When people think of adventure in Australia, they imagine trekking through the dry outback in rough conditions. But Australia also has an exotic, tropical side, for adventurers seeking more water-related or rainforest activities.
Tropical North Queensland offers myriad of nature and activities that surpass all others, laying claim to the world’s longest reef, the oldest rainforest in the world, and the world’s oldest civilization. With over 4500 miles of coastline and beaches in Queensland, there are myriad of road trip opportunities. How can you top that? FYI, here’s some information on how to get your international driver’s license.
You’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do as you discover Queensland. Here is a pictorial journal of 28 things that should not be missed.
First of all, get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road…and don’t hit any kangaroos!
ON THE ISLAND
Fitzroy Island is “where the rainforest meets the reef,” reachable by a 45-minute ferry from mainland Cairns. The 833-acre private island freely accessible to the public.
The crystal clear water at Welcome Bay is perfect for snorkeling and for underwater photography. No sharks, but consider wearing a stinger suit.
97% of the island is covered in tropical rainforest and perfect for hiking to the summit for a stunning birds’ eye view of the beach or to the Secret Garden where you can commune with hundreds of butterflies.
Sea kayaking is a great way to explore remote and hidden beaches and coves along the calm waters in front of the island over to Little Fitzroy Island.
5. Nudey Beach
Aha! Fooled you, didn’t I? Once a clothing optional beach, Nudey is no longer a naked beach. Strewn with huge boulders giving it an otherworldly look, it is worth the hilly trek from Welcome Bay.
AT THE ESPLANADE
6. Night markets
The night markets are the best place to find your Australian souvenirs. They have the largest variety and cheapest prices than you’ll find in other venues.
7. Eat (hop, skip, swim, jump)
Don’t miss this opportunity to sample the tastes of Australia in one dish! The entre includes kangaroo, crocodile, barramundi, and emu.
8. Swim in the lagoon
The large, open-air, man-made saltwater swimming lagoon is located right on the Cairns Esplanade. The lagoon is surrounded by a sandy beach and tropical gardens and looks out to the Great Barrier Reef.
OVER, UNDER, AND AROUND THE REEF
Stretching 1800 miles, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s longest coral reef system.
The reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, teeming with some of the best ocean life. Deep Sea Divers Den leaves out of Cairns and offers eco-friendly diving and snorkeling excursions to several of the Great Barrier reefs.
A spectacular way to get a grasp of the magnitude of the reef is from the air, on a seaplane or helicopter. The flight over the Whitsunday Islands and nearby reef system is unsurpassable in beauty and will be seared in your memory.
There are many opportunities to cruise to the islands around Cairns, or the Whitsundays off Airlie Beach. The islands are stunning, each with its one charms such as Fitzroy (above) or Whitehaven, one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.
STAY: While exploring the Cairns part of Queensland, a great place to stay is at the DoubleTree by Hilton. The location could not be more convenient. It’s right on the Esplanade – just walk out the door and you have access to a variety of restaurants, cafes and bars, the lagoon, shops, and the night markets.
Click here to compare prices on more hotels in Cairns.
IN THE RAINFOREST
Gliding over the tropical canopy, the gondolas engage all your senses in the pristine ancient rainforest.
Grab Perry from Rainforest Journeys, whose family has lived in the rainforest for generations, and explore the wetlands on your own all-terrain vehicle.
14. Wildlife encounter
Don’t be surprised if a curious Australian cassowary comes out of the forest.
15. Stink fruit
If you have the courage, try the durian fruit that grows here. It has been described as “eating custard out of a toilet.”
Kuranda is the colorful little village in the rainforest with markets, restaurants, walking paths, a butterfly sanctuary, and wildlife exhibit.
17. Scenic Railway
The restored train is one of two scenic modes of transportation to/from Kuranda. It is recommended that visitors take the rail one way and Skyrail the other way. The rail goes through mountain vistas and stops for photos at Barron Gorge.
INTO THE CULTURE
At Tjapukai Cultural Center, visitors can explore the rich history of the world’s oldest living culture, dating back over 40,000 years.
18. Tribal dancing
Aborigine history and culture come alive with traditional music and dance. Participation encouraged at end of the presentation.
Visitors are taught the Aboriginal method of throwing a boomerang, a weapon which was used for hunting.
20. Spear throwing
The center offers a demonstration of ancient spear throwing, followed by hands-on lessons.
This “natural wooden trumpet” was developed by indigenous Australians of northern Australia and still in widespread use around the world. Visitors can give it a try, although it takes many years of practice to produce authentic sounds.
STAY: After trekking around the rainforest and culture park, stay at the Park Regis Apartments. The large, self-service penthouse apartments are spacious, ultra-modern, and have panoramic views of Cairns marina.
Click here to compare prices on more hotels in Cairns.
ON THE ROAD
There are so many places to visit Tropical Queensland has much to offer beyond Cairns. Take a drive north to Trinity Beach and Palm Cove, or head south to Airlie Beach.
22. Trinity Beach
This sweet little beach town is a favorite with both tourists and locals alike for its laid-back atmosphere, sandy beach with shade trees, and waterfront restaurants.
Click here to compare prices on hotels in Trinity Beach.
23. Palm Cove
North of Trinity Beach and more established, Palm Cove is home to its own esplanade with waterfront resorts, restaurants, and shops.
24. Mission Beach
Heading south to the Cassowary Coast Region, Mission Beach covers almost nine miles of beach, passing through four beach towns.
This friendly beach town is in the heart of the Great Green Way and offers outstanding views of the Coral Sea and the world-famous Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest Island National Park.
26. Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach, hit hard by Cyclone Debbie, is the gateway to the legendary Whitsunday Islands.
Click here to compare prices on hotels in Airlie Beach.
27. Paronella Park
Eco accredited, Paronella Park is a lush rainforest and lost village beside Mena Creek Falls with ruins of a castle, picnic area by the falls, bridges, a tunnel. The park boasts 7,500 tropical plants and trees.
STAY (north): If you can imagine it, an igloo right on the beach. It’s the most quirky fun place you’ll ever stay!
STAY (south): The Cardwell Beachfront Motel is approximately halfway between Cairns and Airlie Beach. The hotel sits right on the beach with wonderful views and sunsets.
AGAINST YOUR BETTER JUDGEMENT
Of course, you can’t leave without trying this ubiquitous foodstuff. “He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich…” Need I say more?
I hope you have as much fun as we did as you discover Queensland!
PIN THE IMAGE BELOW SO YOU WON’T FORGET!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.
Read more about Patti Morrow.