NORTHERN WANDERERS
This is an enjoyable, leisurely seven day self drive itinerary, which is intended to be an addition to whatever time you have in Cairns itself. For example, if you had a full nine days in the region, we would suggest possibly combining this driving itinerary with, for example, the TWO DAY FLYING STOPOVER ITINERARY. This would make for a varied, yet relaxing nine days, and you would really get to experience a little of everything.
THIS ITINERARY DOES NOT INVOLVE LARGE PERIODS OF DRIVING. AVERAGE DAILY DRIVING DISTANCES ARE BETWEEN 100 AND 200 KILOMETRES. BUT BE SURE TO CHECK THE CURRENT ROAD CONDITIONS BEFORE HEADING OFF!

The coastal route to Cooktown, although 100 kilometres shorter than the inland route, can take longer in driving time because of the 'varied' (to put it politely!) road conditions. In the wet season, the coastal road can become unpassable. You should check the latest ROAD CONDITIONS before setting off.


DAY ONE:

The Millaa Millaa Falls, in the Cairns Highlands.Let's head inland to begin with, to the lush Atherton Tablelands. It's not exactly north, but it's a great place to start. Take the the Captain Cook Highway north to the suburb of Smithfield, and follow the signs to the charming mountain village of Kuranda. If you haven't visited Kuranda yet, it's a must-see. Whether you stop for a visit as you're passing, or whether you make an entire day to spend in Kuranda (travelling from Cairns by Skyrail Rainforest experience cablecar and Kuranda Scenic Railway) is your choice, but we certainly recommend the latter. Kuranda is really an experience in itself, and if you're not familiar with Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, CLICK HERE to see what you're missing out on.

As you make your way up the range to Kuranda, be aware that the mountain road has some very sharp curves. If wet, the surface can become very slippery, so take it easy. The drive itself is very pleasant, a scenic drive through thick rainforest, alongside rocky waterfalls and the buttress roots of giant trees. Every now and then you'll find a breathtaking panorama of the coastal plain through a gap in the trees. But try to keep your eyes on the road and if you feel the urge to stop for a photo opportunity, only do so where it is absolutely safe.

About half an hour inland from Kuranda is Mareeba, your first stop on the Atherton Tablelands. But where to start? Well, to be honest there's just too much to see on the Atherton Tablelands, and it's really just a tease to spend one day there. We do suggest you have a read through our ATHERTON TABLELANDS section, and you may just decide to extend your stay by a few days. But if time is short and you're sticking to your schedule, here's a handful of your choices for Mareeba:

The gigantic rock formations and deep pools at Granite Gorge, 12 kilometres north of Mareeba, will amaze you, and you can feed rock wallabies there any time of day. The gorge is on privately owned land and a nominal charge is made for entry.

Another attraction worth visiting to make your short time in Mareeba worth while is the Mareeba Tropical Savannah and Wetlands Reserve, at the foot of the Hann Tablelands, to the northwest of the town. The Wetlands covers 120 hectares of open water and attracts a rich, diverse bird life and aquatic wildlife. More than 3,300 species of birds have been noted in the Mareeba Shire, making it a leading birdwatching area. Interpretive tours are available as well as canoe hire, picnic grounds and light refreshments.

With clear mountain air and over 300 sunny days a year, Mareeba has become the hot air ballooning capital of Australia. If you would like to see Tropical North Queensland from the sky, this is the place to do it. Of course, most of the tours leave early in the morning, so I hope you've brought your alarm clock. Visit our tours page for a wide selection of HOT AIR BALLOONING TOURS in the area.

Mareeba is known for its coffee plantations, tropical fruit orchards, wineries and distilleries, and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to join what has become known as the 'food trail'. The town also has a rich history, as is portrayed in a number of museums. For more information about this unique and varied destination, please visit our MAREEBA page.

Overnight in Mareeba. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Mareeba. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our MAREEBA TO CHILLAGOE page.


DAY TWO:

I hope you woke up in time for the balloon ride, cause it's a once in a lifetime experience. Now, what did you decide to do with your second day on the Tablelands?

