Visiting the Daintree Region of Far North Queensland

The lush rainforest region of the Daintree is very beautiful. Catch the ferry across the Daintree River and tour this charming region around Cape Tribulation. This area is accessible by 2WD until just north of Cape Tribulation. Despite this, there is plenty to see with a 2WD and it is worth taking a few days or a long day trip to check it out. The ferry is very quick and runs frequently during daylight hours. This whole area is beautiful enough to be a national park but it also includes commercial businesses like accommodation, stores, restaurants and caravan parks. There area also private residences, schools and farmland e.g. tropical fruit orchards.

Prior to our visit to Cape Tribulation, we were warned online about the lack of mobile data in the region. This proved not to be true. Whilst patchy in some parts, there was plenty of reliable (Optus) mobile data in the region. We had no issues whilst staying at Cape Tribulation Camping with mobile data. The highlight of this caravan park was the private walking trail from the back of our campsite to Myall Beach. From there, it was only a short walk up the beach to reach the Dubuji Boardwalk.

Myall Beach
Daintree
Daintree – amazing flowering tree trunk!
Crocodile Warning Sign
Myall Beach
Mount Alexandra Lookout
Daddy Cassowary and Baby – why did the cassowary cross the road? We don’t know but we were thrilled to see these elusive big birds!

A must visit location in the area is the Daintree Ice Cream Company. They make ice cream from the locally grown tropical fruits. We had a yummy taster of 4 flavours – wattleseed, black sapote, mango and coconut for $7.50. The best part of the visit however is the self guided walking tour you can do around their property to view about 25 different fruiting trees and plants. It’s particularly fascinating because these fruits are not the usual supermarket offerings!

Ripening Shed – top is Black Sapote or chocolate pudding fruit. It tastes a bit like chocolate pudding! In the middle is Yellow Sapote. This is supposed to taste like boiled egg yolk. On the bottom is Soursop which has a lemony flavour.
Soursop
Banana Fruit and Flower

Mossman Gorge is a must visit if you are in the vicinity. It’s the premier attraction of the region as evidenced by the large carpark. There is a large building with a souvenir shop, cafe and shuttle buses. All this infrastructure is located about 3kms from the start of the Mossman Gorge trails. All visitors are strongly encouraged to pay for tickets and catch the shuttle bus. We chose to walk the 3km instead. It’s a straightforward and quite lovely walk along the road and an easy way to save some money. There are several well trodden trails in the Mossman Gorge area as well as a few safe swimming areas. Be warned however that the water temperature is almost uncomfortably cold for swimming despite the warm humidity of the day. The whole area is magical in it’s beauty as you will see in these photos.

Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge – lots of strangler figs in this part of the Australia. They can be truly spectacular.
Mossman Gorge – See how the strangler fig has entirely strangled the original plant. The original tree is dead but the strangler fig is thriving. (Feels like a lesson for life! Don’t be that tree or the strangler!)
Mossman Gorge – check out this crazy perfectly horizontal branch which seems to originate from two separate trees! Amazing and baffling!
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge – strangler fig making a beautiful pattern
Mossman Gorge
Mossman Gorge – sugar cane plantation in flower. Walking towards the Mossman Gorge trail heads

Close to the town of Mossman is a tiny one street, waterfront town of Newell Beach, population 336. It’s a relaxing location with a delightful beach.

Newell Beach

Cooktown – 3 night self drive itinerary

Cooktown is the northern-most town that is accessible by 2WD vehicles on the east coast of Australia. Cooktown is about 4 hours north of Cairns via in the inland route. If you have a 4WD, you can also access Cooktown via the coastal route via Bloomfield. There is plenty in and around Cooktown to pleasantly occupy a visitor for a 3 night stay. This is our itinerary!

Day 1 – Drive up to Cooktown and Orient Yourself

On the drive up to Cooktown via the inland route via Mulligan Highway, there are a couple of lookouts worth stopping at to stretch your legs. Stop at Bob’s Lookout near Desailly and at the Black Mountain National Park lookout.

Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) National Park

When you get to Cooktown, orient yourself by heading up to the Grassy Hill Lookout. The 360 degree view is spectacular!!

Grassy Hill Lookout
Grassy Hill Lookout
View of Cooktown from Grassy Hill Lookout
Lighthouse, Grassy Hill Lookout

Day 2 – Visit Sights South of Cooktown

Start the day with a visit to Keating’s Lagoon Conservation Park which is only 10 minutes south of Cooktown. It’s a very pretty area and has a structure for birdwatching.

