Just a short 26-kilometre drive from one destination to the other, the Cairns to Palm Cove road trip may seem short, but this is one drive where you can choose your own adventure and make it a holiday that’s truly your own. Whether you prefer a jam-packed trip or a leisurely drive in your hire car with iconic stops dappled along the way, we’ve curated a list of places to visit as you cruise your way through.
Tropical, laidback and home to the Great Barrier Reef, there’s plenty to see and do in Cairns itself before you jet off. A must-see is of course, the Great Barrier Reef itself and you can opt for a private cruise, Indigenous reef tour or jump aboard a catamaran for a day of sailing between the best dive and snorkel sites. Another unmissable spot is the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Renowned for one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants in Australia, explore the natural beauty of the surroundings, do a spot of bird-watching or join one of the walking tours to learn all about the flora and fauna across this lush 94-acre space.
For the thrill-seekers, you’ll have to visit Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome - the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course in a wildlife immersion exhibit. With over 60 elements of action-packed ziplines, fun crossings, cargo nets, Australian wildlife and ziplines, this is where adventure meets unforgettable encounters. If you need to cool off after, head to the Cairns Lagoon or venture out to Machans Beach, just a 10-minute drive from the Cairns CBD.
Soaked up the great outdoors and done adventuring? Cairns also has plenty to offer when it comes to delicious eats and bar hopping. Get a taste of the local bounty with plenty of seafood options available from casual fares at Prawn Star to fine dining at Salt House. Prefer to sit back with a cocktail in hand? The city offers everything from tiki houses to rooftop bars, spots for specialty spirits as well as breweries where you can enjoy a pint such as Hemingway’s Brewery.
From Cairns, make your way towards Smithfield with a short detour towards Kuranda. Known as the ‘Village in the Rainforest’ , Kuranda Village is a picturesque mountain retreat surrounded by the world’s oldest living tropical rainforest. Perfect for a day trip or a weekend stay, there’s plenty to see and do here including the famed Kuranda Markets, rainforest walks and Birdworld, which is home to over 350 birds. Outdoor lovers will enjoy a range of tracks and walks here ranging from easy ones such as the Jumrum Creek Walk and Rainforest Canopy Walk, which weaves through a lush rainforest canopy before leading you to the Barron Falls Lookout. There are other moderate tracks to challenge you as well including the Surprise Creek Walk, McDonald’s Track or Douglas Track.
Aside from its gorgeous nature, Kuranda is also known for its local activities and attractions, such as the Kuranda Riverboat cruise, which takes you along the Barron River where you might just spot crocs, turtles and if you’re lucky, a Southern Cassowary. For those wanting a dose of nature minus the hikes, Kuranda offers the Koala Gardens as well as Butterfly Sanctuary, or if you’ve got more time to sit back and enjoy the view, journey on the Original Kuranda Scenic Railway, a Heritage-Listed and National Engineering Landmark that offers a spectacular voyage with views of the rainforest, steep ravines and waterfalls within the World Heritage Listed Barron Gorge National Park. While visiting Kuranda, another must-see spot is the Rainforestation Nature Park where you can learn about Indigenous culture and participate in an interactive Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience as well as a Dreamtime Walk, which includes boomerang-throwing, spear-throwing and the didgeridoo.
From Kuranda, it’s only a 30-minute drive to Palm Cove, but there’s still plenty to see along the way. Stop at Trinity Beach for a bite and hike up Earl Hill. You’ll need a hire car to get there, but once you’ve arrived, it’s a short 3.4-kilometre hiking loop, with views out to the Coral Sea that make it all worthwhile. Beach lovers will also enjoy a stop at Clifton Beach - a quiet, unspoilt local beach lined with swaying palms. Enjoy a casual stroll here with the water washing in, or a moment of calm with a book and a picnic before you head off to Palm Cove.
It’s only a 4-minute drive from Clifton Beach to Palm Cove, and when you arrive, you’ll find yourself greeted by shady palms and a coastal backdrop that looks like it’s right out of a movie. Palm Cove is the perfect place for slowing down, so take your time meandering by the water, treat yourself to an indulgent meal at Nu Nu Restaurant, get some self-care in with a massage or stroll the Palm Cove Markets for all things handmade including jewellery, ceramics, clothing and skincare. If you’ve filled your getaway with an endless list of to-dos and must-sees, Palm Cove is the perfect place to slow it all down, and if you’ve enjoyed a well-paced, leisurely trip, sink in further into a deeper sense of rejuvenation with everything that this slice of paradise has to offer.
To make the trip from Cairns to Palm Cove, hire a car from Thrifty Cairns Airport today!