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.

Ask anyone who’s gone on a family holiday and they’ll tell you the best memories don’t come from the confines of a hotel room, they’re created outdoors. 

With reef, rainforest, gourmet food trails, and geological wonders on your doorstep, Tropical North Queensland provides memorable moments in all directions, with so many of its best adventures within a day’s (return) driving distance of the Cairns CBD. 

See where the road will take you on one of these day trips.  

1. Port Douglas to Daintree and Cape Tribulation

 

If you can tear yourself away from your book and beverage by the pool of your Port Douglas accommodation, there’s a day trip to Cape Tribulation with your name on it.

Even if you never leave the comfort of the car, the scenery out your window is worth the two-hour drive as you drive through the most famous precinct of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the Daintree Rainforest.

That said, do hop out, because the moment you cross the Daintree River by vehicle ferry, you’ll be transported to a wonderland that’s 180 million years old.

Break up your road trip with stops at signed lookouts, bays and beaches along the way – Mount Alexandra, Cow Bay, Thornton Beach and Myall Beach – before you reach the most iconic attraction, Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the reef.

2. Cairns to Etty Bay

Swapping Cairns for the Cassowary Coast takes just shy of 90 minutes if you go direct, but this is a journey worth allocating a whole day to explore.

You won’t be sitting in the car for long when you have some of Mother Nature’s best water parks along the way.

Pack your togs and soak in the emerald-green water at the Babinda Boulders or slide down the smooth rockslide at Josephine Falls.

Either way, you’ll want to fuel your adventure with a stop at the Babinda Bakery whose cream buns have earned them a near perfect five-star global review online.

Dust off the icing sugar and continue south to Etty Bay for a good chance of seeing a cassowary in the wild, strolling the sands of the bay.

3. Mission Beach to the Cardwell Spa Pool

 

You don’t need to travel to Iceland to find an Insta-worthy blue pool, just south of Mission Beach you’ll find Queensland’s own version, the Cardwell Spa Pool.

To make a day out of it, start your adventure in Mission Beach before heading south via the wettest town in Queensland, Tully, for a photo stop with the giant gumboot that immortalises Tully’s title in fibre glass.

After touring the various scenic lookouts along Cardwell Forest Drive, continue onto the headliner, the Cardwell Spa Pool.

Coloured by nature, this swimming hole is a striking shade of blue that varies depending on water levels and rainfall.

4. Cairns to Paronella Park and Mamu Tropical Skywalk

There might only be 110 kilometres between Cairns and Paronella Park, but they feel worlds apart.

From the minute you cross the threshold of Paronella Park, you step into Jose Paronella’s dream of building a castle and five hectares of gardens for his wife in the 1930s; a mystical wonderland where lush rainforest and a thundering waterfall shoulder the castle ruins.

Work up an appetite best sated by quintessential Queenslander pub, The Mena Creek Hotel, only 200m away.

Then, fuelled by their classic pub menu, which, by their own admission doesn’t scrimp on the chips, explore the Wet Tropics rainforest from new heights at Mamu Tropical Skywalk.

Mamu Tropical Skywalk transports you from the forest floor to the canopy over a series of elevated walkways, including a cantilevered platform jutting out over the iconic rainforest landscape.

Proving no two trips to the Wet Tropics are ever the same, from the safety of the elevated platform you’ll see one of the largest-remaining continuous stands of complex vine forest on basalt soils in the Wet Tropics – a totally different Daintree experience on this list.

5. Cairns to Yungaburra and Lake Eacham

 

Brace yourself for a spot of scenic driving, today’s destinations are best explored via the Gillies Range, the famous stretch of tarmac packing 263 corners and 800m of elevation change into 19km of rainforest-hugging road.

At the end, you’ll be met by Yungaburra, an old town with a young heart, and the central point for this tablelands adventure.

Start by visiting the Curtain Fig Free, a strangler fig which has worked hard for 500 years to suffocate its host and create an intricate jumble of Avatar-esq vines.

From there, explore the volcanic crater lakes, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, which have been 420 million years in the making. Read more about the ancient marvels as you wander the 3km return Lake Eacham circuit track, finishing with a refreshing dip in the lake; or at Lake Barrine Teahouse, with the entrance full of historical displays and information. Jump aboard a scenic boat cruise at Lake Barrine and take the short walk to the twin Kauris, believed to be over 1000 years old.

Not quite ready to make the 70km trip back to Cairns just yet? Fire up your taste buds with this tour of the Tablelands.

6. Cairns to Waterfall Circuit

What do you get when you have high altitude, mountains and rocky outcrops? Find your answer on the aptly-named Waterfall Circuit that lures bikini and boardshort-clad travellers inland.

From Cairns, follow this itinerary which can be tackled in either direction along the Gillies Highway or the Palmerston Highway.

Once you reach the Atherton Tablelands, simply follow the brown Waterfall Circuit signs which lead you to these top drops.

