12 Day Tropical North Queensland Rainforest Road Trip|
July 2018 | Our Green Sanctuary Blog
Strap yourself in, this one is a long one. I’m about to take you on a journey through the tropical rainforests of North Queensland. A stunning and inspiring landscape of open roads and amazing scenery. Grab yourself a warm beverage & find somewhere comfortable to sit as I immerse you in an aussie road trip adventure.
Our road trip through Millaa Millaa
We spent 12 days traversing national parks, exploring rainforests and driving through stunning landscapes. We gorged on delicious pub food, slept in motels & hotels and swam in roadside swimming holes. We saw so many species of tropical plants thriving in their natural habitats, we ventured through rainforests, by waterfalls and even met a crocodile on the way. If you love the outdoors, don’t mind the heat & enjoy a bit of adventure, then you’ll love North Queensland.
D A Y O N E:
C A I R N S
We started the trip flying into Cairns from Sydney, spending one night at the Palm Royale. A little out from the main esplanade, the hotel provides two huge swimming pools and a bus service in case you don’t hire a car.
View from the spa, the pools & gardens - Palm Royale Cairns
We walked around the esplanade in the evening after catching up for lunch with friends at Wharf ONE Cafe. The view from there is stunning, I definitely recommend walking along the boardwalk and enjoying the waterfront and garden landscape.
Bromeliads are epiphytes all over palm trees in Cairns and surrounds
D A Y T W O:
C A I R N S-P O R T D O U G L A S
After a night in Cairns we headed to the Skyrail, a cableway that travels across the Atherton Tableland Rainforest to Kuranda, a quaint village in the rainforest. We purchased tickets on arrival for a return trip coming back on the Kuranda scenic railway.
Our cable car travelled over the top of the rainforest - Atherton tableland Queensland
During our journey on the Skyrail we stopped to explore the middle of the rainforest, walking on a short guided tour through the giant trees littered with birds nest ferns - epiphytes.
The Atherton table land is Australia's oldest rainforest
Insects camouflage on the tree bark
On the second stop we viewed Barron Falls, a massive hydroelectric waterfall before crossing just metres above the treetops and arriving in Kuranda.
After a short stroll down to the markets, we stopped for lunch at a rainforest view restaurant where the view was exactly as promised.
With full bellies we took a leisurely bushwalk back to the railway station, it was beautiful & truly showed off what a visit to the North is all about.
Fan palms in Kuranda - Atherton tableland
Variety of palms in Kuranda - Atherton tableland
The train ride back offered a different perspective. The journey was accompanied by a pre-recorded narration presenting a historic recount of the early life in the area & detailing the building of the railway tunnels. A captivating story which greatly enhanced the experience.
Kuranda scenic railway
Along the journey the landscape shared the deep floors and valleys of the rainforest, climbers and understory ferns and a close up with a stunning waterfall.
From Cairns our next stop was Port Douglas, the drive there takes about 1.5hrs & was full of winding roads and a strong breeze. But the views were breathtaking, mountains meeting the sea. We stopped at Rex lookout for a few snaps before finding our bed for the night at the Retro Apartments Port Douglas.
Rachel & Scott at Rex Lookout
I can’t rave about this accommodation enough, the facilities provided were excellent, the pool was a small green oasis & the proximity to everything was a short walk.
We found dinner at a local restaurant named chillies, a fun outdoor venue with a great family running the kitchen & a separate bar. The pasta was fantastic & the vibe was truly North Queensland.
The retro apartments Port Douglas
The retro apartments Port Douglas
D A Y T H R E E:
P O R T D O U G L A S
We organised a snorkel tour to the Low Isles with the Reef Sprinter which takes you out to the reef in a speedboat. The Low Isles are a great way to experience the Great Barrier Reef, we saw tons of fish, coral and a turtle!
Port Douglas cruise terminal
Reef Sprinter snorkelling tours
Floating by Low Isles in the Great Barrier Reef - Queensland
Heading back from our snorkel on the reef to Port Douglas
The tour brought us back to the wharf at the perfect time for lunch so we headed down towards the beach for a burger.
Later in the afternoon before sunset we wandered up four mile beach and climbed the stairs to the lookout for another incredible view.
Four mile beach - Port Douglas
D A Y F O U R:
C A P E T R I B U L A T I O N
We continued our journey north towards Cape Tribulation, stopping on the way to take a cruise down the Daintree river and meet some crocodiles. The Daintree river cruise is a few more minutes up the road from the Cape Tribulation ferry turn off, and takes you down the daintree river with a very knowledgeable guide for one hour.
