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Tropical North-East of Australia

This motorhome trip will guide you through the unique regions of the far North Queensland, with an optional trip using 4x4 vehicles. Follow the Great Tropical Drive, during which you will familiarise yourself with Australia’s most famous attractions: the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, Hinchinbrook Island, and the Undara Lava Tubes.

Your route

  • from / to Cairns
  • 14 days / 2,100 km
  • Best time to travel: April to October

Arrival in Cairns and collection of the camper

Cairns is located in the north of Queensland. William Wellington Cairns, the governor of the state, established the city in 1876. It was an export port for gold and other minerals obtained in the mines located inland. What is more, the export of sugar cane gained importance in the area in the following years.

Cairns offers numerous excursion possibilities. You can schedule them at the beginning or the end of your camper trip. Although Cairns is situated directly on the sea, the city has no direct access to the beach. There is a man-made and, therefore, child-friendly salt water lagoon. There is also a mangrove area exposed to the tide bordered by a beach promenade.

A few kilometres north of Cairns, you can find the most beautiful beaches of Queensland, for example, Trinity Beach. You can reach the Great Barrier Reef on a speedboat in 90 minutes. Additional highlights that can be visited here are the Fitzroy-Iceland National Park and Green Island.

Highlights & Tips

Walk through the botanical gardens in Cairns
Flecker Botanical Gardens are located only a few kilometres from the centre. Here, you can find rare tropical fauna and flora.

Excursion around the Atherton Tablelands
The Skyrail Cableway will take you from Cairns to Kuranda. The trip offers a stopover in the Aboriginal cultural centre. The return trip to Cairns can be started off with a ride on the historical Kuranda Scenic Railway with beautiful scenery.

Cairns & Port Douglas

Suggested route: Cairns - Yorkeys Knob - Port Douglas

Cairns – Port Douglas

Suggested route: Cairns – Yorkeys Knob – Port Douglas

Stage distance: approx. 70 km

Take a leisurely ride along the golden chain of beaches stretching north of Cairns. Watch the surfers on Machans Beach or enjoy a stay in Yorkeys Knob, which is full of palm trees. A great experience is to have a picnic under the almond trees on Trinity Beach. Continue along the Cook Highway. Go to the tropical oasis, Port Douglas, which is situated between a rainforest, which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a reef.

Highlights & Tips

Great place for taking photos
Stop at the Rex Lookout for magical views of the Coral Sea beaches.

Walk on the beach with views
Walking along the white sands of a four-mile beach and climbing Flagstaff Hill for stunning views over Port Douglas are a great experience. You will also have the opportunity to observe local birdlife in the nearby rainforest conservation area.

Let the day end in Port Douglas
Visit the chic art galleries and enjoy the breeze at an open-air dinner venue on Macrossan Street.

Port Douglas – Cooktown

Suggested route: Port Douglas – Daintree National Park – Cooktown

Stage distance: approx. 260 km

Spend a day snorkeling or scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef or just continue to Cooktown. Immerse yourself in three unique Aboriginal highlights along the Bama Way. The route takes you through the magical Mossman Gorge located in the Daintree National Park, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can walk along Cooya Beach in the area traditionally inhabited by the Kuku Yalanji and then, drive north towards the Daintree Rainforest.

Cruise the Daintree River and marvel at the tropical birds and crocodiles, then, cross the river on a ferry and continue your journey towards Cape Tribulation. Spend a night at a campsite in the area. If you have rented a 4x4 vehicle, you can take the Bloomfield Track, which runs into the remote wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula.

You can visit Bloomfield Falls with a Wujal Wujal guide and explore the dense tropical rainforest of the Cedar Bay National Park. Cross the rugged Black Mountain area and watch thousands of water birds in Keating’s Lagoon. If you reach Cooktown, you can admire the ancient rock paintings during a night hike.

