The coast line of Far North Queensland has nothing to do with the infinite expanse of waves, sharks and surfers of the South. In this part of Australia, the rainforest dips into the ocean with its enveloping mangroves and crocodile infested estuaries. Moving northward from Cairns, the ocean takes on a greenish colour due to its swollen and angry tributaries. Not that going for a swim is an option. Here the crocs eat a human or two every couple of years. But hey, even if swimming is highly discouraged, there is plenty of adventurous things to do in North Queensland!
1. Exploring Daintree National Park
What is really amazing about this piece of coastline is the intricate and chirping density of the rainforest. The canopy is so thick that in some places the light struggles to sneak in. The drive on the Mossman Daintree Road, which crosses the park, is an attraction in itself. Forty winding kilometres under a thick canopy inhabited by trees kangaroos, “flying foxes” bats, colourful parrots, snakes of all sizes and spiders bigger than a baseball glove. Along the road you’ll find several trail heads for forest walks that range from 10’ up to 6 hours. Check them all out here.
2. Sunbath on stunning beaches (but don’t take a swim!)
Occasionally, you’ll pass a secondary road that stretches to the coast. In Daintree National Park, the beaches of Cow Bay, Thornton Beach and Cape Tribulation look like frames taken from a Robison Crusoe movie. Mangroves and palm trees stretch into the ocean, serving as a perfect hideout for crocs. The only beach furnishings that you’ll find here are cobwebs and fallen tree branches. In the evening, the backpackers’ vans are parked next to each other despite the empty parking, as to create a compact formation in the event of ranger raids (or crocodile’s). Free camping is not allowed here, but it’s kind of overlooked by the rangers. Vanlife tip: every beach parking has toilets and running water (one of the many reasons why I love Australia).
3. Jump with a liane in the Emmagen Creek (and actually have a swim!)
Between the things to do in North Queensland, swimming is not tipically an option. The swimming hole at Emmagen Creek is actually one of the few safe places to swim in the Daintree lowlands. Walk upstream along the creek for about 400 metres through the rainforest until you reach the deeper pools. Watch out: the water is pretty chilly because it doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight.
4 Climb Mount Sorrow on a jungle trail
This 7km trail climbs from the coastal lowlands of Cape Tribulation, up the rainforest-clad ridge of Mount Sorrow to a lookout offering views of the beautiful Daintree coastline, Snapper Island and beyond. It’s supposed to be a 6/7 hours’ trail, but it took us around 4 hours. The trail has some steep sections but as long as you are quite fit and you’re wearing decent runners you should be fine! Remember to bring along at least 2L water per person (in the cool season). Watch out: on the top you only have a small lookout platform, there’s not really a space to have a nice picnic.
5. Chill by the fancy pool at PK’s Jungle village
If you are wondering where to stay in Daintree National Park, well you have plenty of options ranging from campgrounds up to fancy Eco lodges. We stayed at PK’s Jungle Village , a super cool backpackers that also offered campgrounds for van-lifers. After months of semi-solitude in the Outback, it was nice to hang out with other travellers around the common kitchen or by the wonderful jungle pool. Definitely recommended!
6. Feel some off-road adrenaline on the Bloomfield Track
Once you reach Cape Tribulation, the northern tip of the park, the asphalt road ends abruptly and turns into an off-road track: The Bloomfield Track. To continue, you need a 4WD. Even in the dry season, you have to cross a couple of streams and face extremely steep rises and slopes that usually end with a sharp turn. Without a 4wd you will likely roll ruinously in the jungle. The Bloomfield track is actually a shortcut to reach Cooktown faster, but you have to be kind of an adrenaline junkie to take it.
7. Sip a coffee in old Cooktown
Once you’re safe and sound and out of the Bloomfield Track, in a hundred rough kilometres you will reach Cooktown, the last proper town before the wild Cape York peninsula. Despite its epic past, the town itself is not super interesting. Exploding from two hundred to two thousand inhabitants in just over a decade, at first glance Cooktown might look more like an open-air yard than a real community. But willing or not, Cooktown is the northernmost point you can reach without having a serious off-road vehicle.
8 Venture to the Cape York Peninsula (only for the bravest)
The Cape York Peninsula is the largest unspoiled wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Also known as “The Tip”, it is crossed by a long dirt road of nearly four hundred kilometres, crossed by actual rivers and countless off-road side tracks: a paradise for Australians adventure lovers. The ultimate trip to discover the Far North, that leads to the narrow strait that connects Australia with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Only for true explorers with seriously pimped up rigs!
Browse my Australian Photo series:
THROUGH THE JUNGLE
GREAT CENTRAL ROAD