The road to the Daintree river cruise centre
Another angle of the tropical North Queensland rainforest, the tree canopy almost covered parts of our float down the river. We had a great guide and were fortunate to spot a large male crocodile sunning himself on the river bank, a juvenile croc of about 2 years perched over a rock and a female crocodile hiding in the scrub. Our guide shared a lot of information about the history of the rainforest and how it interacts with the river and its life.
The Daintree river
Back on the road, we headed to the ferry to cross the Daintree River, before meeting a stunning scenic drive through the Daintree National Park. A drive that could take one hour point to point took us most of the afternoon as we stopped along the way at a lookout, plenty of walking tracks and a secret swimming hole.
A secret swimming hole
Fan palms in the Daintree rainforest
A walking track in the Daintree rainforest
Canopies cover the road as you drive past Cassowary warning signs, dozens of varieties of palms, figs and stringy barks, covered in climbing and hanging vines, ferns and other epiphytes. I was in awe. The rainforest is one of the best places for a plant nerd like myself. I’m in love. Arriving at our accommodation we wandered along Cape Tribulation beach to soak up the marvelous views of mountains meeting the sea.
The Daintree Rainforest lookout
D A Y F I V E:
C O O K T O W N
Up and ready for another adventure we wandered the beach just after sunrise on a cloudy day. The ocean lapped at the sand and a few birds sang. We passed a few sleeping campers as we made our way to the Cape Tribulation Lookout offering a short walk through the thick mountain forest to a stunning panoramic lookout of the Cape.
Cape Tribulation beach at sunrise
Cape Tribulation Lookout
Back in the car we marvelled at the landscape as we wound our way back through the Daintree Rainforest National Park one last time before heading on our drive to Cooktown via the inland road.
There are two ways to reach Cooktown from Cape Tribulation, one is suggested 4WD only via the Bloomfield track although we were told later by some locals at Mission Beach that the drive isn’t that bad. I’ll have to let you know because we didn’t see it ourselves, a 4WD hire from Cairns isn’t as easy or inexpensive as you might think and unfortunately not in our budget, so off we went.
To reach Cooktown via the inland road we travelled south, back across the Daintree River on the ferry and towards Port Douglas.
Feeling hungry, we stopped for Breakfast in Mossman, where you can find the Mossman Gorge. Deciding against another stop we travelled on the Bruce HWY for about 2.5 hours to reach Cooktown.
I don’t know if it was the time of year or the time of day, but we hardly passed any cars or trucks on the way up & saw more cows on the road than anything else!
The road to Cooktown
The landscape on this drive was like nothing I’d ever seen coming from Sydney. Expansive views from a mountain top over the Savannah landscape. Closer to Cooktown we saw huge Banana plantations, mango farms and then just on the outskirts we stopped at Black Mountain.
The road to Cooktown - Black Mountain
Black Mountain is made up of hundreds of gigantic granite boulders, some the size of a house. We were told by some locals, people say they were deposited here by aliens, but according to wikipedia “The national park's distinctive hard granite boulders and range originally formed out of magma that first slowly solidified under the Earth's crust about 250 million years ago”. I thought it looked pretty cool myself.
I did learn a valuable lesson on the drive to Cooktown, sunscreen is a priority for those with a more pale complexion like me. The sun is stronger in the North and while driving in shorts my legs got incredibly sunburnt, I now sport a permanent shorts tan line!
Sovereign resort pool
The band at Cooktown RSL
The view from our room at Sovereign resort
Cooktown is a small town like no other I have visited, the main road boasts several storefronts, Sovereign Resort & the local RSL. On arrival we checked into Sovereign resort & after a swim we joined the locals down at the RSL. We drank Great Northern Beer while listening to live music by the local band on a Sunday Afternoon. We drank so many beers while the band sung and swore and laughed together. The lead singer was very entertaining and as Aussie as they come, when singing “I've been everywhere man”, he substituted most of the towns in the song to Cooktown repeated and the whole crowd roared and clapped along. We chatted with some locals about the beauty of the town and surrounding areas, the life there was a slow one & work was hard to find. We headed back to the resort for dinner before retiring for the night in our beautiful suite.
D A Y S I X:
M A R E E B A
After a nice swim in the resort pool we headed up to the Cooktown Botanic Gardens, the plaques helped me to confirm plant identifications for my future jungle garden that I’ve dreamt up, inspired by the rainforest. The gardens offer 200 plant specimens and walking tracks to finch bay and cherry tree bay. We wandered over to the secluded finch bay beach for a few snaps before making our way up to some of the best views I’ve ever set my eyes on at Grassy Hill lookout. This is where Captain Cook climbed to, in order to figure a way out of the harbour when his boat ran aground and needed repair back in the 1700’s. The water is aqua blue & coral reefs jut out from the steep coast line. In the other direction, grassy islands mound out of the deeper blue ocean.