Highlights & Tips

Cruise the Daintree River
You can find more information on the websites of local companies, for example:
Daintree River Cruise Centre
Belcher´s Daintree River Cruise

Cooktown – Mareeba

Suggested route: Cooktown – Black Mountain National Park – Lakeland – Laura – Mareeba

Stage distance: approx. 270 km

Explore the historic site of Cooktown, Australia’s first European settlement and the site of wild gold rush in the 19th century. You can visit Grassy Hill to have a good view of the reef, where Captain Cook’s boat got into trouble in 1770.

Travel south-west towards the Black Mountain National Park, with glossy black boulders. Then, continue to Lakeland in the tranquil Laura River Valley, where you can enjoy freshly brewed coffee from local plantations. In the near vicinity, approximately 60 km north-west from the area, in a small town of Laura, you can find the world’s largest collection of prehistoric rock paintings.

The Palmer River Roadhouse, which comes from the times of the gold rush in the 1870s, can be found south of Lakeland. By travelling further south towards Mareeba, you will be surrounded by orchards, coffee plantations, wineries, and sugar cane fields of the Tropical/Atherton Tablelands.

Highlights & Tips

Guided tours to rock paintings
The Quinkan & Regional Culture Center offers some of the world’s most important prehistoric rock paintings and guided tours, which will help you to become familiarised with this ancient art.

Mareeba – Ravenshoe

Suggested route: Mareeba – Atherton – Ravenshoe

Stage distance: approx. 110 km

Learn why Mareeba is known as the “Tropical Fruit Bowl” of Queensland. Stop by the cafés, street stalls, orchards, and plantations. Observe water birds in the Mareeba Waterlands, which are located not far away from the city. Further to the east, you can marvel at rock paintings created by Aborigines in the Davies Creek National Park or swim near the Emerald Creek Falls. There is also an off-road detour which has 140 km. It will take you to the Chillagoe, a limestone cave, before returning to the proper route again.

The trip continues to Atherton, located in the heart of the lush Tropical Tablelands. Walk through the rainforest, pass a miniature waterfall, and enjoy the view from the highest point of the plateau, the extinct volcano Hallorans Hill. What is more, you can have a picnic in Park Platypus in Atherton, pay a visit to the centuries-old Chinese temple, and listen to the singing of birds in Hasties Swamp. Take the steam train to the old tin mining town of Herberton or travel along the Kennedy Highway. Admire the deep crater of Mount Hypipamee on the way to Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland situated at the height of 930 m.

Highlights & Tips

Relax in Atherton
You can have a picnic in Park Platypus in Atherton, pay a visit to the centuries-old Chinese temple, and listen to the singing of birds in Hasties Swamp.

Queensland's highest pub
There are many pubs in Australia. The highest pub in Queensland, "The Top Pub," can be found only in Ravenshoe. The Top Pub is located opposite the Win’s Gallery, where regional art is exhibited.

Ravenshoe – Undara Volcanic National Park

Suggested route: Ravenshoe –Tully Falls – Millstream Falls – Ravenshoe – Innot Hot Springs –Undara Volcanic National Park

Stage distance: approx. 160 km

Follow the Tully Falls Road south in the direction of the Tully Falls. The Tully Falls are located almost 300 metres above the sparkling rocks surrounded by rainforest. Visit the little Millstream Falls during your return trip from Ravenshoe. The Millstream Falls, the widest waterfall in Australia, can be reached by following the highway near the village. The hot springs are another important highlight. You can relax in the healing mineral waters of the sources, before returning on the road. Follow the Savannah Way to Mount Garnet and the “Forty Mile Scrub” National Park. Here, the route passes through vineyards and huge fig trees.

You will continue west, to the Undara Volcanic National Park, where you can admire the remains of the world’s largest lava flow from a single volcano. Go to the Kalkani Crater, along the Pioneer Track to the Rosella Plains, or the Atkinson’s vantage point. You will see the lava fields and have the opportunity to explore former volcanic caves that are now a fertile rainforest. You can spend the night on the nearby campsites.

Highlights & Tips

Hiking in the volcanic landscape
The Undara Volcanic National Park provides numerous hiking opportunities.

