We explore the many delights of the top of the sunshine state.

Cairns region & Port Douglas
Journeying to the top of Australia? So much to see, enjoy and remember! For starters, the 80km strip from Cairns to Port Douglas is the ideal stepping off point to the natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef. 

There are some 50 daily departures by boat out to the Reef, so competition is fierce. And, no matter when you sail you’ll find an operator who does exactly what you want, whether that’s a dedicated dive boat, a spacious and stable pontoon, or a flight to provide a scenic overview. Whichever way you choose to see and experience the Reef it will be a memorable experience.

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Relax on the pristine sands of Port Douglas (Image: Facebook / Port Douglas)

Cairns is a sophisticated holiday city with a wide range of shopping, dining and nightlife options. And in this tropical abundance, the expression “utilising the best local ingredients” is not a menu cliché as the land and sea offer up an expansive smorgasbord of fruits and fish.

Port Douglas is a much smaller and more laid-back town, but it too has developed options for all depths of pocket so you’ll find designer boutiques alongside traditional country pubs where stubbies are de rigueur.

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Soak up the sun in beautiful Cairns

The closest islands to Cairns is the tiny, flat, coral cay of Green Island and the much larger, continental Fitzroy Island that rises up to 269 metres.

A highlight of this part of Queensland is that there’s a wealth of wonders inland as well as out to sea. A 275km drive southwest to Undara Lava Tubes on the edge of the Gulf Savannah country may seem too far to travel, but these geological curiosities are special – explorable long underground tunnels formed by cooling lava in an eruption some 200,000 years ago – some are flooded and others have collapsed to provide a rich bed for tropical vegetation.

North of Port Douglas is a unique region where two World Heritage areas abut – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Mossman Gorge, Daintree village and the world’s oldest tropical rainforest on the way to Cape Tribulation are among the highlights. River cruises, eco lodges and rainforest walks are all available as day tours.

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See the stunning scenery of Kuranda onboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway
(Image: Facebook / Kuranda Scenic Railway)

Closer to Cairns a trip inland up to Kuranda, “the village in the rainforest”, can be accomplished in various ways. Rather than drive you can take the century-old Kuranda Scenic Railway that chugs past Barron Falls on its way to the quaint village. The other exotic but more modern way to travel is by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway that provides excellent views of the coast, rainforest and Barron Falls.

Kuranda Markets, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary (tip: wear red) and the restaurants in verdant outdoor garden settings are some of the attractions of this artistic commune that is close to the resident Aboriginal community. 

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Get up close and personal with the beautiful butterflies at Kuranda's Butterfly Sanctuary
(Image: Facebook / Kuranda Butterflies)

Travelling further into the Tablelands takes you to the town of Atherton, Malanda village and even to lakes where you may sight a timid freshwater crocodile.

Drive about four to six hours north from Cairns and you’ll come to the most northern town on Australia’s east coast: Cooktown. The time for the drive varies depending whether you take the much slower, unsealed, coastal track through Bloomfield or the longer, faster, all-sealed inland road. Whichever you chose you still have about 800km to travel to reach the tip of Cape York. For the lucky ones who arrive and depart in comfort by ship the small town has a lot to offer. Of course there’s the Cook connection and at the James Cook Museum, in a beautiful old convent, you can view the Endeavour’s anchor and a cannon from the ship, both retrieved from Endeavour Reef, where the ship ran aground.

Up here you’re now far from the crowds so there are deserted beaches to explore, exotic birds to discover or nature walks to meander along. Cooktown has a well-deserved reputation for its rich fishing opportunities from game fishing on the outer reef to beach and river fishing. There are some special Aboriginal sites around Cooktown and tours led by members of the community to show them to you.

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Cooktown is full of magnificent walks to explore (Image: Facebook / Cooktown TNQ)

Did you know?
While Captain Cook was repairing Endeavour at what is now Cooktown in June 1770, the expedition’s naturalist Joseph Banks recorded some words in the local Guugu Yimithirr language including the name of an animal he was told was “gangurru” but that he wrote as “kanguru” and Cook transcribed as “kangaroo”.

What is your favourite spot in far north Queensland?

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