Tropical North Queensland Destination Guide
Tropical North Queensland Holidays
From the adventure capital of Cairns to the wilderness of Cape York, this is the tropical heart of Queensland, where ancient rainforest and Great Barrier Reef truly meet to bring even the most experienced traveller some of the best Australia has to offer.
The key coastal hot spots of Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas are anchor points for a menu of spectacular holiday treats: the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, the oldest of its kind on Earth; the aquatic wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef; the Barron Gorge National Park; and the food trails of the Atherton Tablelands; Outback adventures along the Savannah Way; or reach for the furthest point north via Cape York.
People love TNQ for its:
- Easy access to the Reef and a world of adventure.
- Spectacular rainforest, coastal and wilderness landscapes.
- Magnificent seafood and tropical gourmet trails.
No visit to this region would be complete without a Reef adventure, whether it’s snorkelling and diving some of the most pristine sites in the world or a day trip to one of the offshore islands. A huge number of tour operators work out of the Cairns Marina, offering different reef and nearby island itineraries, including dive and snorkel day trips, game fishing, and stay-aboard dive cruises. Further north, Port Douglas is best for trips to outer reef hot spots of Agincourt, Opal, St Crispin, Ribbon and Tongue.
From Cairns, an iconic day trip among dozens of possible adventures will see you on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and/or the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Head inland to the Atherton Tablelands and some of the freshest, tastiest produce on the gourmet trail.
From Port Douglas, a first-class beach resort in its own right, you can further explore the Daintree, Cape Tribulation and the spectacular Mossman Gorge. Take a four-wheel-drive trip further north towards the top of the Cape, or stick with the beautiful beaches north of Cairns, including Trinity Beach, Clifton and Palm Cove.
TNQ is also tops for:
- White-water rafting on the Barron and Tully Rivers.
- The gorges and lava tubes of the Gulf Savannah.
- Fishing for that hard-fighting, monster barramundi.
Eat & Drink
The coastal focal points of Cairns, Palm Cove and Port Douglas cater for every taste, from sophisticated bars and restaurants to historic pubs, modern cafes and more humble takeaways. No matter the establishment, the emphasis will be on freshness with that delicious tropical twist. If seafood is your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with a daily harvest straight from the trawlers.
Head inland to the Atherton Tablelands and no fewer than five gourmet trails. From an ideal base at Atherton or Mareeba, it won’t take long for you to understand why this region is the food bowl of Far North Queensland and the source of wonderful tropical produce that makes its way Australia-wide. Take the opportunity to enjoy exotic tropical fruit from roadside stalls, superb cheese, dairy, chocolate and coffee from a range of providores, and sample a north Queensland fruit wine or liqueur direct from the cellar door.
Top taste tips:
- Sample superb cheeses from Mungalli Creek and Gallos Dairyland in the Tablelands.
- Sip on coffee history at Skybury, Australia’s oldest coffee plantation.
- For the best in fresh, all in one spot, don’t miss the weekend Rusty’s Market in the Cairns CBD.
Where to Stay
Cairns has long had a reputation as a key stop on the round-Australia backpacker trail, not only because of the wealth of attractions on offer but also because of excellent budget accommodation. Now, however, the city and beaches to the south and north are equally well known for the sophistication of their hotels and resorts, as well as the widest range of other accommodation options, including modern self-catering apartments.
Further north, in Palm Cove and Port Douglas, accommodation ranges from budget to 5-star with lots of self-catering options, while beach alternatives include rainforest eco-lodges in the Daintree or guest houses, hotels and motels in the Tablelands.
Further afield, in the Gulf Savannah, you will find everything from cattle station farm stays to historic hotels, camp grounds and caravan parks.
Where to stay for what:
- Cairns for a range of land-based and Reef adventures.
- Port Douglas and Palm Cove for beachside luxe.
- Atherton or Mareeba to explore the Tablelands and further inland.
In and around Cairns, you will find everything from designer-label shopping to home-wares, local arts and crafts, pearls and souvenirs. The Pier at the Marina is home to trendy boutiques, galleries and gifts, while Cairns Central is the main shopping hub in the CBD along with nearby Orchid Plaza.
For shopping with a difference, visit the recently opened DFO (Direct Factory Outlet) 10 minutes out of town, with lots of discounted lines from top brands. Meanwhile, self-caterers will make a beeline for the weekend Rusty’s Markets.
For resort wear and all things beach, including some great Reef-inspired artwork, you will find plenty of boutique shopping options in Port Douglas along Macrossan Street or the palm-fringed beachfront shopping strip along Williams Esplanade at Palm Cove. In the Tablelands, follow the gourmet trails for the freshest foods and edible gifts with a difference at local dairies, providores and cellar doors.
TNQ shopping tips:
- Keep an eye out for roadside stalls often offering the freshest produce for just a handful of change.
- The Cairns Night Markets are a must for market lovers – lots of browsing and food to go.
- Indulge your inner hippie with handicrafts and more at Kuranda.
Tropical North Queensland Like a Local
The road trip between Cairns and Cape Tribulation is one of Australia’s best-kept scenic secrets for anyone on wheels. Take in the stunning scenery, see the ancient rainforest meet the beach, linger in beautiful and historic towns and villages, wander isolated coves and bays, take a trip along the Daintree River … The drive, close to 150 kilometres from start to finish, can turn into a holiday in its own right with lots of places to stay on the way, including Palm Cove, Port Douglas, Mossman and Cape Tribulation itself – the staging point for four-wheel-drive adventures even further north.
If a shorter journey is more to your liking, by all means take the scenic railway or Skyrail Cableway from Cairns to the picturesque village of Kuranda with its markets, restaurants, cafes and bars, and great places to stay. However, locals know it’s much less expensive by road for those who have a car. About 40 minutes from the CBD via Highway 1.
Discover like a local:
- The magnificent inland fishing and boating on Lake Tinaroo.
- A whole new perspective with a zip line through the treetops at Cape Trib.
- Foraging and fishing with the Kuku Yalanji people out of Port Douglas.