About the beaches of Tropical North Queensland

From the thriving, yet idyllic beachside villages of the Cassowary Coast’s Mission Beach, right up to Cape Tribulation Beach, north of the Daintree River, Tropical North Queensland boasts some of the most pristine, untouched stretches of sand in the world. With thousands of kilometres of palm tree-fringed paradise, you are bound to find a quiet beach all to yourself.

Which Tropical North Queensland beach is perfect for you? 

Watch the sunrise over the horizon, grab a shady spot to read a book, keep a lookout for dolphins, turtles and even manta rays, or kayak from the beach to a tropical rainforest island. Whatever seaside holiday you’re planning, whatever your budget, you’ll find a shoreline perfect for you.

The choices on where to stay are equally as expansive:

  • pamper yourself Palm Cove style in five-star luxury;
  • camp with ocean views from Ellis Beach; or
  • escape the tourist throng in Holloways Beach.

No matter where you stay, you’ll have access to the two World Heritage Sites of the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics of Queensland’s rainforest.

One important thing to be mindful of is stinger season. While dates aren’t fixed, the season falls roughly between November and May. When swimming from the shore, swim within the stinger nets, and a one-piece stinger suit is also a good idea.

Read on to learn more about the beaches of TNQ.

A popular holiday destination, Mission Beach is located south of Cairns and is made up of four beach villages – South Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach, North Mission Beach, and Bingil Bay – all of which are linked by a glorious 14km stretch of golden sand.

Top things to do:
  • Fish from the shore at South Mission, kayak to Dunk Island, or hire a small boat (known as a tinnie) and explore the Family Island Group.
  • Wongaling is where you can catch a water taxi to Dunk Island. It’s also considered the hub by the locals, with its range of cafes, a bottle shop, large supermarket, and smaller specialty stores.
  • North Mission is known for its surprisingly large range of restaurants, fashion stores, bars, and beauty salons.
  • Secluded Bingil Bay, the quietest of the beaches, known as a haven for artists and musicians, and home to the popular Bingil Bay Café.
Adrenaline-pumping activities abound ...
  • skydive, landing on Mission Beach; 
  • go white water rafting on the Tully River;
  • hire a jet ski or mountain bike. 

Accommodation wise, you have a huge range of types to choose from, including hostels and caravan parks to beautiful beachfront holiday homes.

An hour and a half south of Cairns on the way to Mission Beach, Kurrimine is one of the quieter beaches. This sleepy, picturesque hamlet has a pub, a beachfront café, a post office, petrol station and a general store.

The beach, a major attraction, is quiet and calm, due to the reef located just offshore, which contributes to its status as a popular fishing venue. Locals say you’ll have a better chance of catching a barramundi here than other spots. Flathead and whiting are also frequent catches and you can fish on the reef for coral trout, nannygai, or red emperor, or even the estuaries for mangrove jack. Chat to the friendly locals and they’ll give you advice on where the best spots are. 

Accommodation options include private holiday homes and the Kurrimine Beach Holiday Park.   

The first of the beaches north of Cairns airport, Machans consists primarily of residential homes. Ideal for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the more popular tourist spots, yet close enough to enjoy them with ease, the lack of hotels or resorts is intentional, with locals pushing for the beachside suburb to retain its tranquil demeanour. As such, the accommodation options are limited to private holiday home rentals and bed and breakfasts.

The beach itself suffered from erosion years ago, resulting in the erection of a rock sea wall which remains today. There is still plenty of sandy beach to enjoy though, as well as a grassy area perfect for picnics and playing sport. 

Machans Beach has a convenience store, petrol station, and post office. The eating options include a café and a couple of restaurants.

Another residential area, this palm tree-fringed beach is bookended by two creeks – the most frequented spots for fishing. The beach at high tide is also popular for casting out a line. Safe to swim in, Holloways is fairly narrow at high tide, but is still a lovely spot for morning and afternoon walks. During the summer months, be sure to swim within the stinger net enclosure.  

The local beachfront café, Strait on the Beach, serves up breakfast, lunch and dinner, with live music playing every Sunday. Other options for food include a pizza restaurant and take away shop offering fish and chips, burgers, and roast chickens – perfect for a family worn out from a day at the beach, reef or rainforest.  

Accommodation options include one and two-bedroom sea view apartments, a bed and breakfast, and larger holiday homes.  

Conveniently located just 15 minutes from the airport, this beachside community boasts the best boat club in the Northern Beaches: Yorkeys Knob Boating Club. Popular among locals and visitors, the club’s waterfront, open-air bistro has expansive views across the Half Moon Bay Marina and the Coral Sea. For those keen on a sail, non-members can join the Sunday fun sail, or a Friday sunset sail. Fishing tours are also on offer from the club. Contact reception for more details.

If you aren’t staying in one of the nearby beachfront apartments or self-contained villas, the club’s coach provides courtesy transfers to the other northern beaches, as well as other Cairns suburbs.

The beachfront of Yorkeys Knob is rated as one of the best for kiteboarding. And for golfers, the 18-hole course at Half Moon Bay Golf Club welcomes visitors.

