Why Tropical North Queensland Is More Than Just a Stopover

Tropical North Queensland

Until recently, I’d been dreaming of revisiting Tropical North Queensland. In January 2020, I visited the Great Barrier Reef on a stopover in Cairns from Osaka, but the visit was far too short, so Tropical North Queensland remained on my bucket list.

That is, until now. In May, I was invited to rediscover the wonders of this oasis with Tropical North Queensland Tourism. On this trip, I was introduced to a less-known part of this region, the Cape Tribulation. Before now, I’d never heard of the destination, but it was truly an awe-inspiring experience. Truly, it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Whether Cairns is a stopover you want to extend, you’re searching for inspiration for your next trip, or you’re just looking for a domestic escape from the cold, here’s everything I’d recommend you do in Tropical North Queensland.

Dine at Salt House

I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect the dining scene in Tropical North Queensland to rival Sydney and Melbourne. Case in point: Salt House, Cairns’ most iconic waterfront venue.

Situated on the marina’s edge, Salt House offers sweeping views and a modern Australian menu with seafood, pizzas, and pasta. Don’t let the winter months stop you from enjoying a meal in the outdoor dining area!

Stay at Peninsula Boutique Resort in Port Douglas

Right in the heart of Port Douglas is the Peninsula Boutique Hotel. Just 40 metres from the beach, and a 2-minute stroll from the town’s main strip, this adults-only accommodation is great for relaxing.

With oceanview, pool view, peninsula or coral spa suite options, the Peninsula Boutique Resort is for couples looking to treat themselves to a romantic getaway. Catch the sunrise at Four Mile Beach before grabbing breakfast at its in-house restaurant, Hi-Tide, situated on the Esplanade overlooking the water.  

Cruise the Coral Sea on the Sailway Sunset Sail

Port Douglas Sunset Sail
Credit: TTNQ

The Sunset Sail is deemed a ‘must do’ for visitors, and for good reason. For $85 per person, the Sunset Sail is the idyllic way to spend an afternoon in Port Douglas. Board the first-class sailing catamaran and get ready to unwind for the next 90 minutes as you journey across the coast of Port Douglas. Soak up the tropical sunset over the Coral Sea and mountainous views from the foredecks or sail-side with the Skipper. Not keen on the “splash zone”? No problem! There’s also an undercover outdoor saloon area to enjoy.

This luxurious tour package includes a complimentary refreshment upon arrival, a selection of delicious canapés, and first-class service from start to finish. 

Dine at Zinc

End your day in the vibrant atmosphere of Zinc’s al fresco dining setting. Indulge in decadent Australian fusion cuisine with menu highlights like gnocchi, cauliflower steak, and smashed chat potatoes. Zinc’s also had the most extensive (and delicious!) drinks menu I encountered on my trip, so cocktails are a must.

Explore the Gateway to the Daintree Rainforest at Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge
Credit: TTNQ

Located at the entrance of the Daintree Rainforest is Mossman Gorge. There, you can take part in a self-guided walk with a tour group, or participate in a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk conducted by the local Kuku Yalanji people. After you’ve worked up an appetite, enjoy a delicious morning tea at the Mossman Gorge Visitors Centre. After the walk, treat yourself with traditional damper with jam and creat at The Daintree Tea.

Tropical North Queensland overflows with passionate locals like Mel and Cam from Daintree Discovery Tours. Mel and Cam guided us on this part of our adventure, and whether they were sharing stories about the locations we visited or greeting other tour groups, their enthusiasm and warmth was contagious.

Alternately, you can explore the Daintree’s abundance of flora and fauna at your own pace. The Madja boardwalk is a 90-minute drive from Mossman Gorge toward Cape Tribulation, and well-worth the trip. Don’t forget to search the boardwalk for citrus-flavoured green ants if you’re feeling peckish, they’re filled with more vitamin C than lemon juice!

Nature enthusiasts can enjoy another self-guided walk that begins at the Daintree Discovery Centre. Thirty minutes from Cape Tribulation, the centre has treetop walks, a Jurassic forest that will take you back in time, and a café. 

Embark on a Wildlife Adventure on the Daintree River Cruise

The Daintree Rainforest has some of the world’s most diverse and extensive concentrations of wildlife, and there’s no better way to explore its ancient, unscathed ecosystem than from the comfort of a river cruise.

