100 things to do in Tropical North Queensland
For the biggest line-up of natural blockbusters in one spot, set your sights on Tropical North Queensland. With the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics rainforest, waterfalls, gorges, and ridiculous levels of beauty it’s one of nature’s biggest overachievers.
You’ll never be short of things to do but if you’re looking for inspiration, here are 100 things to tick off the list. How many can you say you’ve done?
Psst! This free drive guide can also help you plan activities if you’re driving along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.
3. Take on Bartle Frere so you can say you conquered the tallest mountain in Queensland.
4. Watch the sun rise or set at Mount Cook, named after Lieutenant James Cook.
5. Witness one of the oldest and best-preserved lava tube systems in the world at Undara Experience.
6. Explore the abundant corals and spot some turtles at Beaver Reef Dive Site.
9. Learn more about flying foxes at the Bat Hospital in Atherton.
11. Take advantage of the tropical climate and beach hop your way along the coast with this local’s guide to the best beaches in Tropical North Queensland.
12. Settle in for a luxe getaway at Palm Cove, where relaxation levels are as high as the palm trees that line the town.
13. Get that adrenaline pumping with Flyboard Cairns, the action water sport that’ll take you to new heights. Basically, you’re lifted into the air on a wakeboard-like device!
16. Calling adventure lovers: Tackle rapids while traversing through World Heritage-listed rainforest, numerous waterfalls and basalt formations with RnR White Water Rafting.
17. Camp at Cape Tribulation and enjoy a beach sunset. It’s a picture-perfect setting.
18. Dine under fairy lights and chandeliers in the middle of the rainforest while listening to Aboriginal storytellers and tasting bush damper and other Aussie dishes at Flames of the Forest.
19. Find everything to do with coffee at Coffee Works – from growing, roasting and drinking to trading.
21. Bike ride part of the Great Tropical Drive through palm-fringed beaches, rainforests and golden outback.
22. Hunt down the best beans in and around Cairns with this coffee crawl to the best spots to get your morning jolt.
23. Get active and take on a triathlon at the Cairns Ironman as part of the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival. Discover why the tropical north puts on one of the most beautiful endurance events in the world.
24. Tick swimming with whales off your bucket list with an underwater adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Be one of the few each year who get the opportunity to swim alongside dwarf minke whales off the coast of Cairns.
25. Explore the limestone caves, which were once a mining site, at the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park.
26. Sail from Port Douglas to the Low Isles, enjoy the view and snorkel in the tranquil lagoons with Aquarius Luxury Sailing.
28. Make a quick stopover at the Hou Wang Temple in Atherton, which is the only remaining building of the original town – when it was the hub of the Chinese community – during the gold rush era.
29. Enjoy free tastings at Murdering Point Winery, including wine made from tropical fruit like lychees, mango and passionfruit.
30. The Curtain Fig Tree is one of Atherton Tablelands best-known attractions. See the 15m long curtain of aerial roots for yourself!
31. While you’re at it, try crabbing with Catch A Crab Tours and dine on freshly cooked crabs whilst cruising the waterway.
32. Set up your tent alongside crater lakes at Danbulla National Park.
33. Head to Emerald Creek to witness the creek tumbling over granite boulders. You might even catch a glimpse of the largest dragonfly in Australia.
34. Spread out that picnic blanket at one of Mount Lewis National Park’s creek crossings. You might even spot the rare white Lemuroid ringtail possum.
35. Step into a fantasy at Paronella Park where one Spanish man built his castle and many couples today say ‘I do’. Spend the day exploring the rainforest-engulfed castle and feel the enchanted vibes for yourself.
37. Spot the southern cassowary at Djiru National Park, which protects some of the last remaining lowland rainforest in the Wet Tropics.
38. Refresh yourself with a five-star day spa experience at Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple Resort.
39. Make a day of it at one of Queensland’s most scenic national parks, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
41. Picnic at the widest single-drop waterfall in Australia Millstream Falls National Park.
42. If you’ve got the mula, rent Haggerstone Island to have the beauty of nature to yourself!
43. Choose from a ‘menu’ of bungy jump options like the swan dive or riding a BMX off the roof, just because you can, with AJ Hackett Cairns.
44. Take the time to visit the vibrant town of Kuranda, the village in the rainforest, just 25kms northwest of Cairns.
45. Take a refreshing dip in Lake Eacham, a crater lake formed by volcanic explosions.
46. Travel further west onto the Matilda Highway to experience the Outback with fewer people and colder beers. Just make sure you dodge the kangaroos and cattle who make their way onto the road after sunset.
47. Taste crocodile and kangaroo at Ochre – a must when visiting Cairns. You know you want to!
48. Swim in crystal-clear natural pools in the Daintree, a living museum of pristine ancient rainforest estimated to have survived more than 170 million years. Discover why you should put the oldest rainforest in the world on your bucket list and how to tick it off.
49. Ride horses along white sandy beaches or tackle bushwalking trails through lush rainforest at Cape Tribulation, the only place in the world where two World Heritage areas meet.
50. Dine under the stars and order specialities like kangaroo, fresh seafood and local steak at Apres Beach Bar in Palm Cove.
52. With just shy of one million international visitors each year exploring Tropical North Queensland, join the crowd and kick it backpacking style with this ultimate guide.
