Local’s guide: Tropical North Queensland

TNQ TNQ Palm Cove QLD my nrma local guides
TNQ TNQ Palm Cove QLD my nrma local guides

Hit the road to discover the planet’s oldest rainforest, a reef visible from space and all the best eats, sights and adventures in between.

Highlights
  • Exotic seafood, fruits and ice cream
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Cooper Creek Wilderness
  • Cape Tribulation
  • Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal culture

The Wet Tropics region between Palm Cove and Cooktown is full of contrasts. The world’s oldest rainforest gives way to the planet’s largest reef system. The barefoot ease of the dry season (May through September) transforms to dumping rain and tumbling waterfalls in the wet. Native inhabitants range from ancient cassowaries and crocodiles to cuddly kangaroos and kingfishers – and of course the Kuku Yalanji people, who’ve been here for 50,000 years. Here’s how to experience this fascinating destination from all angles.

Where to eat

At the top of the local food chain is Nu Nu in Palm Cove, a barefoot fantasy where you can devour curried pork belly, spanner crab buns and smoked fish while gazing out at the reef. 2 Fish in Port Douglas is another sure bet for seafood. The coral trout with pickled watermelon and cucumber salad is extra refreshing on a sticky North Queensland day.

Port Douglas is also home to an eclectic range of casual eateries whether you’re after a crocodile laksa pie at Mocka’s; a vegetarian breakfast at Betty’s Bohemian Café ; or a burger and a brew (or handcrafted ginger beer) at Hemingway’s Brewery on the marina.

The region is perhaps most famous for fruit – from bananas and mangoes to jackfruit and the chocolate pudding esque black sapote – which you can taste au naturel at Cape Trib Farm, or in exotic hand churned ice creams at Floravilla and the Daintree Ice Cream Co.

How to play

First things first, set sail for a snorkelling or diving adventure to see the largest living structure on Earth: the Great Barrier Reef. Wavelength Cruises offers snorkelling trips to St Crispin Reef, Tongue Reef and Opal Reef, where the psychedelic plate corals, angelfish, anemones and giant clams are the stuff of BBC documentaries.

Ocean Safari runs express half day trips to Mackay and Undine reefs on an inflatable speedboat, while Sailaway plies the turtle rich waters around the Low Isles by wind power and reinvests in reef conservation and reforestation.

Back on land, the world’s oldest surviving rainforest awaits. Here you’ll discover how strangler figs inspired James Cameron’s Oscar winning film Avatar and connect with the birds while jungle surfing (aka zip lining) over the World Heritage listed canopy.

If you're looking for an adrenaline fix, head over to Australia's only bungy jump and take the plunge off Cairns tallest viewing platform where Members get up to $43 off, or swing at speeds of 120km/hr on the Giant Jungle Swing where Members save up to $36.

Venture straight to the heart of the Daintree on a night tour of the snake slithering, critter croaking Cooper Creek Wilderness, which you can pair with crocodile spotting on Cooper Creek. And while the Great Barrier Reef Drive to Cape Tribulation is as jaw dropping as a drive can be, you’ll discover the cape anew from the back of a horse.

Where to connect

The Kuku Yalanji people have lived in the Daintree region for 50,000 years – long enough to possess an unparalleled connection with the rainforest. During a Dreamtime walk through the spectacular Mossman Gorge, you’ll experience a traditional smoking ceremony before discovering traditional bark shelters, medicinal and artistic uses of native plants and fascinating legends about the relationship between the rainforest and its first inhabitants.

Nearby, on Cooya Beach, the two brothers behind Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours demonstrate spear throwing, mud crab hunting (and eating) and blowing bassy beats on the didgeridoo.

For the more artistically inclined, Janbal Gallery offers boomerang and canvas painting workshops led by acclaimed Aboriginal artist Brian “Binna” Swindley. While you practice your dots and spirals, Brian explains ochre paints, Indigenous art history, painting techniques, and traditional foods, materials and medicines.

End a cultural day on the fern fringed deck of Julaymba Restaurant at the Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa for barramundi cooked the traditional way – wrapped in ginger leaf, flecked with pepper and grilled in paperbark – and salads featuring bush fruits like quandongs and riberries grown on site.

Where to stay

With pet friendly camping and caravan sites just metres from the sand and melaleuca lined esplanade of Palm Cove, the NRMA Palm Cove Holiday Park is an ideal springboard for lazy days on the beach as well as active Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest excursions. After an exciting day of exploring, catch up with your fellow campers at the communal barbecue area or TV lounge, or plan the next day’s adventures using the free onsite wifi and tour booking desk.

For a more cosmopolitan experience, the QT Port Douglas offers playful rooms with garden or pool views, a stellar restaurant, beachy cocktail bar, and designer “Qtique” gift shop. Add on ping pong, a pool table, tennis courts, a decked out lagoon – complete with a swim up bar – an inviting spa, Taco Tuesdays, and even an outdoor cinema in winter and you’ll never want to leave.

Get more out of your getaway

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