The Ultimate North Queensland Road trip – 2 week itinerary Cape Tribulation to Airlie Beach

At over 1,853 million km² Queensland is Australia’s second-largest state. It covers a variety of scenery from city to country to coast to mountain to rainforest. We road tripped over 1200km through tropical north Queensland from Cairns up to Cape Tribulation and down to Airlie Beach going via countless national parks, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and rolling hills. It took a while to plan my trip as I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything out as well as ensure we took the best route. In order to make it super easy for you all to plan the ultimate tropical north Queensland Roadtrip I’ve detailed out what we did plus tips (and wanderlust worthy photos of course).

We started in Cairns and ended in Airlie Beach but you could obviously do the same route backwards and also go down further to Brisbane, or even not do everything in my list. In this blog post I’ve planned out a two week road trip (but we actually did this over 17 days as we had three days where we didn’t do much) so feel free to alter this itinerary to suit your needs and timeline! The first and last two days of our road trip were without a car, this helped us to reduce costs as the car wasn’t needed.

Book your hotels via my link to get 40$ refunded from your 80$ trip (anyone can book, you don’t need a new account and the currency can be converted!).

Day 1 – Fitzroy Island

A day trip to Fitzroy island was the perfect way to kick-start our North Queensland adventures. This paradise island is only a 45 minute boat ride from Cairns and is a great place to swim with wild turtles (we spotted four!), or even have a closer interaction at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island. You can also enjoy various activities like hiking, snorkelling, paddle boarding, kayaking and scuba diving.

There are 3 boats a day heading to Fitzroy Island from Cairns, at 8am, 11am and 1:30pm. You can then head back to Cairns on the 9:30am, 12:15pm or 5pm boat. You will need to book the ferry in advance.

Where we stayed: Caravella Backpackers

Day 2 – Great Barrier Reef

Another great day adventure from Cairns is to the Great Barrier Reef. There are quite a few different companies offering tours, so I would advise shopping around to see what works best for you. We booked with Silverswift as our hostel offered us 10% off and so it worked out the cheapest option for us.

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Personally I would recommend diving over snorkeling as it allows you to go deeper thus making it easier to admire the reef and marine life. If you haven’t dived before don’t worry! Most tours will offer introductory dives for those who aren’t certified.

You can also explore the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays. We decided to dive in Cairns and snorkel in the Whitsundays.

Where we stayed: Caravella Backpackers

Day 3 – Cape Tribulation

Pick up your hire car or van and drive 3 hours up the coast to Cape Tribulation. You can break up the drive with a stop at Palm Cove, Thala Beach Nature Resort (pictured) and Rex Lookout.

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Once you get to Cape Tribulation you can enjoy endless palm fringed beaches (just don’t swim as there might be crocs!), plenty of rainforest paths to explore and you can even go on a crocodile cruise along the Daintree River. If you are using your own transport you will need to pay 28$ for a return ferry to Cape Tribulation (there is no other way to get there).

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Where we stayed: Dougies Backpackers

Day 4 – Mossman Gorge, Barron Falls, Crystal Cascades, Walsh’s pyramid

Start your day at Mossman Gorge. Here you can enjoy the wonders of the national park at your own pace, exploring a number of walking tracks including the popular Gorge Circuit. You can also enjoy a refreshing swim in the gorge which is framed by greenery and striking mountains in the distance.

You can access the gorge by a bus from the visitor centre, the $9 return ticket goes towards supporting the local Aboriginal community. At the visitors centre you will be able to see if the water at the gorge is okay to swim in. The current can be strong when the water level is high, so make sure you check!

Then head south with a stop at Barron Falls to admire the gushing water and scenery and the Crystal Cascades to cool off. At the Crystal Cascades take the path to the left of the carpark to find a beautiful hidden waterfall with a fallen tree and rope to jump off! Find out exactly how to find the Fairy Falls.

Continue your drive to Yungaburra and make sure you stop to admire Walsh’s pyramid, an independent peak with a distinct pyramidal appearance. Head to Behana Gorge Road for the most iconic view.

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Where we stayed: On the Wallaby Lodge

Day 5 – Yungaburra and Windin Falls

I felt like I’d traveled back in time whilst exploring the town of Yungaburra, so many cute shop fronts and hotels. Yungaburra is also a great place to spot wild platypuses! I had never seen any before and we managed to see four! You just need to type in ‘Platypus Viewing Platform’ into Google.

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Make sure you also check out the heritage-listed curtain fig tree, one of the largest trees in Tropical North Queensland.

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I then recommend spending the rest of your day at Windin Falls, the most beautiful waterfall I have ever visited with an incredible view! It’s around a 2 hour return hike, find out exactly how to get there.