The view from grassy hill lookout
The old Cooktown lighthouse
The town of Cook
Next we were headed down to Mareeba, a halfway stop of sorts that we really didn’t research all that well. You could visit the safari lodge for a wilderness escape which is what we should have done, but on our budget we grabbed a motel instead and thought we’d visit the wetland the next day.
D A Y S E V E N:
M I L A A M I L A A
After a night in the motel doing laundry and dinner at the local sport club we headed to the coffee plantation Skybury. The view was beautiful from the quiet deck, we even spotted a young Kangaroo hopping below in the open plane as we sipped our coffee.
The view from skybury
After breakfast we meandered over to Golden Drop Winery to pick up some tasty Mango wine and check out a local Mango Farm. They hedge the Mango trees so they’re easier to pick from, but this creates a stunning uniform landscape of lush balls of greenery. After a tasting we purchased the sweet white and the sparkling, both delicious choices, that didn't last long after we got home.
Our plans to visit the wetland unfortunately didn't eventuate as the road there was flooded with water and we decided it was unsafe to drive through, so we set off next to Millaa Millaa. This part of the trip was the best decision I could have made. We drove toward Atherton, the namesake of the oldest rainforest in Australia. We took a wrong turn through a beautiful farm landscape of windy roads and rolling hills before we arrived in Millaa Millaa. We found the main road and stopped in for late lunch at the local general store cafe, we were sure to check our supplies before our 7km drive to the Millaa Millaa River Song Retreat.
The gardens surrounding the deck at river song retreat
Greeted on arrival by two beautiful doggies and the owners Bob & Carina we were guided around our accommodation and Bob offered a guided bushwalk of the property.
Eager to unpack & explore, Scott and I unloaded the car & stocked the fridge. With hiking boots on, we headed out to the deck to meet our guide Bob. He proceeded to show us the properties expansive decked area, full of charm, tons of gorgeous plants, & a large BBQ area. The whole deck was surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens, I loved all of it. Bob took us down a pathway to some man made steps that took us deep into the rainforest, down to the amazing river.
We ventured down into the rainforest
climbing down man made steps
This place was magical, nothing but pure nature. The sound of the river & the hum of birds, there is so much life and so much peace here. I was so grateful to Bob and Carina for sharing this with us. Later we would sit here enjoying a picnic of wine and cheese and sitting listening to the tranquil sounds of this beautiful natural wonder.
the river at river song retreat
Bob took us on a bush walk through to an area he had cleared along the river bank. He provided visual markers and shared abundant knowledge of the forest before leading us to some gigantic boulders in the middle of the river. I think Bob could tell Scott and I were having a great time when we eagerly climbed out onto the boulders in the middle of the river. The water gushed past as we marvelled at the rainforest and watched its beginning stages of regeneration from the recent flood damage.
Scotty puts it into scale
huge boulders in the river
We were fortunate to experience the rainforest as the locals do & I found my most happy place. Scott cooked up a delicious BBQ for dinner & Carina took care of all our washing up. What a treat this place was. With wine in hand we spent the rest of the evening sat out on our private deck enjoying Bob and Carinas lush tropical garden landscape and talking the night away. This place was by far a huge highlight of the trip and I can’t wait to revisit again one day.
I loved all the gardens at the river song retreat
D A Y E I G H T:
I N G H A M
After a peaceful nights rest we were treated to a scrumptious continental breakfast bar of fresh fruits, muesli & yoghurt from the local dairy. With some toast & coffee we feasted away, excited for our most energized day yet.
We couldn't say goodbye without one more walk around this amazing property & a visit to the river so after packing our bags, we made our way down the steps for a final bushwalk to the river. We watched the calm pool of water before the waterfall in the hope to spot a platypus, Bob & Carina told us we might be lucky to see a pair having a swim. Unfortunately it was not our lucky day. We climbed back to the walking track from the day before and wandered along the rambling riverside a final time to the rainforest retreat. It was a glorious way to start the day & we were ready to hit the road.
