Whilst most trips to Australia focus on the big cities of Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast, no visit would be complete without an adventure up to North Queensland! An absolute nature lovers paradise. North Queensland truly has something for everyone.
From the world’s oldest rainforest to the magnificent great barrier reef, spectacular beaches, and beautiful hidden waterfalls, it is the perfect place to hike, camp, relax and get back in touch with nature.
The best way to experience this incredible region is to hire a car or campervan if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
Things to do in North Queensland, Australia
In this guide, we will take you up to the North Queensland coastline. Highlighting all the must-see sights. And some insiders tips to make the most out of your visit.
Arguably the most beautiful beach on earth, you may have seen photos of its dazzlingly bright white silica sands and sparklingly clear blue water. People come from all over the world to experience this miracle of nature. Over 7 kilometers of beach and water warm enough to swim in all year round.
The beach is located on Whitehaven Island. A tiny island accessible from Airlie Beach. Ash and I once took a small boat out to camp overnight on the beach. With no buildings, electricity or crowds, the view of the night sky over the ocean was absolutely spectacular. A sight that most visitors don’t get to see.
There’s something here for everyone. The calm, warm and completely clear water is perfect for swimming. Even if you’re not the strongest swimmer. The picturesque beach makes for great Instagram photos. There’s nothing more relaxing than just sunbathing on the warm sands. If you want a break from the sand and sea, the island also has great hiking trails.
The beach can get busy in the middle of the day. So if you want to have a far more authentic and quiet experience you can actually camp on the beach. Once all the day-tripping crowds leave you’ll have the beach almost entirely to yourself. You can wake up to the sun rising over the ocean.
How to get there: The beach is on Whitehaven Island, and ferries and day-cruises regularly run from Shute Harbour in Airlie Beach.
A small island just off the coast of Townsville filled with Wallabies, Koalas, and beautiful beaches. It makes for a great day-trip from Townsville. Ash and I live in Townsville. Every time we have guests from out of town Magnetic Island (or “Maggie” to locals), it is always the first thing we show them! Maggie has a very relaxed atmosphere. Likely due to the chilled-out locals, young backpackers and adventurous day-trippers that inhabit the island.
The people who live on the Island are incredibly friendly too! On one particularly memorable occasion, our car stuck in the sand while driving on the beach. No less than 4 locals all chipped in to get us out, asking for nothing in return. It’s a great place to not only experience the natural beauty of North Queensland, but also the famous hospitality.
Firstly hire a car for the day. It will give you far more flexibility and getting around the hilly island far easier. From there you can hand-feed Wallabies at Old Arcadia Jetty Road. Spot some Koalas during a hike up the forts walk. Cool down with a swim and snorkel at Alma Bay.
In my opinion, the most beautiful beach on the island is the hidden Balding Bay. Drive to Horseshoe Bay, walk to the far end of the beach and you’ll find a walking track. From there it’s a scenic 20-minute walk through the Australian bush. You’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous secluded beach. Fair warning though, it’s also an unofficial nude beach. So don’t be surprised to see a couple of skinny-dippers.
How to get there: Only a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville, Sealink ferries depart regularly and cost $33 for a return trip.
An oasis in the middle of the rainforest. Crystal Creek is a cascading series of creeks, waterfalls, and rock pools which are perfect for exploring. One of our favorite secret places in North Queensland. Our friends and we try to camp there at least once every two months. We haven’t got sick of it yet!
The forest that surrounds the river and creeks is stunningly pristine. It almost feels like you’ve been transported back in time. No matter what your mood is, whether you want to relax in the shade of a babbling brook, or want to cliff-dive and ride some natural water slides, you’ll find the perfect place for it at Crystal Creek.
There are three main attractions:
- Little Crystal Creek: the most scenic spot with the best waterfalls
- Big Crystal Creek: a wide river, perfect for swimming and having a picnic
- Rockslides: the most fun spot, with natural waterslides and cliff jumping if you’re feeling brave enough
If you don’t mind a bit of rock-hopping and want to explore the more remote parts of the creek, follow little Crystal Creek upstream. You’ll find dozens of small pools and a large secret waterfall.
How to get there: Crystal Creek is 1 hour north of Townsville. Stay on the Bruce Highway and follow the turn-off signs for whichever Creek you want to find. To find the rock-slides drive to Big Crystal Creek and follow the signs. There is ample car parking at each sight. The rock pools is a 1km walk from the carpark.
An ancient river gully surrounded by rainforest and tall cliffs, with some of the best white-water rafting on Earth! Although this was our second white-water rafting experience, we met people from all over the world. Just in our boat, we had people from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Greece who had traveled thousands of kilometers just to experience these rapids.
The rafting is fairly extreme. But the guides will make sure that you’re always safe and not too scared. They won’t pressure you into doing anything you genuinely don’t want to do. But they will try to push you a bit outside your comfort zone; that’s where the fun is after all!
If rafting isn’t your thing, then you can still enjoy the majestic cliffs and rushing stream below from some of the many roads and viewpoints along the gully.
Join a white-water rafting tour for some of the most adrenaline-filled adventurings North Queensland has to offer!