Where we stayed: Airbnb in Milla Milla

Day 6 – Tully Gorge and the Milla Milla waterfall circuit

If it’s dry season I personally wouldn’t bother making the drive to Tully Gorge National Park, but during wet season there is an amazing infinity pool you can easily access from Tully Gorge Lookout.

You can then spend the afternoon chasing waterfalls on the Milla Milla waterfall circuit. Did you know that Milla Milla means water water, or plenty of water? That is because this region of Queensland is the wettest in Australia! The waterfall circuit includes Milla Milla falls, Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa falls (pictured).

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Where we stayed: Airbnb in Milla Milla

 

Day 7 – Waterfalls on way to mission beach

There are a few waterfalls you can stop at on your drive to Mission beach; I definitely recommend checking out Nandroya and Wallicher Falls. These aren’t the easiest to find, you’ll need to park at Henrietta Creek to access Nandroya Falls and then stop halfway in between there and Mamu Tropical skywalk for Wallicher Falls. There are NOT big signs for it so drive slowly!

Then continue your drive to Mission beach (it’s about an hour’s drive).

Make sure you go to the beach to watch the sunset! You can find a nice selection of leaning palm trees near Castaways Resort and Spa.

Depending on how much time you have, you could choose to spend two nights in Mission beach and go white water rafting on the Tully River (or just chill out).

Where we stayed: Mission Beach Resort

 

Day 8 – Mission beach – Cardwell pools – Ingham

Start your day with a well earned chill out session on the beach. It only takes about an hour and a half to drive to Ingham, so if you can’t stop at the Cardwell Pools then you might want to leave right at the end of the day (there isn’t that much to do in Ingham).

The Cardwell Spa Pool is a naturally-fed, seasonal creek with gorgeous blue water! During the dry season the water levels get super low making it dangerous to swim in (bacteria etc). So make sure you contact the Cardwell Visitor & Heritage Centre on 07 4066 2412 before visiting to find out the current water level.

Where we stayed: Herbert Valley Motel

 

Day 9 – Wallaman falls to Townsville

It’s around an hour’s drive to Wallaman falls, with the last 15 minutes going up a windy mountain, so drive slowly (and I would avoid going when it’s dark). Make sure you bring a few bottles of water with you as there is NOTHING there.

Wallaman falls is Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall and you can choose to just enjoy it from the viewing platform, or you can take the more adventurous route down to the plunge pool. This track is quite steep with a number of loose rocks so please make sure you wear closed footwear. You will need around 1-2 hours to walk down and back up again (plus however long you want to stay at the bottom for).

You’ll then be in for quite a long drive to Townsville (around 3-4 hours), so I hope you have a good mixtape!

Where we stayed: Ridgemont Executive Motel

 

Day 10 – Magnetic Island

Head to the Sealink Ferry Terminal to get a boat to Magnetic Island for the day. The ferry’s are every hour and cost 33$ return (it’s more if you want to take a car).

You can hire cars on the island, or get the bus around (it was around $7 for unlimited journeys). We got the bus around and started at the Forts, this is an amazing place to spot wild koalas so keep your eyes peeled! There are a few beaches you can walk to around here too (make sure you have water on you as there isn’t anything around here).

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You can then head to the far end of the island to enjoy Horseshoe bay (there are a few restaurants/pubs here). Make sure you stop at Bungalow Bay Koala Village at 16:15 to feed the lorikeets! It is super fun!

We then headed right other to the over side of the island so that I could fly my drone over the SS City of Adelaide shipwreck, about 300m right of Cockle Bay. The bus will drop you in Picnic Bay and you will need to walk for about 30 minutes to Cockle Bay.

Where we stayed: Ridgemont Executive Motel

 

Day 11 – Drive to Airlie beach

It takes about 3 to 4 hours to drive to Airlie Beach from Townsville. We stopped at Bowen on the way (but weren’t that blown away by it). You could spend the morning in Townsville, drive to Airlie Beach and then chill at the lagoon there!

Where we stayed: Airlie Beach Magnums

 

Day 12-13 Explore the Whitsundays

I would give yourself at least one full day in the Whitsundays, and ideally two (or more if you can), it really is a slice of heaven!

I spent one day on the Great Barrier Reef at Hardy Pontoon (such a cool way to experience the reef, especially if you’re not a confident swimmer), and another on Whitehaven beach. Check out my detailed two day itinerary.

Where we stayed: Airlie Beach Magnums

 

I hope this helps you plan your epic north Queensland road trip! It really is a beautiful area to explore. Try not to drive at night (kangaroos etc on the road), and stay safe!

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