Road trips with fellow backpackers or working holiday friends under the summer sun in the land down under.
Yes, Australia is set up for road trips and the popular Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest is an easy drive, not a huge distance to cover and has many beaches, villages, forests and other points of interest to see along the way.
The drive itself is easy in terms of navigation, you just head straight on the highway and turn off to the beaches and attractions you wish – which are clearly marked with huge signs.
The road however, is slow driving due to the highway tapering around the natural coastline. You can expect twists and turns, and hills wrapping themselves between the mountainous forests and the sea. It is fair to say you can expect beautiful views.
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Cairns to Mossman Gorge Road Trip – Attractions, Beaches and Beautiful Sunsets
If you wish to watch the video of the trip – then below is a link to my Youtube video (don’t forget to subscribe for more helpful and inspiring travel videos). Article continues below.
Here is a simple map to show the Cairns to Mossman Gorge drive.
Starting in Cairns?
Starting this road trip in Cairns makes a lot of sense, as the airport is connected to many other cities in Australia, and carriers such as JetStar and TigerAir offer inexpensive flight to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne (i just booked a flight for $75 from Cairns to Brisbane).
Need a car or camper van though? If you have an Australian or International license you can hire a car through WickedCampers. Simply head to their website, choose the car/camper that you want and for the days you require and book online.
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The car will be waiting for you are the Wicked yard (just one block from Cairns Central Shopping Mall). For this trip we hired a 2 seater, 2 sleeper camper car, for around $55 per day (including the $25 per day full insurance cost). This is a lot cheaper than many other car hire companies in Cairns.
Cairns is one of the larger towns in far north Queensland, with a range of accommodation options, restaurants and a plethora of tours and activities to partake in. It serves as a base for those wishing to explore the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest, the Kuranda Scenic Railway, Cape Tribulation and Palm Cove.
Listen to the night. As the night knows your truths, your stories, your aches, your dreams, your cravings, your forgotten memories, not so forgotten #nomadgirlco @explorecairns @tropicalnorthqueensland @queensland @see.australia A photo posted by NomadGirl.co Jasmine (@nomadgirlco) on
While in Cairns don’t forget to
– stroll the esplanade at night (pictured above)
– swim in the lagoon
– it’s free and there’s lifeguards and showering facilities (pictured below)
– visit Rusty’s Markets
– get the freshest tropical fruit at super affordable prices (look for Black Sapote aka Chocolate Pudding fruit (open Friday, Saturday and Sunday online)
– visit the botanical gardens
– check out the night markets, and try some vegetarian Chinese food – excellent value for money – and of course, dive the reef.
She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belong to no man and to no city 💛🌎 @tropicalnorthqueensland @explorecairns @iloveaustralia @queensland @exploretnq #nomadgirlco A photo posted by NomadGirl.co Jasmine (@nomadgirlco) on
If you are a backpacker, then i highly recommend staying at Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel and Resort or The Jack Backpackers. Both of these hostels are located in the centre of town, walking distance to markets, shops, the esplanade and lagoon and seem to always have something happening, event nights, activities and offer excellent value for money in an expensive touristy Australian town. Take a look on hostelworld.com for more accommodation options.
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Speaking of Cairns, if you have arrived here on a Working Holiday Visa and are hoping to do some fruit picking at nearby farms in Mareeba, Tully, Innisfail or the Tablelands, then check out the awesome resources put together by the guys at Dream Time Hostel – Working in Cairns: Backpackers Guide .
Another helpful hostel in regards to farm work for Working Holiday travellers is Banana Barracks in Tully. Want to know more about a Working Holiday in Australia – see Australian Working Holiday Visa jobs: How to work in Australia
*While walking around the Cairns Night Markets, be sure pick up one of the free Cairns Magazine that have guides, maps of the town and maps of other beachside villages and ideas and information on tours and things do to while in Cairns.
Best beaches & attractions to visit along the way.
Trinity Beach is a beautiful little beach set in a more residential village town of Trinity Beach. There are little facilities besides the basics – small walking tracks, public toilets and showers and very few cafes, restaurants.
The area seems to be set up for locals. If you are wishing to stop at a beach along the road trip, i would highly recommend Palm Cove over Trinity Beach. But of course, if you have time, Trinity Beach is only a kilometre or two from the highway – so is worth a look even if you just stop for some photos and a drinks break.
Palm Cove is famous in this area of Australia, and a must when traveling in the region. The beach itself has been listed in Australia’s Top 10 Beaches, as well as winning ‘Far North Queensland’s Most Friendliest Beach’ award (i am honestly not sure if that means it is the most swimmer friendly beach as in safety wise, or if the local people are friendly and welcoming).
The beach is picturesct and the small village caters to a range of travellers, from backpackers through to five star. The small streets are dotted with boutique stores and a range of dining and activity tours.
If you like water sports, Palm Cove is the perfect place to do some kayaking or paddle boarding. Check out the sunrise tour where you can see turtles, manta rays and other tropical sea life with Palm Cove Water Sports. These guys offer kayak and paddle board hire, along with hire of snorkels and stinger suits – as well as a range of lessons and tours to suit everyone.
The railway travels from Cairns to Kuranda, with pickups at Freshwater Train Station. The train travels through 15 hand made tunnels and 37 bridges along the way. Kuranda is a small village in the middle of the rainforest with views of surrounding mountains.
