72 hours in Mission Beach
Picture this: no traffic lights, no chain stores, and no crowds, in a tropical paradise filled to the brim with all the natural beauty and adventure you could ever hope for.
Mission Beach, you really are the stuff of holiday dreams.
You might be wondering where this mystical unicorn of a destination has been hiding all your life, but alas, you’ll find her off the beaten tourist track in Tropical North Queensland, two hours south of Cairns.
Made up of four coastal villages – Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach and South Mission – linked by 14 glorious kilometres of golden beach, it’s hard to imagine how this gem has stayed on the down low for so long. Nestled between two World Heritage-listed wonders, the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics, Mission Beach is the cash cow of unspoilt natural experiences.
While three days is nowhere near enough time in this holiday haven, if you’ve only got 72 hours to spare, here’s how it should go down.
NOTE: Stinger season is between the months of October to June, so during those times swim only in the stinger nets.
8am: Brekky with Bay
Dive mouth first into a hearty breakfast at the family-run Bingil Bay Cafe. What was once a convenience store is now a cosy nook that’s a gushing favourite of the locals, and it’s not hard to see why, with their funky colours, sweet sounds of Jack Johnson and Bon Iver serenading you in the background, and delicious home-style meals.
Once you’ve ordered, nab yourself a cheap read from the second-hand book exchange and pull up at one of the tables outside under the motorised punkawallah fans to enjoy the tropical climate with some easy breezin’.
9am: Get stepping
Work off your morning feast with a trek to the summit of Bicton Hill in Clump Mountain National Park.
The 4km round-trip circuit takes about two hours starting at the car park, weaving its way up the moderately steep slope through undisturbed lowland rainforest (some of the few remaining patches left in North Queensland) to reward you with sweeping views of the mainland and Family Islands Group at the top lookout.
If you’re after more of a leisurely stroll, walk the line where rainforest meets the sea at the Cutten Brothers Walking Track.
Named after the first permanent settlers who came to the area in 1882, the track is an easy walk under the shaded protection of beautiful king ferns and a variety of rare fauna and flora (like the endangered arenga palms), with little beach pockets dotted along the way for you to stop and explore.
Start at the southern end (at the turn-off to the Eco Village on Clump Lookout Road) and follow the track until you reach the beach leading to Clump Point Jetty, where, if you’re lucky, you might spot turtles nibbling on some seagrass.
TIP: Don’t forget sunscreen, water and insect repellant on your walks. The tropical climate can be quite the unforgiving force if you don’t prepare yourself!
Head into North Mission for a bite to eat at Shanti Cafe, tucked in at the northern end of the main street. Using biodynamic dairy products from Mungalli Creek and locally sourced produce right down to their herbs, Shanti are on a mission to stuff you silly with their healthy goodies.
From the daily specials and scrumptious cakes to their traditional chai and fresh juices, expect pretty much everything you put into your mouth to be wholesome and rich in flavour.
After om nom nom-ing your way through lunch, check out the boutique shopping dotting both sides of Porter Promenade. (Boys, take this as your cue to head down to the patrolled beach outside Castaways for a swim).
Quality definitely trumps quantity here, with only a handful of stores stocked with coastal-only necessities: sea shells, beachy and tropical interiors, and bikinis and boardies.
1pm: Pedal on
Hit the road on a sweet set of two wheels courtesy of Mission Beach Bike Hire (the same guys that run Mission Beach Water Taxi) in Wongaling Beach. Hire will set you back only $15 and ends when the sun goes down.
Now choose your adventure for the afternoon: beach or rainforest.
Mountain bike rainforest circuit
Avid bike riders look no further than the Musgravea Trail in Djiru National Park. What was once an original logging track used to haul timber between South Mission Beach and El Arish is now a wide bike trail taking you through licuala palm forests and over small freshwater streams.
The track is suitable for beginner mountain bike riders, however, a moderate level of fitness is recommended (mountain biking on its own is enough to tire you out, but adding humidity on top of that makes it quite the challenge).
