Tour the coast on a North Queensland road trip. A jam-packed itinerary with Queensland’s dream it, do it list of attractions will make you want to plan for more! From Townsville, The Great Green Way, Cassowary Coast, Cairns and the scenic Captain Cook Highway to the Daintree. Discover World Heritage National Parks and The Great Barrier Reef. Camp on your very own island, stop off at waterfalls and spot unique wildlife found nowhere else in the world. There’s also good news for foodies. From a tropical culinary scene with fine dining to local food markets, boutique wineries, distilleries and craft breweries.
For nature and wildlife lovers, there’s nothing like Magnetic Island. Deserted beaches, secret bays, walking tracks, wildlife and the reef. All of this is a short ferry ride from Townsville. With the main bays of Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay, Arcadia, Horseshoe Bay and 19 other bays and beaches to explore there’s heaps to do and see. There’s an assortment of accommodation and a choice of local cafés, restaurants and pubs. Our favourite Man Friday serves the most amazing vegetarian Mexican with unique outdoor dining joined by the local wildlife including curlews and cute brushtail possums.
The island is home to a colony of koalas. You have a chance of spotting them in their natural habitat due to the landscape. A highlight for us was spotting a mum and baby low down in the tree on the Forts walk. For a guaranteed sighting visit Bungalow Bay Koala Village where you can cuddle a koala over a champagne breakfast. At Geoffrey and Nelly Bay, you can see the cute rock wallabies that live around the granite boulders. There are many natural wonders to keep you busy and there are activities such as horse-riding, sunset cruises on sailing yachts and the more adventurous can go diving, hire jet skis and kayaks. Take your own car over on the ferry or hire a car there. You can hire bicycles which is a great way of getting around and the bus service is reliable and constant.
Known for Magnetic Island and Billabong Sanctuary there is more to Townsville and it’s worth spending time here. With its sunshine and perfect weather Townsville is the gateway to natural attractions – rainforest, reef, parks, islands and the outback. The city has an emerging café and coffee culture, museums, galleries and markets. Don’t miss a walk through the Botanical Gardens with its lush tropical greenery and iconic Castle Hill for stunning views of the city. With views across to Magnetic Island, the Strand is a popular spot where you can swim safely in the Rockpool on the edge of the sea.
Our favourites around Townsville
Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary With wildlife experiences, education programs and shows, it’s a great place to spend the day with family, bring your own food or eat at the Blinky Bill Café. The entry fee allows you to use the BBQS and the swimming pool. Celebrate a birthday here and book a WILD function which includes special wildlife interactions and face painting for children. Volunteer opportunities to work with the wildlife offer a great opportunity.
Dive the historic SS Yongala Shipwreck The 100-year-old wreck is one of the best dive sites in the world. Over the years it has become an ecosystem and habitat for many marine creatures such as clownfish, eels, rays, sea snakes, sharks and turtles.
Town Common Conservation Park Close to the city with walking tracks, birds and wildlife. Brolgas, Jabirus, Rainbow bee-eaters and Agile wallabies are some of what you can see here during the right season.
Paluma Range National Park A World Heritage site with rainforest, crystal clear swimming holes, camping and accommodation like Hidden Valley Cabins. Some of the region’s endangered and unique birds and wildlife live here. There’s platypus in Running River, Victoria’s riflebirds and Orange-thighed tree frogs to name a few. Witness some of nature’s amazing moments at the right time. The male Victoria’s riflebird performs a spectacular mating dance and the juvenile males practice with each other during the breeding season. The Orange-thighed tree frogs live high up in the tree canopies of the rainforest and only leave once a year to mate during the breeding season. At the first rains of the season hundreds of them descend looking for a mate.
Jourama Falls Also in Paluma Range National Park but on the left side of Townsville. Beautiful rock pools and cascading waterfalls are set amongst rainforests with campsites close by.
Alligator Creek The perfect place for a swim, picnic and a choice of short and more challenging walks. If you’re feeling adventurous camp on the hike in-site near the Alligator Falls. The hike is 8 km along the Alligator Falls track and you need to be self-sufficient. Adorable wallabies may join you at the campsite.
Frosty Mango A North Queensland road trip is not complete without a stop here for a refreshing tropical fruit ice cream. With flavours like chocolate sapote fruit, mango, macadamia, pineapple and passionfruit it’s a hard choice!
