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Discover where rainforest meets the reef in the heart of Australia’s tropics - Tropical North Queensland. A nature lover’s paradise, this tropical escape offers a combination of some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery with a diverse range of activities.
The region’s environment is as unique as it is diverse with the spectacular depths of the Great Barrier Reef, the awesome heights of the Daintree Rainforest and the mighty vastness of the Outback all within easy reach of Cairns. Nowhere else on earth do two World Heritage listed sites exist side by side – the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s oldest Tropical Rainforests – which are both renowned for their scientific value and natural beauty. In sharp contrast to the aqua and green colours of the reef and rainforest, are the rustic ochres and open spaces of the Outback and Cape York Peninsula wilderness areas that are home to geological and cultural wonders.
Inland from Cairns is the fertile plateau of the Atherton Tablelands containing ancient rainforests, stunning lakes and beautiful waterfalls. Ten Great Barrier Reef islands sit just off the coast and offer the ultimate haven to indulge in the tropical lifestyle. Whether it’s an indulgent break or a life changing adventure, this stunning region offers a diverse range of touring options each day and an array of unique accommodation to ensure an unforgettable holiday experience.
With World Heritage-listed rainforest on one side and Great Barrier Reef on the other, just 15 minutes from the Cairns international and domestic airports, Cairns is the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. More than 2,000 passengers depart Cairns’ new Reef Fleet Terminal located at the southern end of the Esplanade every day to swim among thousands of colourful tropical fish and coral on the Great Barrier Reef and islands. Within easy reach of coach, four-wheel drive, boat, helicopter and seaplane tours, Cairns is the perfect base to start and finish of your tropical Australian adventure.
A modern, sophisticated city with world class shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural facilities, Cairns has dozens of restaurants, accommodation, bars, the Esplanade lagoon, our own national basketball team, and international art gallery. The Esplanade stretches 2.5km along the foreshore of Cairns CBD where the inner-city swimming lagoon is situated and ideal for year round swimming. Restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes and galleries line the Esplanade and offer sweeping views across Trinity Inlet. The Esplanade also has bike and foot paths, as well as children’s playgrounds, skateboard parks, volleyball courts, exercise areas and barbeques. Cairns accommodation ranges from luxurious waterfront five star hotels and resorts to family friendly hotels, motels and cheerful backpacker hostels and share-houses. Central locations in the CBD offer walking distance to popular sites, or retreat from the hustle and bustle on the outskirts of the city.
Cairns Northern Beaches Cairns Beaches are uncluttered and uncrowded, and each beachside suburb has its own unique character and charm making it easy for you to find your ideal tropical beach in Cairns and Great Barrier Reef. Public transportation by Sunbus service all Cairns beaches several times daily, with the exception of Ellis beach, and all Cairns beaches are equipped with modern play equipment and council maintained BBQ and picnic facilities so you can enjoy as many days of low cost fun in the sun as your heart desires. Relax and indulge in Queensland’s spa capital or mingle with the locals at one of the quiet beachside villages near Cairns. Northern beaches of Machans, Holloways, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity, Kewarra, Clifton and Ellis Beach are popular for their laid-back feel and range of apartment, luxury and guest house style accommodation.
Palm Cove has earned accolades for its five-star resorts, fine dining and some of the best spas in the world. A relaxed yet sophisticated village lined with award winning restaurants, internationally renowned day spas and spa resorts, fashion boutiques, jewellery and art galleries, Palm Cove is Cairns’ most prominent and famous beach. Centuries old “paperbark” Melaleuca trees line the casual Esplanade while sun lovers play in the ocean and laze about on the soft golden sands dotted with swaying palms. Palm Cove earned an international reputation as a place to relax and rejuvenate due to the abundance of modern day spas and luxurious spa resorts that line its shores and has been lorded by international media including Vogue, Harper’s Luxury Travel and Australian Gourmet Traveller as an Australian “must-do” for romantics and anyone who needs a break from the hectic pace of everyday life.
Experiencing tropical life, exciting water sports and nature walks is easy at one of the region’s islands including Fitzroy Island, Green Island, Bedarra Island, Dunk Island, Lizard Island, Double Island, Hinchinbrook Island, Orpheus Island, Franklin Island, or one of the islands in the Torres Strait. Part of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, all of the islands in the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region are protected National Parks, home to thousands of endangered species of birds, coral, fish and other marine and wildlife. In many cases, the islands of Tropical North Queensland also hold strong cultural significance for indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Romantic, private sanctuaries such as Lizard and Haggerstone Islands extend a tempting invitation to newlyweds and busy city dwellers looking for uninterrupted privacy and tropical beach relaxation.
