The 140-km journey from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, also known as the Great Barrier Reef Drive, is one of Australia’s best road trips.
It is a one-one-of-a-kind journey taking you from the city to the jungle, passes two World Heritage areas, spectacular views over the Coral Sea, remote beaches, ancient rainforests, quaint villages and more. Here’s just a taste test of the must-see attractions along the way.
If this is your first time exploring tropical North Queensland, spend some time getting acquainted with the laidback lifestyle of Cairns. With so much to see underwater, we recommend hiring snorkelling gear and taking time to enjoy the sealife. Don’t forget to explore all the boutique shops, laneway-style bars, craft breweries and buzzing restaurants that the city has to offer before you begin to think about hitting the road.
Just 20 minutes north of Cairns is Smithfield, the terminal for the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Leave the car in the carpark and take the train up to Kuranda in the morning before gliding over the canopy in a Skyrail cable car in the afternoon.
In Kuranda Village, you’ll find an eccentric assortment of open-air market stalls selling locally grown produce and handmade wares. Stop by Petit Café for mouth-watering crepes amongst the sights and sounds of the rainforest.
Palm Cove, half an hour north of Cairns, is a tiny beachside village centred around an esplanade lined with 500-year-old melaleuca trees. Hire a kayak and paddle right off the beach or take a tour to nearby Double Island. The Palm Cove jetty is a great fishing spot, with plenty of Spanish mackerel, cod, whiting and flathead to be caught.
Tip: If you’re keen to take a dip in the warm tropical waters, keep in mind that marine stingers are found in the ocean off Palm Cove from October to June, so it’s best to swim only within netted areas.
Port Douglas & Mossman Gorge
An hour’s drive north of Cairns, Port Douglas is a picturesque hub for Great Barrier Reef tours. From quick trips to the Low Isles to a full-day family-friendly jaunt on a glass-bottomed reef platform. High-speed cruises leaving from Port Douglas can reach the Outer Reef in just 40 minutes, giving you a full day of snorkelling or diving at a few different sites.
About 20 minutes further north you’ll find Mossman Gorge; the gateway to the ancient Daintree Rainforest. The Daintree has stood for 165 million years, and is one of the
most complex ecosystems on the planet. Walk through awe-inspiring greenery along elevated walkways, and keep an eye out for two iconic symbols of the rainforest, the bright-blue Ulysses butterfly and the endangered cassowary.
The northernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef Drive, Cape Tribulation is renowned for its scenic landscape, remote beaches and the heart of the Daintree Rainforest.
Pick up some treats like ice-cream made from fresh tropical fruits at the Daintree Ice Cream Co. and organic tea from Daintree Tea on the Cubbagudta Plantation. Explore the beaches, reefs and rainforests on a kayaking tour, where you’ll have company in the form of sea turtles, stingrays, dolphins, whales and dugongs. If you’re looking for a challenge, head inland to the summit of Mount Sorrow – a tough but rewarding 7km trail with sweeping views along the length of the Daintree Coast and out to Snapper Island.
Ready to explore the Greater Barrier Reef Drive? Hit the road in comfort with Thrifty.