Cairns: the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. But what about when you want to experience something a little different? Venture into the great unknown? Something off the beaten track perhaps?

We’ve got you. These five awesome Cairns day trips will lead you to experience North Queensland’s slightly more obscure and offbeat vibes.

But they should be done right. With a killer playlist, a taste for adventure and a zippy roadster (with air-con of course – this is North Queensland). So pick up your car hire at Cairns airport and hit the road.


Driving time from Cairns: 56 minutes

About an hour out of Cairns, clear blue skies welcome you to Mareeba. A multi-cultural town rich in wildlife, art, coffee and wine. Not necessarily in that order. The locals love a good Cab Sav and a well-aged cheddar.

So here’s the plan: Pick up your adventure mobile from Cairns car rental, get your caffeine hit early from Coffee Works, which houses an extraordinary array of the good stuff. Next, enjoy the wildlife at Granite Gorge Nature Park, then head to the Mareeba Heritage Museum before finishing off your day trip with an indulgent paddock-to-plate platter at the Gateway Hotel. Sorted.


Driving time from Cairns: 31 minutes

Kuranda Train, Cairns City

You’ve probably heard of Kuranda. But if you haven’t, how’s this for an introduction: The village in the rainforest boasts a Butterfly Sanctuary, a Rainforestation nature park, a tonne of heritage markets, and a scenic railway carved out by early settlers. Not bad for a town perched up at 330m altitude! If you’re not one for heights, steer clear of the Skyrail Cableway!

Paronella Park

Driving time from Cairns: 1 hour 27 minutes

Who said the outback can’t be romantic?! Paronella Park is North Queensland’s answer to Paris.

This eco-certified, award-winning national trust property tells the story of a man with a dream. José Paronella founded the park over 90 years ago, and its history lives on through a beautifully maintained castle surrounded by 5 hectares of gorgeous flora, a waterfall picnic area, and a fully restored hydro-electric generator.

If you feel a little restless from the 120km drive, the boutique caravan and picturesque camping grounds might sway you to turn the day trip into an overnight one.

Crystal Cascades

Driving time from Cairns: 25 minutes

Crystal Cascades, Cairns

Looking to escape the tropical North Queensland heat? Look no further than Crystal Cascades.

Located just a 20-minute drive from Cairns city centre, this secluded waterhole is the perfect place to relax and cool off in the many different plunge pools and rapids.

Crystal Cascades is not a big tourist spot, and you usually only hear about it from speaking to locals who know the area.

None of the major tour operators go there, so the only way to get there is by car, which you can easily hire in Cairns city or from the airport. This makes for a more secluded and chilled-out experience, away from the tourist traps.

Mossman Gorge

Driving time from Cairns: 1 hour and 12 minutes

Forming part of the epic Daintree Rainforest, Mossman Gorge is like Fern Gully meets Avatar. Lush layers of tropical greens greet you at every turn, and some of the rarest species of wildlife inhabit the 135-million-year-old forest.

Fact: The Daintree is actually the oldest surviving rainforest in the world, which is why it’s a World Heritage Listed Rainforest.

At 77km north of Cairns, the drive to Mossman Gorge is an experience in itself. It’s part of the “Great Tropical Drive”, renowned for its breathtaking scenery of tropical coastal views along the windy roads of the Captain Cook Highway.

It’s considered one of the most famous drives in the Southern Hemisphere, and a favourite amongst Cairns car hire customers.