Campsites in the area
Wild camping is not allowed in the Undara Volcanic National Park. You can use one of the nearby campsites to stay for the night. For example, the Bedrock Village Campground.

Undara Volcanic National Park – Charters Towers

Suggested route: Undara Volcanic National Park – The Lynd – Einasleigh – Charters Towers

Stage distance: approx. 400 km

Drive on the Kennedy Highway to The Lynd or take the less developed route along the Gregory Developmental Road. From there, you will travel west through Mount Surprise, then, south to the old copper mining town of Einasleigh, situated on the banks of the Copperfield River. Wander through the deep ravines and the quiet river of Copperfield Gorge, which was carved by an ancient lava flow.

Then, you will drive to the Lynd Junction.You can meet at least one of the three people who live there in the Oasis Roadhouse, the supposedly smallest bar of Queensland. What is more, you can experience the real Australian beauty while walking around the old nickel mining town of Greenvale.

Travel south towards the Dalrymple National Park, with paths along the Burdekin River and old basaltic lava flows known as the Toomba. Continue to Charters Towers, where the old streets will give you a gist of the city’s golden days during the boom of the 1800s. Follow the ghosts of gold Heritage Trail.

Highlights & Tips

Sightseeing in Charters Towers
In Charters Towers, there are many attractions such as the Zara Clark Folk Museum, the Civic Club or the World Theatre.

Campsites in the area
Charters Towers Tourist Park is one of the places where you can leave your camper.

Charters Towers – Townsville

Suggested route: Charters Towers – Bowling Green Bay National Park – Townsville

Stage distance: approx. 270 km

Travel along the Flinders Highway to the east. In the meantime, you will be able to observe water birds at the Mingela Wetlands. Before Townsville, there is a possibility of a detour to the “Bowling Green Bay” – a national park. You will be able to admire rugged mountains, wetlands, saltpans, and mangrove forests. A day’s hike will take you through Mount Elliot and past the deep pools and waterfalls of the Alligator Creek. Marvel at the diverse wildlife, including brushtail possum, opossum, and wallabies. Maybe you will also watch the kangaroo feeding, which takes place in the early morning or late afternoon.

In Townsville, you can stroll along the picturesque promenade of the Strand and visit the world’s largest aquarium with living coral reef. You can try out fresh seafood on Palmers Street and explore the nightlife on Flinders Street East.

Highlights & Tips

Magnetic Island
You can spend a day to take a 25-minute catamaran ride to Magnetic Island, where you can swim, snorkel, ride, and hike through the grounds of the national park on the island.

Townsville – Ingham

Suggested route: Townsville – Paluma Range National Park – Jourama Falls – Ingham

Stage distance: approx. 180 km

You will head north along the Great Green Way and make a stopover to wander through the lush rainforest of the Paluma Range National Park. You can also swim in the Big or Little Crystal Creek, where a historic bridge spans the river. From the McClellands Lookout located in the Paluma Range National Park, you can admire the views of the islands and the coast. Before reaching Ingham, a detour is recommended. It will take you along an unpaved road to the Jourama Falls, where you can spot various birds and butterflies, and to the Cascades of Waterview Creek, where you can have a picnic.

Ingham is full of Mediterranean flair, which is owing to the Italians, Spaniards, and Basques who migrated here in the past. The place is well-known for the cultivation of sugar cane. You can admire here the elegant historic buildings of the city during Hinchinbrook Heritage Walk, between Inghram and the nearby Halifax. Spend the night in Ingham or one of the nearby picturesque coastal towns, such as Lucinda, Halifax, Taylors Strand, or Forrest Beach.

Highlights & Tips

Paradise for bird watchers
Visit the Tyoto Wetlands, home to 200 species of birds, tropical plants, and native wildlife, such as kangaroos and crocodiles.

Ingham – Cardwell

Suggested route: Ingham – Cardwell – per Fähre auf Hinchinbrook Island

Stage distance: approx. 200 km

Travel west to the Wallaman Falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall. You can follow the Banggurru Walk, which will take you along the banks of Stony Creek, or the shorter Jinda Walk into the gorge.

