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Discover the Best of Cairns and Far North Queensland: A Travel Guide
Cairns and Far North Queensland offer a wealth of natural beauty, adventure, and culture for visitors to explore. From the stunning Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest to the vibrant indigenous culture, there’s something for everyone in this region. In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey to discover the best of Cairns and Far North Queensland, including top attractions, outdoor activities, and cultural experiences. This guide will help you make the most of your visit to this beautiful part of Australia. So pack your bags and let’s start exploring!
Cairns is located approximately, 1700 km north of Brisbane, in the north of QLD. Cairns is home to the AMAZING Great Barrier Reef and many incredible rainforests. Cairns has a very tropical-based weather system bringing fullness to waterfalls and hot humid weather. Travel guides say the best time to travel to Cairns is in the winter months (June to August) due to the temperatures being 17–26 degrees Celsius during this time. The closer you get to the wet season, the more temperamental the weather in this region can be. Things to do in Cairns include strolling along the Esplanade, where you can find a large saltwater lagoon where everyone relaxes and cools off on those hot days. Swimming in the ocean isn’t safe in a lot of these northern QLD locations, so please make sure you do your research before swimming, especially alone, as there are many crocodiles and dangerous wildlife. The more north you get, as well, the more dangerous it gets! Stay vigilant and never swim alone, at night or in any locations where swimming is prohibited. The Cairns Base Hospital is located close to town so you can work for HCA at the hospital and explore the area on your days off!
HEADING NORTH OF CAIRNS?
Palm Cove (25 km 25–30 mins away) + Ellis Beach (28 km / 30 mins)
As you drive up the coast from Cairns, you will come across some breathtaking views. Palm Cove and Ellis Beach are a short drive from Cairns, and they are home to some incredible beaches. The scenic drive is beautiful if you just want a getaway or a drive to clear your head, or you might find yourself grabbing a coffee and sitting by the beach to watch the world go by. Either way, these beaches are a MUST-see. Your jaw will actually drop as you drive past.
Port Douglas (66 km/ 1hr 5 mins away)
Port Douglas is one of the most beautiful locations in Australia. It has a relaxed, beachy vibe, but also plenty to see and do. It houses many nice shops, cafés and restaurants and beautiful beaches as well as resorts. If you are wanting a longer walk, you can walk along the beach, up and around the cliffs making your way to the markets where you can sit on the grass beneath the palm trees and enjoy the ocean views from there. If you are camping or just travelling through and can’t afford to stay in the resorts, top tip: head to the Sheraton Port Douglas for a massage. Yes, you pay the fee for the massage, but you ALSO get to use their facilities for the entire day as part of the package! Meaning a luxury pool, swim-up bar and just pure relaxation. The campsite I personally stayed in had a deal with the Sheraton with a significantly discounted pamper deal with camp site pick up and drop off! You don’t have to stay in a resort to feel luxurious, 😛 Plus it was a nice treat after weeks on the road.
Daintree and Cape Tribulation (140km/ 2hr 40 mins away)
If you keep heading north, you will come across the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. The ENTIRE landscape begins to change in front of your eyes as you venture into these locations. The vast blue oceans on the drive up transforms into rainforest canopies and an abundance of greenery. Keep your eyes out for Cassowaries on the road!! They will spring up on you and try to cross the road without a care in the world that you are there! To get to Cape Tribulation you need to get on a ferry, and they only take cash so don’t forget to pack some cash, make sure you look up the rates as if you are towing vehicles, you will be charged for 2 vehicles. The reception in Cape Tribulation is next to none so you will need to drive all the way to the top of the hill the receive any reception or make your way onto the beach for some service. This area has a VERY high crocodile population, so be aware when walking on the beach and NEVER walk into the water or bodies of water that may look safe, they most likely aren’t. However, you can make the most of this crazy croc population by going on a croc tour. I went on the Wilderness Cruises pictured above, which is visible on the main road entry into Cape Tribulation and very easy to book. It is run by a local who has been doing it for many years and his knowledge is huge! Whilst you are there, make sure to nestle yourself in the rainforest, find a cabin or an idyllic campsite, go to a restaurant in the rainforest and enjoy disconnecting from the world.
LET’S NOW HEAD SOUTH OF CAIRNS!
Kuranda (28km/35 mins away)
Kuranda is home to an amazing mountain retreat that is surrounded by rainforests. In Kuranda, you can ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or take a train past cascading waterfalls. You can also find yourself cruising along the river or hanging out to find koalas and wombats in their natural habitat. There are so many opportunities to explore the town of Kuranda from the ground or from the sky!
Behana Gorge (33 km / 35 mins away)
Heading off the main road onto Behana Gorge Rd, you will find yourself on the way to the Behana Gorge, a MUST-see when driving down to Cairns or up to Cairns. The walk to the gorge is approx. 45 mins with many, MANY hills as you go, so pack water and snacks (or even a picnic!). The walk is, however, very worth it for the view and swimming holes. When driving to the start location of the walk, you will find yourself on a long, straight road. If you peek into your rearview mirror, you will spot the AMAZING Walsh’s Pyramid that just takes over the sky. If you get there at a good time, the streets will be empty, and you can get some incredible photos of the pyramid. It is beyond beautiful. There is nothing quite like a GIANT pyramid to make you realise how small your problems really are and how much beauty the world has to offer. Take a deep breath… Be present, recharge your internal batteries, and acknowledge all the things you are grateful for.
Babinda Boulders (65 km/1hr away)
Babinda Boulders is another amazing location to visit and a safe swimming hole location. There is also a free (donation) campsite, called the Boulders Camp Area, which has free (donation-based) showers and facilities. This location is incredible but gets taken up pretty quickly so make sure you get in early (first in best dressed!) You can park your vehicle there to reserve a spot and walk down to the water hole and boulders pretty easily. Spend the arvo lazing in the beautifully calm and clear waters before heading back to camp for a shower and relaxation.
Mission Beach (139 km/ 1hr 50 mins)
If you keep driving south, you will come across Mission Beach. This beach is just gorgeous, there isn’t much more to say about it. The beaches in FNQ really are next level and you just don’t think they can get better, but they do every time! FNQ has SO many hot spots and so many more spots than highlighted in this blog. Head to tourism QLD websites and download WikiCamps to find out all the points of interest, and free campsites and create your own little travel map planner to remember where you have been, reminisce when it’s finished and help others when they asked for your favourite spots! WikiCamps also has reviews for all locations, sites, and interests from all the people who have been before you, so you can get inside intel about all the things on your list 😊
FINAL TOP TIPS:
- Don’t swim in areas you aren’t sure about or in any mysterious bodies of water (specific beaches discussed above are safe, but the more north you go it becomes very dangerous – RESEARCH and be vigilant)
- If it says don’t swim, DON’T!
- Take a lot of sunscreens and a hat… the sun is brutal
- Take Aeroguard or bug spray as due to the humidity there are a lot of mosquitos
- Always make sure you have access to water and snacks
- Embrace every landscape, every cascading waterfall and picturesque beach! It is not every day that you will witness views and have experiences like this
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