Travel Tips / Explore Australia’s Tropical North
From green tablelands to the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, welcome to tropical Australia in North East Queensland.
Here, you will find awe-inspiring landscapes with mountains covered with lush jungles and turquoise blue coastlines bordered by magnificent reefs, beaches and coconut groves. That’s for sure a contrast with the Australian bush and the kangaroos!
This very diverse region offers a world of discovery for lovers of Nature, flora, fauna, cultural activities and various sports… There is something for everyone there, so follow the guide!
Where is Tropical North?
We are in the state of Queensland, which 1,853 million sqm represent about a fifth of the whole Australian continent. However, let’s focus on its northeastern tip, stretching from Mission Beach to Cape York.
Its climate offers a dry, hot and sunny season from November to April, and a wet season with frequent heavy rains and constant humidity from December to March. The latter does not prevent travelling but will limit swimming because of the dangerous crocodiles and jellyfish present on the coast during these months.
Its largest coastal city, Cairns, is often referred to as the gateway to the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It was founded in 1876 by the governor of Queensland, William Wellington Cairns, and was used at the time as an economic centre for gold diggers. Today, it is home to around 160,000 inhabitants, and to visit Cairns is to experience the charm of a medium-sized city, with its regional calm, but also its awakening in the dry season thanks to tourism.
There, we invite you to enjoy its esplanade along the seaside and mangroves, to relax in its public artificial lagoon with an ocean view, and to discover the aboriginal culture of the natives of the region through cultural experiences. Indeed, the opportunities to learn more about the Aboriginal culture of the region are numerous from Cairns to Cape York, going through the Atherton Tablelands, Kuranda, Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge, the Daintree rainforest and Cooktown. Contact us to know more about the experiences on offer.
An hour’s drive to the north, on a magnificent winding road between beaches and tropical forest, we invite you to stop in Palm Cove and Port Douglas for a few hours or a few days. These two charming little coastal towns offer long beaches, numerous resorts, shops and restaurants. But without lingering further in town, let’s head to Nature!
Ancient tropical forests
Daintree, THE oldest rainforest in the world
Inestimable treasure of biodiversity, classified as a World Heritage UNESCO site, Daintree National Park is located on the coastline that rises from Mossman to Cape Tribulation. It offers access to some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia (Emmagen beach, Coconut beach, Noah beach …), a three hours drive from Cairns. Access to this area is facilitated by very good roads and a cable ferry crossing of the Daintree River (5 minutes tops!).
There is so much to see that we strongly recommend spending at least one night in the forest! This will allow you to:
- Stroll around thousand-year-old trees on the different walking trails: Dubuji, Kulki, Jindalba and Marrdja.
- Feel alone in the world while walking on the long deserted beaches fringed by coconut palm-trees.
- Discover the untouched Great Barrier Reef located off the Daintree Coast from Cape Tribulation. After a 25 minutes boat ride, you will be able to admire the underwater fauna and flora with a snorkel. There, you will marvel at the abundance of colourful fish and corals and have the opportunity to swim with sea turtles.
- Swim in hidden creeks nestled in the heart of the rainforest.
- Hop on a Daintree river cruise to observe the resident crocodiles as well as numerous other species of birds, snakes and frogs, to mention a few.
- Listen to the forest’s nightlife: once the sun sets, it becomes the playground of many nocturnal animals and we strongly recommend you go on a guided walk with an experienced guide to show you around.
We can offer you many accommodation options from campsites to ecolodges to feel truly immersed in this out of time environment.
Located just 15 minutes from Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge offers a nice short hike (2.5 km) with swimming in the river in the middle of the forest. There we recommend the guided walk with a knowledgeable indigenous guide who will explain the traditional use of plants, identify bush food sources, and provide an enchanting tale of the rainforest and the local Aboriginal people’s special relationship to this unique tropical environment. Get familiar with ancestral traditions such as the making of bush soaps, ochre painting or the purificating smoking ceremony ceremony.
Other 100% Aboriginal owned and operated guided walks exist in the area if you want to go further in cultural discovery while exploring the most beautiful corners of Daintree National Park. Keep in mind that in this very wild region of Australia, the walks are mostly short and accessible to all.
