Reef, Rainforest and Ranch: Townsville to Mission Beach in 4 Days
The friendly sibling rivalry of North Queensland’s tropical twin cities of Cairns and Townsville is well-documented. But if Cairns is the sassy, adventurous younger sibling, then Townsville is the laid-back, unassuming older sister.
There are many reasons to give Townsville a whirl, not least because she’s perfectly located within easy reach of the mind-blowingly beautiful Tully Gorge, famous white sands of Mission Beach and some of the world’s best dive and snorkelling sites on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a region blessed with both extraordinary natural beauty and rich cultural heritage.
Here’s how you can road trip from Townsville to Mission Beach and immerse yourlelf in Indigneous culture along the way.
Day One: Magnetic Island and Townsville
Rise and shine – you’ve got a day of exploring ahead. Start with a breakfast that’s been fortifying locals for years – the Asian chicken omelette at JAM – or take your pick from these equally Instagrammable breakfast hot spots.
With the most important meal of the day taken care of, it’s time for a snorkelling adventure. Set sail with Aquascene’s Discovery Cruise to Magnetic Island (just 20 minutes from the mainland) for your very own Finding Nemo experience amongst the coral and marine life.
If science is more your thing, Reef Eco Tours offer marine biologist guided tours around the reef surrounding the island. (Read up and plan ahead for your adventure with this ever so handy eBook.)
After a day exploring the big blue, freshen up and explore the plentiful dinner options along Townsville’s bustling City Lane. (If dessert is your favourite course, try the signature nutella and caramelised banana calzone at Donna Bionda.)
You’ll be needing your beauty sleep for tomorrow’s adventures so pick a comfy spot to rest your head – we love the Palm Springs vibes and waterfront views at the Beach House Motel.
Day Two: Mungalla Station
Kick start your day with breakfast at Tide Cafe where the coffee is strong and their Tidal Wave breakfast will fuel you ‘til lunch. Then it’s time to hit the road for the 1.5 hour drive to Mungalla to visit the Mungalla Station, a stunning rural property near Ingham.
Take the Mungalla Station tour where you’ll discover the stories of its Traditional Owners, the Ngwaigi people, and learn of the former cattle ranch’s dark and chequered colonial past. Try your hand at boomerang-throwing before wrapping up the day with a traditional kup murri dining experience, in which food is cooked underground amid burning embers.
You’ll need to hustle and drive a little further to rest your head for the night: the Holiday Park at the seaside hamlet of Taylor’s Beach. Set on the foreshore, you’re literally a stone’s throw from the beach. Total. Bliss.
Day Three: Cardwell
Onward to Mission Beach. Break the journey and stop for brunch at Cardwell by the Sea Diner. Get your caffeine fix and soak up the sea breeze before exploring Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre. Here you can see work by artists from nine Traditional Owner groups from the surrounding regions and immerse yourself in the Indigenous culture that has inspired each piece. Then it’s back in the car for the last stretch of this morning’s drive.
Welcome to Mission Beach! First stop, lunch at Bingil Bay Cafe – a family-run cafe loved by locals and visitors alike. Strap on your hiking boots and work off your lunch with a 7km trek along the famous Kennedy Walking Track and drink in the spectacular views of Dunk Island, or make friends with the inquisitive giant turtles that call the Coral Sea home as you explore the tranquil bay by kayak.
Day Four: Tully Gorge and Mission Beach
Enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Shanti Cafe in Mission Beach (you’re going to need it. Seriously). For the next few hours you’ll be in the hands of your local Aboriginal guide from Ingan Tours, custodians of Tully Gorge National Park.
Choose your own rainforest adventure: take a walking tour deep into the mountainous Tully Valley to reach the cascading waters of Echo Creek Falls, or opt for a ‘hike on water’ as you kayak along Bulgan Creek before diving in for a swim with the local freshwater fish that call this creek home.
Keep your eyes peeled for a rare sighting of Australia’s largest native flightless bird – the famously shy and elusive cassowary. Serious bird-watchers can read up on the best cassowary-spotting locations here.
Freshly invigorated from your morning reconnecting with nature, head back to Mission Beach and get ready for your final dinner on the Cassowary Coast. Those in the know dine at modern Australian restaurant PepperVine for its lively atmosphere, service and contemporary culinary combinations. You’ll be in grand company planning your return visit over a glass of Australian red and woodfired pizza.