The best things to do in Tropical North Queensland, while traveling in Australia.
Queensland is called Australia’s “Sunshine State” with good reason.
This massive state covering the north-eastern section of Australia is known for its warm, welcoming climate and its lush natural beauty that attracts travelers from all over the world. For those seeking tropical weather and some of the planet’s oldest, most impressive nature, visit the far northern section of Queensland.
There are plenty of things to do up here in terms of adventure and sight-seeing, and I recommend a couple weeks to see it all.
I also recommend renting a car, as the prices are pretty affordable in Cairns and you can travel at your own pace. So here are ten amazing things to do while venturing up the northern coastline of Queensland.
1. Explore Cairns
The easiest way to access the far north of Queensland is to fly into Cairns. Plenty of budget airlines, like TigerAir and JetStar, offer cheap flights from most of Australia’s major cities into here. Cairns is small, so 1-2 days is plenty to explore everything.
Definitely stop by Rusty’s Fruit Market, open on weekends from 5am – 3pm. Here you can find super cheap produce as well as little stalls serving fresh meals.
To escape the heat, venture to the Lagoon, a giant public pool located right next to the ocean.
Lastly, if you love to party, check out Gilligans Hostel, PJs Pub, or the Woolshed at night. Plenty of hostels also offer pub crawls, which can be super fun.
2. Drive Along The Captain Cook Highway
After a day in Cairns, start heading north along the Captain Cook Highway. This scenic road runs along the coastline, so you can enjoy some gorgeous views of the turquoise ocean and towering mountains while driving north.
Be sure to stop at the Rex Lookout for a great photo opportunity.
3. Visit Kuranda
For a unique cultural stop, take a slight detour from the Captain Cook Highway and head west into Kuranda. This little village nestled in the hills is a 30 minute drive northwest from Cairns and makes for a lovely day trip.
The center of town is full of cute cafes and markets selling souvenirs, clothes, and traditional aboriginal goods. The aboriginal community is very vibrant here, and they often hold festivals and concerts as well.
After exploring the town, visit the beautiful local waterfall known as Barron Falls.
4. Beach-Hop Along The Coast
Picturesque beaches are sprawled all over the coastline as you head north from Cairns. If you’re a true beach lover, stop at all of them, including Trinity Beach, Clifton Beach, and Ellis Beach.
All have soft white sand and stunning scenery, and some even have small rectangular nets allowing you to swim in the ocean (anywhere without a net might have crocodiles or jellyfish in the water so do NOT swim unless allowed).
Pebbly Beach is another nice stop, where soft, colorful pebbles replace the sand.
5. Wander Through Palm Cove
This small town is a great pit stop from your road trip.
With trendy shops, many cafes and restaurants, a nice beach, and a pier that provides a great view of the landscape, Palm Cove is a lovely place to have lunch and relax while traveling.
There are also plenty of tourism offices that make it easy for you to plan other adventures.
6. See The Great Barrier Reef
No visit to far north Queensland is complete without seeing the Great Barrier Reef. This world-famous site is easily accessible from most towns along the northern coastline, and there are plenty of tour companies to choose from.
Here is a highly-rated and relatively cheap Great Barrier Reef tour offered by Get Your Guide. This tour has over 600 good reviews and costs only $123 USD, which is way cheaper than lots of other Great Barrier Reef Tours.
If you plan on spending time in Cape Tribulation (#8 on this list), then I recommend visiting the Great Barrier Reef from there using the amazing tour company, Ocean Safari. There are far fewer crowds up here so the reef has suffered less damage and pollution.
Spending a bit of money is definitely worth it for a full day snorkeling in the reef, as you will get to see incredible wildlife and unique coral formations that you’ll remember forever. On a sunny day, the water gleams a deep blue and the underwater environment comes to life.
Climate change is slowly damaging the planet and the Great Barrier Reef is suffering. Choose a tour company that cares about preserving the reef as well as showing it to tourists and making money.
Be respectful when underwater and don’t touch anything, as the reef is very fragile. But definitely dedicate an entire day to the Great Barrier Reef, as it is a very special part of the planet.
7. Relax In Port Douglas
Not only is Port Douglas a great gateway for seeing the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a humble little town with vibrant energy. The main street is full of nice places to eat and shop, and there is a grassy headland which is perfect for watching the sunset.
If you plan on staying overnight, Port Douglas Backpackers is a great hostel for chilling by the pool and meeting other travelers.
8. Visit Cape Tribulation
This isolated corner of tropical north Queensland is the perfect place to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature. To reach this tiny village, you have to drive 3 hours north from Cairns and cross the Daintree River by ferry.
Once you’ve crossed the ferry be on the lookout for cassowaries, as these giant exotic birds love to wander across the road. The thick wilderness that thrives here is known as the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world.
If you don’t have a car and you only have one day to spend in the Daintree, you can book a day trip that covers your transportation and takes you to all the best sites.
While in the area, explore the mangroves and palm forests along the Dubuji Boardwalk. Afterwards, walk across the stunning Myall Beach, and at low tide, you can even cross straight through to Cape Tribulation Beach after a short hike through the woods.
There is only expensive government satellite wifi here, and only phone service at one specific spot on the beach, so the connection to civilization is very limited. But the experience to live in tune with the powerful nature here is worth the temporary isolation.
9. Taste Local Tropical Fruits
Cape Trib Farm grows many delicious tropical fruits that you cant find in many other places.
Try rambutans, whose name in Indonesian means “hairy”. These little pink fruits with soft spikes taste similar to a lychee and are fun to eat.
Also try mangosteens and durians, which are local favorites. You can find these fruits in other areas, but they are incredibly fresh and affordable here.
10. Swim In Emmagen Creek
Since you can’t swim in the ocean during the summer months, finding freshwater creeks is essential up north. The crystal clear water at Emmagen Creek is jellyfish and crocodile free, so you can fling yourself off of the rope swing and into the water with ease.
To travel further north past Emmagen Creek, you need a four-wheel drive as the road is no longer paved. So this makes a good spot to end the road trip, turn around and head back to Cairns.
On the way back be sure to stop at the peaceful Emmagen Beach for a beautiful sunset that you will most likely have all to yourself.
To read about my experience living and working in Tropical North Queensland, check out Living In Cape Tribulation.
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