Kuranda: the rainforest village nestled in the mountain
Just 27 from Cairns, Kuranda is nestled in the heart of the rainforest, at an altitude of about 330m. This picturesque village, popular with the hippie crowd in the 1960s and ’70s, is your perfect day trip. You will find there 2 outdoor markets (the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets open Thursday to Monday and the Heritage Markets open Thursday to Sunday), numerous cafes and restaurants, as well as several wildlife sanctuaries (butterflies, koalas, birds, etc.).
You can drive directly there but we recommend you to travel from Cairns aboard an exceptional train that transports you above the rainforest, between gorges and waterfalls, offering you breathtaking views and sensations! Between the smells and the sounds of the forest, through lush vegetation, on the mountainside… we offer you a timeless experience!
To complete the experience, we suggest you go higher and admire these spectacular landscapes aboard the Skyrail cable car. It travels 7.5 km above the rainforest and offers two stops with short accessible walks to take in the scenery, and especially the impressive Barron Falls, an absolute must see!
Contact us to make the most of your day trip in Kuranda!
Loca fauna and flora
The flora of Tropical North Queensland is extraordinary because it is extremely well preserved! You can find there the greatest concentration of primitive plants with species representing each stage of evolution throughout History; Banyan trees, giant ferns, primitive fig trees, tree lianas, wild orchids… Another world!
As for the local fauna, where to start?
Perhaps with the famous cassowary, a bird of 1.50 meters in height on average, endemic to this region of the world. You won’t see it for sure but it often crosses the roads near Mission Beach and Cape Tribulation. If you meet him, keep your distance to admire him serenely, because he is known to be quite fierce.
Speaking of exotic species, we can also mention the crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, marsupials (opossum, tree kangaroo…), bats, platypuses, birds, dingoes… which inhabit the jungle. There, you will encounter insects and invertebrates like nowhere else, spiders of all kinds, golden beetles and multicoloured butterflies including the famous electric blue Ulysses that will for sure interrupt any conversation so you can admire it for a few seconds. And if you love butterflies like we do, we recommend the Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda, 30 minutes drive from Cairns.
The Jewel of the Pacific ocean: THE Great Barrier Reef
Diving or snorkelling
No need to dive 20,000 leagues under the sea, simply hop on a boat departing from Mission Beach, Cairns, Port Douglas or Cape Tribulation to discover a world of underwater wonders!
There are numerous cruises on offer to go for half a day, a full day or even several days for a liveaboard experience. They will take you to snorkel and/or dive on the most beautiful local reefs, Milln, Flynn, Hastings, Saxon, Norman, Thetford… One of those cruises even includes a familiarisation with the local Aboriginal culture (dance, music, stories…) as well as the discovery of the local marine environment.
Trip to an island
Many islands are accessible, under one hour of cruise for most of them, from Mission Beach, Cairns or Port Douglas: Fitzroy, Green, Low Isles, Barnard, Snapper, Frankland, Lizard, Bedarra, Dunk… you are spoilt for choice!
There, secluded beaches and a seabed teeming with life await, where you can snorkel, dive, kayak or paddle. You can even go for a picnic on a deserted sand cay just for yourself!
Depending on the island, you can visit them for a half or a full day trip or for an overnight stay. Some islands offer an all inclusive resort experience or you can choose to be a Robinson Crusoe and camp on the sand. For more info on the Great Barrier Reef, read our article.
Explore from the sky
There are several ways to admire the Great Barrier Reef from the sky: plane, helicopter or even a skydive to combine scenic beauty and thrill! Yes, a skydive is a common bucket list item for our travellers. If this is your case, we have many options to recommend! For example, jumping above Mission Beach offers stunning sights over the lush coastline, its long beach and the surrounding reefs.
For less of an adrenalin rush but as much of a “Wow!!” effect, choose a scenic flight in a fixed-wing aircraft or a helicopter, a truly unique and unforgettable experience. Here, we can also advise on the best option for you, whether you want to do a short or longer experience, including a landing on a sand cay for a picnic or on a bigger island for an overnight stay… Many combinations are possible to fit your travel dreams!
Note that another very popular location for a scenic flight above the Great Barrier Reef is further down on the coast in the Whitsundays region because this is where you fly above the famous Heart Reef.