Keating’s Lagoon Conservation Park

After that, head further south to the Home Rule Rainforest Lodge and Camping. There are clear signage and trail markers from behind this property for walking to Home Rule Falls. The hike to Home Rule Falls is a bit strenuous and tricky in parts but the reward at the end is definitely worth it. The falls are magical and to have time at such a spectacular sight without any other visitors is really special. The pictures does not do it justice at all!

Track to Home Rule Falls
Home Rule Falls
Home Rule Falls
Home Rule Falls

Drive further south past Bloomfield to the dry (alcohol free) town of Wujal Wujal. The jewel of this town is the magnificent Wujal Wujal Falls. There are supposed to be areas in this town where crocodiles can be spotted sunning themselves on the riverbank at low tide but we were unable to spot any!

Wujal Wujal Falls

Head north home via the famous Lion’s Den Pub. This is a classic outback pub reminiscent of the Daly Waters pub in the Northern Territory.

Lions Den Hotel -Pub and Campground

Day 3 – Visit Sights North and around Cooktown

Start the day by driving about 30 minutes north to the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park. The delightful Endeavour Falls is a short walk from behind this park.

Endeavour Falls

Only 10 minutes north from Endeavour Falls is Isabella Falls. This location is a safe swimming hole (i.e. no crocodiles!) It’s a good spot for a refreshing albeit chilly dip!

Isabella Falls
Isabella Falls

Make your way back to Cooktown to spend sometime at the Cooktown Museum. Stroll through the small but charming Cooktown Botanic Gardens. Don’t forget to drive through the botanic gardens to see Finch Bay. A splendid looking beach but as with most water bodies in this region, swimming is prohibited due to the risk of crocodiles.

Finch Bay, Cooktown
Finch Bay, Cooktown
Finch Bay, Cooktown
Finch Bay, Cooktown
Finch Bay, Cooktown

Whilst in Cooktown, the markets are worth a quick walk if you are there on a Saturday morning. It’s held down by the waterfront. Even if the markets are not running, the waterfront area is worth a stroll as there are many public artworks documenting the history of the region. A local’s secret in Cooktown is an unassuming, low key cafe on the waterfront next to the laundromat. Head to the Riverside Cafe in the morning to pick up a reasonably priced French patisserie style sweet treat!

Riverside Cafe, Cooktown. An impressive selection for Cooktown with a population of only about 2600 people. A talented French pastry chef must call this town home!

An interesting (and perhaps worrying) thing to note is that when we visited, we noticed a lot of “for sale” signs. Many businesses, plots of land and residential properties had “for sale” signs displayed. It is not clear why. Potentially, these may be a profitable purchase if the Bloomfield track is made accessible for 2WD allowing greater volumes of visitors (and attracting more residents) up to Cooktown.

The Unexpectedly Awesome Granite Gorge Nature Park

Granite Gorge Nature Park is a bit of a hidden gem. Its only 16 minutes outside of Mareeba or 70 minutes from Cairns in Northern Queensland. The landscape and vegetation around here is much drier than the lush wet tropics of Cairns. The caravan park is lovely but the highlights of this park are the gorge walk, the tiny, cute Mareeba Rock Wallabies and the huge number of animals at the park.

Visitors at this park are allowed to feed the wallabies with pellets purchased from reception. We didn’t feed them but as they are so used to being fed, they are quite tame and will approach closely to any humans with expectant looks on their little faces. We therefore managed to get many good photos.

Mareeba Rock Wallaby
Mareeba Rock Wallaby

There are huge number of animals around the park. It would be great for kids but also fascinating for us adults! There are noisy geese and fluffy, fancy chickens wandering about loose, a pig, ponies, lizards, water dragons, guinea pigs, snakes and lots of colourful birds. The lady at reception offered us several times the opportunity to hold these animals if we wanted. We also chanced upon the feeding of the snakes with mice and chicks. These were dead before feeding the snake but warmed to tempt the snakes to eat!

Snake being fed with a dead, warmed, young chicken
Pig

The walking tracks that go from behind the reception building are a little tricky in places but worth doing for the spectacular and unusual boulder filled scenery. The shorter, yellow marked walk is easier and takes you to a pretty water body for swimming. The much harder, red marked walk involves a fair amount of clambering over rocks but you can see dinosaur footprints and a pretty gorge lookout!

Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk – dinosaur footprints!!!
Speckled rock but the speckles on the rock are really fine webs spun by a spider or some other insect
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk
Granite Gorge Walk – swimming hole
Granite Gorge Lookout
Granite Gorge Walk

If you are in the vicinity of Mareeba, Skybury Coffee is worth a visit. It has a cafe on a high balcony overlooking the pretty vista and free tastings of coffee, papayas and papaya jam at the shop. The most fascinating part of this operation is how they double crop papaya trees and coffee trees. There is a small movie theater and signage with information about this method of farming.

The papaya trees are planted and these produce fruit for sale between 8 months and 2.5 years. When the tree gets to a certain height, young coffee trees are planted under the papaya trees. The papaya trees protect and shade the young coffee trees while they mature to a productive age. Coffee trees planted under papaya trees mature to productivity much faster than those planted alone. Once the coffee trees are ready for harvest, the papaya trees will have passed their useful age and have been removed. This method increases the yield from the same bit of land with only a marginal increase in water and fertilizers. Fascinating stuff!!

Sugar Cane Country – The road north from Townsville to Cairns!

This part of the North Queensland is dominated by sugar cane fields. The soil is rich and dark and the sugar cane often grows higher than 2m. This fertile soil also grows mango trees and bananas. The mango trees in the plantations are pruned to keep them short and more manageable for picking. Colourful plastic bags cover the developing combs of bananas to protect them from pests and improve the yield. There are cane train tracks to carry the cane to the sugar mills.

Sugar Cane Fields – the height of the plants are greater than 2m.
Lucinda Jetty – 5.6km long and has a conveyor to transport raw sugar into sugar export ships. This jetty is so long, they had to account for the curvature of the earth when their built it!
Watch out for the cows on the road and beside the road on the way to Wallaman Falls!

Wallaman falls, about 50 minutes inland from the town of Ingham is really spectacular. Potentially, it was particularly stunning and swollen when we were there as there were a few days of rain prior. The water falls a great distance of 268m making it the highest, permanent, single drop waterfall in Australia. The power of the waterfall creates huge plumes of spray. There is a hike from the lookout at the top to the bottom of the falls. It’s not the easiest hike but worth the effort to feel the power of the falling water at the bottom lookout and the spray of it on your face.

Wallaman Falls from the top lookout. Look at the spray generated from the power of the falling water!

Driving north from Ingham to Cardwell, you will pass the Hinchinbrook Lookout. This stunning lookout must have cost the local government a fortune to build as it consists of a highway offramp and a vehicle bridge that goes over the major Bruce Highway. Throughout our journeys, we have been astounded at the quality therefore cost of public infrastructure in Australia. Is this the best way to spend money? Could the same outcome be achieved with less money and the remaining money used for something else or left in the taxpayer’s pocket? The view from the lookout is pretty spectacular.

Hinchinbrook Lookout

We overnighted in Cardwell. One of Cardwell’s claim to fame is it’s resident, massive crocodile named Bismarck. In Australia, crocodiles are a protected species (as are all native animals), so ‘taking care of it’ would be a crime. However, it’s common practice in the Northern Territory where a crocodile has encroached into populated areas, to ‘re-locate’ it to a remote stretch of river. The interesting thing then is what happens to the re-located croc? Since saltwater crocodiles are intensely territorial, the new kid on the block is likely to be on another croc’s turf and a a fight to the death then ensues. Nevertheless, despite being a waterfront-centric, tourist town, locals do not want this big crocodile relocated. The lady at the tourist centre said that “The Bismarck” loves publicity and would wave at you if it could! Google Cardwell croc to get some videos of what this croc has been up to! It seems to be a matter of time before an ignorant tourist gets chomped and then the local authorities will be forced to decide that something needs to be done!

On the way north from Cardwell is a cool and refreshing (and safe) swimming hole called Alligator’s Nest. It is a really great place to stop for a picnic and a swim. Just look out for the Bullrout fish (like a stonefish) which has dangerous spines that will get you if you step on one. Of course these fish are cunningly camouflaged in the river sand, so maybe “watch out” is the wrong thing to do, since you won’t spot one until it’s too late. Just another way that Australia’s natural wonders get their own back from time to time.