Hinchinbrook Island is the largest island in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Wild and isolated with rugged mountain peaks, cliffs, beaches, swampy mangroves, lagoons, freshwater swimming holes and waterfalls. Though it’s in the Great Barrier Reef no reef surrounds it. Crocodiles thrive in the waters here so no swimming in the ocean. Most people visit the island to trek the Thorsborne Trail; a moderate 32 km hike that generally takes four days. You can do the trail independently or with a tour. Hikers need to be self-sufficient with all supplies; food, water, a tent and a first aid kit. If the trial is not for you another option is to base yourself at Zoe Bay to experience the most beautiful part of the island. Secluded camping areas give you a great place to explore. We camped here for two nights under twinkling stars and a day that began with a violet and gold sunrise from the infinity pool above, a swim in the crystal-clear Zoe Falls and finishing with a dusty orange sunset in front of our camp.
- Though uninhabited and only 40 permits allowed on the island at one time, it won’t feel like a wilderness when everyone stays at the same campsite. The island attracts fishermen and locals on the weekend. If possible, visit through the week or out of school holidays. EPA rangers often do maintenance and permit checks, so make sure you have all your permits.
- The best time to visit is April to September. Outside of these months it’s humid, hot and a chance of rainy season. Closer to April the waterfalls still run with plenty of water. Keep an eye on the weather the week leading up to your stay.
- Remember the insect repellent as lots of sandflies!
- If you plan to trek, stay an extra day at Zoe Bay. Due to time limits, some trekkers arrive at Zoe Bay in the dark and depart the next morning in the dark, with not much time to enjoy Zoe Falls and the infinity pools.
- When booking a campsite online it’s not for a specific site. On arrival you claim an available spot. From the main Zoe Bay camping area head out to the beach and turn left, there are several secluded camping sites hidden away, some with tables. On the trail to Zoe Falls there’s more spots tucked away off the path.
- Transfers to Hinchinbrook generally cater for hikers and go to Ramsay Bay or George Point.
- Zoe Bay requires more planning. The trip is open ocean and reliant on the tide.
- You can negotiate with one of the commercial operators or the best option for Zoe Bay is to arrange with a fisherman from Lucinda for transfers.
- You can also do a seven-day Hinchinbrook Island expedition with Coral Sea Kayaking. It’s one of the best kayak adventures in the world.
TYTO wetlands is a 100-hectare rehabilitated nature reserve near Ingham. Over the seasons more than 200 species of birds flock here. Jacanas, Magpie geese, Whistling ducks, Red-backed fairywrens, Crimson finches and kingfishers to name a few. The area has 5 km of walkways with interpretive signs to help spot the birdlife. The walking tracks integrate lagoons filled with purple lilies, bridges, viewing platforms, an observation tower for a bird’s eye view and grazing Agile wallabies.
The Park is named after the elusive Grass owl, the only Australian owl that builds their nest on the ground under long grass. Sometimes they nest here. The owl was on our wish list, but our visit didn’t coincide with the best chance of spotting it. However, an Olive sunbird swooping down to the water collecting insects to feed his two fluffy chicks and a chick learning to fly made up for it. The Information Centre is helpful and gives updated reports on recent bird sightings and maps of the area. Keep in mind not to have too high expectations as with all nature what you see depends on the season, rainfall, migration patterns and luck.
Australia’s highest single-drop waterfall is a sight to behold as it nosedives into the gorge below, shrouding it in mist with its mighty force. Wallaman Falls in Girringun National Park makes the steep and winding road trip from the town of Ingham worth it. The Wet Tropics World Heritage area has some of the oldest rainforest in the world, deep valleys, mountain peaks, ancient volcanoes, and wildlife. The uninterrupted view of the falls from the lookout at the carpark makes it the best perspective. You can also do the 3.2 km return trek down to the base of the falls that takes you through some of the park’s rugged scenery, eucalyptus woodlands and rainforest.
The walk is slippery, steep and down in the gorge it’s humid and hot so wear shoes and take water. The view of the falls appears at the end of a fenced platform and you see up close the powerful falls pounding into the pool. After exploring the falls sit around the fire at your campsite. Due to the altitude it’s cooler than the coast with chilly nights. Only 200 metres from the fall’s lookout, the spaced-out sites have their own fire pits and picnic tables. With the amenities, fresh water, BBQs, access to walks, swimming holes and a chance to see some wildlife it’s a great place to camp. Camping allows an early morning trip back to the falls or trek to the base to have it to yourself.