The journey to the village is complemented with a trip map, map of Kuranda and English commentary. Once in Kuranda, you can explore the village, browse the small boutique stores, stroll nearby paths and take in the views at many of the lookout points.
When you purchase your ticket, you have the option to purchase Heritage Class, Gold Class and Royale Class. The difference with these is the seat and service you receive while on board. Heritage Class allows you a seat in the timber refurbished carriages, audio commentary, a stop at Barron Falls and filtered water and chilled refresher towels.
This will cost you $76.00 return. While a Gold Class ticket will allow you to travel in individual lounge-style chairs, a small gift pack to take home (badge, pen, postcard), welcome drinks, morning cocktails, as well as a range of local produce to try (muffins, fruit, wines, lager, coffee). A return Gold Class ticket will cost $174. For more information on Kuranda Scenic Railway tickets, stations and tours see ksr.com.au
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
The Skyrail is a 7.5k kilometre cableway running from the park between its Caravonica and Kuranda terminals. The Skyrail experience will allow you to enjoy the rainforest, gliding just metres above the canopy and experiencing a bird’s-eye view over the Coral Sea and Barron Gorge.
If you wish, you can opt in to experiencing a ranger guided boardwalk tour at Red Peak Station. While at Barron Falls station you can visit the rainforest interpretation centre and three lookouts over the Barron Gorge and Falls. Skyrail ticket prices vary greatly, depending on if you wish to take a return skyrail trip, or if you would rather take the skyrail one way, and return on the Kuranda Scenic Railway train. For more information check out skyrail.com.au/tours/compare
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas hugs the coastline giving spectacular views over crystal clear water and mountain ranges. Port Douglas is just one hours drive from Cairns (77km). The small town offers a small number of boutique stores, cafes and restaurants, as well as a few bars, hotels and hostels.
The vibe in Port Douglas is sleepy yet upmarket – this place is definitely the luxury epicentre of far north Queensland. Homes in the area are luxurious, with large scale resorts lining the main road as you drive towards to town centre. There is also a world-class 18 hole golf course if you are into golfing.
Alas, backpackers never fear, there are several hostels and bars set up along the main street making finding accomodation within walking distance to the beach, marina and shops all very easy.
Port Douglas is also the closest mainland town to the Great Barrier Reef so if you are considering doing some diving, then Port Douglas or Cairns would be great places to venture out from.
Take a swim at Four Mile Beach, with foreshore areas and beach large and spacious enough for ball games, or explore the other side of town and stroll along the marina for some beautiful photographs. There is a look out at one end of the town, however the view is fairly average.
Today is hard. Tomorrow will be worse. But the day after tomorrow will be sunshine. Never give up on your dreams. #nomadgirlco A photo posted by NomadGirl.co Jasmine (@nomadgirlco) on
Mossman Gorge is located in the wet tropics rainforest of Daintree and Cape Tribulation national park. It is easily accessible and a very short 20 kilometre drive from Port Douglas (or 77 kilometres north of Cairns).
Mossman Gorge offers walking tracks, freshwater swimming holes, as well as guided walking tours and tours with traditional Aboriginal landowners.
Parking your car at the visitors centre carpark, take a leisurely look around the crafts and souvenirs in the visitors information centre, ask the staff any questions you may have and grab a snack at the small restaurant if you wish.
There are toilets and showers free to use at the information centre also. At the information centre you can purchase a ticket for the shuttle bus – this bus takes you from the information centre to the start of the Mossman Gorge Walk.
The shuttle costs $8.90AUD (a child ticket costs $4.45) and leaves every 15 minutes. For some reason, there is no carpark at the start of the walk, and you are forced to park at the visitor information centre and pay for the 5km bus trip to be dropped off at the edge of the forest.
The .6km walk is perfect for those who want to experience the Daintree but maybe want to spend more time in the swimming holes, while the 3km loop is perfect for those wanting to spend a little more time walking and exploring in the rainforest.
The .6km walk basically takes you from the shuttle bus drop off point, over some beautiful raised board walks, to a suspension bridge and to swimming lagoons and small waterfalls.
The 3km loop includes all of these attractions mentioned and extra explorations in the forest. It is by no means strenuous or challenging – although keep in mind the walking tracks are not paved, there are some ants if you wander off the track for a photo, and it would not be pleasant to walk while raining.
My top tips for visiting Mossman Gorge:
– If it is hot bring your bathers to go swimming. The water here is one of the most pure sources found in Australia.
– Bring plenty of mosquito repellent (i didn’t – thanks mum for remembering it).
– If you plan to do the longer 3km walk, then wear shoes that don’t allow ants to bite you (i wore flip-flops).
– Bring your own snacks – which you can eat while relaxing near to the lagoons or at the visitors centre open space undercover tables and chairs. While there is food served –it is very basic, they do coffee, tea and hot chocolates and very basic meals.
– Take a quick shower after your hike/swim to freshen up for the rest of the road trip.
Both the Daintree and Cape Tribulation regions are listed on the World Heritage List. These wet tropic regions in far north Queensland are considered among the most important on Earth – having survived for over 130 million years of climate changes.
For more information on the Mossman Gorge and the tours available check the official website mossmangorge.com.au
For more information on attractions and tours in Queensland, visit tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au To find hostels and hotels in any of the areas above, enter your desired location and dates in hostelworld.com
I hope this article has been helpful for those thinking about traveling in far north Queensland. As always, safe and happy travels to each and every one of you. jasmine xx