Tropical North Queensland is one of my favourite places in Australia. It’s quite unique in that there are lush tropical rainforests that cascade right to the ocean; pristine, crystal clear waters & is home to the world’s largest coral reef system – The Great Barrier Reef. We chose to explore between Cairns and Airlie Beach on this trip and spent much of our time on a select few islands off the coast of Queensland. This trip is proof that you can experience adventure, isolation, luxury and world-class tropical beauty right here in Australia!
What better place to start than the heart of the Great Barrier Reef – The Whitsundays. This region is a must-do when travelling to North Queensland. It’s the gateway for the iconic Hill Inlet & Whitehaven Beach, Heart Reef, the Whitsunday Islands and of course, the reef. Chesh and I have been here a few times and based ourselves out of Airlie Beach, to then boat or fly to many of these incredible attractions. This time though we did it in absolute style. We chartered our very own 43ft luxury catamaran! 😍
Thanks to Queensland Yacht Charters / Dream Yacht Charters we were able to leave the world behind and sail off into the Whitsundays for a week that I will never forget. Sailing is seriously the best way to experience the islands. Everything is so accessible and every moment of the day is spent enjoying the white sand beaches, pristine waters and beautiful fish & corals. There’s no time wasted and it’s a totally immersive experience. We found quiet inlets to anchor and have sunset cocktails. We accessed the famous Hill Inlet with complete freedom, for as long and as often as we wanted (which was a lot!). We took our tender ashore to the most beautiful and empty stretch of Whitehaven Beach to swim and have a picnic. We navigated the islands and passages in the luxury of our fully self-contained 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom catamaran. And we did it all by ourselves!
You might be asking, ‘How did you guys manage sailing around the Whitsundays with just the two of you?’ To be honest, it was fairly easy! Chesh has experience with power boats and basic sailing knowledge and that’s all that we needed to comfortably sail for a week. Within the first day, I was driving us into our night time moorings and Chesh was dropping anchor. We were reading tide charts and radioing in to the HQ back on the mainland. It was a really fun and exciting adventure, and that’s just the travelling part. The boat is so easy to operate and the briefing was very thorough, so we felt comfortable the whole time. I would 100% recommend this for other couples looking for an exciting and romantic escape in paradise. Chesh and I now both want to go back with our family to share the amazing experience with them!
Arriving in Townsville we headed to the airport to helicopter to our next stop – the incredible Orpheus Island. I had always wanted to visit this island having seen photos in travel magazines, and it was exactly as I had dreamed! Arriving by helicopter we saw Manta Rays gliding beneath us in the fringing barrier reef. Our cameras didn’t stop snapping pics for the entire 30 minute trip. And I mean, what an entrance!
As we left the chopper we were handed welcome drinks and immediately felt relaxed. The resort is the only thing built on the island, tucked away in a small sheltered cove with palm trees and stunning views of the sunset over the lagoon. You are surrounded by nature and given there’s a very small number of guests, there’s a very calming and intimate felling to the place. We turned off our phones and gave in to the amazing food and drink, swimming off the beach with baby reef sharks and exploring the pristine island and it’s surrounding reef. Because of the isolation of this island, the snorkel spots are very untouched and we were totally blown away by the vibrant corals, particularly the coral plates. This place is for those wanting that luxury, tropical, island feel with delicious food and ultimate seclusion!
Townsville is the gateway to so many amazing islands and so we found ourselves spending a lot of time here. Coming back to the mainland after several days of intense shooting and exploring, we decided to stay somewhere special to relax and refuel. The Ville was our stay of choice and was exactly what we needed. Located right on the water, close to everything and with a Palm Springs style pool, this is holiday vibes at its best. Oh, and please do me a favour and make sure you eat at the hotels’ Miss Songs Asian Kitchen – the crispy eggplant is something else!
The landscape up here is so beautiful. From cane fields and roadside fruit stalls to lush rainforest; and drives along the coast to roads winding up to lookouts and waterfalls. There’s so much to see and you can’t get to it all without a car. If you fly up here and only stay in Airlie Beach, in my opinion, you are missing out on so many untouched gems. That’s why we explored the mainland (and a few of the islands) with our own camper van from Travellers Autobarn. Some of the best places don’t have hotels nearby and if you want to experience them without the crowds or you want to be there for sunrise or a sunset, I would highly recommend staying in a campgrounds or van park. Queensland really knows how to do van life. The grounds were always so beautiful with palms and birds everywhere and so having our own camper van was ideal to make the most of the region.
