As any long-standing readers with even longer standing memories will recall, back in 2016 I was writing a series of posts about my coastal Queensland road trip. Then in November 2016, when the series had got as far as Cairns, I had to put it on hold after we bought a new house.
That placed us in a race against time to sell our old one and to help with that, I got stuck into decorating.
Then Father Christmas (yes, the real one) came to Myer so I got distracted even further and then, of course, it was Christmas.
Then we fell into 2018, went through the house move in February and yada yada yada, I never got back to that road trip.
Did I forget? Of course not.
As well is writing those articles on my blog, I also wrote a six page spread for Australia and New Zealand magazine for their Travel Section. So this is a reprint of that, with added pictures, which speedily takes us from the very beginning of the trip all the way through to Cairns where we left off, and then on to Port Douglas, our final destination.
If you’re keen to take the whole road trip with me, there are around 30 posts in all, I’ll show you how to do that at the end of this article.
This article appeared in the magazines March 2017 edition, and whilst I called it ‘Queensland coast road trip‘, they gave it the better title of…
Reefs and Rainforests
A Queensland coastal road trip is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. A journey north from Brisbane with, on the one side, more beaches than you can shake a stick at, open seas and a rugged coastline. On the other side and virtually never out of sight, the Great Dividing Range. Yes, I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but time was part of the problem. To do a road trip like this justice, at least six weeks should be set aside.
Whilst I could possibly manage that, being able to work on the go via my computer, my wife and daughter, Karen and Elizabeth, were a different story. Karen could have maybe been able to spare that amount of time, but Elizabeth had a small matter of attending school. Turns out neither of them were that keen on long road trips anyway, it was just me. So we came up with a different plan.
I would start this road trip alone, taking nine days to drive to Cairns where I would pick them up from the airport. We’d spend four days in Cairns together and then three in Port Douglas before I would drop them back off at Cairns Airport. I’d then take three days to drive back home on my own to Brisbane, whilst they do it in three hours on the plane.
With the arrangements in place, I set about planning my trip. 19 days and a 5000 kilometres or so round trip of mostly tarmac, but with a small sprinkling of red dusty tracks. By day five I had covered around 1200 kilometres before arriving in Airlie Beach.
My journey had taken me through Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Mackay, but very few traffic lights along the way. What a joy it is to drive on the open and often deserted roads around these parts.
Airlie Beach is a popular backpacker destination where the lagoon that overlooks the ocean is as busy during the day as the bars are at night. It would be insane to go there though and not take the time for a boat trip to the stunning Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. But time I didn’t have.
Instead, I enjoyed a dusty track drive to Cedar Creek Falls nearby…
But enjoyed this more…
There is something about a remote waterfall and swimming hole that makes life feel so good, like paradise.
Whatever I missed out on at Whitehaven Beach…
I decided to add a couple of hours on to my journey to Bowen by taking a detour to Hideaway Bay. I just liked the sound of the name, especially as I would also have to drive past Dingo Beach. As I drove up ‘O My God Hill’…
Well, at least one other person judging by the beach house, or should I say shack, constructed on the sand.
My car’s GPS had no idea about this place. Had I listened to its directions on every occasion, I would have driven into the ocean at least three times.
Even on the journey from Hideaway Bay to Bowen it tried to convince me to cut across canefields on back roads that just weren’t there. Maybe they will get map updates for this part of Queensland sometime soon, but I found the uncertainty of the journey made it all the more appealing, even if it did make the trip much longer.
If you like beaches, you’ll love Bowen. Either my satnav really was trying to sink me, or every road in Bowen leads to another beach. My favourite was probably Horseshoe Bay, it was also one of the busiest beaches, probably because it was Saturday, I’d seen so far on this trip.
Back on the Bruce Highway, and around 100 kilometres or so short of Townsville, I saw a sign by the side of the road saying ‘Lookout’. Why? Was something about to hit me on the head? Were there crocodiles crossing the highway? Then I noticed an arrow pointing to a very steep road.
Yes, of course, ‘Lookout‘; all one word, my mistake.
So I turned right and I was soon surveying the expanse of nothingness that surrounded Inkerman Hill.