Cardwell Spa Pools
The Cardwell Forest Drive takes you to the Spa Pools, Attie Creek, Dead Horse Creek and lookouts with great views of Hinchinbrook Island and the channel. Most people come here to see the Spa Pools. Framed by lime green forest, the turquoise creek with a swirling natural spa is made famous by Instagram. It’s worth seeing the other creeks especially after rain. A long waterfall spills over rock into a deep calm pool at Attie Creek and you can wander up Dead Horse Creek and find your own private swimming spot. Do the complete 26 km loop. Take lunch as the creeks have picnic tables and wooden BBQs. The road is unsealed but OK for regular vehicles with care. The seasonal creeks do not exist during the dry season, usually September to December. Call the Cardwell’s Visitor Centre on 0740662412 for an update on water levels before visiting.
Tully Gorge National Park offers camping, hiking, swimming, rainforest, rapids, gorges, and deep ravines. Access to different parts of the park is via two locations and you can’t drive all the way through from either side which are 100 km apart. From the Atherton Tablelands take in the scenery of the gorge and hike the Misty Mountains. From Tully, you can access the gorge itself, the camps, walks and swimming holes such as Alligators Nest (about 20 minutes from the highway), a rainforest green pool with a sandy bottom beside amenities, BBQs and picnic tables. Bring plenty of insect repellent as there’s lots of sandflies. Ponytail Falls is off the touristy trail and worth seeing if you’re in the area. Heavy rainfall creates two falls that tumble over moss-covered rock into the river. From Tully Gorge campsite travel about 15 km until you see a white No 11 on the road. From here you will see a path from the side of the road into the rainforest that leads to the falls. Crocodiles inhabit the river at the campsite so best just to take in the views! It’s 50 kms from the highway and due to no swimming, it’s a long way to go. However, the campsite is a nice place to pull up for a couple of days with the amenities, fire BBQs and walking tracks. For adrenaline junkies the Tully River is considered to be one of the best rafting rivers in Australia.
Cassowary Coast Waterfalls
Josephine Falls In the shadow of Mt Bartle Frere, a sequence of waterfalls splash into cool green pools. The return 1.2 km walk through pristine rainforest leads to the large pool where you can swim and slide down the natural rock waterslide. From here the track takes you to the lookouts of the other waterfalls where you can’t swim. Though it looks inviting, it’s not safe. At times the main pool is closed due to unpredictable conditions due to flash flooding so pay attention to the signs. Unless you go early in the morning the falls are usually like a busy city pool during peak season. You can go downstream to find your own little private spot if the crowds get too much.
Babinda Boulders Renowned for the legendry and haunting story from the local Yidinji people about a beautiful woman. Oolana fell to her death in the water when she lost her true love. To this day her spirit remains as she calls for her lover to return. Wandering travellers need to take care as Oolana may call them too close to her beautiful and treacherous waters. According to the Aboriginal legend it explains why so many lives have been lost here. Swimming in the Devil’s Pool is forbidden due to 17 lives lost from being dragged downstream and flash flooding. A short return walk about 1.3 km from the carpark takes you to the platform where you get overall views of the Devil’s Pool. Down below near the car park you can safely swim in the pretty lagoon-style pool scattered with huge boulders. The busy area is a park-like setting with amenities and camping is available not far from the main swimming lagoon.
Babinda Boulders is also the starting point for the Goldfield Trail
Behana Gorge A moderate 3.5 km walk through Eucalyptus Forest takes you past pools, natural spas, and great views until you get to Clamshell Falls. The cascading waterfall flows into a bottomless cool abys and runs most of the year. This is one of the most beautiful places on the North Queensland road trip. Due to the hike up, you most likely will have this to yourself apart from locals that use the track for walking and jogging. Be adventurous and walk up late in the afternoon and have it to yourself. Swim under the falls as the sun sets. It’s magical. Part of the adventure is the spooky walk back in the dark. Remember to take a torch! Use caution during the wet season and after rain. The water can flow and rise quickly so always use judgement before swimming.
Mission Beach is a stretch of coast with palm-fringed beaches hugged by rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s laid back but has its share of accommodation, cafes and restaurants. Though the best of the reef is further north you can avoid the crowds here. It’s a centre for trips to Dunk Island, other surrounding islands and home to Charleys Chocolate Factory and close to Paronella Park.