Time to chase waterfalls!
For a freshwater swimming option, the Cairns region and the Tablelands offer a multitude of waterfalls and swimming holes! Some are ideal for cooling off after hiking in the jungle. We think of Behana Gorge (which has a splendid access road!), Millaa Millaa, Josephine falls…
Others offer spectacular views over powerful waterfalls in the monsoon season, like Barron falls in Kuranda (visible from the lookout or from the ”Skyrail” cable car) or the lookout at Blencoe falls.
Some are well known and often visited by tourists, and others are more secret. In one or two days you can follow our itinerary dedicated to Queensland waterfalls, while adding other activities available in the area: flying in a hot-air balloon, visit the largest tea plantation in Australia, visit the old castle of Paronella or even admire the giant fig trees in the area. Ask us, we will guide you.
For the adrenaline junkies who are ready to get wet, we can recommend white water rafting on the Barron and Tully rivers, as well as canyoning. What’s better than having fun in such wild and unspoilt scenery in the company of experienced guides?
Picture postcard tropical beaches
Of course in Australia, when staying on the coast, the beach is never far away. You will find them all along the coast: Mission beach, Trinity Beach, Ellis beach, Kewarra beach, Palm Cove, Four Mile Beach… Each has its charm, from pebbles to coral sand and fine sand, from waves to placid calm, from small bays to long beaches… there is something for every taste.
Good news: protective nets are installed on some of them from October to June so that swimming is possible all year round despite the presence of jellyfish and crocodiles in the waters. This is particularly the case at Mission Beach, Trinity, Clifton, Holloways, Four Mile…
For an impression of the other side of the world, wilder beaches await in the Daintree rainforest: Cape Tribulation, Noah, Thornton and Myall. The sunrises are splendid there but be careful, there are no protective nets, swimming is therefore strongly discouraged all year round.
Far (far) North Queensland
For those who would like to go further north, with a more roadtrip-oriented travel spirit, the road 81 will lead you to Cape York, Australia’s northernmost tip. We recommend a very robust 4WD to deal with the road hazards and the weather, over 1,200 km, for around 7 days of travel.
On this peninsula, you will gradually leave the dense jungle to get into Australian bush landscapes, with orange-red soil and fewer signs of civilisation. There are more national parks in this region than anywhere else in Queensland. Spread over the central and eastern parts of the cape, they present a range of diverse landscapes.
Swim in the crystal-clear (and crocodile-free) waters of Twin Falls in Jardine River National Park at the northern end of the Cape, or spot water birds in the vast wetlands of Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park. There are many coves and deserted beaches up there, something to really get off the beaten track, keeping in mind of course the season and its climatic implications. Roaming tracks between isolated campsites and cattle farms, we challenge the most intrepid adventurers.
Cooktown is a city with a rich history for those who would like to learn more about the famous James Cook. It was here that following damage to the ship Endeavor on the reefs, he disembarked and wrote his first reports on the Aboriginal people and this never-before-seen world of flora and fauna. It was in 1770.
This region has kept a predominantly Aboriginal population, great to learn more about their culture. It features a fascinating mix of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people, and local communities have rich traditions stretching back tens of thousands of years.
Cape York is also the birthplace of the incredible Laura Dance Festival. More than 500 artists from 20 communities in the region attend this biennial festival of indigenous performing arts, which draws thousands of spectators from around the world.
Between ancient forest and underwater gems: a region not to be missed
We are only staying on the surface here but there is so much more to see, taste, smell and experience in this incredible part of Australia!
It allows easy, affordable and secure access to primary forest, which is less the case for those of Borneo, the Amazon and the Congo forests. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef offers a multitude of islands, reefs and water activities to discover its wonders respectfully. Indeed, as always at My Dream Adventures, we favour tour operators who care about the environment and are at the forefront of what is done in sustainable tourism.
Amongst all the options of stays and itineraries in Tropical North Queensland, your consultant will guide you to make the best choices. Contact us to plan your adventure!
They call me the cautious adventurer and the animal paparazzi. Travel and photography are my two passions. I love to conceive and experience those unique journeys where we dive into History and take the time to reconnect with Nature.
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