Just off Cairns you will find the stunning Fitzroy Island. We couldn’t believe how undeveloped this little island was. Only a short ferry ride from Cairns, you arrive to a relatively untouched island with only one resort, camp grounds and a barefoot beach bar. And then you have the water – so clear and warm, we were swimming until sunset and it was still in winter! There’s reef straight off the main beach and found turtles within minutes of hitting the water.
Of course I can’t write about Fitzroy without mentioning Nudey Beach. Take a short walk through the rainforest and you will find one of the country’s most awarded beaches. We went to Nudey so many times and at all times of the day and loved every minute of it. And if you’re interested in a no-fuss beachside bar, ditch getting the last ferry home and stay a few nights to enjoy sunset drinks at Foxy’s Bar. This place was a total vibe. Coming back from Nudey Beach salty and sandy, it’s the perfect spot to grab a stool and watch the last of a magic day play out.
There is so much to do around Cairns – the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, the mountain village of Kuranda, and the Great Barrier Reef. When based in and around Cairns, we stayed at Palmhouse Palm Cove. Palm Cove is a beautiful little spot just out of the bustle of Cairns, with a small oceanfront strip of bars, cafes and restaurants. And so many palms – I am obsessed! We stayed at Palmhouse which is an extremely cute Bali-style villa that’s a short walk from the beach and has an all-important plunge pool to enjoy during those hot tropo days. This stay was so beautiful that we actually did less exploring around the region than we had first planned, we seriously didn’t want to leave.
There is heaps of things to do around Townsville. The highest permanent, single-drop waterfall in Australia is just 2 hours drive North and it’s a definite must to visit! Wallaman Falls took my breath away. I came up to North QLD to see the ocean, reef and the islands, but it was places like this that gripped my soul. When we arrived and walked to the lookout of the falls, we couldn’t believe the sheer size of these falls. There was a rainbow in the falling water and I spent a good 40 minutes captivated by this view until Chesh dragged me away. The walk to the bottom of the falls is stunning. You leave the dry bush and enter into rainforest as you descend, with glimpses of the falls through the forest canopy. At the bottom you are hit with fine mist and an immediate sense of being so small and the powerful falls thunder down beside you. There’s so many vantage points to photograph if you are willing to scramble over the boulders and there’s a very refreshing dip in the pool if you want to cool down before heading back up the top.
This may well have been my highlight from this trip. Again, it was unexpected and in fact we only planned to go here 2 days before arrived, looking at a map one night in our van. Hinchinbrook Island is the ultimate ‘off the beaten path’ adventure. The island is uninhabited and it has a Jurassic Park feel as you arrive by boat. There’s only one or two operators that take you over on a tinnie and we travelled with John from Absolute North Charters who was an absolute legend and proud promoter of his backyard. The island is so green and lush, with plunge pools and waterfalls around every bend. You get dropped on the beach (after a quick check there’s no crocs around), pointed in the direction of the walking track and are left to your own devices! The freshwater pools are absolutely incredible to sit by, swim and drink from (you don’t need to bring water, just an empty bottle to fill up from the streams).
You can see as much or as little as you like. We did a day trip and filled the entire day still wanting more time. You can also do the Thorsborne Trail which takes several days to hike and there’s only up to 40 people allowed at any time on the trail – this is why it feels so remote and is so untouched! No matter how many days you spend here, make sure you get to the top of Zoe Falls which has the iconic view over the island and surrounding turquoise waters.
Of the many islands we visited, Magnetic island deserves a mention. Given we had our campervan, this was very easy to get to by ferry and still have an easy way to get around the island. There’s some great walks to beaches such as Radical Bay and no matter the wind direction, you can find a calm protected spot to swim and laze in the sun. The wildlife is very active here too, so you might get to see koalas or rock wallabies if you keep your eyes peeled.
- Mission Beach: South of Cairns and a great spot to stop when driving down the coast. Cute cafes, lush rainforest, cassowaries and a long palm-laced beach.
- The Healthy Hub, Cairns: The best healthy food to grab for lunch or to stock up before jumping in the van.
- 27 Degrees, Palm Cove: The best smoothie bowls, enjoyed under palm trees in bean bags.
- Bowen: Stop for fish & chips at the marina and head to Horseshoe Bay to eat on the beach.