Alligator’s Nest Swimming Hole
Alligator’s Nest Swimming Hole
Alligator’s Nest Swimming Hole – Inland of Mission Beach

The lady at the tourist information centre at Cardwell was delightfully biased towards Cardwell. She told us that the (famous) Mission Beach was “boring”. We got to Mission Beach and was pleasantly greeted by a stunning, broad, world class, white sand beaches fringed by coconut trees. Idyllic! The main street has a very touristy feel.

Coconut Trees Fringing Mission Beach – Too bad the day was overcast or this would have been the classic island paradise shot!

Just inland of Mission Beach is Djiru National Park. The Licuala Rainforest Circuit is worth finding for the beautiful Fan Palm Rainforest Walk. These massive palm leaves are really beautiful.

Rare fan palm rainforests – Licuala Rainforest Circuit, Djiru National Park
Fan Palm – Licuala Rainforest Circuit – The diversity of evolution is amazing!
Fan Palm Rainforest – Licuala Rainforest Circuit

About 20 minutes south of Innisfail, Paronella Park is touted as the Number 1 tourist attraction in Queensland. That’s a big call! Together with the $50 per adult entry fee, my expectations were extremely high! It’s pretty enough as the photos attest but you can actually access the highlight of the park for free. The Mena Creek Falls can accessed for free from the suspension bridge just down the street from the park entrance. From the bridge, you can see some of the old castle structures. It could be then suggested that perhaps it isn’t worth paying the $50 steep entry fee. The real star of Paronella Park was the 1m long eel which hangs around a fast flowing creek hoping the tourists will feed it!

Note: If you have the Entertainment discount, there is a 2 for 1 discount at Paronella Park.

Kooky planter at Paronella Park
Paronella Park – unfortunately, the concrete used by Jose Paronella to build these castles contained too much mica so all the concrete work suffers from concrete cancer and is decaying in an accelerated fashion. Current owners of Paronella Park are conducting reinforcement and refurbishment work to save it.
Kauri Pines at Paronella Park – These magnificent trees grow straight, tall and the wood is naturally water resistant and therefore perfect for boats and jetties. As a result these were heavily logged in the past and pines of this size are rare. These ones in Paronella Park are protected.
Bamboo Grove, Paronella Park
Paronella Park
Paronella Park
Grand Staircase at Paronella Park – Note the Mena Creek Falls to the left of the photo. The story goes that this staircase was the first thing built and used to carry building materials from the top to the bottom for the building of structures at the lower level. The story seems dubious as this staircase is far too decorative with it’s ornate balustrading and incorporated planter boxes as well as suspiciously narrow to be the work accessway!
Paronella Park – gravity fed fountains
Paronella Park
Paronella Park (Mena Creek Falls) at night during the evening tour. You can access the suspension bridge over the waterfall for free from outside park.
Mena Creek Falls from Paronella Park . Note how the high water level goes beyond the concrete railing!
The view from Coquette Point, Innisfail

This is a beautiful part of the world, especially in July when the temperature is perfect and a welcome escape from the Australian winter down south. The ground is fertile and the landscape is lush and green.

Townsville

Townsville is a big city of 180,000 people in a fertile part of North Queensland. Sugar cane, mango and banana growing country, with rich dark, fertile soils. It’s a good place to stop when travelling in the region if you have “life admin” type errands to get done. Most of Townsville is not particularly pretty but the waterfront area along the Strand is the jewel of the city. It’s very pretty but the highlights are the giant fig trees that have been preserved (even in the median strip of the road!) Castle Hill looms over the city and the view from the top of it is breathtaking.

Townsville Marina and industrial jetty from the Castle Hill Lookout
View of Townsville from the Castle Hill Lookout
View of Townsville facing inland from the Castle Hill Lookout
Coastal boardwalk, Townsville
Magnificent fig trees along the waterfront, the Strand, in Townsville. This is the most beautiful part of the city.
Castle Hill looms over the city of Townsville
Check out this waterfall in the middle of city!
Townsville Annual Show – best rose
Townsville Rock Pool. Every tropical town in Queensland has free public swimming facilities. They are usually excellent and allows the population to cool off whilst avoiding stingers and crocodiles.
The Strand Beach, this part of the beach is supervised by lifeguards.
Tobruk Memorial Baths, 50m pool on the Strand, Townsville. Winter training location for the Australian Olympic swim team for 1956 and 1960 including Dawn Fraser!!
Showbags at the Townsville Annual Show!
These amazing fig trees are very common in Townsville. They were spectacular!