Starting at the Licuala day use area, a 10-minute bike ride from Wongaling Beach, follow the track until you come out to the road which will take you to Lacey Creek, where you can park your bike and have a swim in the fresh water.
After you’ve cooled down, it’s all downhill from here (in the best possible way). Follow El Airish Mission Beach Road as it winds back into the main village and pop into the Mission Beach Tavern to grab yourself a beer, because heck, you’ve earned it.
If you’d prefer to take it easy (and you can’t bear to be more than 20 metres from the gorgeous shoreline), cruise down to South Mission Beach – either by pavement or beach if it’s low tide – for a dip, before stopping in to explore the Kennedy Walking Track.
After finding a good parking spot for your bike, start at the boat ramp south of Kennedy Esplanade. The first half of the track follows an easy boardwalk stalking the coastline, weaving its way through rocky headlands and shady rainforests. You will soon be met with steps leading you to your own secluded paradise – Lover’s Beach at Lugger Bay.
If it’s low tide and you can access the beach, take a few Insta snaps and follow the track on to Tam O’Shanter Point. This second half swaps the boardwalk for a trek through the mangroves to the lookout point with magnificent views out to Hinchinbrook Island.
Feeling more adventurous? Follow the track extension on to Hull River, but keep in mind tide times and the fact it will be a 4km round trip.
6:30pm: Winner, winner, seafood dinner
You don’t have to be a seafood lover to enjoy the delights of Zenbah Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. But if you are, you’re going to be in HEAVEN.
From juicy burgers and all-day $10 kebabs to fresh Spanish mackerel and prawn linguine, you’d be hard done finding something you didn’t want to inhale ASAP.
Oh, and did we mention there are $4 drinks between 5-7pm? #HELLYEAH
NOTE: If you’re there over a weekend, there’s live entertainment every Friday to Sunday night, with free credit jukebox on Saturdays.
8 AM: Get (wet and) wild
Don’t be fooled by the easy-going exterior of Mission Beach, because this hub is sitting on an adrenalin-filled goldmine.
Just ask the blokes at Wildside Adventures, who’ll be taking you behind the coastline to traverse the best of two worlds: whitewater and World Heritage-listed rainforest.
Picking you up from your Mission Beach accommodation, you’ll be driven out to the country, past banana farms and green rolling hills, to the Tully Gorge National Park where your whitewater rafting adventure begins.
After some morning tea, Al and Stevo will start kitting you up and prepare you for the bucket-list experience that lies ahead: charging your own two-man sports craft down the rapids of the Tully River.
Now before you start freaking out over the fact that it is YOU who will be in charge of your own vessel, let’s stop and take a breather.
Firstly, the guys are professionals and will be there every
step rapid of the way to give you all the help and guidance you need to control your water beast; and secondly, if this absolute chicken right here could do it, then let me tell you, ANYONE can.
Before taking off, you’ll practice manoeuvres and drills to help you guide yourselves down this epic natural wonder. Then with one guide at the front of the pack and the other at the rear, it’s time to sit back and paddle on.
Broken up into sections of whitewater and calm river passages, the experience is both thrilling and peaceful at the same time; when you’re not battling rapids head-on, you’ll find yourself in awe of the beautiful rainforest surrounding you at the waters’ edge.
Al’s knowledge of the area comes into play during these quieter moments, pointing out the incredible variety of flora and fauna at home here and areas to keep watch for cassowaries. We even hauled up at a freshwater stream trickling down from the side for a hand-to-mouth sip of the purest water I’ve ever tasted.
5PM: Sunset sailin’
After all that blood-pumping action on the rapids, there’s no better way to unwind and relax than with a glass of champers on a sunset sail with Big Mama.
The beautiful 18-metre Ketch-rigged sailing yacht is the home of Lisa and her family, who live aboard the vessel and offer a range of sailing experiences from Mission Beach.
The minute you climb aboard, you get a sense this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill sailing tour; Big Mama truly is a home, with Coco the dog running about excited by the new faces, potted herbs and succulents getting some sun on the deck, and their very own coconut version of ‘Wilson’.