53. Head to Innisfail in March for a tropical fruit and seafood extravaganza at Feast of the Senses.
54. The Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy & Organic Cafe offers free cheese and yoghurt tastings. Need we say more?
56. For the adventurous landlubbers, Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome offers a whopping 65 elements of crossings and ziplines from the Dome Crawl to the Power Jump, where you plunge from a 13m high tower!
57. We’ve seen the Big Banana, Big Pineapple and possibly even the Big Rum Bottle… but have you seen the Golden Gumboot? It was awarded to the town of Tully when they won the ‘wettest town in Australia’ competition in 1970 with an annual rainfall of up to seven metres.
58. Get up close and personal with cuddly critters and observe a huge range of flora and fauna at the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas.
59. If you really want to see crocs then head over to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
61. Book an adventurous expedition to swim with minke whales with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, leaving from Cairns, the only place in Australia where you can swim with these curious creatures!
62. Taste the tropics with Queensland’s most northern Gin distillers – Mount Uncle and Wild River. Check out why they were both listed in the top six boutique distilleries in Queensland.
63. View the dramatic body of prehistoric rock paintings at the Quinkan Reserves Ancient Rock Art in Laura – definitely worthy of a World Heritage listing.
65. Ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway through Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests from Cairns to Kuranda.
66. Fossick for gems like topaz, aquamarine and quartz and see how gems are cut at The Gem Den in Mount Surprise.
70. Visit Wangetti Beach and create your own rock formation.
71. See the black granite boulders at Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) National Park known as ‘place of the spear’ to the local Aboriginal tribe.
72. Take a walk amongst the treetops of the world’s most ancient rainforest at the Daintree Discovery Centre. Adventure along walking trails that take you through from the forest floor to the canopy with a 23m high tower.
73. Take a walk through the fairytale-like Flecker Botanic Gardens, the only Wet Tropic botanic gardens in Australia filled with steamy jungle plants.
75. Come face to face with the elusive, yet third largest bird in the world – the Cassowary. Find out where to catch a glimpse of the colourful creature in the wild here.
76. You’ve heard of surfing the web and couch-surfing but what about Jungle Surfing? Fly through the trees on flying fox ziplines and take on the views of the treetops, cascading streams and even the Great Barrier Reef.
77. Visit the history-soaked wilderness of Mossman Gorge and SUP down the Mossman River.
78. Visit extremely photogenic destinations with North Queensland Wildscapes Phototours. Don’t forget to share on Instagram!
79. Hit the slopes with a mountain biking expedition through the rainforest – check out this guide for tips and tricks to a smooth ride through the tropics.
80. Wander through the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, the largest butterfly aviary and exhibit in Australia and home to 1,500 tropical butterflies.
81. Hire a boat and go on a self-guided fishing adventure in Trinity Inlet. Or, head to Gone Fishing – Cooktown to try some lure-casting, fly fishing or live-baiting. Once you’ve caught dinner, explore the rest of Cooktown with this 48-hour guide.
82. Take a drive along one of the food trails in the Atherton Tablelands, also known as the ‘food bowl of the tropics.’ You’ll be doing your taste buds a favour with all those teahouses, cafes, dairy centres, strawberry farms and nut plantations.
83. Brave the popular shark-feeding location and explore one of the most spectacular dive sites in the world at Osprey Reef.
84. Enjoy the short walks and lookouts around Blencoe Falls but be wary because it is remote!
85. Witness the passing of culture across generations at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival.
86. Pull up in Port Douglas and set out on a shopping spree (we’ve got a guide ready for you) through the resort-style boutiques that line the streets of this beach-side town.
87. Splurge and rent out an entire island to yourself – starting with Bedarra Island, which has roomed Elton John!
88. Have your own adventure in the sky with Updraught’s Microlight, where you ride yourself through the air!
89. Visit Birdworld Kuranda, home to the largest single collection of free-flying birds in Australia (some 500 of them!).
90. Visit the virtually untouched Torres Strait Islands, the tropical melting pot of Melanesian and Indigenous Australian cultures. Start exploring the 274 islands with these must-do experiences, and check out this local’s guide for some handy tips on where to stay and play.
91. Relax at Wonga Beach, a quiet refuge north of Mossman without all the trappings of a beach resort.
92. Make your way through the oldest rainforest in the world as you tick off these native Daintree animals not to be missed.
93. Spend a day at the Rainforestation Nature Park where you’ll board an amphibious WWII Army Duck for a unique rainforest tour, learn about the Indigenous culture and see native animals.
94. Stroll through the forest to a secluded beach or embark on a climb of Mount Kootaloo on Dunk Island for scenic views of the reef and mainland.
95. Learn about The Ancient Way and history of Cooya Beach including Aboriginal traditional hunting and gathering techniques.
96. Get pampered at the luxurious Balinese-style Niramaya Villas and Spas in Port Douglas.
97. Step back in time to Australia’s pioneering days at Historic Village Herberton which boasts more than 50 original buildings that date from Herberton’s founding years.
98. Hold on tight as Bad Fishy Jet Boating Cairns takes you on a 35-minute adventure!
99. Channel your inner artist and follow this art trail visiting Aboriginal art galleries around Cairns.
100. Wake up to a mesmerising sunrise over the Great Barrier Reef by staying overnight onboard Deep Sea Divers Den’s luxurious liveaboard vessel.
So, how many have you ticked off the list?
*This post was originally published in 2014 and updated in March 2018.