Far North Queensland is one of the most stunningly beautiful and diverse places on the planet. From the astonishing marine life on the Great Barrier Reef to the ancient rainforests of the Daintree, the region is filled with spectacular natural wonders. And the gateway to these wonders is Cairns. Pick up a rental car at Cairns Airport and start your tropical adventure.
Many visitors stop in Cairns to organise a diving or snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef. From day trips to week-long sailing and diving holidays, the abundance of tours is simply amazing. If your time is short, take a boat to Green Island, one of the quickest ways to get onto the reef. Cairns is a mecca for action sports, so while you’re there, why not try bungee jumping at one of only two sites in Australia, or white water rafting on the raging Tully River.
To escape from the bustle of Cairns, head to peaceful Palm Cove, just a 20-minute drive north of Cairns Airport in your hire car. Palm Cove has a dazzling array of upmarket restaurants. One of the best is Nu Nu, which serves contemporary Asian cuisine. The lovely Palm Cove Melaluca Resort offers beachfront accommodation set in a lush tropical garden.
While many tour operators offer hotel pick-ups, the magical Daintree Rainforest is best explored with the freedom of a rental car. Leave Cairns to head up the coast to Port Douglas, where you can stroll along the vast expanse of Four Mile Beach. Grab lunch in town at Macrossan St, stopping at the Whileaway Bookshop & Café for a book and the town’s best coffee. Enjoy fine dining at Harrison’s Restaurant and Bar, set in a colonial-style house surrounded by lovely gardens. Alternatively, pack a picnic and eat under a rainforest canopy at Mossman Gorge, a short 15-minute drive away on the road to Cape Tribulation. The gorge has numerous crystal-clear swimming holes that are a welcome break from the tropical heat. Highly recommended are tours by the local Kuku Yalangi. Book at the Mossman Gorge Centre. Travel further into Daintree, stopping at the Rainforest Discovery Centre at Cow Bay to discover more about the world’s oldest rainforest and biodiversity hotspot. One of the best ways to get off the beaten track and experience secret swimming holes and pristine beaches is a 4WD tour: try D’Arcy of Daintree. The nearby Cockatoo Hill Retreat, with its secluded lodges perched in the rainforest, is one of the region’s most stunning resorts. Between Cow Bay and nearby Cape Tribulation there is an abundance of activities, from sea kayaking to horse riding, hiking and yoga.
As well as visiting the Daintree, most visitors to Cairns hire a car and head to the mountainous plains of the Atherton Tablelands, renowned for their gourmet food, wines and waterfalls. Barron Falls, near Karanda, and Malanda Falls are just two of the spectacular watery sights in the region. For those wanting more than a day trip, wake up to the dawn chorus at the eco-friendly Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat before venturing into the area’s lush rainforest.