Experience the Ultimate Family Road Trip in Australia’s Tropical North
Part tropical paradise and part aquatic playground, the northerly regions of Australia’s ‘sunshine state’ are ideal for family road trips. Take three weeks to discover the diversity of the northeast coast, from sailing the turquoise waters surrounding the Whitsunday Islands to exploring the rainforest country of the First Nations Kuku Yalanji people and learning about the underwater wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.
As the changing landscapes unfurl along the way, keep an eye out for native wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and prehistoric-looking cassowaries. Over 21 days, uncover the marvels of the vast tropical north.
Days 1 to 4: The Whitsundays
With 74 islands dotting its calm waters, the wondrous Whitsundays region is one of Australia’s best locations for sailing, snorkelling, and diving. Perched on the edge of the Coral Sea, the laid-back resort town of Airlie Beach is a great base for exploring. Families congregate around the waterfront lagoon, with its surrounding 10 acres of parkland, or take boat trips to nearby islands. Day-trip to dazzling Whitehaven Beach, a three-mile stretch of pure-white silica sand on Whitsunday Island, to swim and picnic on the beach, or take the more energetic option of a trip to Hardy Reef for diving and snorkelling. If your budget allows, take in the best views of the Great Barrier Reef on a helicopter or light aircraft tour.
Days 5 to 10: Townsville, Mission Beach, and the Atherton Tablelands
Head north from Airlie Beach along the Bruce Highway, stopping in the coastal city of Townsville, just over three hours away by car. Castle Hill dominates the city’s skyline, and it’s worth the hike (or drive) up to the lookout for some breathtaking 360-degree views. Spend a day on Magnetic Island, koala-spotting in the national park or taking a jet ski tour of the island’s bays and beaches.
Mission Beach is another three-hour drive from Townsville and is known for its 8.7-mile stretch of palm-fringed beaches. Along the Cassowary Coast, look out for the giant, colorful flightless birds that give it its name — but stay well clear of them, as they can be dangerous. There’s a lot to do here, from whitewater rafting on the Tully River to discovering the ruins of Paronella Park, a 1930s folly of castles, fountains, waterfalls, and lush gardens, or exploring the rainforest canopy on the Mamu Tropical Skywalk in Wooroonooran National Park.
At the art deco town of Innisfail, turn inland to meander through the rich farmland of the Atherton Tablelands, stopping to gaze at enormous strangler fig trees and impressive waterfalls. Huge inland lakes provide plenty of opportunities for canoeing, windsurfing, and other watersports. Continuing north on the Mulligan Highway will lead you to the coastal resort town of Port Douglas.
Days 11 to 15: Port Douglas and the Daintree
Explore the stunning 165 million-year-old UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park and Mossman Gorge from a base at Port Douglas, a hotspot with plenty of great family-friendly restaurants, long stretches of beaches, and scenic walks. Learn more about the Daintree Rainforest (one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems) at the Daintree Discovery Centre. Then the whole family can join Back Country Bliss Adventures for a River Drift snorkelling tour, exploring the Daintree on a ‘river sled’ over the Mossman River, shooting small rapids, and floating under the rainforest canopy.
Days 16 to 21: Cape Tribulation and Cairns
Take the car ferry across the Daintree River to head to Cape Tribulation, a rare place where two World Heritage areas — the Wet Tropics rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef — come together. For a unique and memorable family experience, join a zipline tour through the rainforest canopy, head out on a relaxing treetop walk, or take a crocodile-spotting river cruise.
Drive back south to Cairns, just over 2.5 hours away, along one of Australia’s most scenic — but narrow and winding — coastal roads. Once you’ve reached the region’s main city, head to the centrepiece of the Cairns Esplanade — a sprawling swimming lagoon and surrounding parkland with children’s playgrounds, barbecues, outdoor fitness equipment, beach volleyball courts, and interesting sculptures. Escape the tourist bustle with a day trip to the rainforest village of Kuranda aboard a vintage train, then return on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, or don a wetsuit, flippers, and snorkels and hit the water on a cruise with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel, learning about the wonders of the reef through the eyes of experienced Indigenous guides.
Plan your trip
Most flights from the UK will land in Sydney or Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, with domestic connections to the Whitsundays’ two airports (Whitsunday Coast or Hamilton Island). For more information and tips on how to plan your north Queensland family road-trip adventure, visit travelessence.co.uk.