The small shopping centre, located on the road leading to the beachside suburb, is home to a post office, small supermarket, and a few cafes. There is also a bottle shop close by. Alternatively, the Smithfield Shopping Centre is only a 10-minute drive away, and has a substantial range of shopping outlets and national stores.

A popular beach, loved equally by locals and tourists, Trinity Beach is a buzzy little beachside locale where life centres around the beach and the esplanade.

Favoured by families, parents have a choice of keeping the kids happy with takeaway from the fish and chip shop, or a beachside barbeque after a day spent wearing out the little ones with a range of fun beach and water-based activities. You’ll also find a variety of restaurants, cafes and bars serving up cuisine and cocktails to suit a range of palates and budgets.

Top things to do:

Only 25 minutes from the airport, Trinity Beach is perfectly situated near plenty of the must-see tourist attractions including:

  • the award-winning Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda village;
  • the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park;
  • a tropical zoo; and
  • a world-class golf course.

Accommodation consists mainly of self-contained apartments, from luxury, ocean-view apartments, to those catering for a more modest budget.

Situated south of the popular seaside holiday destination of Palm Cove, Clifton Beach is largely untouched by tourism development.

Primarily a residential area, holiday-makers seeking a quieter spot to relax at the end of the day will get a taste of life as a local. Walk north along the beach to Palm Cove, which will take about half an hour, and you’ll have a large selection of restaurants, cafes and bars to choose from.

The local shopping village of Clifton Beach has a supermarket, chemist, bottle shop, post office and bakery.    

Accommodation options include self-contained beachfront apartments and private holiday homes.  

Like Clifton, Kewarra is another local’s beach. It is located at the southern end of a stretch of sand connecting it to Palm Cove, via Clifton.

The clean, calm waters and wide beach make it a great place for families. And the picnic tables, play equipment and public toilets on site mean you could make a day of it.

Accommodation ranges from a luxury resort and spas to holiday home rentals.

Ellis Beach is the first you’ll hit after leaving Palm Cove to embark on the stunning Great Barrier Reef Drive to Port Douglas.

A picturesque little beach, Ellis Beach’s accommodation options are limited to the Ellis Beach Oceanfront Bungalows, which includes bungalows, budget cabins, caravan sites and camp sites.

But the real star of this locale is the Ellis Beach Bar & Grill, a favourite among locals from up and down the coast. If you’re driving from Cairns to Port Douglas, break up the trip with a stop at this unassuming roadside venue. With a rainforest backdrop, Coral Sea views, great food, and refreshing drinks on offer, you won’t regret it.

The beach, patrolled by the Ellis Beach Surf Life Saving Club, has a stinger enclosure, so take a dip before pushing on with your drive.

Both locals and tourists treasure this iconic stretch of sand. Four Mile isn’t lined with hotels or high-rise apartments and this is an intentional move to preserve the natural beauty of the coastal area.

Accommodation options range from five-star resorts such as the Sheraton Mirage, to luxurious villas, self-contained apartments, backpacker resorts, and camping grounds.  

Top things to do: 
  • Walk along the palm tree-fringed shores at sunrise and you can’t help but relax. You may even see dolphins playing in the distance and manta rays have been known to make a rare appearance.
  • Down the north end of the beach, in front of the Surf Club, you’ll find a patrolled area with a stingers enclosure. Stand-up paddle boards, surf skis, beach chairs and umbrellas are available for hire. The beach’s position, inside the reef, means it’s calm any time of the year – perfect for families with young children.
  • To see the beach from a different perspective, walk up the pathway towards the rocky northern headland and climb the stairs. As you take in the views, keep a lookout for dugongs and turtles.

Cooya Beach is a residential coastal suburb, located near the mouth of the Mossman River. Only 7km north-west of Port Douglas as the crow flies, Cooya is a 20-minute drive from the bustling, glitzy tourist town of Port Douglas.

The suburb is untouched, with its residents made up of retirees and young families. While the development of the suburb is relatively new, commencing in the late 1990s, the area is a special place for the local rainforest people, the Kuku Yalanji, particularly as a traditional fishing ground.

Top things to do: 
  • Join the Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours to learn how to throw a spear, hunt, and how to identify plants for food and medicine.
  • Explore on your own, walking along the mud flats at low tide. Try your hand at crabbing along the mangroves.
  • For those keen on fishing, Cooya Beach has a small boat ramp at the northern end of Bougainvillaea Street. Do not swim in the mouth of the river as crocodiles are known to inhabit this area. You’ll find Newell Beach, another residential area, on the other side of the estuary.    

Located 50 minutes from the Daintree River crossing, along the sealed road, you’ll come across a headland known as Cape Tribulation. Located in the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics, Cape Tribulation is home to a number of secluded and spectacular beaches, with Cape Tribulation Beach being one of them.

When you arrive, wander south, until you come across the boardwalk which will take you towards the lookout. It’s here you can take in the panoramic views of the azure coloured sea, enveloped by a semicircle of coastal mountains. And it’s standing in this spot, looking out to the ocean, the reefs, and the beach fringed by lush rainforest, that you’ll understand what is meant by, ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’. 

It’s a popular spot for day tour buses, so if you’re looking for some quiet beach time, head north.

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