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Things to do in Tropical North Queensland: A Road Trip Guide

Tropical North Queensland is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Australia. It boasts towering waterfalls, ancient forests and of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

I spent 10 days road tripping through Tropical North Queensland, and it was an epic adventure!

This guide details all the attractions to include in your itinerary. If you have the time, I recommend visiting them all. But if you only have a few days, my highlights were the Great Barrier Reef (from Cairns), the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.

Where is Tropical North Queensland

Tropical North Queensland, also known as Far North Queensland, lies on the northeast coast of Australia. It’s known for its incredible scenery and natural attractions, as well as its hot and humid temperatures.

Where to start your adventure

Cairns is the gateway to Tropical North Queensland. The airport services daily flights from across Australia and it’s an ideal place to start your trip.

There are a lot of things to do in Cairns, but the main attraction is the Great Barrier Reef.

10 Things to add to your Tropical North Queensland road trip itinerary

Here are 10 things not to miss during your trip to North Queensland.

Dive (or snorkel) the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction. It’s the largest coral reef system in the world and is an underwater mecca with vibrant coral and active marine life.

I suggest doing a two- or three-day liveaboard trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which is what I did. There are so many incredible snorkelling spots and dive sites to explore, and you’ll welcome the extra days on the reef.

Alternatively, there are many day trips options to the reef from Cairns. Bear in mind that it takes 2 hours to get to the reef, so you’ll spend a lot of your day in transit.

Take note that if you’re visiting the Great Barrier Reef between November and May (known as ‘stinger season’), you’ll need to wear a stinger suit to protect yourself from the box jellyfish.

During my holiday in June, we had perfect visibility and diving conditions under the water, but it was very windy above. As a result, it was a rough boat trip from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re visiting during this time, I suggest taking sea sickness tablets with you.

Explore Cairns

Cairns is a great base for visiting the reef, but the town has other attractions worth visiting. These include:

  • Doing a day trip to Fitzroy Island
  • Visiting the Cairns Aquarium
  • Walking through the botanical gardens
  • Swimming in Cairns lagoon

After visiting Cairns, it’s time to head further north. I rented a campervan for this part of my trip. It was an amazing (and affordable) way to travel.

Take a dip at Mossman Gorge

As you head north of Cairns, you’ll reach the Daintree Rainforest – it’s the oldest rainforest in the world.

Mossman Gorge marks the start of the Daintree and is home to beautiful walking trails and swimming holes. There is a small fee to access Mossman Gorge and a shuttle will take you from the Visitor’s Center to the trail head.

You’ll need a half day to visit Mossman Gorge before making your way deeper into the Daintree.

Do a crocodile tour

In order to continue your journey north, you’ll need to cross the Daintree River. This involves driving your van onto a barge and paying a fee for the 5-minute trip.

This barge ride does not require advance bookings and the barge goes back and forth throughout the day.

Before accessing the barge, I recommend joining a crocodile viewing tour which starts at the same location. These 45-minute tours take you up the Daintree River on a boat where you’ll see crocodiles, birds, and other wildlife.

After the tour, hop back in your van and take the barge to the other side of the river.

Explore the Daintree

There are many walking trails in the Daintree. My favorite is the short walk to Emmagen Creek. At the end of the 15-minute trail, you’ll find a swimming hole which has a fun jumping off point. I suggest bringing a picnic lunch and spending some time here.

The other walks include Jindalba Boardwalk, Kulki Boardwalk and more. These are unique in their own right, with footpaths that are lined with ancient king ferns and towering trees.

Keep your eyes out for the elusive Cassowary. This large, flightless bird is only found in the Daintree Rainforest, and there aren’t many of them around.

Other attractions in the area include:

  • Visiting the Daintree Discovery Centre which has an interactive experience that the kids will love
  • Eating the best ice cream from Daintree Ice Cream Company
  • Taking a walk on Thornton Beach
  • Checking out Mount Alexandra Lookout

Drive to Cape Tribulation

Within the Daintree Rainforest lies Cape Tribulation. This is where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet: The Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

Cape Tribulation Camping is a great place to use as your base for exploring the Daintree. They have large sites where you can park your van as well as bathroom facilities.

From the campground, there’s direct access to the beach where you can have open fires. But don’t swim here as there are crocodiles in these waters!

After spending a few days exploring the Daintree and Cape Tribulation, I suggest driving back down in the direction you came from, this time stopping at the coastal town of Port Douglas.

Chill out in Port Douglas

Port Douglas is a popular holiday destination for many Australians. It has a laid-back vibe and boasts many incredible restaurants.

If you enjoy shopping, soaking up the sun and indulging in good food, then you can easily spend a few days here.

Trinity Bay Lookout offers a panoramic view of the town and is worthy of a visit.

Have breakfast at Palm Cove

As you make your way south from Port Douglas, you’ll reach the quaint town of Palm Cove. This is a beautiful area with palm trees lining the beach.

It’s a great place for a quick stop before you continue your journey.

Visit Kuranda Village

The town of Kuranda is a picturesque mountain village. It’s known for its vibrant culture and offers a unique blend of Indigenous heritage and wildlife attractions. The village itself features a vibrant market showcasing local arts, crafts, and delicious regional produce.

It’s also famous for the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, both of which offer spectacular views of the rainforest.

Find waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands

If you have more time on your itinerary, the Atherton Tablelands is a fantastic region to visit.

It lies southwest of Cairns and the picturesque landscape features lush rainforests, pristine lakes, and cascading waterfalls. These include Millaa Millaa Falls, Elinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls.

From here, you can either continue south with your road trip or head back to Cairns.

How many days to spend in Tropical North Queensland

At a minimum, you need 5 days. This is enough time to visit the main attractions in the area.

However, 7 to 10 days is ideal as it gives you more time to explore and connect with the region. There are so many hidden gems that you’ll only discover by travelling at a slower pace.

Best time to visit Tropical North Queensland

The winter months, from June to August, are the best months to plan your trip to North Queensland. This is the dry season and conditions are ideal for being outdoors and exploring. Despite it being winter, the temperatures in Tropical North Queensland are a lot higher than in other parts of the country.

If possible, avoid the rainy season from December to February. These summer months are synonymous with erratic weather and heavy rain which can impact your holiday.

I also recommend avoiding school holidays if possible. It gets extremely busy during this time and your experience will be very different from mine!

How to plan your trip to Tropical North Queensland

Renting a campervan is undoubtably the best way to explore this region. Most of the attractions require a drive to get to and public transport will only get you so far.

Accommodation costs are also on the rise and so you’ll save a lot by sleeping in your van. But remember to pre-book sites as they do get fully booked.

During my visit, I stayed at Cape Tribulation Camping, Big4 Port Douglas, and Tableland Caravan Park, all of which I recommend.

Is it worth it? My honest option

Yes! My trip to Far North Queensland is one of the best the best trips I’ve ever done. I was surprised in every way as it’s so different to other parts of Australia.

My top tip is to venture further than Cairns. While the town is the perfect base for visiting the Great Barrier Reef, you shouldn’t spend most of your time here. I was equally impressed with Cape Tribulation and the Daintree, both of which are a lot less crowded.

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