Driving Tropical North Queensland

Driving TNQ 960x 350

If temperate tropical waters lapping at pristine, palm tree-lined beaches fringed by World Heritage-listed rainforest sounds like the ingredients to a pretty drive to you, the trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation along the Captain Cook Highway in Tropical North Queensland is sure to delight.

Port Douglas

The 66km journey from Cairns to Port Douglas is postcard-perfect the entire way, weaving through the lush carpet of sugarcane that dominates the coastal flats and hugging the coast as the mountainous hinterland closes in on the sea further north.

With Port Douglas’ coastal chic boutiques, fine dining options and stunning seaside location, there’s little wonder Port Douglas is heaven for those with a taste for the finer things in life. While there is a pretty special spot to camp just up the coast on Wonga Beach for those wanting to avoid the price tag that comes with a night in this resort town, it is well worth returning to Port Douglas for dinner one night, during which time you will discover how the town comes alive at night.

Domestic and international travellers alike relish in the balmy tropical air as they dine alfresco on local seafood in romantically lit patios or swill beers served by good looking bar staff at one of several pubs. If you play your cards right, you can even partake in the local custom of cane toad racing. It’s sheer lunacy, but a guaranteed fun night out.

Mossman Gorge

The culturally significant and famously beautiful Mossman Gorge sits in the southern reaches of the Daintree National Park, and is well worth a visit.

A 2km circuit walking track takes you through the lush rainforest through which the Mossman River flows and cascades over granite boulders, creating deep pools just begging you to jump in. The scene is framed by mountains, and it’s little wonder this remarkably beautiful and abundant location is of great significance to the local Kuku Yalanji Indigenous people, who conduct Dreamtime Walks through the gorge which include traditional smoking ceremonies and teachings about bush foods, traditional art and stories.

Wonga Beach

As previously mentioned, there is a pretty magical spot to camp about half an hour past Port Douglas at Wonga Beach called Pinnacle Village Caravan Park. This spot is perfect for those wanting to explore the waterways. Simply launch off from the Rocky Point boat ramp at South Wonga Beach, and cruise north past the mouth of the Daintree River to Snapper Island, where you have a fair chance of landing a coral trout or two. If you’re very lucky, you might even spy a school of friendly manta rays.

Cape Tribulation

An excellent day trip from your base at Wonga Beach is a drive out to Cape Tribulation. Cross the Daintree River Ferry in the morning, and leisurely make your way to the Daintree Discovery Centre, where you can take the self-guided interpretive audio tour through the rainforest canopy and floor across a series of boardwalks. This is an excellent way to familiarise oneself with some of the weird and wacky plants and animals of this World Heritage-listed rainforest, as well as some of the ways in which the traditional owners of the land not only survived but flourished in this environment. 

Europeans didn’t have quite so much success — at first, anyway. Cape Tribulation is so named by Captain James Cook after the Endeavour brushed a reef — Endeavour Reef — after rounding the cape in 1770, springing a rather nasty leak that required some fixing. He recorded “the north point [was named] Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles”. Later Europeans also struggled in this remote location where thick jungle tangles its way right to the sea, unsuccessfully attempting to establish farming, fishing and timber industries. One might conclude the “tribulations” formally ended in 2002, when the previously 4WD-only road to Cape Trib was sealed.

Bloomfield Track

Offroad adventure still exists in this neck of the woods, though, with the Bloomfield Track offering an unsealed and scenic journey along the coast from Cape Trib to Cooktown. There are some very pretty creek crossings and steep sections of the track, although the latter lost its challenge when they concreted the particularly nasty sections. It is said these steep sections of the track are the result of an effort to reduce the environmental impact of the road by limiting switchbacks, following fierce protests against its construction in the early 80s.

The track offers some truly beautiful scenery, from the giant tree ferns of the rainforest to the secluded beaches, and eventually the Bloomfield River at Wujal Wujal.

The Great Barrier Reef

No trip to Tropical North Queensland would be complete without spending some quality time with the prize jewel in the region’s diamond-encrusted crown; the Great Barrier Reef. This is something truly special, and likely to have you spotting countless turtles, white and black tipped reef sharks, barracuda and hundreds of varieties of reef fish. The coral formations are typical of this stretch of reef — which is, to say, stunning — and the water was unfathomably warm.

Where to stay

Far from your modern day, big chain park, the privately owned and operated Pinnacle Village Caravan Park seems to hark back to the Aussie caravan park culture of yesteryear. Plenty of scope to find your own space over 30 quiet acres with 5km of uninterrupted frontage to Wonga Beach. There are two pools and a waterslide to delight the kiddies and a barbecue area nestled under a cascading curtain fig. Cabins are available but do not dominate the entire space, and the camaraderie between the visitors at happy hour was refreshing indeed.

For more accommodation options across Tropical North Queensland, click here.