We have barely been back for two weeks from our road trip in Tropical North Queensland and I can still smell the saltiness of the ocean in the air. Not only did we have a fab time spending countless hours at the beach but we also spent time checking out many of the things to do in the region. We enjoyed some amazing rainforest hikes, markets and some of the best coffee we have had in a while. We were absolutely blessed to take advantage of the two week holidays here in Queensland to experience the north and many of the things to do in this part of Australia. Our Tropical Queensland road trip itinerary began from our home city, Townsville, all the way to Cape Tribulation, stopping in Mission Beach, Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas. This itinerary includes multiple locations with lots of relax days in between, so it’d be very easy to adjust to shorter trips in the area or a busier time for the more adventurous.
For more on Townsville check out our local experiences below:
Our trip kicked off on a Friday afternoon. As soon as David came home from the final day of the school term, we finished packing the car and started our drive to Mission Beach. The drive is roughly three hours long.
- Hinchinbrook Look Out: there is signage leading to it and you exit the highway on the left.
- Cardwell: If arriving before 5pm, head to the Cardwell Rainforest and Reef visitor Information Center. Also there are public bathrooms and a playground next to this building so its a fantastic stop for the little ones to stretch their legs at any time. Walk down the walkways down to the jetty and then cross the street to pick up a snack from one of the local cafes.
Day 2 & 3
Mission Beach is one of the most laid back sea side towns you’ll ever visit. However, while you are there you can choose to do as much or as little as you like. Check out at least one of their walking trails for an exclusive opportunity at running into a cassowary! We particularly loved the Cutten Brothers Walking Track as you get the chance to fully experience the wonder of nature, where rainforest truly meets the sea. On Sunday morning, head to the markets but make sure to arrive with an empty belly. Sample from tropical fruits, to Italian sweets, homemade cakes, a milkshake or a potato on a stick!
Other things to do in Mission Beach
- There are 14kms of stunning beach front, so simply choose your spot and relax.
- Go for a stroll from Wongaling to South Mission Beach and enjoy the Dunk Island views.
- Take a boat transfer to Dunk Island for either a half day or full day visit.
- Skydive in one of the most amazing places in Australia
On our fourth day, we got up and got going nice and early. We started our drive to Cairns which takes about two hours. However, if you are not in a rush to get to your next destination, we suggest you take a detour to Etty Bay. On the turn off to Mourilyan Harbour Road, stop at the Mourilyan Bakery. The eclairs are totally worth it! As you make your way to Etty Bay keep you eyes open for cassowaries. This is actually where we saw them in the wild for the first time ever. Once you have made it to the beach, take the time to explore this beautiful bay. There are quite a few tables and parking spots as you drive in, so this is a great stop for a picnic. We pulled out our little camping gas stove and enjoyed a hot coffee before making our way to Cairns.
- If your kids get restless as quick as ours did, there is the Fred Drew Rest Area just 10 minutes after passing Innisfail. It has a small gated playground where they can burn some energy.
Once you arrive in Cairns and get all checked in at your new accomodation, head out for a relaxing stroll at the Esplanade and a no fuss dinner at the food court at the Cairns Night Markets to finish off the day. Your children will thank you!
Day 5, 6 & 7
For us, our three full days in Cairns were all about the boys and enjoying the fantastic (and free!) children amenities you’ll find through out the Esplanade. Of all the things to do in Cairns, Muddy’s playground, the lagoon and fig tree playground were at the top of our list of family friendly activities. Muddy’s has a cafe on site and the lagoon and fig tree are just a few metres away from multiple cafes and restaurants. Alternately bring a picnic and relax while watching the kids play. If you have older children, then head to Sugarworld, Cairns’ waterpark. We didn’t visit this time as we honestly had plenty to do on this visit.
However if you are after more adventure, then Cairns has it! Cairns is a perfect gateway to other day trips to enjoy the region.
Things to do in Cairns
- Cairns Aquarium. It has recently opened its doors and we have heard great things about it. However we gave it a miss this time as we recently visited the SEA Life Aquarium in Melbourne which was amazing. We vlogged about it here.
- Visit Kuranda, a picturesque village in the rainforest either by self drive or take advantage of the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
- Day trip to the reef for snorkelling or scuba diving. You will find booking services on the esplanade, at your hotel or do a google search.
- If you prefer hiking, drive to Kuranda and enjoy the multiple walking tracks leading to Barron Gorge.
