This ‘TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND TRAVEL GUIDE‘ blog shares our time spent in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. We spent one week exploring the lush Daintree Rainforest and surrounding areas, before heading off from the mainland to experience the secluded Lizard Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, growing for 180 million years. Located North of Cairns, the rainforest grows right down to the sea and there’s plenty of ways to experience its magic. There’s so much indigenous culture embedded within this area, as well as stunning forest walks, clear water gorges and luxury eco-stays.
From one natural wonder to another, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system. As the northern most resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is a truly special way to witness this treasure. A one hour scenic flight from Cairns will take you across the reef and have you landing on this remote slice of paradise, where luxury and sustainability are at the heart of your stay.
This travel guide aims to show you how to travel in an eco-conscious way to experience the beauty of the natural environment and local cultures. And you can commit to sustainable travel while still enjoying luxury, just as we did on this trip.
Map of our Tropical North Queensland Trip
Tropical North Queensland Trip Highlights
Our highlights from this trip to Tropical North Queensland are:
- Lizard Island
- Mossman Gorge
- Silky Oaks Lodge (eco luxury rainforest stay)
- Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
- Indigenous Tours (Dreamtime Tour and Walkabout Tour) around Mossman
- Cairns Crystalbrook Riley Hotel and visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
Best Time to Visit Tropical North Queensland
Tropical North Queensland is warm all year round. Regular rainfall in the summer and autumn months keeps the rainforest lush & green and gives life to stunning waterfalls. Storms in the afternoon or evening are welcomed after a hot day in the sun.
In the winter and spring you can expect drier weather and milder temperatures. Though with temperatures still in the mid-twenties, you’ll be pinching yourself that its actually winter!
Personally we prefer travelling during the shoulder seasons, in the months of May or September, to experience a bit of all the seasons.
How to Get Around in Tropical North Queensland
Cairns is the definite hub of the region, and has a domestic & international airport that can be accessed from most Australian cities as well as New Zealand and Bali.
I’d suggest grabbing a car from Cairns to get up to the Daintree (around an hour’s drive) and explore the rest of the region, such as Port Douglas, Mossman, Palm Cove and more. With your own car you can stop off at little roadside fruit stalls or pause to take in breathtaking views of rainforest mountains. You can even find your own inland fresh water creeks and waterfalls to cool off from the tropic heat.
Otherwise another option is to book transfers between the major tourist destinations and tours can be organised to all the best sites, with pickups from your hotel.
Getting to Lizard Island is a one hour flight on a dedicated 12 seater plane. The views of the reef are stunning and the island itself is breathtaking. Once you arrive, you’ll only need walking shoes if you want to do some hikes. Otherwise it’s all about the sand between your toes!
Top Tropical North Queensland Experiences
We loved Lizard Island. It is one of the most prestigious luxury lodges in Australia, and it’s our favourite so far in Tropical North Queensland. It is actually on the Great Barrier Reef and completely immersed in the natural elements, while boasting luxury accomodation and amazing gourmet meals. Some of our highlights here were the diving and snorkelling, even straight off the sand, as well as the (complimentary) use of motorised dinghy to explore the surrounding empty beaches of the island. Picture swimming in turquoise waters, witnessing turtles and beautiful corals and without anyone else around!
Mossman Gorge is one a many great ways to see the Daintree rainforest. There’s some beautiful hikes through the dense rainforest, as well as trails that will take you along the Mossman River and other freshwater creeks that are perfect to stop for a swim or a perch on the giant rock boulders. What better way to appreciate our environment than to completely surround yourself in beautiful, thriving, untouched rainforest.
We really enjoyed our Dreamtime Gorge Walk, learning the significance of the rainforest for the indigenous peoples. Walking through the forest and understanding how it can be used as a grocery, chemist and hardware store was so interesting. This tour really enhanced our experience beyond the natural beauty of the rainforest.
Another great Aboriginal tour we did from Mossman town was with locally owned and operated Walkabout Cultural Adventures, who showed us the way of life down by the sea for the traditional landowners. Through this tour the Walkabout team are preserving culture, which we always aim to experience so as to have meaningful travel experiences.