The only packing essentials are togs, a towel and closed-in shoes – and don’t worry, this otherwise fashion faux pas is the uniform of every traveller up here.

7. Cairns to Herberton

 

Head to the hills for this day trip, swapping the Cairns CBD for historical Herberton.

To make a day of it, take the Kuranda Range Road, stopping into the rainforest village of Kuranda on the way, or bolt your day trip onto the Waterfall Circuit or Yungaburra trip (listed above) via the Gillies Highway.

Aim to arrive in Herberton by midday to give yourself enough time to explore its pinnacle attraction – the Herberton Historic Village – along with its Mining Museum and Spy & Camera Museum.

For a dose of geological history, return to Cairns via the Mount Hypipamee Crater, the site of what’s thought to have been a massive gas explosion 15,000 years ago, leaving a jaw-dropping divot behind.

8. Cairns to Port Douglas

Road trips rarely come as scenic as the one that rolls from Cairns to Port Douglas, with the sparkling coral sea flanking one side and the Wet Tropics Rainforest the other.

It might only be 67km long, but there’s plenty of opportunities to break up the Great Barrier Reef Drive journey and soak in the views – whether its Rex Lookout for its vista over Trinity Inlet and back to Cairns, or Ellis Beach for a moment of pristine beach exploration.

If travelling with little ones, stifle any “are we there yet” moans with a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. The wildlife sanctuary serves as the perfect halfway marker and promises a snapping good time.

Content courtesy of Hannah Statham.

TROPICAL WINTERS

What winter?

Welcome to the place where your typical idea of winter doesn’t really exist. To locals, 20ºC warrants a jacket, and jeans make their way out of the wardrobe; you’ll often hear the crew announce that wetsuits are available to help keep warm in the “chilly” 24ºC waters on the Great Barrier Reef.

Maximum temperatures remain mostly within the mid-twenties, with many brilliant sunny days perfect for exploring the region from the coast and seas to remote areas.

You may encounter a few nights where the mercury dips into the single digits, especially on the Atherton Tablelands where you’ll find a more mild climate due to its elevation. Romantic bed and breakfasts with cosy fireplaces are peppered throughout these highlands, perfect for those “tropicool” nights.

Small tent “villages” spring up around the abundant number of campgrounds as cooler and drier days make for ideal camping weather. Compasses are pointed due north and many take to the dusty road to tackle one of Australia’s most iconic 4WD journeys to the tip of Cape York Peninsula, or west to explore the ancient geological wonders along The Savannah Way.


AN ADVENTURE LIKE NO OTHER


Head into frontier country on your journey to “The Tip”. More 4WDs venture through this area than anywhere else in the country and your adventure north is as important as your final destination.

Conquer some of Australia’s most challenging 4WD crossings or cross breathtaking waterfalls off your list as you traverse through national parks, historic townships and stations before arriving at the most northerly point of mainland Australia.

Twin Falls, Cape York

 


OUTDOOR LUXURY


One of the things that everyone loves about the tropics is that you can enjoy the outdoorsy lifestyle any time of year.

While other places are huddled inside around heaters, in Tropical North Queensland you can indulge in cocktails by the beach or laze by the pool.

 


LIFE’S A BEACH


There are not many places in the world that winter is synonymous with beach days but in Tropical North Queensland you’ll find this time of year boasts prime beach weather.

Water and outside temperatures both hover around the mid-twenties (Celsius) making the sandy shores the perfect place to hang out on a warm, sunny winter day.

 

 

TIME TO EXPLORE

 

Surrounded by National Parks, Marine Parks and World Heritage Areas on all sides, adventures are endless in Tropical North Queensland.

With milder temperatures – locals will say “cold”, you’ll say “perfect” – winter provides the ideal time for camping, hiking or Great Barrier Reef adventures.



WILDLIFE WANTING WARMTH


Throughout June and July, the Ribbon Reefs, north of Cairns and Port Douglas, becomes the temporary refuge for the only known aggregate of Dwarf Minke Whales in the world.

Humpback whales can also be sighted as they make their way north through a channel between the coast and Great Barrier Reef offering a safe shelter for mothers and calves.

    

   Tips

  • Due to lower humidity and clearer nights, winter is a great time to stargaze. Head out to Burketown in the Gulf Savannah to learn about the stars on Australia’s largest salt pans with the Gangalidda-Garawa Traditional Custodians.
     
  • Through winter, Saltwater Crocodiles sun themselves on banks for warmth. Keep an eye out for these ancient dinosaurs as you explore the region.
     
  • If you’re partial to wetting a line, Tropical North Queensland in winter is the place for you. Head out to Gulf Savannah, fish your way up Cape York Peninsula or try your hand at catching the prized barramundi.
     
  • Each July, Cairns hosts the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. While the art fair and market might be the main drawcard, you’ll find workshops, fashion shows and satellite events across Cairns.
     

          Content courtesy of our friends at TTNQ.

MANGO IS ON THE MENU IN CAIRNS!