- Visit a dairy farm or strawberry picking farm in the Tablelands.
Also, while you are visiting Cairns we recommend you grab brunch at the upcoming vegan cafe The Cheeky Yam. It is conveniently located at The Pier just a few steps from the esplanade and it offers the best vegetarian food to be had in the region! We ate here a total of three times as we simply needed to try as much of the menu as possible. Or drop in for a coffee, you won’t be disappointed!
Day 8, 9 & 10
Mid morning on day eight we started the drive to Palm Cove which is only 30 minutes from Cairns. You could just do a day trip from Cairns if you prefer to base yourself there. We did have such a great relaxing time here though. We actually loved staying in Palm Cove as the holiday park was just opposite to the beach and also at the end of the Esplanade. This meant we could walk to restaurants, to the playground or to get our morning coffee. The esplanade is also fairly quiet and vehicles move slowly through this area. This added to the chilled atmosphere.
Things to do in Palm Cove
- Get up early to catch the sunrise.
- Spend the day at the beach. Cafes, the playground and bathroom are all conveniently close to each other so its perfect if you are wanting to stay out for the day.
- Go for a stroll down to the jetty and look out for the birds nesting under it.
- If you are here on a game night, head to the local Surf Life Saving Club to watch a game or pick up their 2 for 1 pizza special. They are yummy!
Another early start for us, this time with the intention to make it to Port Douglas, our final destination. Once we had had breakfast we started the motions of getting all our gear and tent packed up. David took the boys out to get some coffee while I packed the bags. Then I took the boys back out to the playground for a last time while David packed the tent. Since it was all so conveniently close, enjoying our last hours in Palm Cove was effortless. However, on this morning we had something else in mind that we had been talking to Javi about for days. On the drive from Palm Cove, just 20 minutes before Port Douglas, you will find Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures ( video and review to come). We thought this would be the perfect family activity and we weren’t disappointed. We spent roughly 4 hours here and then continued on our way to Port Douglas.
If you are driving straight through to Port Douglas, make sure that you do this during the day and with time to spare. The winding drive up to Port Douglas on Captain Cook Highway contains gorgeous scenery and rivals the Great Ocean Road in Victoria as one of the best ocean drives in Australia. There are multiple stunning beaches you can stop at as well as breath taking look outs where you can appreciate the natural beauty of Tropical North Queensland’s coast.
Day 12, 13 & 14
If you thought Palm Cove was too quiet and Cairns too busy, then Port Douglas will be just perfect for you. Port Douglas is a lovely seaside town with access to some of the best restaurants and chic boutique shops. They also have a Coles Supermarket in town so no need to stock up on supplies before you drive up. While in Port Douglas you can choose to do as much or as little as you like, and we wouldn’t blame you if you chose the latter! We actually met a lot of people here that come back time and time again to relax, soak up the sun and enjoy the beach. However if you are up for some exploring and are looking for things to do, we recommend you visit Mossman Gorge and the Daintree National Park. Although we did it in one day making our way up to Cape Tribulation, I recommend you do these on two separate trips if you have the time.
If you are after ridiculously good coffee, make a stop at Lighthouse Cafe on the Esplanade. They serve Sipping Duck which is a Cairns based roastery with small batch specialty coffee. Although we dropped in twice for our caffeine dose we didn’t get a chance to try any of their food but we can vouch for their delicious berry smoothie.
Things to do in Port Douglas
- Walk the 4 Mile Beach.
- Go for a stroll down Macrossan Street, starting from the 4 Mile Beach Park to the foreshoe. Don’t forget to check out the very easy to reach lookout at the park too and then St Mary’s By the Sea church at the other end.
- Daytrip to the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation.
- Half day at Mossman Gorge for swimming and hiking.
- Wildlife Habitat Zoo.
- Day out to the Great Barrier Reef.
Day 15 – Final Day
On our final day of this amazing road trip, we chose to do the 5 1/2 hr drive back to Townsville in one day and we had a few stops in between to keep the boys happy and comfortable. We considered doing another overnight stop in between to break the trip up but this wasn’t necessary. After all, having slept mostly on a an inflatable mattress for two weeks, we were eager to get back to our own beds!
We’d love to know if you have been on a road trip around North Queensland. Tell us about your experience and if you think we should have done anything differently. If you’ve never been to North Queensland, which location do you think you’d like best? We’d love to hear all about it in a comment below!
The World n Us