Closer to Cairns are Green Island and Fitzroy Island. Green Island offers a five-star island resort, a variety of water sports, shops, restaurants, spas, interpretive walking tails, and modern conveniences making it an ideal location to relax and unwind with a tropical cocktail after a big day of scuba diving, sea kayaking, snorkelling, parasailing, jet skiing, wilderness hiking or fishing on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s proximity to Cairns also makes Green Island perfect for families, day trippers or travellers tight for time. Less inhabited but still breathtakingly beautiful, Low Isles off the coast of Port Douglas, Fitzroy Island and the Frankland Islands off the coast of Cairns, and the “Family Group of Islands” off the coast of Mission Beach are also worth including on your Great Barrier Reef island itinerary.
Mission Beach is a natural mid way point between Townsville and Cairns. The 14 kilometre coast of Mission Beach is made up of three named beaches; South Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach and Bingil Bay. To get there it is a two hour, 140 kilometre drive south of Cairns international and domestic airport and is accessible by driving along one of the Great Tropical Drive trails or from Townsville. Mission Beach is the perfect base to relax and explore this unspoilt natural environment.
Traditionally a quiet seaside town, Mission Beach is sometimes referred to as the “Cassowary Coast” in recognition of the largest population of the critically endangered Southern Cassowaries who reside here, a magnificent flightless rainforest bird that is the area’s natural icon. Set among Wet Tropics rainforests and surrounded secluded sun kissed beaches, sugar cane farms, tropical fruit plantations and national parks, it’s easy to be immersed in the scenery along the route between Cairns and Townsville. Mission Beach is situated halfway along the Great Tropical Drive and home to half of Australia’s Licuala fan palms. Mission Beach also offers the tourist a vast array of activities ranging from eco-friendly and environmental tours to extreme sports such as tandem skydiving and white water rafting for adrenaline junkies.
Stretching more than 2000km, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef at 348 000 km2, an area bigger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined. It extends from the top of Cape York to just north of Fraser Island, and from the low water mark on the Queensland coast seaward beyond the edge of the continental shelf.
Tropical North Queensland offers the closest and easiest access point to this majestic underwater playground where visitors can discover over 6,600 species of flora and fauna including 1,500 brilliantly coloured species of fish, 4,000 species of molluscs and 400 types of coral. Here it’s easy to slip into the region’s laidback tropical lifestyle with diving, snorkelling, sailing, cruising and island hopping. This is the ultimate diving destination with some of the world’s best diver training facilities located in Cairns and Port Douglas. With courses from beginner to open water, advanced and specialist diving accreditation, the region caters for both novice and experience divers.
But diving is not the only way to experience this tropical underwater land. Grab some flippers and a snorkel or upgrade to a motorised snorkelling scooter to navigate the coral gardens, or choose platform walking with your own diving helmet. For those who prefer to stay dry, spacious pontoons, semi submersible and glass bottom vessels provide sound introductions to the Great Barrier Reef.
Peaceful and scenic Kuranda is the traditional land of the indigenous Pammigiri aboriginal people. The picturesque mountain retreat of Kuranda Village is a vibrant little town surrounded by World Heritage rainforest. Popular for street markets, cultural theatres and nature displays, Kuranda also gives visitors access to Barron Gorge where local Aboriginals share their ancient knowledge of this tropical rainforest region and its cultural heritage. Leave the car in Cairns and visit Kuranda via the Kuranda Scenic Railway and return on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for a rainforest experience with a spectacular view. Kuranda is the best place in the region to view the stunning Barron Gorge and the mighty Barron Falls waterfall, and is also home to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (the largest butterfly aviary in Australia), Bird World, Cairns Wildlife Safari Reserve, Kuranda Koala Gardens and the Rainforestation Nature and Cultural Park, where you can come face-to-face with wildlife, indigenous culture, tropical food and plants.
Port Douglas, affectionately known as “Port”, is a sophisticated, but laid back seaside village just 67 kilometres north of Cairns International Airport along the Captain Cook Highway. Shuttle bus, tour bus, taxi and limousine services depart Cairns domestic and international airports, as well as the CBD, for the scenic one hour coastal drive to Port Douglas several times daily. The closest town to the Great Barrier Reef with no traffic lights or parking meters in sight, Port Douglas is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life whilst still enjoying cosmopolitan convenience and contemporary style in a tropical climate. This is the ideal base to explore surrounding Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage-listed rainforest wonders such as Low Isles, Cape Tribulation and the Daintree or join a 4WD tour and explore Cooktown and the tropical outback.
Approximately 90km north of Cairns is Mossman Gorge and 100km north of Cairns or 45km north of Port Douglas is the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world, the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. More than 135 million years old, the Daintree is a site of exceptional beauty and scientific significance, containing the most species of plants and animals in Australia. The Daintree River ferry provides southern access into the Daintree rainforest and the sealed road from Daintree to Cape Tribulation allows you to gently journey amongst ancient rainforest through the lush Alexandra Range, to spectacular lookout points and glorious tropical beaches of this ancient land. To truly appreciate this spectacular rainforest, it is best to stay, unwind and listen to the night sounds then wake up to a peaceful serenade of tropical bird songs.
