A 2-week circular itinerary from Cairns
There are no great driving distances on this road trip; in fact all these places could be visited on day trips from Cairns and so you could just base yourself there and follow the same itinerary.
The trouble is, sometimes I find it hard to motivate myself to get moving in the morning for day trips (and I’ve recently started turning into my father, saying things like if we don’t get going early then it’s not worth going), so it’s better for me to have a little route to follow.
First : Cairns
This trip started and ended in Cairns. Cairns is a nice enough place. It’s a popular backpacker destination so it has plenty of the bars, restaurants and nightlife that backpackers look for. There’s not so much to see in the city itself, but it’s a perfectly nice place to stay for a few days.
Most people use Cairns as a base to travel to the Great Barrier Reef.
I wouldn’t have minded going to the reef, but it is not a cheap activity and I have done it before, albeit twenty or so years ago now. If, like me, you are ambivalent about it you probably shouldn’t bother; the reef is suffering from over-tourism so it doesn’t need an extra person there who isn’t that bothered. I didn’t go again.
Although it’s on the coast there is no actual beach in Cairns and just a muddy coastline. If you want a beach you need to travel north to Palm beach (I drove but there is a bus). Or if you really don’t want to leave the city you could just enjoy the lagoon, an artificial beach built on the esplanade and guaranteed crocodile/jellyfish free.
June is winter and the temperature hovered around 22-26 degrees most days, but cooler at night. Considering it is the dry season there was a fair bit of rain (mostly fine, misty rain). Water temperatures in unheated pools and lakes was cold, often too cold to swim (although the lagoon was ok).
Innisfail (2 nights)
I have already written about Innisfail here. It’s a great little Art-Deco town with nearby beaches, a Spanish castle and a waterfall made famous in a 1990s pop video.
The drive down to Innisfail is quite stunning, driving past field after field of sugarcane interspersed with banana plantations. I often felt as if I were somewhere in Asia, rather than Australia.
I made a stop about half way along in the town of Babinda. I’d read there was an excellent bakery there and so I deliberately skipped breakfast. However it was Sunday and the bakery was closed. In fact the whole town appeared to be closed, apart from the bottle shop.
So instead I dug out a week-old protein bar I found hidden in the bottom of my bag and drove 4 kilometres out of town to The Boulders, a fresh water lake good for swimming.
Yungaburra (2 nights)
After two nights in Innisfail I moved on to spend two nights in Yungaburra. Yungaburra is part of what is known as the Atherton tablelands. It’s a small town chockablock with quirky cafes.
The surrounding area has an array of possibilities, from a seemingly endless supply of waterfalls to historic old towns, lakes and even a crystal cave. I could easily have stayed here a lot longer.
Port Douglas (2 nights)
From Yungaburra I headed back to the coast and to Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a beach resort really. It’s a bit more upmarket than Cairns (and it does have an actual beach). There is a street full of cafes/bars/restaurants and some weekend markets. There’s nothing wrong with the place but it didn’t grab me. However I enjoyed a wonderful rest day here.
(My recommendation to stay: Pink Flamingo. I’m not being paid to say this; I just thought the hotel was such good value. In fact I considered going back to Port Douglas not because I liked the town so much but because I’d have more time to spend at this hotel).
Daintree rainforest (2 nights)
From Port Douglas I headed into the Daintree rainforest for two days.
Daintree is a combination of beaches and rainforest. There’s a visitor centre and a variety of hotels/motels. It does get quite busy, particularly at weekends (I went there for a weekend) but it still didn’t feel that crowded; it was just a little difficult to get a seat in a restaurant at popular times. There is a little food shop (expensive; they have a captive audience) and a petrol station (ditto).
You can drive through the rainforest as far as Cape Tribulation.
After Cape Trib the tarmac road turns to gravel and a few kilometres further it becomes a 4-wheel drive only track. So Cape Trib was the end of the road for me in my little Hyundai. After two days there we turned round and headed back down the coast.
Palm beach (1 night)
The coastal road heading back down towards Cairns is stunning, with the blue ocean contrasting with the rainforest. I actually stayed in Clifton beach, which is right next to Palm Beach, because I found a good deal on a b&b there.
Kuranda (day trip)
Whilst I was there I detoured to Kuranda. A lot of people go to Kuranda on the scenic railway from Cairns and it gets very busy, although mercifully by the time I got there the last train back to Cairns had already left and so it was a lot quieter. It was still very touristy though; it’s just a small town with a lot of shops selling arty products, crystals and general tourist tat.
I enjoyed the drive up more than the town itself, but it’s fine for an hour or so. If you do a tour from Cairns you take the scenic train up and the cable car back (or vice versa) and they allow you 2.5 hours in Kuranda. That would be well enough time to wander around in the crowds. There is a butterfly sanctuary, an aviary and a waterfall nearby.
I didn’t get to the aviary, because everything was preparing to close by the time I got there, however I’m reliably informed they do have cassowaries there. Since I’d been failing to spot these beautiful birds for the whole trip (I was constantly being accosted by people whipping out their phones to show me how they spotted cassowaries here ‘just yesterday’ but I never saw a single one) I would have liked to have finally got to see one, but never mind.
Note: This is my final trip in Australia for this visit. Although I am entitled to have one more 3-month entry on my current tourist visa, my knee is not going to repair itself and requires me to actively sort out somewhere for my operation. I felt very frustrated this trip when I couldn’t do all the walks and constantly had to think about how much walking was involved with everything I wanted to do.