June 22, 2022

Ancient geological ties connect the steamy rainforest to the colorful reef of Tropical North Queensland. The best way to explore it all is to hit the road.

Tully–Mission Beach

Distance: 218km

Time: 3–4 days

IT’S A REAL out and back, looping west of Tully to experience the beautiful Tully Gorge National Park (and the gorge itself) to the west. The gorge is accessed via a 41km journey that runs along the southern border of the park, with the River Tully flowing nearby. If you like adrenaline rushes, white water rafting trips are available in the gorge. There is a large camping and day use area here (with good facilities and a short walk – the butterfly loop), and brilliant lookouts right next to the campground, and 5.5km further at Cardstone Weir Lookout. Tully Gorge Lookout is spectacular in the rainy season when the falls flow, plunging 300m into the Tully River. After spending the night at the campsite (tip: take a refreshing dip in the river before you leave), return to Tully via the same road, then head south to Murrigal and Upper Murray Road and Middle Murray Road, before arriving at Murray Falls Campground and Day Use Area in Girramay National Park. There’s a pleasant little promenade here – the Yalgay Ginja Bulumi Promenade – and some great pools to cool off in. From Murray Falls it’s another return to Tully, before continuing north along the Bruce Highway to El Arish and turning east towards the coast and Mission Beach. Accommodation along this route ranges from national park campgrounds to luxury resorts in Mission Beach, which is a popular tourist hub. Check out the tourist information center where you can book tours and get a hiking trail map.

Tully River Gorge.

Cancutter Road

Distance: 162km

Time: 3–4 days

This figure-eight round-trip loop from Innisfail features a mix of sugar cane country, rainforest, and some of the region’s pristine coastlines. Starting in Innisfail, you head southwest through South Johnstone, before continuing further south to Mena Creek, with Japoon National Park and Mena Creek Falls nearby, to the south. shadow of the rainforest covered mountains of Table Top Range. From Mena Creek it’s another 10km south to Old Silkwood, then 9km east to Silkwood, before returning to the Bruce Highway and heading north to Innisfail. Just before Innisfail, a detour is worthwhile: the Australian Sugar Heritage Center in Mourilyan presents this import industry and its history. From Innisfail, continue north on the Bruce Highway to Babinda (often awarded the title of Australia’s wettest town, due to its annual rainfall of over 4000mm) and spend some time explore nearby Wooroonooran National Park before turning south again and heading towards Flying Fish. Point, right on the coast and the perfect place to spend the last night of this loop. For keen anglers, Flying Fish Point lives up to its name, offering some of the best beach and estuary fishing in this area.

Cancutter Road.

Mareeba–Chillagoe Loop

Distance: 583km

Time: 5–6 days

This loop takes you through the amazingly varied landscape of Tropical North Queensland as you travel from the dense rainforests near Mareeba in the Atherton Tablelands, to the expanse of savannah further west and its secrets underground, and back to Mareeba. The road is a mix of tarmac and dirt, but nothing too difficult for regular vehicles (4WD not essential). Head west to start, following the Burke Developmental Road to reach Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. Here you will find the incredible limestone caves. You can join a ranger-led tour or take a self-guided tour (take a torch), The Archways tour (30 minutes) being the most accessible/easiest. From Chillagoe you retrace your steps to Almaden, then drive south via Almaden and Lyndbrook until you reach the Gulf Developmental Road again, 14 km east of Mount Surprise. Spend a day at Undara Volcanic National Park to view the lava tubes before beginning the return loop northeast, via the Gulf Development Road once more, then Kennedy Highway and north to Mareeba . Accommodation on this route ranges from bush camps in national parks to caravan parks and resorts.

Motorhome driving on a dirt road through the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. Image credit: Courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland

Great Barrier Reef Drive: Cairns to Cape Tribulation Section

Distance: 140km

Time: 2.5 hours

The 40km section of the Captain Cook Highway and Cape Tribulation Road between Cairns and Cape Tribulation was renamed Great Barrier Reef Drive in late 2015 in a bid to raise the profile of the famous scenic drive.

Once you’ve left the hustle and bustle of Cairns and its string of suburbs, you’re in for a treat. The road hugs the pretty coastline and it can be hard to keep your eyes focused on the breathtaking scenes to your right. Stop at Rex Lookout for a great view of Trinity Bay.

North of the Port Douglas exit, the road passes through rolling sugar cane fields backed by dramatic green expanses and the awe-inspiring view of Thornton Peak in the distance. The mist that often shrouds the double peak of the mountain comes and goes as you go. Once across the Daintree River Ferry, the road becomes narrow in places as it twists and turns through the Daintree Rainforest. Pause briefly at Walu Wugirriga (Mount Alexandra viewpoint) for great views over the rainforest canopy to the Daintree River estuary, before setting off on the final leg of the journey to Cape Town.

The road passes through a series of seething creeks that tumble from the ranges, blanketed in shades of green, to empty secluded beaches into the sea. Cassowaries are regularly spotted along this section, so keep your eyes peeled and your speed reduced .

From Cape Tribulation, it is possible to take a half-day small-group eco-tour to nearby reefs such as Undine and Mackay aboard a semi-rigid inflatable raft with Ocean Safari.

Route of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cooktown Tour

Distance: 279km

Time: 1 to 2 days

This look out of Cooktown offers a great exploratory drive without being too hard on your vehicle and can be easily completed in an SUV or 4×4.

Heading north from Cooktown along a short stretch of tarmac you will follow Battlecamp Road which loops northwest towards the entrance to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park. Along this northern section there are beautiful waterways; Lake Emma (great camping here but book ahead) and Horseshoe Lagoon (more bush camping) are beside the road itself, along with the ruins of Couch Grass Hut and the pretty Welcome Waterhole just off a side road and also worth a visit. Your turning point to the south is reached at Old Laura Farm, which is located on the banks of the Laura River and well worth exploring. From the farm, you drive south for 27 km on a dirt road before reaching the township of Laura. Turning southeast you join the sealed Peninsula Developmental Road and head towards Lakeland. Then it’s just a short 82km drive along the Mulligan Highway to Cooktown. This trip can be done in one long day, but we would definitely go for two.

Cooktown circuit.

Find out more about Tropical North Queensland.