Across the Daintree River, Cape Tribulation is a scenic 38 kilometre drive further north from the Daintree. Cape Tribulation is the village where two spectacular World Heritage sites meet, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Located on the northern side of the Daintree River, here you can experience the most unique rainforest in the world. Here visitors are spoilt with direct access to the Daintree, pristine white sand beaches, picnic areas, rainforest walks, 4WD safaris, reef trips, mangrove and crocodile watching tours, ocean kayaking and horse trekking. Around 17,000 hectares between Daintree River and Cape Tribulation is declared National Park and much of the area is also World Heritage listed to ensure protection of the rainforests which have been evolving for the past 135 million years. Plants representing all stages of the evolution over the last 400 million years are found here. Under the forest canopy a menagerie of animal life includes many varieties of insects, birds, over seventy identified mammals, reptiles and amphibia.
Hire a car or join a guided tour for the one hour drive up the Kuranda Range road or Gillies Highway, through the mountains surrounding Cairns to discover the vast and varied landscapes of the Atherton Tablelands. Lush rolling hills and deep rainforest clad valleys offer breathtaking views across green pastures. Whether your passion is fishing or water skiing, nature walking or wildlife and bird watching, gourmet food, picnicking, swimming, or just chilling out, the lakes, tastes, landscapes, museums and accommodation of the Atherton Tablelands extend a refreshing and tempting welcome to all.
Tropical food and wine, bird-laden wetlands, lush dairy pastures, World Heritage-listed rainforests and stunning ochre savannah plains are all within driving distance of each other and create a unique journey and experiences available nowhere else in the world. Visit some of the 17 waterfalls in the area including renowned Millaa Millaa falls on the waterfall circuit near the township of Millaa Milla, or Millstream Falls known as Australia’s widest waterfall. Take an adventure on one of the Misty Mountain walking trails, a 130km network of short and long distance tracks, or indulge in a chocolate tour of the dairy farms.
Several coach tours focussing on wildlife, tropical food and wine, bird watching, natural landmarks or a combination of all these depart Cairns and Kuranda for the Atherton Tablelands daily. Or you can join in from one of the regional towns en-route such as Mareeba, Ravenshoe, Tolga, Walkamin, Atherton, Yungaburra, Herberton, or Malanda. Atherton Tablelands are a self-drive paradise. Hire a car, 4WD, or motor home and follow a self-drive trail such as the food and wine, nature or heritage trails, part of Australia’s only true tropical motoring route, The Great Tropical Drive.
The tropical Gulf Savannah extends west of the Atherton Tablelands from Mt Garnet to Karumba and is made up of six shires - Etheridge, Croydon, Carpentaria, Burke, Mornington and Doomadgee. This is an expansive region of dry grasslands, lava tubes, cascading hot springs, hidden gorges, sensational fishing spots and mining relics. Sit back, relax and watch the world go by on the unique Gulflander and Savannahlander train journeys, or visit the unique Undara Lava Caves to see the results of a volcano 190,000 years ago.
Unlike Cape York, most roads of the Gulf Savannah region are accessible by all types of vehicle, all year round. 4WD, motor homes, caravans and standard family cars frequent the highways here and dozens of visitors disembark the Savannahlander train on their way to explore the region’s abundant grazing, fishing, mining, and tourism experiences year round.
Try your hand at fossicking in an old gold rush town, battle a barramundi in a creek, get whip cracking at a rodeo then explore ancient indigenous culture and rock art. A network of professional Savannah Guides, identified by their Savannah Guides logo operate at many points including shops and cultural attractions throughout the tropical Gulf Savannah region to help answer questions and guide visitors along their Gulf Savannah journeys.
Cape York is larger than England and almost the size of the state of Victoria, covering a mighty 137,000 square kilometres – 11 million hectares - from Cooktown to the “tip” of Queensland. Cape York remains a land of few people, with prolific wildlife living in rugged mountains, eucalypt, mangrove and rainforests, headlands, grasslands, swamps and mighty rivers.
Cape York is home to Aboriginal and Islander communities and there are many opportunities to gain a fascinating insight into indigenous Australian culture through tours and cultural centres. The small settlement at Laura offers tours of ancestral paintings in natural rock galleries and every two years holds a festival of Aboriginal dance and culture. The varied, rugged landscapes, endless miles of dusty roads and dynamic scenery of Cape York take most visitors by surprise. From the vast ochre interior studded with gold fields, wet lands, and cattle stations to the white sands, blue waters and Torres Strait Islands off the coast, you will experience the most untouched attractions of nature’s theme park in Cape York.
The main Peninsula Developmental Road runs through the middle of the Cape and crosses many rivers and waterways. Small tracks off the main road lead to large cattle stations, pioneer gold fields, hidden camp sites and other natural treasures. Beyond Cooktown, most residents live in indigenous and cattle station communities and in small mining towns dotted among enormous national parks.
All-terrain or 4WD vehicles are best to explore the rugged terrain of Cape York as many of the roads (apart from the Mulligan Highway from Mareeba to Cooktown) are unsealed or dirt (apart from the Mulligan Highway from Mareeba to Cooktown).