The beautiful river of river song retreat
Millaa Millaa is famous for several beautiful waterfalls, three of which are a stone's throw from one another on a single loop road. Millaa Millaa falls is one of the most stunning swimming holes, worthy of several instagram photos! It’s easy to access for a swim and offers a toilet block to change in.The falls are flanked by tall tree ferns, and surrounded by a lush tropical landscape of the Atherton tableland rainforest. We visited each of the waterfalls on the loop, with a short drive between each. The second stop was Zillie falls, the viewing platform is above the falls & allows you to look down on the cascading waters in the middle of the rainforest. We loved listening to the sounds of the rushing waters & local wildlife. Next up was Ellinjaa Falls, to get there we took a zig zag walking track into the cool rainforest surrounded by ferns, vines and huge trees. The falls are much smaller but still stunning & the walk down was one of my favourites.
Millaa Millaa falls
Back on the road we marvelled at the stunning landscapes and stopped multiple times for a photo. We paused for lunch at Mungalli creek dairy, for some gourmet dips at their Cheesery & Teahouse. Just down the road we found Mungalli falls, our fourth waterfall for the day!
This area of queensland is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It’s funny how much one’s appreciation for plants can evolve into a newfound appreciation for all things green. One of the lookouts showed us rolling hills between the mountains covered in tree’s. Small houses dotted amongst the green pastures & strips of road. The open countryside was lush & long, I was reminded how much driving this area allowed us to experience.
Our next stop was at the awesome Mamu tropical skywalk. This boardwalk is suspended 15 metres above the forest floor of the Wooroonoon National Park and features a cantilevered lookout and an observation deck. To reach the observation deck, we walked along pathways surrounded by a lush plants and impressive trees to the 15m high boardwalk that would take us through 350m of rainforest. Even after all the rainforest we had already experienced, this height offered yet another point of view.
If you’re game, climb the stairs, up to the 37m high observation deck. You’ll be in awe of the stunning view of the national park from high above the ground. Once at the top it was a quick visit for us as my husband had worn out his bravery for the day and wanted to be back on solid ground.
Mamu tropical skywalk observation deck looking out onto Wooroonoon National Park
On the road again, we headed south to Ingham where we checked into the Tropixx Motel for one night. We grabbed dinner at the local pub, which was hosting a Chicken Schnitzel special, our favourite! We dove into a Seafood & Schnitzel combination of chicken breast schnitzel covered in garlic prawns and a smothering of white sauce. Stuffed and sleepy we headed back to the motel for a good night's rest.
D A Y N I N E:
C A R D W E L L
Up early, we headed to town for supplies & breakfast before heading west through winding forest lined roads & up a steep mountain incline to Australia’s highest single drop waterfall Wallaman Falls. A 300m high drop from top to bottom.
On our way there we stopped to wander through a few bush tracks, a lookouts & enjoy the view of the coast from the mountainside. Once we arrived we marvelled at the waterfall from the lookout. Unsure about the available bush walk ahead, we wandered down the walking track towards the base of the falls, after reading a few warning signs we decided against the four hour return hike and enjoyed the view nearby instead.
The view from the top of the walking track down to Wallaman falls
Time to head north again we made our way to our next destination, Cardwell. A beautiful beachfront town that looks out to one of the largest island national parks in the country, Hichinbrook Island.
The road just south of Cardwell
Sunset at Cardwell from the end of the jetty
D A Y T E N:
M I S S I O N B E A C H
Cardwell jetty at sunset with Hichinbrook Island in the background
The lovely motel staff shared a detailed map of the area and local sights to check out so our day was full of activities before our short drive to Mission Beach. With swimmers on we drove south a short way to five mile swimming hole, a large natural swimming hole 5 miles out of Cardwell. After a cold swim and a few pics, we jumped back in the car towards Cardwell again and turned left down a dirt road to see a few more sights. The Cardwell lookout gave us sweeping views over the small coastal town, we then stopped at a swimming hole, abundant with fish, trickling sounds and clear pools, suitable for all ages.
The view of Hichinbrook Island from Cardwell Lookout
Arriving in Mission beach we made our way directly to Castaways resort where we checked into our awesome accommodation and immediately found the pool & a cocktail. It was Scott’s birthday after all. After a few drinks by the pool we wandered out to the beach to see what all the fuss is about, to be met with stunning views & soft yellow sand. People swam in the safety of a stinger net, so we didn’t hesitate to finally swim at the beach. The ocean was warm and the sun shone down, making the sea glitter & setting the mood. I’d arranged with the restaurant staff to have cake later in the evening for Scott as a surprise.
Castaways resort Mission beach
We headed back to the room to freshen up for dinner & then headed into town. Walking along the beach for the beautiful scenery we passed a bonfire & couples walking at sunset. After checking out a few restaurants we found ourselves listening to a fabulous local band & ordering a spread of seafood dishes at Ocea restaurant. Stuffed to the brim & ready to party we wandered back towards the beach & into Theshrubco where we listened to a guitarist and made friends with a bunch of locals. After several drinks we almost forgot about the cake (which was no longer a surprise), so we scrambled back to Castaways to sing Scott “Happy Birthday”. The night wasn't over so we returned to our new local friends at the pub where we partied the night away until closing time.