Grab a beanbag and plonk yourself at the front of the yacht before digging into a delicious antipasto platter and toasting to the setting sun.
(Pssst! If you find yourself still hungry after returning to solid ground, swing by Mission Beach Take Away for some fresh fish and chips.)
TIP: Wildside Adventures teams up with Big Mama Sailing and a range of other tourism operators in Mission Beach for their adventure combo packages at a bargain price. So before you start planning what you’d like to do, check out their website first.
8AM: Breakfast with a view
Rise and shine for brekkie time at Bibesia Restaurant at Castaways Resort.
Named after the Roman goddess of beverages who, with Edesia, goddess of food, presided at feasts, you can expect divine meals and a heavenly-like caffeine hit to kick-start your day (they recently teamed up with Blackbird Espresso in Cairns – who currently rank as the third best cafe in the country by Beanhunter – to bring you the best quality coffee the sunshine state has to offer).
FYI, stunning beachfront views are on the house.
10AM: Island time
It wouldn’t be a trip to Mission Beach if you didn’t spend a day at ‘Dunk’. Covered mostly in national park, the tropical island is a nature lover’s playground with beautiful walking trails and palm-fringed beaches.
Catch the Mission Beach Water Taxi from Wongaling Beach for $35-day return and arrive at your island paradise in under 15 minutes.
From the jetty, make a left and follow the beach until you reach the track signs leading to Muggy Muggy Beach and Mt Kootaloo.
If you’re up for a hike, set your sights on Mt Kootaloo first. The steep 5km-return track takes you through ancient fern forests and ironbark groves, past the rusty remains of a World War II radar station, to the island’s highest point with pinch-yourself panoramic views of the Family Group of Islands.
On the way back down, landlubbers can continue to explore the island’s core along the circuit track (a round trip takes about 3-4 hours), passing through the Palm Valley before coming out at Coconut Beach.
If the salty seas are calling your name, follow the track back down to the Muggy Muggy Beach turn-off for a dip and a snorkel.
When the tummy starts grumbling, make your way back towards the jetty to tuck into some fresh seafood washed down with a tipple at the island’s Sunset Bar.
NOTE: The Sunset Bar is only open Friday to Sunday, so if you happen to head over on a Monday to Thursday, pack your own picnic and set yourself up under a shady palm tree.
All that’s left to do now is savour your last few hours of island time: you could duck down to Coconut Beach for a snorkel at Coconut Bay, bomb off the jetty, or just take it easy on one of the beachfront loungers, sipping on ice-cold beers, before heading back to the mainland at 3:30pm.
A few tips to remember when spending the day at Dunk Island:
- Bring a backpack with only the essentials: a towel, hat, water bottle, sunscreen and insect repellent, clothes, and a snorkel and mask. (Ladies, you’ve been warned. I made the mistake of bringing more than I needed in an over-the-shoulder bag. Worst decision ever if you plan on tackling the walking tracks.)
- Wear covered shoes for the walking tracks because thongs (flip flops) are not suitable. Trust me, I had the blisters to prove it.
- Don’t worry about bringing enough water because you can fill up your bottles with safe water straight from the island’s taps.
- Again, DON’T FORGET the Sunset Bar is only open Friday to Sunday, so you will need to bring your own munchies if you head over on a Monday to Thursday or else you’ll get a serious case of ‘hangry’.
6pm: Gracias, Mission Beach
Sure, it’s your last night in town and it sucks, but that’s no excuse to be feeling down in the dumps. Why? Because there are pulled pork sliders, pizzas and delicious cocktails still to be devoured!
With a modest menu packed full of flavours, The Garage Bar and Grill in the Village Green at North Mission have taken bar food and raised it to the next level with their drool-inducing nibbles and American-style mini burgers. And if you happen to be there on a Wednesday night, you can say “hola” to their famous all-Mexican menu.
Not a bad way to top off a holiday in paradise, right?
Have you been to Mission Beach? Share your experiences in the comments below!