Populations of the endangered cassowary live here and sometimes wonder the beaches and rainforests. If you’re into walking you will love the Dreaming Trail and the Kennedy Track that takes you on 8 km trails of beaches, oceans, rainforest and stunning views of the islands. For a good chance of spotting a cassowary take the small walk through the high canopy of palms on the Licuala walk. The fallen orange fruit from the licuala is one of their favourite foods. After the walk cool down with a splash in the ocean (enclosed net) or one of the fresh rainforest creeks.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds, relax on the beach and tropical sunrises Kurrimine Beach is the place for you. It’s the perfect base when camping on the islands such as Kent Island which is only a 20-minute boat road away. The hidden village sits on a coconut palm edged beach that looks out to the tropical islands. There’s a seasonal stinging net for salty morning dips in summer. At low tide you can walk out and explore the reefs and rock pools. You may catch sight of dolphins, manta rays and turtles. Like other beaches in North Queensland there’s a chance of crocodiles so always pay attention to the signs and check with locals if not sure. The village has a variety of accommodations, a convenience store, café, pub, restaurant, ice creamery and a local winery! Murdering Point Winery is locally owned and operated where master blenders craft award-winning wines, creamy liqueurs and wicked ports. It’s a hard choice between Davidson plum, lychee, mulberry, pineapple or passionfruit. The banana cream, choc mint cream and mocha cream liqueurs are heavenly.
Camping on your own deserted island will tempt you to this part of the Cassowary Coast. Several tropical islands have campsites and some like Coombe and Kent you can book exclusively for yourself. Spend the days exploring the nearby islands or just relax with a good book. Finish with sundowners on the sand dunes watching the sun set over the aquamarine sea with nothing but the sound of the waves and sea eagles soaring above.
- The one and only campsite at Coombe Island guarantees you have it to yourself.
- Kent Island is considered the nicest of the two. You need to book all three campsites to have it to yourself. Due to the lighthouse the island belongs to the Commonwealth and no fees apply for camping.
- You need to bring everything including a shovel for toilet use and take all rubbish back with you.
- The only amenities are picnic tables and pegs to hang a tarp.
- Kent Island is a 20-minute boat transfer from Kurrimine Beach.
- Mobile service works on Kent.
- The best time to camp is in winter due to no stingers and the scorching hot summer.
- Skip weekends and school holidays to avoid the day visitors and fishermen.
- If staying for one night only, a boat transfer from Kurrimine Beach suits.
- Hire a boat if staying for more than one night as you can explore the nearby islands during the day. Due to the closeness, Kent is easy to get to. Michael from Kurrimine Beach Boat Hire puts the boat in the water, gives you directions and instructions and you’re on your way! For your safety during rough weather, boats are not hired out.
A highlight of a Queensland road trip is spotting unique wildlife such as the endangered cassowary. One of the best places to spot them is Etty Bay and you may see them walk across the white sandy beach. Due to most of the land in the area being cleared for farming they need to walk along the beach to get to small pockets of remaining rainforest. In the early morning, we watch one walk along the tideline and another one with his stripey chick. How cute! When arriving we had to slow down for a cassowary crossing the road, so drive slowly and keep your eye out.
Here they aren’t shy of humans and may join and take over a picnic. Though they have notoriety for aggressive behaviour they tend to go about their own business if left alone. Don’t approach or feed them. Dad is protective of his chicks so never get between them.
The picturesque bay has a caravan park with simple cabins, camping and a kiosk with basic groceries, ice-creams and takeaways. The sheltered calm beach, stinger net and local lifesavers make it safe for swimming in summer. Toilet facilities, shady trees, picnic tables and BBQs make this popular with locals on weekends and during peak season so book in advance.
Cairns has a vast range of accommodation, cafes, restaurants, pubs and so much to do. It’s a great base for trips to the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree and Great Barrier Reef. If staying in self-contained accommodation and doing your own cooking, shopping for fresh local fruit and vegetables at the iconic Rusty’s Market won’t disappoint either.
Beat the humidity and start the day with a fresh tropical juice with sweet local pineapples or an ice-cold smoothie with home-grown mangoes. Pair this with a house-made granola with roasted coconut, berries and nutty granola with nuts and macadamias from the Atherton Tablelands. Or how about a pancake stack with grilled bananas, plump-red strawberries and mascarpone, drizzled in maple syrup. Yummy!
Relax and dine with a choice of multicultural offerings and taste sensations. Asian, Balinese, Italian, Greek and Indian cuisine to name a few. Quench your thirst with craft beer from a local brewery. You can go on a Brewery tour and try all the different brews.
After a meal take a stroll through the Night Markets and finish off with some artisan gelato or sorbet. Whether casual dining while looking out to the esplanade, drinking cocktails from a rooftop, enjoying a burger washed down with a craft beer, you will get into the laid-back and relaxed atmosphere of the tropics.
