Your ultimate 72-hour Tropical North Queensland travel guide
I spoke to a friend recently (25, going through a quarter-life crisis) who was equal parts shocked and disappointed that they’ve never seen the Great Barrier Reef. You know, Australia’s greatest natural wonder that stretches a measly 2300km up the coastline of Queensland.
And their reasoning – “I don’t have the time”.
But when the next conversation was about how they binged Netflix for the entire long-weekend just gone it made me think, can you tick off this bucket-list experience – and some of the best Tropical North Queensland experiences – in three days instead of being a couch potato? Spoiler alert; you can!
So, put down the remote, step away from the TV and pack your bags. Your own three episode day adventure begins now with this handy travel guide.
Episode 1: (Thanks to the) Pilot
The descent to Cairns is one of my favourites. The unmissable might and size of the Great Barrier Reef and its islands greet you as the plane flies over the Coral Sea before the greenery of the rainforests take centre-stage as you approach the ground.
Now that you’re here there’s no time to waste. Like a cold shower that wakes you from slumber, white water rafting is the perfect start to this action-packed adventure!
Baron Gorge National Park is only 20 minutes from the centre of Cairns and with daily 2pm pick-ups from the legends at Cairns Adventure Group, you’ll spend the afternoon snaking your way down the Baron River while ogling at the surrounding rainforest.
If rafting isn’t enough – here’s 10 other adventure-packed ideas to get your heart racing in Cairns.
Your Green Room awaits
It doesn’t matter what type of traveller you are – Cairns has the room for you, and because you’re just oh so time-deprived, here are some of our favourite Cairns accommodation options.
Tonight it’s time to do some Great Barrier Reef prepping with Gareth and the team at Reef Teach. Did you know cuttlefish have three hearts and clownfish can change sex? You probably didn’t but after tonight you’ll be dropping these hot facts tomorrow like an amateur Attenborough.
Episode 2: The greatest of them all
It hasn’t even been 2.4 seasons of Game of Thrones (or 24 hours for the classic time-keeping folk) since you left home and you’re already about to plunge into the Great Barrier Reef. Mission accomplished.
It’s time to step feet-first (the saying head-first really isn’t good if you have snorkel or dive gear on) and get acquainted with the real travel guides of the GBR who will show you around: The Great 8. I’m talking turtles, a famous anemone fish starting with N, giant clams and a certain Maori wrasse named Wally who has a penchant for photo-bombing.
Sunlover’s Moore Reef pontoon is the ultimate reef-base with intro SCUBA dives, marine biologist-guided snorkels, water slides and the option to abandon your land-lubber life for a night and sleep on the reef (legit!).
Episode 3: (Is it already the) finale?
The 141km drive up the coast is one of the most beautiful drives you’ll do in your life. Picture green to your left, blue to your right and plenty of palm tree-fringed roads just made for Instagram in-between.
The Kuku Yalangi people have lived in harmony with the Tropical North Queensland environment for more than 50,000 years. So, it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about the land around them.
You get a bit muddy, and it can be hard work, but when the Walker brothers hand you a bowl of mud crab, freshly cooked by their aunty on the flats of Cooya Beach, you feel instantly connected to the place. It’s a moment you’ll never want to end.
One last flashback before you go
Your final pit-stop is at the Daintree Discovery Centre to hopefully spot a cassowary. They may look a bit crazy – and the Daintree Rainforest will create a lot of Jurassic Park flashbacks – but the moment you lay eyes on this majestic creature I can guarantee your eyes and mouth will open as far as they can while you sit transfixed.
Before settling down at Cape Tribulation Beach House for the night it’s time for one last animal-encounter. I’m talking horse riding along Cape Trib beach.
Nestled between two UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, the Wet Tropics Rainforest (oldest surviving in the world) and the Great Barrier Reef, this stretch of sand is a pretty special place to give the sun a proper “yahoo” as it sets on your three-day adventure.
It’s time to roll the credits as your Tropical North Queensland travel-binge adventure, featuring fine performances from some of Australia’s most-loved stars, comes to an end.
And hey, this travel guide promises far better water-cooler conversations than the Netflix-debrief I had to endure.