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Top Three Road Trips From Cairns

Wonderful vegetation over ocean of Queensland, Australia

Tourists flock to Tropical North Queensland to visit the impressive Great Barrier Reef. If you are staying in Cairns, consider taking to the highways and exploring some of the incredible rainforest, mountain landscapes and coastal scenery. There is much more to Cairns than the famous reef, and a rental car is the best way to discover the hidden treasures of North Queensland. VroomVroomVroom has put together a list of the top road trips from Cairns to help you make the most of your tropical vacation.

Atherton Tablelands

The rolling hills and green valleys are a stark contrast to much of Australia's desert scenery. To experience volcanic lakes, waterfalls, historic towns and patches of rainforest you can't go past exploring the Atherton Tablelands.

Famous Millaa Millaa waterfall in the Atherton Tablelands

Turn off at the Captain Cook Highway at the Smithfield roundabout and head up the Kuranda Range. This steep, winding road offers some great views over Cairns' coastline, particularly from Henry Ross Lookout. Spend the afternoon in Kuranda, known as the 'Village in the Rainforest'. Among markets, boutique shops and local cafes, Kuranda is also home to a wildlife park and butterfly sanctuary. There are plenty of hiking trails around Kuranda, and it is only a five-minute drive to Barron Falls. If you are visiting during the wet season, a remarkable volume of water flows from the Barron River to make the falls even more impressive.

Follow National Route 1 for another hour to reach Atherton. Atherton offers many accommodation options, along with attractions like Halloran's Hill and The Crystal Caves. Just outside of Atherton, don't miss out on the Curtain Fig Tree and the old-fashioned village of Yungaburra. While staying in the area, visitors can also enjoy a swim in Lake Eacham, located in the beautiful Crater Lakes National Park. The popular lake originated from a volcano and is a preferred swimming spot among locals.

Head back on the main highway and stop in at Malanda to try your luck spotting a tree kangaroo. The unique creatures are often spotted at the Malanda Falls Visitor Centre. Continue travelling onto Millaa Millaa and take the waterfall circuit drive to visit a number of different falls. The most scenic of the falls is the photogenic Millaa Millaa Falls.

When the highway reaches East Palmerston you will be treated to some great mountain scenery dotted with sugar cane fields. The road then winds itself back down toward the coast. When you have reached the bottom of the mountain range it should take you just over an hour to drive north back to Cairns. For more on the Atherton Tablelands, click here

The Daintree Rainforest

4WD crossing the river near Cape Tribulation Daintree

No trip to Tropical North Queensland would be complete without a visit to the Daintree Rainforest. The journey north to the Daintree region takes you past many other noteworthy attractions.

Just 30 minutes north of Cairns is the popular Palm Cove. Relax in a hammock under a palm tree or enjoy a walk along the jetty with a great view toward Double Island. Shortly after Palm Cove, stop in at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures for a thrilling wildlife encounter. Aside from the giant crocodiles, visitors can also see cassowaries, kangaroos and other native Australian wildlife at the park.

To break up your journey, spend the night in Port Douglas. The drive to Port Douglas will take you along a stunning coastal road, and a short detour will take you to the bustling main street of this popular town. Four Mile Beach is within walking distance of the main shopping precinct and is a great example of a Tropical North Queensland beach, nestled against huge palm trees. If you are visiting during the dry season, be aware that Port Douglas can get quite busy as the town is also a cruise port.

Stop at scenic Mossman Gorge before continuing your drive to the Daintree River. When you reach the river, you will have to cross via the Daintree Ferry. At busy times there can be delays in taking your car across the river. The road to Cape Tribulation takes you deep into the world's oldest rainforest, and you can enjoy many hiking trails that start at convenient points just off the main road. The Daintree Discovery Centre is a great way to learn more about the region and the native wildlife.

Once you have finished exploring the quiet beaches and rainforest boardwalks, it is time to head back to Cairns. The drive from Cape Tribulation will take about three hours, depending on traffic. If you'd like to learn more about Tropical North Queensland's rainforests, please see our guide here

Mission Beach & The Cassowary Coast

Breathtaking scenery of Mission beach in Queensland, Australia

Head south through the stunning mountain ranges and vast cane fields toward the Cassowary Coast. The drive to Mission Beach will take you about two hours, but there are a lot of destinations worth a look along the way.

Take a short detour off the Bruce Highway and explore the Babinda Boulders. The area is a popular swimming spot, and there are also hiking trails that follow the river and offer some great views. Stop in at a cafe in Babinda if you feel like a bite to eat before hitting the road again. Otherwise, you can stop further down the road at Innisfail which offers a wide range of dining options and shopping.

Another great stop along the way is the lovely Etty Bay. The elusive cassowaries are often spotted in the area, along with other native wildlife. The beach is not far from the highway and is a popular beach for travellers.

When you reach the small town of El Arish, take a left-hand turn toward Mission Beach. On the road into the town, stop at a number of different rainforest hiking trails. While exploring the forest keep an eye out for a number of native birds, including the large cassowary. Mission Beach is a great spot for spotting cassowaries, and they can even be seen wandering onto the sand. Go for a cruise to Dunk Island, or enjoy snorkelling on the reef.

Stay a night in Mission Beach and take the time to relax on the long beaches. There are a lot of cafes, restaurants and local shops in the area. Head back to Cairns, enjoying the view of the mountain ranges to your left. Catch a glimpse of Mount Bartle Frere, the largest mountain in Queensland.

What are some of your favourite destinations in Tropical North Queensland? Let us know in the comment section below.