If it's history and culture you're into, look towards Atherton or Yungaburra, or if you don't mind driving a little out of your way, historic Irvinebank, half an hour past Herberton. If you love nature, head to Crater Lakes National Park and the amazing giant trees. Wildlife? Well, you might spot a Platypus near Yungaburra or Malanda. Take a nighttime spotlighting tour, and you might catch a glimpse of the rare Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo. And if you're a keen birdwatcher... well, if you're a keen birdwatcher, you'll need to devote at least a week to the Atherton Tablelands, there's just too much here for one day, as you'll see on our TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND BIRDWATCHING page. Waterfalls? We've got waterfalls! Start at Millaa Millaa, and there's a number of gorgeous waterfalls within a short 17 kilometre circuit.

Or for a real 'down under' experience, head to Undara Volcanic National Park, and tour the world's longest and largest lava tube system. Be aware that Undara is a two or three hour drive southwest from Mareeba, and you'll have to double back the next day since we're heading north. Still, if you're really set on seeing Undara, it's do-able. Why not have a look around the Cairns Highlands during the day, then aim to get to Undara before nightfall? You'll spend the night in luxuriously renovated historic railway carriages, and you'll be there onsite ready for the morning tour of the lava tubes.

Besides, tomorrow is a very easy day. Honest.

Overnight in Undara. Please visit our UNDARA page for a list of all the accommodation available in the area.


DAY THREE:

Beautiful Four Mile Beach, in Port Douglas.Today, we're going to follow the inland road to Port Douglas, and then put our feet up and relax. Port Douglas is a gorgeous spot, with the genuine feel of a small seaside holiday town. The town's spectacular Four Mile Beach is considered to be one of the north's best, and it would be difficult to find a more idyllic location to just 'chill'.

But, if you've still got energy to burn, there's no shortage of things to do in 'Port'. Marina Mirage Port Douglas is a superb complex that offers only the best in shopping, dinning and fun. If you're a keen golfer, we don't need to tell you that you're right in the middle of half a dozen world class golf courses here, from the acclaimed Paradise Palms and Novotel Resort golf clubs, a short drive to the south, to the Links, the Shearton Mirage and the Sea Temple, in Port Douglas. Check out our GOLFING page for more information about Tropical North Queensland's renowned golf courses.

Or if it's a hot day and you fancy a refreshing swim, Mossman Gorge just north of Port Douglas, is the 'coolest' option around. Here, the Mossman River, with its crystal clear water cascades, tumbles its way over and around large granite boulders to create cool freshwater swimming holes. You'll be passing by that way tomorrow, but if you can't wait... it's only a twenty minute drive.

The award winning Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, at the entrance to Port Douglas, has a number of different sections and attractions. If you're looking for something unusual to do with your evening, you can even finish your day off with a visit to the 'Habitat after Dark' exhibition. Or for something completely different, check out the toad racing at the Iron Bar, every Tuesday and Thursday night during winter.

Overnight in Port Douglas. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Port Douglas. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our PORT DOUGLAS page.


DAY FOUR:

Just 50 kilometres north of Port Douglas, you will reach the Daintree River, the best place around to spot Saltwater crocodiles. Be aware that once you cross the Daintree, many services may be in short supply. Mossman is that last major centre, and you should stock up on any necessities there. Mossman has a hospital, and a number of pharmacies. You will find a pharmacy and a health clinic north of the Daintree River but no banks, newsagencies, major supermarkets or hardware stores until Cooktown. There are ATM's at the BP Wonga Service Station, Daintree Palms Beach Resort and the Daintree Store.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah... crocodiles! DAINTREE

Once across the river, it's just 25 kilometres to the beginning of Cape Tribulation. 25 kilometres it may well be, but this is a winding road, and it's not a place to be in a hurry. In fact, once you disembark the ferry, you may find that you are ahead of some local drivers (who know the road). Pull over when you can. Let them pass, and then you can enjoy the leisurely drive to Cape Tribulation.

Cape Tribulation is where the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics Rainforest meets the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef... the only place in the world where two such areas exist side by side. You cannot miss it!

Cape Tribulation is nature itself, with no department stores, Burger King or Pizza Hut. However, if you appreciate nature, this is the place for you. Cape Trib beaches are magnificent (when we say magnificent, we mean magnificent), and there is one for everybody's taste. You can also lose yourself on one of the many walking trails that will allow you to discover the wonders of this fabulous side of the world.