Continue towards the coast, where you can admire the longest sugar loading jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. It can be found in Lucinda. It is easy to spot that the six-kilometre structure follows the curvature of the Earth. From Lucinda, take a ferry to Hinchinbrook Island or take one from Cardwell. On Hinchinbrook Island, you will find Australia’s largest national park with cloud-covered mountains, sparse heathland vegetation, lush rainforest, eucalyptus forest, and mangrove forests. On the coast, there is a possibility to try out snorkelling with turtles and dugongs as well as to marvel at the beautiful reefs and sea grass meadows.

Highlights & Tips

Stay on Hinchinbrook Island
Spend the night on a pre-booked campsite.

Walking through the Hinchinbrook Island National Park
You can also take the 32-kilometre trail from Ramsay Bay to George Point. You will stay there for approximately two nights.

Cardwell – Tully/Mission Beach

Stage distance: approx. 45 km

Explore Cardwell’s historic buildings and modern marina, before heading north towards Kennedy. Leave the highway and then, go east to the Edmund Kennedy National Park for a beach picnic or west to Murray, where you will find breathtaking waterfalls.

A dirt road leads north from here, to the Tully Gorge National Park. In the park, you can participate in a hiking trip with a local Aborigine as a guide through the rainforest, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, past traditional healing ponds and along the banks of Echo Creek. You can swim beneath a waterfall in crystal clear ponds or participate in a rafting adventure on the Tully River. If you are looking for relaxation, you can have a picnic or follow a 20-minute Rainforest Butterfly Walk to the gorge. Also, trips to the Elizabeth Grand Falls, the Cannabullen Falls, and the Misty Mountains Trails are all highly recommended.

Highlights & Tips

Relax in Tully or on Mission Beach
In the evening, you can take a detour to Tully or visit the lively Mission Beach.

Tully/Mission Beach – Innisfail

Suggested route: Tully/Mission Beach – Mena Creek – Innisfail

Stage distance: approx. 50 km

You cannot miss the Golden Gumboot in Tully, an eight-metre high trophy awarded for the city with the highest level of precipitation. There is a vantage point from which you can see the city and the Tully Sugar Mill. Through the lowland rainforest, you can hike along the Lacey Creek Walk in the surrounding area of the city. Look out for the cassowaries, with their blue necks and a royal headdress.

The ride continues to Mission Beach, where the golden sand is lined with a line of green forest. Follow the Ulysses Link Walking Track along Mission Beach, past the artworks depicting the history of the region, from the times of Aborigines until European immigration.

You can also go to Innisfail to visit the historic soldier settlement of El Arish. As a detour from the highway, we recommend the Mena Creek and Paronella Park with the castle, built by Spanish immigrants, surrounded by waterfalls and gardens full of butterflies. Spend the evening in the vibrant town of Innisfail.

Highlights & Tips

Tropical island stay
Extend your stay with a day trip to Dunk Island, a small tropical island off the coast of Mission Beach.

Innisfail – Cairns

Suggested route: Innisfail – Cairns

Stage distance: approx. 90 km

Stroll along a line of elegant art deco buildings in Innisfail. Visit the Chinese temple and the Sugar Museum or a tea plantation. Then, proceed north to the Eubenangee Swamp National Park, where you will find rare plants and native wildlife living in the wetlands. You will have the opportunity to watch birds, butterflies, turtles, and crocodiles on the Alice River.

Go to the beach in the vicinity of the Ella Bay National Park, past waterfalls, wild rivers, and 500 species of rainforest trees in the Wooroonooran National Park. The park is home to a fascinating array of wildlife.

Get to the top of Mount Bartle Frere, the highest mountain in Queensland, take a rest near the Josephine Falls, or experience the white-water rafting on the Johnstone River. Visit a lavender farm in Aloomba and then, take the main road in the charming Gordonvale. Through Edmonton, you will travel to Cairns, the gateway to the islands, rainforests, and reefs of the tropical North Queensland.

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