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8 cool things to do in North Queensland, Australia

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When in Australia you can't skip North Queensland, home to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef!

North Queensland should be on your bucket list when travelling to Australia, as it's a real treasure box of amazing places. The variety here is what makes the region a must-visit, and the tropical weather isn't bad either. Even in the Australian winter you can still enjoy a comfortable 25 degrees, which is perfect to explore the rainforests, North Queensland outback and the vibrant coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. There's something here for every backpacker or road tripper, so let's take a look at our favourite things to do, and places to visit for your epic trip to North Queensland. 

Greyhound Bus By The Ocean
Road trip, bus pass or a campervan?

Once you've decided where you want to go, it's time to think about how to get around. In Australia, we have three great options, each with their own charm and benefits. First off, there are the Greyhound bus passes. This is a flexible, hop-on hop-off type of transport covering a large part of Australia, especially along the east coast and throughout Queensland. You can supplement it with local public transport if necessary, and it's an affordable option to travel through Australia.

Alternatively, you can rent a car or campervan for the ultimate freedom. The benefit here is that you're not tied to Greyhound's network, but you can go anywhere you want to at any time. It's probably the best option if you want to go off the beaten path, especially in Northern Queensland, as the Greyhound network doesn't go beyond Cairns.

1. Snorkel or dive at The Great Barrier Reef (obviously)

Let's get the big one out of the way first. Did you know most of the Great Barrief Reef is found just off the coast of North Queensland? The Great Barrier Reef is an underwater spectacle that’s a must-visit. Snorkelling or diving here is a once in a lifetime experience that will stay with you no matter what. The vibrant marine life and the colourful coral formations that make this natural wonder so famous are even better in person.

Beyond snorkelling and diving, consider booking a liveaboard reef cruise to explore lesser-known sections of the reef, and see more of one of the natural wonders of the world. Discover secluded coral gardens, swim alongside sea turtles, and if you're lucky, you can spot the vibrant parrotfish. Don’t miss the chance to learn about reef conservation efforts from local marine biologists and what you can do to help protect this amazing place. 

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2. Head to Kuranda up in the mountains

Well... when we say mountains, we should probably put a little disclaimer, as Kuranda is at an altitude of 330-metres high. Nonetheless, it's a little cooler up here and that can be a nice change from the tropical heat in North Queensland. Kuranda has a famous arts and crafts market, but that's not why you want to go here.

It's a great place for hiking, but if you want to do something a little more relaxing, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is for you. It takes you over the treetops, with amazing views of the rainforest, including some magnificent waterfalls, and the North Queensland coastline from above. There's a scenic railway too, that actually goes from Cairns, through the jungle and ends in Kuranda. You can, of course, also just drive if you're doing a road trip. Whatever your plans are, it's a must to go and see Barron Falls, especially during the wet season when it roars with power. 

Enormous tumbling waterfalls in Kuranda, North Queensland, Australia
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3. Explore the rainforests of Mossman Gorge

A little bit north of Kuranda and Cairns, there is more nature to explore at Mossman Gorge. It's a lush landscape of ancient rainforests and rivers. You can explore the dense greenery by foot or by boat, swim in crystal-clear waters, and learn about the indigenous heritage that adds more meaning to this natural beauty.

Beyond the well-trodden paths, go deeper into Mossman Gorge with an indigenous guided tour to learn about the Kuku Yalanji people’s connection to the land, which goes back thousands of years. Keep an eye out for the Boyd’s forest dragon, which sounds more threatening than it actually is. It's a reptile, about the size of a chameleon, if you don't count the tail. They only live in the rainforests of North Queensland, so even for Australia they are quite special to spot. 

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4. Enjoy island paradise on Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is your slice of paradise with white, sandy beaches and a laid-back island vibe. It’s the perfect spot for relaxation, water sports and even the occasional wildlife encounter. While Magnetic Island’s beaches are stunning, the area is also home to a few important pieces of history, as the island used to be a base for protecting Australia against a possible Japanese invasion during the second World War. Visit the Fort Walk, where old forts are a reminder of the past, looking over the Pacific ocean.

For a great view at sunset, hike up to the Horseshoe Bay Forts - the views are worth every step. Oh, and remember the wildlife we mentioned? Magnetic Island is home to a lot of birds, but also the cute koalas you might expect to see when going to Australia. It's not always easy to spot them, but in some places there's a higher chance than others. Forts Walk in Horseshoe Bay is one of these places, but if you don't see any there, just keep your eyes peeled on the trees and visit the different bays (Nelly Bay, Picnic Bay and Arcadia, for example) to find them.

