A few visits here and there in the Tropical North Queensland, the humid and hot part of Queensland. Typical Australian atmosphere around Cairns and its surroundings (Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Capre Tribulation…) which make it the perfect Aussie holiday destination.
Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef
It is possible to go out for a day trip on the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, Lot of tourist agencies can guide you, whether you are attracted by snorkelling or fond of diving, or consider skydiving…And from Cairns, you may also want to go up north, to Port Douglas (hundred of kms north) which is the last real holiday city in Queensland.
If you wish to visit the Reef (which is undoubtedly the case, otherwise why would you be in Cairns :)), it is better to choose tours which can bring you directly to it, located approx 3/4 hours from the coast by boat. Indeed, islands close to the reef like Green island are not the best option for quality snorkelling. They are very popular, you won’t be the only one exploring the reef and the (dead) corals and many seagulls are likely to bother you as they may be very aggressive, looking to steal your food ! It is also very important to compare the prices of the agencies in the street of Cairns and there is a big range of prices between each of them, for different services. Some of them are clearly too expensive and they propose you to explore places where the reef is already completed dead and bleaching..Inform yourself and talk to travellers in your hotels or to your friends. Word to mouth is the best advice you can get, from people just back from the reef.
As you are in the middle of the ocean, it can be cold and rough, be careful and some people died at the reef recently (heart attack…) so be careful. whether you going diving or snorkelling.
Cape Tribulation and the rainforest
Then we continued our road trip further north, in the wilder area of Cape Tribulation, where the sealed road stops, making us stop our way as well (we did not rent 4 wheel drive). Beyond, it is a complete adventure and wild world only accessible to 4 wheels drive, remote Aboriginal lands not very explored by travellers, until the northern tip of continental Australia, Cape York, facing Papua New Guinea. Anyway Cape Tribulation is already very wild and one of the most spectacular place in Australia, where millennial rainforest meet the coral sea…And the area has also a natural boundary with the south part of the north Queensland, Port Douglas and Cairns, with the Mossman River. No bridge to cross it! Full of crocodiles, you need to take the ferry with your car to go to the other bank of the river. Of course it is not recommended to take a swim in the surroundings, be really careful to crocs and jellyfishes! Regular deadly accidents happen! Signs are showing you where it is prohibited to swim anyway, near the beaches and the billabongs.
Look for wild cassowaries!
“Where the Rainforest meets the Coral sea”. Cape Tribulation is wild, the feeling to reach remote Australia.
Don’t expect some comfort or 5-stars hotels in Cape Trib. Sleeping in your van in camping grounds is the best way to rest over there. Buy your own food and drinks before coming as there is almost nothing to purchase. Take as well a warm jumper for cold nights up there, even if you are going during the tropical summer. The wind from the ocean and the humidity of the rainforest are dropping the temperatures, in night but also during the day, as the it is very shady everywhere, due to the very old and thick trees covering the area,
You may have the opportunity to spot cassowaries, endemic animals of Cape York, open your eyes and don’t drive at night!
A trip to the Outback
Trip to Outback, actually not far from Cairns and the coast, but already the feeling to be alone. We chose 2 spots: Chillagoe, well-known for its caves and the vestiges of an old mine, now abandoned but used during the gold rush period beginning of XXth century and the Innot hot springs, really really hot water coming out of the suffer-rich ground. It is however possible to relax in some hot spots built by local and motels, try it! These two places are located 4/5 hours from Cairns, not so far and they will give you an excellent overview of the Australian desert. Personally, they are my favorite places in North Queensland, remote areas where you feel lonely and facing the immensity of the desert!
Lost “in the middle of nowhere”!
As for the accommodations, you won’t have much choice over there. Vast majority of Australian travelling to their country will choose to camp, but you also have quite good motels which decrease the price to attract the few tourists in roadtrip in the region. Locals are not very friendly however, they are the real Australians from the outback! Welcome to remote Australia mate! But don’t be afraid either, you’re not in Wolf Creek movie! In any case you will have a privileged contact with the pristine nature of Queensland.
You will see few animals in these dry areas, except the endemic black parrot, also the symbol of this region or lezards like the bearded dragon.
Also very important, take a good car insurance covering everything! Unfortunately we didn’t take a full one, costing us $700 at the end for damages we accidentally made on the bumper of the van…not a big deal but it could have been worse as sometimes you don’t drive on seal roads in the desert. Also, carefully monitor your tank and petrol from time to time as distances are often important between two petrol stations.
Where did we sleep?
A few choices in this touristic part of Australia, at least along the coast.
- Geckos Packpacker Cairns: A good classic backpacker in a lively city of Cairns, 15 mns walk from city center. Facing a mall where you can find everything you need at the local supermarket. However, rooms are very small and the pool is not very big either.
- Chillagoe Cockatoo Motel: A motel lost in the desert, in Chillagoe. Managed by specials but helpful owners, it is almost the only available accomodation over there. Very typical, nested next to a dusty road where almost no one is coming, bungalows are simple but comfortable. Lot of wallabies at night. 4/5 hours from Cairns,
- Cape Tribulation Camping: A very basic campground in the heart of Cape Tribulation. Also possible to eat fresh wooden fired pizzas, quite nice. Good place if you have a campervan.