Follow any long and winding road out of Cairns and chances are you will end up near a spectacular white beach, where you may well leave the day’s first footprints.
Or you might find yourself up close and personal with a tumbling waterfall in a pristine rainforest.
But if you don’t want to leave things to chance, there are three great drives you can do, all within 90 minutes of Cairns that showcase what makes this area such a drawcard for holidaymakers from all over the world.
The drives feature stunning scenery, great lookouts, places to take a dip, as well as some of the gourmet produce the region is known for.
The Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to Cape Tribulation
Distance: 140 kilometres
Allow: While this can be a day trip, consider spending the night in an eco-lodge or treetop cabin among the rainforest to immerse yourself in the tropical surrounds.
Claimed to be one of the most scenic drives in Australia, follow the spectacular coastline, which hugs two World Heritage areas — the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest.
From Cairns, drive north across the Barron River to Cairns’ northern beaches. If you’re looking for adventure, stop at AJ Hackett Bungy located in the Smithfield rainforest about 15 minutes from Cairns, before heading to beautiful Palm Cove.
This one-time fishing village now known for its laidback style, smart resorts and upmarket restaurants, was named after its beachside palm trees.
The drive then winds along the edge of the Coral Sea and pristine rainforest until you reach glamorous, but laid-back, Port Douglas, known as the gateway to the Daintree, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.
Wander down Port Douglas’ main street for boutique shopping with a tropical twist, or stop at Four Mile Beach or visit Mossman Gorge, a spectacular refreshing, freshwater swimming hole just outside of town.
Further on after the village of Daintree, cross on the ferry to Cape Tribulation where the rainforest meets the reef. Try your hand at jungle surfing, which skims over the rainforest canopy.
Atherton Tablelands Food Trail
Distance: 90km from Cairns
Allow: An easy day trip from Cairns with well marked roads.
From Cairns, head inland to the Atherton Tablelands following the Kennedy Highway to Kuranda and visit the pretty rainforest village, home to lots of restaurants and shops.
It’s a nature lover’s haven – you can see koalas, butterflies, native and exotic birds, kangaroos, reptiles, some of the world’s most venomous snakes, and a life-size replica of an Allosaurus dinosaur.
If you have a sweet tooth, try the homemade fudge and rock candy at the Kuranda Candy Kitchen, while coffee lovers can tour the Skybury coffee plantation in Mareeba.
Drop into the Golden Drop Winery, where you can taste mango wine and port. Stock up on supplies at the roadside stalls selling fresh produce. Strawberry lovers will be in seventh heaven at Shaylee Strawberry Farm at Atherton.
Other stand-outs on the food and wine produce trail include the Nerada Tea Plantation at Malanda, where you can tour the factory.
Cairns to Mission Beach
Allow: Can be made in a day trip, but consider spending the night to enjoy all the areas attractions.
This is another spectacular drive visiting quaint towns and villages, outstanding coastal scenery, tropical rainforest and white sandy beaches.
Head south from Cairns towards Mission Beach and stop at Babinda Boulders for a dip at the popular swimming hole in the shadow of Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s tallest mountain.
The Babinda Creek is also a great place to kayak, where you will see waters teeming with fish, an odd turtle and for the keen eye, a platypus.
Josephine Falls, a scenic waterfall fed by rains from Bartle Frere also has some great swimming spots and walking tracks.
Further on at Mena Creek, Paronella Park, a heritage-listed attraction built by Spanish-born Jose Paronella in the 1930s, is another excellent tourist attraction set amid beautiful gardens.
There is plenty of action at Mission Beach including skydiving, sea kayaking, jet skiing, snorkelling, fishing, hiking and croc spotting.
The local markets are a great drawcard and for action-packed adventure, experience Raging Thunder White Water Rafting on Tully River for a burst of adreniline.
Kurrimine Beach Holiday Park is where you will see manta rays swimming in the shallows and turtles coming in to nest.
The small town is home to a winery, beachfront pub, cafe, old-fashioned fish and chip shop, as well as a post office, petrol station and general store; kurrimine.com.au
One thing is for sure, no matter what road you take, there’s a host of great experiences waiting in tropical north Queensland and a surprise around every corner.
YOUR TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND ADVENTURE BEGINS HERE