Don’t be scared of falling out, that’s half the fun! Also, tours often start early in the morning. You’ll probably be a bit exhausted (and wet) after your adventure. So rather than driving back to Cairns or Townsville consider staying in the charming small towns of either Tully or Mission Beach for a few days.
How to get there: Tully is 2hrs south of Cairns and 2.5 North of Townsville, although many rafting companies offer day trips from Cairns.
A unique and picturesque park complex, single-handedly built by a Spanish immigrant in the early 1900’s. The best way to describe Paronella Park is like the mansion from the Great Gatsby if it had been abandoned and half-swallowed by a jungle. It’s a magical land that feels like a fairy-tale.
We first visited with a group of friends after white-water rafting in Tully. I was the one who strongly suggested we check the place out. As a group in our mid-twenties, who had just come from such an action-packed adventure, the rest of us seemed a bit skeptical that they’d enjoy a strange garden attraction that is also marketed towards people in the 70’s. They were all shocked by how much they actually loved it!
We strolled along the winding paths. Entered caves and bamboo thickets, found secret waterfalls and pictured what the different mansion rooms must have looked like back in their prime. Every one of us has come back to Paronella park since. Now we all recommend it to our initially skeptical friends.
A perfect break from beaches. Paronella Park is a magical, wondrous place full of gardens, crumbling mossy structures, and a mighty waterfall. You can walk across a swinging suspension bridge, feed the turtles, descend a magnificent classical staircase. And get lost wandering the many winding paths.
The best time to visit is just after it has rained. To be sure that the impressive waterfall is really roaring. Also, don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent!
How to get there: Paronella Park is a 45-minute drive from Mission Beach and 1.5hrs south of Cairns. There are many signs on the Bruce Highway directing you to the park.
An inland area in far north between Cairns and Townsville. Get a glimpse of some luscious fields, waterfalls and geological wonders in this region.
We had a wonderful weekend getaway staying in a romantic rainforest cabin near Yungaburra, surrounded by lots of local wildlife and birds. You can even curl up beside the fireplace with a hot chocolate (or a glass of wine) in winter. A true rarity in North Queensland.
Check out the incredible waterfalls and rainforest scenery. Highlights include Milla Milla falls and lake Eacham (a massive crater lake). If geological phenomena are more your thing, check out Undarra (a unique outback experience) or Chillagoe Caves.
Finally, a trip to Atherton Tablelands wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Kuranda Heritage Markets. Hang out with the locals (both people and animals) as you wander this unique town. Get there via car, or jump on the scenic railway or cable-car from Cairns.
Get an amazing ice cream sundae in Atherton at Petals & Pinecones. If you’re looking to spend a few nights exploring the region stay in one of the beautiful rainforest retreats around Yungaburra.
How to get there: A car is essential to explore everything the Atherton Tablelands has to offer. You’ll want to have a good offline GPS App to ensure you don’t get lost on the back roads (we recommend some here). The Tablelands are 1.5-hour drive from Cairns or 4.5 from Townsville.
The oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree has existed for millions of years. It remains one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on earth. I’ve visited over thirty countries, and out of all of them, the Daintree remains the most natural and peaceful place I’ve ever been to.
When you picture the word ‘rainforest’ in your mind – that’s exactly what the Daintree is, except bigger, greener, and wetter. Ferns are bigger, trees are way bigger than you imagined (some having been growing for hundreds of years). There’s barely a place in the Daintree that you can’t hear the trickling of water or the call of birds. I’ve visited more than five times now, and each time I still get that same incredible sense of harmony and oneness with nature that I did on my first trip.
Hike along the many walking tracks. Get a birds-eye view of the rainforest from the Skyrail Cableway, or go zooming through the trees as part of a jungle surfing tour!
To get the full experience stay in one of the many eco-lodges; environmentally sustainable cabins built in the thick of the rainforest. It’s the best way to soak up the sights, sounds, and smells of the Daintree. One of the most tranquil places you will ever sleep.
How to get there: The bulk of the Daintree Forest is 125km north of Cairns and stretches from Port Douglas in the South to Cape Tribulation in the North. The main parts are accessible with an ordinary car. Though the further north you travel the more you may require a 4WD.
The Great Barrier Reef
And finally, of course, we need to mention the largest living organism on earth. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef! The coral, the fish, the colors, it’s unlike anything else on earth; even Finding Nemo can’t do it justice.
Ash and I have both scuba-dived on the reef. But it’s equally enjoyable to simply snorkel through the water and between the marine life.
Scuba dive, snorkel or take a ride on a glass-bottom boat. There are many ways to experience this incredible natural wonder.
Whilst still a magnificent place to visit, global warming and reckless tourism has damaged the reef. When booking a tour make sure that the operator is environmentally responsible (many of them will state this on their website).
How to get there: Most tours leave from Cairns or Port Douglas. A few hours on the reef should be more than enough.
This is a Guest Post by Daniel Seage.
Dan is a co-founder of www.dashingaroundtheworld.com and has managed to visit over 30 countries before the age of 30. Before leaving for his current year-long around the world trip, Dan lived in Townsville, Australia and enjoyed exploring all the hidden gems North Queensland has to offer.