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Christian Baines Senior Content Editor 10 months, 4 weeks ago

How to Plan a Great Tropical North Queensland Vacation

  • Stand-up paddle boarding, Tropical North Queensland

Craving all the best things a tropical island vacation can offer? How about throwing in icons like the world’s largest living reef system and the world’s oldest rainforest? Add a glimpse of the oldest human culture on earth, and you have an unforgettable vacation that can only be had in one place.

And it’s all still on an island, even if it also happens to be a continent.

Tropical North Queensland is a part of Australia that captures our imaginations, with the vivid colors of the Great Barrier Reef, and the unique balance between the Daintree Rainforest and the ancient culture of the Kuku Yalanji people who’ve called it home for an estimated 50,000 years. That’s some serious eco-sustainability! Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef with cruise vessel


The Best Ways to See the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, stretching over 2300 kilometers (1429 miles) from end to end along Queensland’s coast. It nurtures over 9,000 identified species, with more being added to the list each year, from fish to reptiles, to mollusks, to the coral itself. The ecological challenges facing the reef are well documented, but the opportunities to explore it sustainably are endless.  Cairns, Port Douglas, and Mission Beach are the closest points in Australia to experience the Great Barrier Reef, making them ideal places to stay. Travel out to a secluded sand cay or island, go snorkeling or diving to bask in its beauty up close, book a liveaboard experience and get to know the inhabitants of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, fly high over the reef on an aerial tour to appreciate its enormity, or keep things economical with a well-organized full day experience out to a designated snorkeling and diving spot that balances sustainability with the reef’s natural beauty. Choose your own Cairns and Great Barrier Reef adventure for unforgettable moments you’ll be talking about for years to come.  Man and woman snorkeling on Great Barrier Reef


Explore the Daintree: The World’s Oldest Living Rainforest

Tropical North Queensland has another superlative feather in its cap. The Daintree Rainforest, as part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area, is the oldest continuous living tropical rainforest on Earth, dating back at least 135 million years and probably more. Visitors today flock to Mossman Gorge, a section of Daintree National Park where the clear waters of the Mossman River cascade over large granite boulders, and to uncover the ancient traditions of the Kuku Yalanji people, who remain to this day the Daintree’s custodians, and are happy to share a glimpse into their 50,000+-year-old culture. Travel on to Cape Tribulation, renowned as the place where the rainforest meets the reef and the ultimate destination for travelers seeking a real connection to nature. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Cassowary, Australia’s avian icon, an elusive and shy bird the size of an adult man. Painted like an emu ready to do a drag show, their striking look hides a protective and sometimes dangerous personality with vicious claws on their feet to back it up, so keep a respectful distance. Australian First Nations men in traditional markings.


Kuranda is Ideal for a Quick Queensland Rainforest Trip

If you don’t have time to get to the Daintree or explore the rainforest in detail, the charming mountain town of Kuranda has an offer for you. Take in the view of beautiful Barron Falls on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, or the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for an aerial experience through the Wet Tropics rainforest, and make your appointment with Rainforestation Nature Park. Here, the rainforest, First Nations culture, and adorable Australian native animals come together in one unforgettable attraction. Get your photo with a koala (something you can only do in Queensland or South Australia), take an amphibious boat tour, come face to fang with fearsome crocodiles, learn a little local history and some essential skills from the region’s indigenous people and see how their story continues today.Scenic Skyrail gondola over Kuranda rainforest.


Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia

Cairns is known for its laid-back, tropical city vibes and as the hub of tourism for the entire region, it’s worth getting out to explore while you’re in town. The popular Cairns Esplanade offers a public lagoon right in the center of town, ideal for anyone craving a swim, where the beaches are a bit further up north. Cairns also offers Rusty’s Markets one of Australia’s most vibrant undercover markets, small but impressive museums and galleries, and some of the best, most innovative Asian cuisine in Australia. Visit with a healthy sense of curiosity and slow yourself down to Cairns time for a great urban escape.

If you’d prefer to stay out of the city entirely, the coast between Cairns and Port Douglas, where many reef cruises depart, is dotted with beach enclaves featuring comfortable resorts from eco-focused rainforest immersions to digital detox retreats to LGBTQ+-focused properties. Many resorts offer private beaches and spectacular rainforest landscaping to conjure that feeling that you’ve left the world behind, along with delicious onsite restaurants for breakfast or dinner. If you’d rather dine locally, the restaurants of Cairns, Palm Cove, and Port Douglas are only a short drive away!Scenic railway to Kuranda, Queensland


Tips for Visiting North Queensland

North Queensland is a beautiful and safe destination year-round for all kinds of travelers. The waters of the Great Barrier Reef are inviting in any season. The warmer half of the year from October to March is often muggy, but an ice-cold drink or a refreshing downpour to clear the air is never far away. Wear, light, breathable clothes that will dry quickly if the skies do open up.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind for a safe trip. We’re not talking about crocodiles, cassowaries, or other tropical residents. A respectful distance and obeying your guide’s instructions and local signage will keep you out of trouble with the wildlife, but don’t underestimate the sun in this part of the world! Don a protective sun shirt/sun suit and apply regular top-ups of eco-friendly, coral reef-safe sunscreen, especially out on the reef where you may be exposed for several hours at a time. 

The oceans around northern Australia are home to some of the world’s most spectacular marine life, especially on the Great Barrier Reef. Closer to shore, this includes marine stingers, some of which are dangerous, most famously the box jellyfish and Irukandji. These can be found around Tropical North Queensland coastal waters from around October through to May. Most popular beaches have stinger nets patrolled by lifeguards in place, but it is still recommended you wear a protective suit which also helps shield you from the sun. Always adhere to signage, and during stinger season, if in doubt, it’s best to stay out. That said, this gives the local resorts, (and Cairns itself) another reason to go the extra mile when it comes to pools, artificial lagoons, and other ways to cool off. A tropical resort pool or lagoon is a great place to sip a sunset cocktail after a memorable day in Cairns and Great Barrier Reef.

Aerial view of an island in the Great Barrier Reef.All images contributed by Tourism Tropical North Queensland.


4 Apr 2023, 7:54 p.m.

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