After spending two nights in Townsville, I was just one sleep away from picking up my wife and daughter from Cairns Airport. That sleep was in Cardwell. On my way there though, I couldn’t resist turning left at Ingham to travel the 103 kilometres each way to check out Wallaman Falls.
I’ve already mentioned the Great Dividing Range, this waterfall is in it. It’s also Australia’s highest permanent single drop waterfall at 268 metres. I didn’t notice anyone swimming at the bottom of this one and I wasn’t going to jump in on my own.
As I checked into the motel in Cardwell, which was on the beach, I was warned by the owner not to go swimming. She pointed to a picture of a crocodile on her reception desk as she gave me that advice.
So I didn’t.
Instead, I had a beer in a pub overlooking the beach from a safe distance on the other side of the road.
So far on this journey, everything I have seen, the beaches, the waterfalls, the national parks, the lookouts, the lagoons, everything has been free.
Open to the public.
When I picked up Karen and Elizabeth in Cairns though, that all changed.
The Great Barrier Reef
These girls wanted to go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and you don’t do that for free.
Karen and Elizabeth though just wanted to get on with scuba diving, they couldn’t wait. Elizabeth is a bit of a fish herself, she loves swimming. She wanted to meet Wally. Wally is a real fish, a Maori wrasse to be more specific.
He photo bombs underwater pictures of scuba-divers around Marine World and he didn’t let us down. He turned up bang on cue.
Kuranda is another must do, and we took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, a spectacular 7.5 kilometre journey over and through World Heritage listed Rainforest to get there.
It’s a breathtaking experience.
Jeremy could have talked about the Bush Tucker all day long and I could have listened to him.
After completing our journey to Kuranda on Skyrail we returned to Cairns, a descent of around 328 metres, down the winding track of the magnificent and historic Kuranda Scenic Railway.
As we continued our road trip towards our final destination, we found ourselves on another winding journey with spectacular views. This time though, it was the road that hugs the coastline between Cairns and Port Douglas.
With the detours, my road trip had covered in excess of 2500 kilometres by now. The last 50 km or so were no straight line either, twisting and turning and offering jaw dropping views of the ocean below around every bend. Even my daughter, temporarily, put down her iPhone to look out of the window.
It was a touching moment.
If three weeks wasn’t enough time for this road trip, three days was nowhere near long enough to fully explore Port Douglas. What we did have time to see though, we loved. Strangely, the town has a typically English High Street feel about it, but that’s where the similarity ends.
The Lady Douglas sunset cruise up Dickson Inlet was a great introduction to the area with much to see. We even got an excellent view of a croc that seemed to be waiting for the sound of the boat before rising to the surface to show off his long, almost 4 metre body.
We spent a full day in nearby Daintree National Park…
Daintree National Park is a favourite hangout to probably the maddest bird in the world, the cassowary. At around 5 feet tall and 80 kg, this creature is violently territorial and can scratch, head butt, charge and kick, I think all at once if it so chooses, with enormous power.
It can also run faster than Usain Bolt, so good luck with your escape plan.
As we crossed the Daintree River by ferry…
…and headed towards Cape Tribulation, we were entering prime cassowary territory. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to see one in the wild, although part of me was curious to know what it felt like to be exhilarated and terrified at the same time.
All we did see though were signs warning us to beware of cassowaries crossing the road.
When we arrived at Cape Tribulation, grey clouds had gathered, which only served to add to the uniqueness of the experience. We were as far north as this journey would take us, probably as far north as we would ever go in Queensland.
We’d passed through Daintree Rainforest on the way. Not just any old rainforest, but at an estimated 140 million years, the oldest living tropical rainforest on earth. We were also in the only place in the world where two World Heritage-listed sites meet, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
So what did we do? We took a selfie.
Three weeks wasn’t enough. I don’t think six weeks would be either. There is so much to see and do on this journey. I could do it all again, for longer, starting next week and I would love it just as much.
Finally, to round up, here’s what we enjoyed the most in Far North Queensland.
6 must dos in Cairns and Port Douglas
If you want to know more about this road trip, as I mentioned earlier, I have also written many blog posts about this. To start at the beginning, go to Another Australian Road Trip: Brisbane to Port Douglas.
Join me as I set off, then follow the journey by clicking the links at the foot of each article to get to the next stop. All the way to Port Douglas.