tropical north queensland itinerary

Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) refers to the vast northeastern corner of Australia, going more less from the city of Mackay all the way up to Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian continent. For the even more remote areas in the north the term Far North Queensland (FNQ) is also used. We had the pleasure to work, live and travel for 6 months in this diverse area of Australia, so here’s what not to miss when visiting Tropical North Queensland.


Unless you’ll be working in the area like we did, you probably won’t have more than a few weeks to visit Tropical North Queensland, so we are listing here the most iconic places to see. Most of visitors get to TNQ either by car from the south along the East Coast, or flying to Cairns.


Let’s start with a bang, Unesco World Heritage site of TNQ: the Great Barrier Reef! The 74 islands forming the Whitsundays archipelago are known as the best place in Australia to meet the Great Barrier Reef. Your options here are countless: snorkeling or diving to see the most amazing fish and corals, sailing among the islands, spending a night on a catamaran or on an islet, sunbathing on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Whitehaven Beach, without mentioning the chance to hop on a scenic airplane or helicopter and flying over the reef. Are you convinced yet?
Airlie Beach is your gate to Whitsunday Islands if you are driving, or you can fly to Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Airports.
TIP: You can leave your car at the Marina Parking in Airlie before going out sailing, fares start from 10$/day.


For nothing but a pure beach stay, the small town of Bowen is perfect, particularly around the gorgeous Horseshoe Bay. Ideal for families and to stay away from big crowds.

Bowen horseshoe bay
A nice spot for our van at calm Horseshoe Bay


Some hundreds km’s northbound you’ll find Townsville, the second city of Tropical North Queensland. A rather relaxed town with a nice beachside full of facilities and services to citizens, including a cool rock pool. Most of visitors come to Townsville to use it as a base to visit the famous Magnetic Island. On the other side of a short ferry crossing, a national park tucked away among secluded bays, offers walking tracks and the opportunity to witness a unique ecosystem, including cute koalas in the wild.
TOWNSVILLE TIP: head up to Castle Hill Lookout for the best views over the city. It’s a fairly steep one hour long walk up to the lookout, but it is also reachable by car, and the view is gorgeous.
MAGNETIC ISLAND TIP: for a full immersion into nature, spend a night on Magnetic Island. There’s a bunch of accommodation for every budget.


Getting closer to the Rainforest, the coastline becomes even more charming. Mission Beach is a true gem embedded between the blue ocean and the lush green forest. The palm fringed beach stretches for 14 km, find your spot and forget about the world! Pay a visit to nearby Etty Bay for a better chance to spot cassowaries in the wild!

cassowary etty bay
Wild cassowaries at Etty Bay


Up here, the unexpected happens. We know you were told Australia is very dry and the outback occupies it all. That’s mostly correct, except for Far North Queensland, where the weather is tropical and you even get a rainy season. In fact monsoons hit Australia too!
Along with the Great Barrier Reef, main character n.2 in Tropical North Queensland is the Wet Tropics Rainforest, an immense ecosystem older than the Amazon. There’s an endless list of natural attractions yet again, from breathtaking waterfalls to volcanic lakes, from natural parks to iconic wildlife, including the endangered cassowary and the peculiar tree kangaroo.


Cairns is the most touristy city in Tropical North Queensland. The city itself is nice for a stroll along the esplanade, but hasn’t that much to offer. The great thing about Cairns is that both The Great Barrier Reef and The Wet Tropics Rainforest are literally meters away. Dozens of tours and activities are available daily leaving from Cairns. 
TIP: Cairns Lagoon on the Esplanade is a city free public swimming pool open everyday, ideal to cool down during hot sunny days.
EXTRA TIP: Rusty Market opens to public every weekend starting on Friday, if you visit on Sunday late morning you can grab great deals on the best tropical fruits!

Cairns lagoon free swimming pool esplanade
The free lagoon at Cairns Esplanade


The Atherton Tablelands are located one hour inland from Cairns. At a few hundreds meters altitude, a much cooler climate will delight you. Here national parks abound, including Wooroonooran and Crater Lakes National Park, and you can choose between Milla Milla, Zillie and many more falls for a dip at the 17-km-long Waterfall Circuit.  Moreover, explore the surroundings for an opportunity to spot rare animals like the tree-kangaroo and the peculiar platypus. The sweetest tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, avocados and bananas are grown widely, together with some of the best coffee of Australia. The ideal solution to have a bird’s eye view over the Tablelands is joining a hot air balloon ride, we recommend Hot Air Balloon Cairns for their great service, you can read here the dedicated post on our balloon experience.

Hot Air Balloon Cairns


For a glimpse of aboriginal culture, stop by the colorful village of Kuranda, in the heart of the rainforest. Here you’ll find art galleries and exhibitions, quirky shops showcasing boomerangs and didgeridoos, traditional ornamental and decoration objects. Tropic Wings Tours have a wide range of activities including a visit to Rainforestation Nature Park, where you can attend Aboriginal Dance performances to get a deeper understanding of local traditions, other than coming closer to Australian fauna. For a complete experience in Kuranda, head to the majestic Barron Falls, Queensland’s most visited waterfall.


The Daintree Rainforest is a massive 180 million years old, that’s more than the Amazon! Daintree is with no doubt the best area to witness the rainforest ecosystem in all its wilderness. In this remote region you will immerse yourself in nature: see crocodiles in the Daintree River, spot the iconic cassowary, and keep your head up to admire the unbelievable tree formations. Appreciate the view at Alexandra Lookout and finish your day at Cape Tribulation Beach, a long sand strip between the forest and the sea. Checkout Jungle Tours and Trekking to know more about day trips to Daintree. Read about our day trip to Cape Tribulation here.


If you are up for an Adventure with the capital A, there’s 1,200km more to cover on the road from Cairns all the way to Cape York. This will require at least an extra week if not two. Everything becomes wilder here: camping will be your everyday life, and as paved road are a rarity, you’ll definitely need a 4WD. Cooktown is the capital town of the area, the first place in Australia where contact with indigenous people was made.




Tropical North Queensland couldn’t have but a tropical climate: Summers (Nov-Feb) are hot and extremely humid, it is indeed rainy season in TNQ: thunderstorms are a daily matter and temperatures reach 40°C when the sun is shining. Winter (May-Sep) is the perfect time to visit Tropical North Queensland, it is also peak season for tourism: the average temperature is 25°C, mostly sunny and dry, and you may need a sweater for the cool nights.
April and October may be your best option to avoid extreme hot and big tourist crowds.


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