Ahh, summer. The markets never look more colourful than through summer where weird and wonderful exotic fruits and your favourite tropical produce overflow fruit stalls.

Summer creates the ideal time for tropical fruit to produce so it’s when you’ll often find the cheapest and most diverse produce at market stalls. From the lesser-known, starfruit, soursop, durian, custard apple, black sapote, jaboticaba, rambutan, and mangosteen to your more common favourites of pawpaw, lychees and, of course, the summer icon, the sweet and humble summer classic, the mango.

If you’ve got mango on your mind, here are some places near Cairns to get your mango fix.

Mango beer: Sauce Brewing Co

Enjoy a range of summer fresh flavours at Sauce Brewing Co

The perfect refreshing hot day antidote awaits at Cairns’ newest brewery, Sauce Brewing Co. As well as their core range, you’ll find special batches of beer and seltzers on rotation, with the upcoming summer adding many fruity flavours into the mix. Pop in through summer and you may find the perfect combination of two summer favourites – mango and ice-cold beer – with their Mango Squeak or their Trubble & Squeak, a double mango IPA. These beers incorporate the subtle sweetness of mango, giving a twist on a classic drink that just works.

Mango Shaved Ice: Hayabusa Kuranda

Mango shaved ice

A summer favourite for many Aussies is the humble snow cone. Japanese cuisine puts a twist on the frozen treat with a summer staple called kakigori (shaved ice). In the colourful Original Rainforest Markets in Kuranda, you’ll find a small stall, manned by a Japanese husband and wife duo, called Hayabusa. Here they serve mango kakigori – a generous bowl of shaved ice drizzled with mango syrup, fresh chunks of mango and topped with a scoop of ice cream. It can be enough to share one between two, but with half of it being ice, who are we to judge? #eatup

A light breakfast: Nu Nu Restaurant

Spiced pineapple and coconut cream soaked muesli, Daintree vanilla, mango, seasonal fruits and toasted coconut

Hot breakfasts might be a firm favourite among many, but if you’re going to be swayed by anything, it’ll be Nu Nu’s muesli. With spiced pineapple and coconut cream soaked muesli, Daintree vanilla, mango, seasonal fruits and toasted coconut, it’s the perfect brekkie on a warm summer morning. Dessert for breakfast anyone?

Avo toast with a twist: Moku

Tropical Guacamole with mango and paw paw salsa

Speaking of breakfast, if you’re going to spend your house deposit on smashed avo for brekkie, it may as well be in style at MOKU, located at Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort. Rest assured, you’ll get bang for your buck with the Tropical Guacamole – a large serving of guacamole on sourdough topped with mango and paw paw salsa on sourdough with roasted tomato. Afterwards, pop down to Novotel’s beach pool for a dip and a refreshing drink. Summer never tasted so good.

Mango cheesecake: Ochre

mango and lime cheesecake with sunrise lime (gel and candied) and scorched mango

Ochre has long been a champion of sourcing locally, with any dish on their menu at least two-thirds from the region. With the abundant produce local growers yield through summer, at Ochre you can expect light dishes that hero local fruit including mango, Tropical North Queensland seafood and meats, and native flavours adding a fresh twist to their summer menu.
For your mango fix, sink your teeth into coconut prawns with mango kimchi and desert lime mayo for something savoury, or mango and lime cheesecake with sunrise lime (gel and candied) and scorched mango for the full mango experience

Mango & Bugtail Salad: Dundee’s

Chilled bugtail meat tossed through a light salad of mango, mixed salad leaves, chilli, cherry tomatoes and shaved coconut coated with lime mayo.

Warm days and balmy evenings call for something light and fresh like Dundee’s Mango & Bugtail salad. You’ll find this on the menu at both their waterfront location overlooking the Cairns Marlin Marina, or at the Cairns Aquarium complete with its own aquarium wall.

Fresh mangoes: Rusty’s Markets

Huge R2E2 mangoes at Rusty’s MarketsFind an abundance of mangoes here

If you can’t go past a fresh mango, Rusty’s Markets is your one-stop-shop for everything mango. Find every species of mango imaginable, little mangoes, big mangoes, green mangoes, pink mangoes and of course cheap mangoes – word on the street is you can nab them for a little as 99c a kilo at Rusty’s.

Mango smoothies: Kuranda Scenic Railway Teahouse

Get your mango smoothie fix while you ride the rails

Riding the rails of the Kuranda Scenic Railway might make you a little peckish. So while you’re in Kuranda, stop in at the Kuranda Railway Station Tearoom for a legendary mango smoothie or traditional Devonshire Tea. Here you’ll also be able to snack on a range of delicious cakes, scones and light meals.

Post by Jilara Kuch
TNQ Writer

WHAT’S BEHIND THE NAME OF OUR PROPERTY?

While Agincourt is a name originally made famous (or infamous depending on which side you were on) by a historic battle in Northern France between the French and the English in 1415 during the hundred-year war, there is a famous reef on the Great Barrier Reef named Agincourt Reef.

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