo Dairyland, situated on Malanda-Atherton Road.
Are you still thirsty? Check out the Nerada Tea Visitor Centre in Glen Allyn Road. After this, you might want to take a break at Miillaa Miillaa waterfalls and dip into its paradisaical swimming hole, and if you want to see more, continue to Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. To complete your beverage adventure, pick up your bananas and paw paws on Palmerstone Highway prior to arrival in Innisfail, where you can take a Mamu Tropical Skywalk with lovely views to the rainforest.
No visit Down Under is complete without making a pilgrimage to see the world’s largest living organism which happens to be the only living structure visible from space !
Think crystal clear waters, sunny weather almost all year round, and an amazing array of marine life. Stretching more than 2,000 km, the Great Barrier Reef comprises some 3,400 coral reefs, 1,500 species of fish and 400 types of corals – truly breathtaking.
Non-swimmers, do not fret. You can get up close with the schools of blue-finned yellowtails, coral trout and more, even if you don’t know how to swim! Here’s how
Reef cruises operate from 9am – 5pm. This essentially means that day 1 is finished!
Experience the World Heritage Rainforest while navigating the white water rapids of Barron & Tully River. The rapids on the Barron River are of grade two to three which means they are simple technical rapids with a need to manoeuvre the raft, which results in great rafting for first timers. Be prepared to have your breath taken away as you are surrounded in the by the vastness and wondrous setting of the rainforest.
Tip: For those looking for a more challenging experience, join the Tully River group rapids up to grade 4.
Jungle Surfing is a unique and exhilarating way to experience the beauty of the world-renowned Daintree Rainforest. Fly through the trees on flying fox ziplines, stopping at five platforms with bird’s eye views over the treetops, down to cascading streams and out to the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll be guided each step of the way so you’re completely safe.