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Driving from Cairns to Cape Tribulation was without a doubt my favourite thing we did during our time in Northern Queensland. This relatively short road trip features rainforest, rivers and reefs with a backdrop of some of the best coastal roads in Australia. If you were to drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation non-stop, you could probably complete the journey in two and a half to three hours, but it’s a good idea to take your time and see the gorgeous sights along the way. We hired a car for one day to do this drive (and back again!), but you could definitely spread it out over two to three days.
Roadtripping from Cairns to Cape Tribulation
Captain Cook Highway: the ultimate way to drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation
Start your day early in Cairns City and hop on the Captain Cook Highway (yes, what an incredibly apt name for the road) to start heading North. This stretch was described to us as ‘like a mini section of the Great Ocean Road’ and I totally see why. Think winding roads alongside stunning hidden coves, with a backdrop of green hills. On the drive, I’d suggest a brief stop at Palm Cove, and also at the awesome rock piles – there’s literally hundreds of them and its quite a site! You’ll be on this stretch of road for almost an hour, and use the opportunity to just enjoy the drive and stop off at any of the viewpoints.
Thala Beach Nature Reserve
This one’s for the drone lovers. The inner drone nerd in me ranks this possibly my favourite place on the drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. It’s easy to stop off here for a coffee and launch your drone for some seriously epic views. They’ve got a forest of totally symmetrical palm trees, and I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!
Next up the coast you’ll reach Port Douglas, a fairly sleepy but stunning palm lined resort town. First, drive straight through the main street and take a right to drive up onto the hill. Here you’ll find Trinity Bay Lookout which gives you a stunning vista back along the beach. Next, have a mooch around the shops back on the Main Street and dive into Coles supermarket to get some picnic supplies for lunch.
Mossman Gorge wasn’t high on our priority list, but is certainly recommended by plenty of locals. Take the shuttle bus up through the aboriginal village to reach the gorge and hop in for a swim, WITH CAUTION – the currents can be very strong! Whilst the rainforest paths are nice here, they aren’t as beautiful as further up the coast when you get to Daintree. I’d recommend only doing this stop if you’re taking two or three days to drive up to Cape Tribulation from Cairns.
Daintree River Crossing
In order to get across to the Daintree Rainforest, you must first use the ferry to cross the Daintree River. This costs AUD$28 per car for a return. They run every 10-15 minutes, and it only takes 5 minutes to get across. Tip: Once you’ve crossed the river, pull over on the left and sit for 5 minutes to let all the other cars get well enough ahead of you. This makes it more likely for you to see some wildlife on the quieter road as you drive, whilst also allowing for a nicer driving experience of course!
It’s possible to do a Daintree River Cruise here, which allows you to see lots of wildlife. It’s recommended to do this as early as possible in the morning as the crocodiles will be sleeping during the day!
As supposedly the oldest rainforest in the world, Daintree feels seriously special. Just driving through the rainforest itself on the road up to Cape Tribulation is quite something. In true Aussie style, there’s lots of places to park and go for a little hike through the rainforest too. Our favourites were Jindalba and Dubuji, both boasting well maintained boardwalks that fully immerse you under the canopy.
If you’re wanting to get a drone up above the canopy, head to the bridge at Noah’s Creek which provides a large enough area to safely take off and land.
Now for the real highlight. Cape Tribulation is beyond beautiful, and feels totally untouched and WILD. Head to Cape Tribulation Beach, one of my favourite beaches on Earth. No matter what time you go, they’ll be hardly anyone else there, so go have a wonder. Tip: there are LOTS of crocodiles in this area. The general rule is, if the water is clear you can go for a swim, if it isn’t, don’t even paddle. Read more about swimming safely here.
All in all, driving from Cairns to Cape Tribulation has so much to offer, so go and enjoy it! It’s quite possibly my favourite section of coast in all my travels around Australia.