Our favourite cafes in Cairns
- Bombay Kitchen
- Waffle On
- Cairns Burger Café
- Two Blocks Cafe
The Great Barrier Reef
Explore the underwater kingdom of the most biodiverse marine environment on the planet. Go on a colourful journey of coral gardens. Have your own Finding Nemo experience. Swim with friendly Potato cod, turtles, parrot fish every colour of the rainbow and maybe a Minke whale too! There are many trips to the World Heritage sites to choose from. Local operators offer introductory dives, beginner and refresher courses for those who haven’t dived for a while. Whether snorkeling, diving, novice, newly qualified, or experienced there’s a trip for everyone. Liveaboards are a great way to dive the best and remote sites of the reef where you escape from the day trippers and not see another boat. You will spend a few days diving at world-class dive sites, eating gourmet food in the company of an awesome crew. If you prefer returning to dry land, accommodation, restaurants and nightlife there’s no shortage of day trips.
Our favourite Dive Operators
- Spirit of Freedom Liveaboard
- Mike Ball Liveaboard
- Frankland Island Reef cruises – Best snorkel day trip
- Divers’ Den – Day trips and Liveaboard
- ABC Snorkel Charters – Port Douglas
A main street full of accommodation, bars and restaurants make it a stopover oasis while tripping out to the Great Barrier Reef or Daintree. After your day chill out with food, boutique beers and wine. Sip sun-kissed cocktails or jugs of Caribbean Mojito enjoyed with homemade dips and toasted Turkish bread. Watch the sunset at Four Mile Beach or on a sunset cruise with sparkly champagne, icy beers and tasty canapes.
For dinner, we opted for The Mexican. Oregano crumbed stuffed jalapenos with mango ketchup followed by zesty vegetarian nachos with gangster sauce and sizzling vegetable fajitas. This mouth-watering spicy bliss is finished with margaritas, orange punch and a jug of sangria. Divine! If wanting to eat out in Port Douglas always check in advance. Most places require booking and not all are restaurants open seven days a week, especially during off-peak times. A major attraction is the Wildlife Habitat. An award-winning eco wildlife sanctuary dedicated to conservation and rehabilitation of native wildlife. Handfeed kangaroos and wallabies and go on a starlight walk at night and see the nocturnal wildlife in their natural habitat. The sanctuary offers special and unique tours including your own private tour where you go behind the scenes and meet the rescued and injured wildlife. Breakfast with the birds and lunch with lorikeets in the Curlew Café is not to be missed for bird lovers. For the adventurous you can swim with the crocodiles in the new CrocArena.
Our favourites in Port Douglas
- ABC Snorkel Charters is unique and has exclusive trips out to the reef with only 12 people which makes for a personal and intimate experience.
- Silversonic departs from Port Douglas. Though it’s a large boat with crowds, it visits three different Agin Court Reef sites and spends five hours in the water.
- Port Douglas Motel is a little gem for accommodation. It’s value for money, quaint and only a minute’s walk to Macrosson Street.
The traditional home of the Kuku Yalanji people is the oldest rainforest in the world. Rugged and untouched as it was millions of years ago. Go on a day trip or stay a few days off-grid in your own patch of rainforest. Explore tropical beaches bejeweled with heritage rainforests. The fascination that the oldest animal on the planet could be watching you from the blue sea makes it exciting and wild.
Cruise the mighty Daintree and see this prehistoric crocodile up close in its natural environment. Spot some of the 430 species of birds found here. Hiking is a true wilderness experience with a chance to encounter a cassowary, tree kangaroos, giant tree frogs and other unique wildlife. Explore creeks, waterfalls, rivers, rainforests, and beaches. Immerse yourself in the culture and Dreamtime stories of the traditional owners of the land that have a history from 50000 years ago.
Taste the tropical sensations of the Daintree on a Fruit Tasting Tour, restaurants with onsite vegetable gardens and homemade fruity ice cream from rainforest fruits. Adopt an endangered orphan baby Flying-fox to help cover the cost of their care. Donate or get involved with tree planting and rainforest revegetation projects that expand the habitat and food recources for wildlife. Visit the Great Barrier Reef from here and explore the pristine reef of the Daintree coast with turtles, reef sharks, rays, corals and other marine life.
Our favourites in The Daintree
- Solar Whisper – Daintree River Wildlife and River Cruise
- Daintree Cascades – Secluded holiday houses located in the heart of the Daintree