The range of tours is wide and depending on your liking, you can go sea kayaking, scuba diving or jungle surfing. Please, visit our CAPE TRIBULATION page for more information about these and other activities in the area.

Overnight in Cape Tribulation. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Cape Trib. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our CAPE TRIBULATION page.


DAY FIVE:

Well, another new day in Tropical North Queensland and you will be making your way to Cooktown. If you are driving a four wheel drive (please, check our CAIRNS CAR HIRE page to rent one of those for a very competitive price), we highly recommend you take the Bloomfield Track, otherwise known as the Coastal Road. It is an adventurous but rewarding drive and along the way you will find numerous picnic and swimming spots, as well as plenty of photo opportunities.

Just before joining the Bloomfield Track, don't forget to visit the Wujal Wujal falls. Embark on one of the guided tours through the rainforest that some members of the Kuku Yalanji tribe offer and share stories of their ancestral land and the ways of their people.

Once in Cooktown, it will be time for a yummy dinner and some well deserved rest.

Overnight in Cooktown. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Cooktown. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our COOKTOWN page.


DAY SIX:

Welcome to Cooktown, the first true white settlement on Australian soil. It was in Cooktown that Captain Cook's ship, the HMS Bark Endeavour, came to shore, and the town is full of colourful history. Today can be a relaxing day, with lots of historical sites to visit in order to discover a bit more about post-colonial Australia. The town features six statues dedicated to Captain Cook, a memorial to commemorate the death of Mary Beatrice Watson, a Chinese Shrine and a cemetery worth while visiting for being probably the best presented graveyard in Australia. Of course, don't miss James Cook's Museum, where the anchor and cannon of the HMS Bark Endeavour are on public display, including some extracts from Cook's journal; and Cooktown Sea Museum, home to some creatures that are found in and around the Coral Reef, as well as maritime relics and some other very interesting artifacts.

The Milbi Wall, an impressive collage designed and constructed by local Aboriginal people to acknowledge the significance of their first encounter with Europeans, is a must.

And if, after all this history, you still have time or the energy, Cooktown beaches are an ideal spot to go fishing, enjoy a spectacular sunset or just relax. Visit our COOKTOWN page for more information about all the beaches and other natural sites in the area.

Overnight in Cooktown. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Cooktown. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our COOKTOWN page.


DAY SEVEN:

Cairns, in Tropical North Queensland, is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest.Today you start your way back to CAIRNS, but if you have had a look at our Cairns page, this doesn't mean the fun is over.

If you have decided to take the inland route this time, which is considerably longer than the coastal route but takes the same amount of time, you won't be disappointed. The first town you will find is Lakeland and, although it consists of little more than a few shops, it is close to the Palmer Rivers Goldfields, which are perhaps the most famous of the Far North's mining endeavours. While in Lakeland, visit the Butcher's Hill Station, where horses were bred for the Indian Army at the end of the 19th century.

Other little settlements before getting to Port Douglas include Mount Molloy and Mount Carbine, both reminders of the region's once abundant copper and mineral deposits. If you stop at Mount Carbine, don't miss visiting the pub, where a big collection of funny signs and artwork is on display.

From here you will again get to Port Douglas. This time we recommend you take a leisurely drive through Cairns Beaches, admiring the pleasant little villages along the way. There are plenty of picnic and barbecue spots, where you can stop and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Trinity Beach was voted North Queensland's Cleanest Beach in 2003 and 2004. Besides, it won the 2004 Keep Australia Beautiful Clean Beach Challenge. Palm Cove is home to Cairns Tropical Zoo (formerly Wild World) and Outback Opal Mine. Palm Cove is also one of the few areas where you can still see kangaroos in the wild, close to a major city. Cairns beaches are a fantastic place to chill out just before you finish your seven day itinerary and get back to exciting and dynamic Cairns.

Beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls, in Tropical North Queensland.
Amazing Four Mile Beach, in Port Douglas, one of the most impressive beaches in Tropical North Queensland.
Cape Tribulation Beach, in Tropical North Queensland
Sunrise over Cape Tribulation Beach, in Tropical North Queensland.
Tropical North Queensland boasts cool and refreshing rainforest streams.