We learned the dreamtime stories for the area, as well as throwing spears and finding beach pipis & mud crabs. We then stopped off to grab fresh roadside fruits and had a beautiful picnic by a freshwater stream. It was a great morning!
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
The Skyrail is just outside of Cairns and a unique way to experience the rainforest. Gliding over the forest canopy you’ll be able to take in epic views as you make your way to the cute town of Kuranda. As a world leader in eco tourism, Skyrail is the perfect way to witness the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.
The Skyrail takes around 1.5 hours one-way, but allow more time if you want to stop off for a hike or to see the massive Barron Falls. I’d suggest spending the extra money for the Diamond View to beat the queues. We went up in the morning and had lunch in Kuranda at a cozy little Japanese eatery and visited the butterfly sanctuary before heading back on the Skyrail.
You can also head to other amazing places to visit in Tropical North Queensland, like Fitzroy Island, Palm Cove, and Hinchinbrook Island – check them out in this blog from a previous trip to the region.
Where to Stay in Tropical North Queensland
Here’s our suggestions on where to stay in the Daintree, Cairns and Lizard Island.
Silky Oaks Lodge in Mossman Gorge is a totally immersive eco-conscious experience in the Daintree, with all the luxury comforts. The lodge is completely surrounding by rainforest and you are instantly hit with all the smells and sounds of forest. In your treehouse you’ll find a hammock on the deck and private outdoor rainforest tub to soak it all in. The lodge is right on the Mossman River and the food and cocktails were amazing, so there’s no real reason to leave once you settle in and find the rhythm of nature.
Crystalbrook Riley was the perfect place to stay in Cairns. A luxury waterfront property with sustainability at its core. These guys take on the term ‘responsible luxury’ seriously, from filtered water stations to recycled cardboard room keys and coat hangers. There’s great water views to be had, a sandy ‘beach’ pool and trendy restaurant dishing up asian cuisine. And all found in the perfect location!
Lizard Island Resort is the only place to stay on the remote Lizard Island. There’s only 40 rooms and 24 private beaches, so you do the math on how secluded it really is! Your stay includes delicious daily meals, use of private motorised dinghys to explore the island, clear bottom kayaks and a selection of alcoholic drinks to enjoy after a day of relaxing and exploring.
The island is so untouched, with the only other sign of human existence being the The Lizard Island Research Station. The research station is a world leader in coral reef education and research, and you can take a tour here too. There’s also plenty of great environmental initiatives from the resort, including removal of all plastic straws and bottles, as well as sourcing of 90% of food and drinks from local suppliers. Good work team!
Essential Items to Pack for your Tropical North Queensland Trip
- Sunscreen (reef friendly)
- Bug repellent (especially for the rainforest)
- Lightweight clothing, since its generally warm in the day and mild at night
- Maybe a light waterproof jacket for the rainforest hikes (it is the tropics after all)
- Walking shoes for hikes
- Reusable drink bottle
- Camera gear, especially underwater equipment (inc GoPros) for the Great Barrier Reef
Tips and Tricks for Travel to Tropical North Queensland
- Lizard Island has no mobile phone coverage (just wifi), so plan to be free of technology as much as possible
- There are definitely places you cannot swim in the region because of crocodiles. These areas are usually always signposted and are usually near the coastline where there’s the murky waters (e.g. there’s no crocs up at the fresh water river at Mossman Gorge), but always ask someone if unsure.
- Stingers are something to always consider when swimming or snorkelling in the ocean. Stingers are more likely to exist in the warmer summer months however locals will tell you they can be found any time of the year. Speak to your tour operator when going swimming, snorkelling or diving for the best advice. Stinger suits are the most common preventative measure.
- Don’t be afraid of Australia’s flora and fauna! Although there’s some species that can be harmful, it’s all part of existing within an untouched natural environment. Be aware of risks but enjoy the sensation of co-existing.
Enjoy this blog and want to read more things to do and places to see in Tropical North Queensland? Read our other ‘Tropical North Queensland‘ blog here. Or do you want to explore more islands along the Great Barrier Reef? Check out our ‘Wilson & Heron Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia‘ blog here.
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