There is a koala park, but to be honest, it's kind of a tourist trap, where you can pay to hold a koala. Please don't. If koala's aren't your thing - how is this even possible!? - there are more animals to spot on Magnetic Island, like kangaroos and wallabies. 

A sandy beach with two rubber boats, green hills and a very blue ocean, on Magnetic Island

5. Go where the outback meets the ocean

If you want to go truly off the beaten path, the Gulf Savannah and the North Queensland Outback are the way you want to go. Once a region occupied by gold miners (you can see plenty of abandoned mines around), there are still lots of minerals and gemstones to be found here. The orange and rocky landscape is very pretty, especially during sunset. The numerous gorges and caves make this a pretty nice detour on your trip.

In case you travel by car or campervan, you can drive the Savannah Way. This 3700km journey is one of Australia’s great road trips - an epic ride from Cairns to Broome through three states. As you drive, you’ll encounter 15 national parks and explore five World Heritage Sites. The route winds through expansive cattle stations (basically giant farms) and historic mining towns, making it a truly unforgettable experience, as there are so few people around.

But you don't necessarily have to drive the outback - there are other options. You can travel by Greyhound bus, which is actually really comfortable but doesn't travel through the Gulf Savannah. Instead, it takes the route through the outback a little south of Cairns. If you don't want to travel by bus, and have a lot of money to spare, there's even a (very expensive) train ride. The Gulflander train takes you between Croydon and Normanton in the northwest of North Queensland, past stunning landscapes and vast expanses of nothingness. For your money you get to see a part of Australia most travellers will never visit, but at the price of $1200 AUD a ticket, we'd rather take the bus!

Two kangaroos peeking above grasslands on the Australian countryside

6. Dance the night away in Cairns

Cairns is the heart of North Queensland’s nightlife, where you can dance till dawn, enjoy live music, and can party with both locals and other travellers. The best parties happen at Gilligans, which is Cairns' most popular backpacker venue. It's a budget accomodation with good food and two (!) nightclubs on site.

If you want to meet more locals, you shouldn't skip on the Woolshed - the classic Cairns party place, with plenty of DJ sets and occasionally even wet t-shirt contests. Cairns’ nightlife extends beyond clubs and bars though.

Attend a fire-twirling performance on the Esplanade (Cairns' beach boardwalk) and watch as skilled artists manipulate flames for a lively crowd. For a quieter evening, explore the Cairns Night Markets with lots of handmade crafts, exotic spices, and local delicacies. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try a night dive? It's even prettier below the surface with a little bit of moonlight!

Solo Travel Going Out Party And Dancing

7. Hike in the forests of Daintree on Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation’s Daintree forests are a hiker’s paradise, offering trails that lead through some of the oldest rainforests on the planet, filled with unique flora and fauna. One of Daintree's most popular trails is the Dubuji Boardwalk where you pass through mangroves before ending on a remote beach - the perfect reward after a long hike. This walk is mostly on wooden boardwalks, but there are some serious hiking trails as well.

One of Australia's most eccentric residents, the cassowary also lives in the national park. Cassowarries are large, flightless birds unique to this region and instantly recognisable because of its colours and big ''crown''.

A nice addition to visiting Daintree is stopping by Cape Tribulation Beach, where the rainforest meets the reef. Two Unesco World Heritage sites touch here, so it's one of few places in the world where you can wade into the shallows, turn around, and look back at the jungle beach where the two ecosystems come together.

Big and majestic cassowary bird in Daintree National Park in North Queensland, Australia

8. Head all the way up to Cape York and the tip of Australia

Cape York is the northernmost point of Australia, and getting there is an adventure in itself. It's a tricky road to drive, and it will take quite a while through the remote forests. On your way, you can make detours past beaches with very few people. Though we definitely wouldn't recommend this drive without a 4x4 and some serious preparation.

Cape York isn’t the place to just put into the satnav system, drive off and expect everything to go smoothly. Before your departure, you need to know about all the ins and outs of the journey, as well as stock up on food, water, gas and equipment for days! It's some serious prepping, but it will be a great adventure.

Once you make it to the tip of the continent, you'll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. Along the way, explore the Quinkan Galleries - prehistoric rock art made by ancient civilisations, visit the Fruit Bat Falls, and take plenty of swims. As you reach the tip, stand at Pajinka (The Tip) and enjoy the view over the Torres Strait towards Papua New Guinea. It’s a moment of awe - literally AND figuratively the peak of your North Queensland adventure.

Sign on the beach of Cape York, the northernmost point of Australia

Fancy a trip to North Queensland yourself? 

Good news - you can win it! We're giving away an epic solo adventure to North Queensland for one lucky traveller. 

Enter the giveaway

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