If you love the sun, sand and sea then this short road trip past palm-tree fringed beaches, tropical islands, and plenty of points where you can access the Great Barrier Reef is a must do. Travelling from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, you’ll get to take your pick of remote beaches where you can easily spend an entire day snorkelling, swimming and dozing off beneath a palm tree. What’s best is you don’t need a whole week to complete this trip. At 140 km it can be done in three days but we’d recommend stretching it out to at least four to make sure you don’t miss any of the tropical wonders along this lush stretch known as the Great Barrier Reef drive. The best time to do this trip is May to September when the humidity is not so melting and the maximum temperature is 26 degrees (Celsius).
Before you leave tropical Cairns, take a 45 minute ferry ride out to a tropical island covered in lush rainforests and surrounded by some of the best snorkelling spots in Australia. Green Island is a stunning pint-size island located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. As soon as you arrive, take a walk around the island to find a sheltered section of sand where you can base yourself for the day. Take your snorkel and explore the coral reefs directly out from the beach or hop on a glass bottom boat or semi submarine coral viewing tour to explore the reef without getting wet.
Back on land, cool down with a walk through the rainforest and then head to one of the island's restaurants or casual cafes for lunch. We recommend grabbing a takeaway burger from Canopy Grill or head to Lite Bites for a refreshing milkshake.
Stay overnight at the luxurious Green Island Resort or head back to the mainland at the end of the day.
You can’t pass by Port Douglas without visiting the expansive, safe-swimming Four Mile Beach. Protected by a stinger net during jellyfish season and patrolled by surf lifesavers, this is a great beach to enjoy a dip without worrying about what lies beneath the beautiful blue water!
From the main Port Douglas township, you can walk to Four Mile Beach in less than five minutes. You’ll first reach the northern rocky headland where children love to explore and chase the small crabs. Take a long walk beneath the swaying palm trees or lay out a towel and a picnic and spend the day dozing under the hot sun.
Walk back to Port Douglas township for a Buddha Bowl and smoothie at Betty’s Bohemian Beach followed by homemade gelato at Capannina.
There’s no shortage of leisurely outdoor pursuits to keep you busy for a day at Mossman Gorge in Daintree National Park. The main attraction is the crystal-clear water in the gorge that’s been described as some of the cleanest water in the entire world! After a refreshing dip in the cool water, lay out a picnic under the shade of a tree and gaze up to see beautiful tropical birds gliding above you. Stand up paddling boarding is also on offer on the Mossman River. In the afternoon, go on a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk through the rainforest with one of the local guides. The walk will take you past traditional Aboriginal bark shelters, culturally significant sites and over cool rainforest streams. You’ll learn more about traditional plant use, identify bush food sources and at the end of the day, enjoy a traditional bush tea and damper. We do recommend paying for the shuttle from the Mossman Gorge centre into the heart of the Gorge though, as the road can be dangerous to walk.
If you’ve been gazing out the window at the fields of sugarcane on the Great Barrier Reef Drive and wondered how it’s grown and harvested then a stop at Sweet Farm is a must. This working farm offers guided tours through its fields of Australian origin cocoa and sugarcane fields and the best part, tastings of the final products! The farm was the first commercial manufacturer to make chocolate using cocoa grown in Australia. As a result, they have control over every part of the cocoa bean to chocolate making process. You’ll also get to check out a vanilla plantation and find out why it’s the most expensive spice on the planet.
Learn more about the oldest rainforest in the world at the Daintree Discovery Centre. There’s an aerial walkway that will take you through the forest canopy, reaching around 23m above ground, where you’ll be able to see for yourself the plants and animals that live at this height. You can then head back to ground to wind through the pathways on the rainforest floor. A handheld audio guide will provide fascinating information about this precious environment, including how the plants and animals of the Daintree have survived and evolved over millions of years.
The discovery centre is also one of the best places to see the endangered Cassowaries, a tall black and blue bird with a ‘casque’ or helmet on the top of its head.
After a hot day exploring Daintree National Park, you’ll be in dire need of one of the refreshing, home-made ice creams from Daintree Ice Cream Company. You’ll get to sample anything from coconut and passionfruit ice cream to wattle seed or black sapote. All their ice creams are made from fruit grown in their onsite orchard so flavours change depending on what’s in season. Make sure you order their famous sample cup to try four different flavours at once!
As well as making delicious ice cream, the company also works to rejuvenate and promote the survival of native fauna and local wildlife. They specialise in raising orphaned kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons which you might see hopping around the property and they have put aside land dedicated to growing native plants and trees.
Fringed with palm trees and pure white sand, Myall Beach is one of the most stunning beaches on Cape Tribulation with the added bonus of being extremely easy to access from the nearby township. You’ll want to spend a day here exploring the rock pools just off the beach which are exposed in low tide. At the southern end of the beach, you can follow a track to the local shop where you can grab a much needed ice cream. At the northern end of the beach, you’ll find a path that leads to the Cape Tribulation headland. Myall Creek mouth can be found not too far from the beach, however, it’s not recommended for swimming as salt water crocodiles are known to frequent the area.
Stay a night or two right on the beach at Cape Tribulation Camping. Even if you don’t stay the night, you have to stop at the onsite restaurant to sample one of their woodfired pizzas.
Some say this beach is the jewel in the crown of the Cape Tribulation area. Sheltered from strong winds by the Cape Tribulation headland, this beach is a secluded haven where you can relax and swim. Move on from the southern end of the beach as this is where day trippers and tourists from day tour buses tend to congregate - the further you move away, the less people you will encounter.
As well as great swimming you can also take the boardwalk up the headland where you’ll be treated to expansive views out to the Great Barrier Reef and beyond. If you head north from the beach, you’ll come across The Beach House where you’ll be able to tuck into a burger, kangaroo steak or some salt and pepper calamari. After lunch, keep heading north all the way to Emmagen Beach. (But do make sure you check the tides first as high tide could leave you stranded.)
Cape Tribulation is also the launching point for boat tours out to the Great Barrier Reef. Operated by tour operator Ocean Safari, the half-day tour will pick you up from Cape Tribulation beach and take you out to two top snorkeling spots on the Great Barrier Reef where you’ll get to see an array of marine life include tropical fish, eagle rays, giant clams as well as some spectacular coral species. If you’re really lucky, you might get to swim alongside a turtle!