Embark on a 60-minute scenic journey led by the Crocodile Express’ eco-tour guide. Along the way, you’ll see snakes, native birds and saltwater crocodiles. Don’t forget to say hi to the infamous Scarface!

Enjoy Lunch and a Swim at the Daintree Heritage Lodge

Daintree Heritage Lodge
Credit: TTNQ

The Daintree Heritage Lodge lies between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. Savour a gourmet meal at open-air restaurant On the Turps, where highlights from the menu include the baked brie, barramundi and cooked-to-order pesto pasta.

After your feast, relax and enjoy a tranquil swim in Cooper Creek. It’s accessible from the restaurant and free from crocodiles, thankfully! You’re sure to feel rejuvenated as you dip into the turquoise waters, surrounded by the magical Daintree Rainforest. 

Treat Your Sweet Tooth at Daintree Ice Cream

Daintree Ice Cream
Credit: TTNQ

Even in the colder months, you’ll want to visit Daintree Ice Cream. They work “in harmony with the pristine rainforest ecosystem”, and encourages visitors to open their “mind and mouth to the flavours of the rainforest”.

I tried the tasting cup, which included coconut, strawberry yellow sapote, and wattleseed. I can confirm: it’s good!

Disconnect From the World at the Cape Tribulation

A 3-hour drive from Cairns, the Cape Tribulation is a testament to Tropical North Queensland being more than just a stopover. Rather, it’s a destination worth planning an entire trip around.

This breathtaking coastal region where the Daintree Rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef is the only place on Earth where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites collide. Or as the locals say, it’s “where the rainforest meets the reef”.  

Unwind at Cape Trib Beach House

Cape Trib Beach House
Credit: TTNQ

Cape Trib Beach House lets you disconnect from the outside world. Expect to have no signal as you log off to enjoy your cosy, hut-style cabin. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and take in the sounds of geckos, raindrops and rustling trees from your verandah.

For food, Tides Bar & Restaurant is favoured by locals and travellers alike. Menu highlights include the chargrilled kangaroo, linguini carbonara and chef’s selected market fish of the day. Even better, you can enjoy your meal from the outdoor, beachfront seating area.

Set Out an Ocean Safari

Ocean Safari
Credit: TTNQ

Looking for adventure? Look no further than Ocean Safari, which offers an exhilarating 25-minute ride to two reef sites, Mackay and Undine. On this half-day tour, we snorkelled among the vibrant corals and clams of the Great Barrier Reef. We saw green sea turtles gliding by, myriads of tropical fish, and even caught a glimpse of some majestic sharks.

Feast at Turtle Rock Café

Just 400m from the beach, Turtle Rock Café serves up a feast for the senses with the freshest local produce the region has to offer. Think fish tacos served with taro chips, miso and coconut broth-based jungle curry, and an array of gourmet sandwiches. Take in the casual, friendly atmosphere as you enjoy your meal in the tropical outdoor dining area.

Stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve

Thala Beach Reserve
Credit: TTNQ

Two hours outside of Cape Tribulation is Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Start your morning on the secluded beach, where you can watch the sunrise from the comfort of a hammock. Your accommodation is hidden among the treetops, and from your bungalow, you’ll get an island-feel without leaving the mainland as you take in the view of the palm trees and the Coral Sea.

Guests can enjoy a selection of complimentary walking tours, go star-gazing at the observatory, and taste test in the edible garden. Dine amongst the birds in the canopy at Osprey’s Restaurant, where you can expect to enjoy modern Australian cuisine as you take in the panoramic views of the Daintree and surrounding coastlines.

Enjoy a Send-Off at Nu Nu

Nu Nu
Credit: TTNQ

Finally, no trip to Tropical North Queensland is complete without a visit to Nu Nu in Palm Cove. Delve into their set menu, which features caramelised duck ham and molasses pineapple stick, kimchi butter poached reef fish, and fried zucchini with chilli salsa.

My favourite was the young coconut, frozen passionfruit curd dessert, finished with monkey butter and hibiscus granita. You can also enjoy a complimentary mocktail — which they call a ‘no-jito’ — as you take in the beachfront views. Exclusive merch is available at the restaurant’s foyer, and I can attest that their infamous citrus salt makes for a great souvenir.

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