Cairns Tropical North Queensland Drive

Taste the tropics both literally and metaphorically along one of Queensland’s most scenic routes which winds for 140kms between Cairns north to Port Douglas and onto the Daintree Rainforest in Tropical North Queensland. Known as the 'Great Barrier Reef Drive', the road winds between two World Heritage icons, the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.


The Itinerary

Cairns to Palm Cove

For a typical, tropical journey, start in Cairns and drive north along the Captain Cook Highway and over the Barron River towards the northern beaches of Yorkeys Knob and Trinity before you hit Palm Cove. This laidback beachfront destination is a lovely place to pause for its intimate village atmosphere with shops, boutiques, resorts, day spas and world-class restaurants overlooking its sandy beach, ideal for swimming.  Palm Cove is one of Cairns' popular beaches for holiday makers and locals - with a relaxed village feel, palm tree lined beach and wide selection of restaurants and accommodation, Palm Cove is a great place to stop for lunch, or stay a week.

Explore the Great Barrier Reef from Palm Cove. You'll also find lots of tour operators pick up from Palm Cove beach for day trips to snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef, along with day trips to the Daintree & Kuranda - making it a popular holiday destination.

Optional Palm Cove Accommodation: Stay a few nights at Palm Cove beach, and explore the reef & rainforest of Tropical North Queensland.

Located between Palm Cove & Port Douglas is the Thala Beach Nature Reserve - a beachfront eco retreat with treehouse style accommodation, offering a range of complimentary onsite tours including the iconic coconut plantation.

Palm Cove to Port Douglas

Driving further north and you’ll head past pretty Ellis Beach before the road hugs the coastline as it winds between the dual World Heritage areas of the Great Barrier Reef to your right and the Wet Tropics rainforest to your left. This is arguably one of the most stunning drives on the planet. For the perfect selfie, stop in one of the safe parking bays at Rex Lookout which affords a 180-degree view of the Coral Sea.

This winding drive eventually swaps the ocean for green sugar cane fields as you enter the palm-lined entrance which is Port Douglas. A-list celebrities from around the world have been drawn to Port for decades for its fine restaurants, boutique shopping and the iconic Four Mile Beach. It is also the closest mainland port to the Great Barrier Reef and from here a number of operators offer incredible tours. It is also only a short drive to the Wet Tropics rainforest at Daintree and Cape Tribulation.

Search for more Great Barrier Reef snorkel and dive trips or find great $$$ saving combo package deals from Port Douglas. 

Optional Port Douglas Accommodation: Stay a few nights at Port Douglas, and explore the region.

Port Douglas to Mossman Gorge

To the north of Port Douglas sits the Mossman Gorge from where you can learn about the culture of the area’s Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people who have called the region home for thousands of years.

In the southern section of the Daintree National Park sits Mossman Gorge, estimated at 60,000 years old and home to steep mountains thick with rainforest. It’s also where the Mossman River tumbles over the gorge’s massive granite boulders creating cool, clear freshwater swimming holes. There’s plenty of free walks around the gorge or you can join an Indigenous guide on traditional Kuku Yalanji land and learn how their ancestors hunted and gathered foods to eat. In Mossman itself, there’s also an Indigenous gallery where the resident artists will demonstrate how to paint your own burnie bean.

  • Discover the range of Aboriginal Tours, including at Cooya Beach, you can experience traditional hunting with an Indigenous guide who will show you how to hunt mud crab with a spear.

Mossman Gorge to Daintree

Continue driving through sugar cane fields and you’ll hit the township of the Daintree, a village which was originally created in the 1870s by timber cutters. While the Daintree still retains its sleepy atmosphere, these days, you can partake in a plethora of croc spotting tours, barramundi fishing or birdlife watching. Or you may wish to partake in an Indigenous spa treatment here and wander through art galleries  before retiring to a range of interesting accommodation among the world’s oldest rainforest which dates back to 140 million years old. 

The Great Barrier Reef Drive is one of Queensland's most scenic drives - and a must do when travelling to Cairns.  You can enjoy it as day trip visiting Port Douglas and the Daintree, or you can explore the range of two and three day trips which allow you to sit back and enjoy the amazing views.

Ensure to contact the local holiday specialists at Barrier Reef Australia to assist you with your itinerary and tour bookings to ensure a memorable stay in Tropical North Queensland.

EXPLORE MORE:  Places to see and gateways to the Great Barrier Reef.

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