D A Y E L E V E N : P A R O N E L L A
P A R K
So hungover from our celebratory evening I struggled hard to motivate myself to get up for the day. But knowing our plan was to visit Paronella Park I knew I needed to make it happen. Ever since I first saw a picture of Paronella Park I’ve been dying to go there. A long shower, a powerade, and a piece of toast got me into the car & on the road. Luckily Scott wasn’t quite in the pain I was so he took the wheel & we headed north to Paronella park. On the way we passed some beautiful green pastures with cows grazing and a few quaint little towns.
On arrival at Paronella park, I knew we were in for a treat. This park came across my news feed a few years ago when I was searching for a wedding venue, after seeing a picture of the waterfall I googled Paronella Park and found this amazing place.
The Park was created back in the 1930’s by a young Jose Paronella, an immigrant from Spain who came to Australia for new opportunities and stayed for the love of tropical north queensland. His dream was to build a kingdom with castles and opulent grounds which he realised over years of construction and a few cyclones. Nowadays the castles are quite dilapidated as the materials used to build them were not the best to last through the decades. The grounds however are a natural wonder & you can see how well thought out each section is. From the avenue of kauri pines to the bamboo forest, rivers, streams and waterfalls surrounded by lush tropical gardens, dozens of turtles and even an eel, this place is a must see for all nature lovers.
Included in our ticket was a guided tour, a 45 minute tour through the gardens with commentary about the story of Jose Paronella and the history of the garden since his death. The amazing collection of plants and spanish inspired structures create a beautiful and tranquil space which looks so natural from its age. The story of Jose Paronella’s life is an emotional one & I found myself fighting back a few tears as the guide carried us away with his story while standing amongst the tallest trees on Kauri Avenue. We spent another hour wandering and exploring the stunning grounds and gardens, enjoying the alluring atmosphere of this magical place.
Kauri Avenue Paronella Park
Exhausted and still recovering from our wild night we set off back to cairns for our final day in the tropics.
D A Y T W E L V E : C A I R N S
Our last day in Queensland, we decided not to tackle too much sightseeing and spent the morning relaxing by the pool and reading a good book. We planned to fit in one last adventure before the end of our holiday, so that afternoon we made our way over to the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Scott and I wandered through some market stalls where we reached the entrance to some walking tracks. Thinking this must be the way to the gardens we wandered up some steps that brought us to map showing where the walking tracks went. We ended up climbing 100’s of steps to an awesome view of the airport and surrounding mountains, before walking back down 100 more steps through the tropical rainforest. We got some great exercise and then found the gardens, 250m in the other direction.
Finally finding the Cairns Botanic gardens and our friends, we strolled across a beautiful lawn to a winding pathway. These beautifully landscaped, tropical gardens feature a huge variety of plants & trees that thrive in Cairns hot & humid climate. Following more winding pathways we crossed a bridge & passed some huge palms. Around the corner was a giant domed greenhouse which was full of hanging ferns, orchids, pitcher plants & staghorns. I found another green sanctuary, one day I hope to have my own greenhouse & garden as lush and tropical as that space.
Cairns botanic gardens
For our final night we grabbed tickets to a comedy show at Cairns Dinner Theatre & grabbed a bite at one of the nearby bars “chicken and beer” and yes we had chicken but I skipped the beer. Since mIssion beach I needed a break from the drinks!
Returning to the hotel we packed our bags ready for our morning flight back to Sydney.
Cairns botanic gardens
This road trip experience will be forever imprinted on my mind. Australia's landscape is so diverse and incredibly beautiful. I feel like I understand the true meaning of Great Southern Land. The open road took us from the city to the rainforest, past farms with cattle, mango plantations, to the desert & rocky mountains inland to Cooktown. We saw at least half a dozen different waterfalls, incredible views of green mountainsides & ravines to massive boulders & acres of tree’s as far as the eye could see. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the rainforests of tropical north Queensland, from the Daintree all the way to the Atherton tablelands and beyond. We couldn't swim in most of the beaches but we snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, found swimming holes & took a dip inside the net at mission beach . It rained occasionally but it helped us cool off form the heat. If I were to do this trip again I wouldn't do it any other way. Australia's tropical north is amazing & I hope everyone has the opportunity to see it one day.
Beware of the crocodiles in North Queensland
What is your favourite adventure destination?
Tell us in the comments below!
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