Great Tropical Drive

Cairns to Cairns (Loop)

Total Distance: 920km
11hr 45min

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Incorporating premier destinations within Far North Queensland, the Great Tropical Drive touring route is paved in gold. From jaw-dropping coastline and astounding rainforest to top-shelf attractions and rare experiences, this drive is world class. It begins in Cairns and heads north along the coast, encompasses inland areas, and returns to Cairns.


  • Hop on board the Kuranda Scenic Railway
  • Relax at Port Douglas’ Four Mile Beach
  • Journey into Daintree National Park
  • Get a culture fix at Atherton’s Hou Wang Temple
  • Witness reef and rainforest at Mission Beach
City centre, Cairns

City centre, Cairns

Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park

Mossman Gorge, Daintree National Park

Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas



The booming city of Cairns begins the touring route in style. This large coastal centre is loaded with gripping attractions and is regularly bathed in sunshine.

Feel the city’s heartbeat by wandering along the Cairns Esplanade. This sprawling foreshore area features parklands, a lagoon, a playground, and other amenities.

Soak up more sunshine at one of Cairns’ glittering beaches or stroll within the magnificent Cairns Botanic Gardens. The Cairns war memorial is a grand structure and commemorates local lives that were lost in World War I.

The Cairns Regional Gallery leads the way when it comes to art, showcasing many prized works from leading artists. However, Cairns has several galleries that warrant attention.

Cairns provides easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and myriad tour options means it’s easy to get among the action.

Or lap up spectacular scenery aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which travels from Cairns to Kuranda.

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Cairns to Port Douglas

65km (1hr 5min)

Just north of Cairns’ CBD is first-rate Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. It showcases indigenous culture through compelling, interactive, and educational performances and is not to be missed.

Consider a detour to Kuranda, which bills itself as the ‘village in the rainforest’. This destination is home to a cluster of world-class attractions, including the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, river cruises, and several wildlife parks that provide thrilling up-close encounters. Or hop on board the aforementioned Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Back on the main path, Cairns Tropical Zoo emerges and has a massive collection of wildlife. Thrilling crocodile and free-flight bird shows are among the many must-see presentations.

The zoo is located in Palm Cove, an enticing beachside village where abundant water-based activities thrive.

From here, hug the coast along the Captain Cook Highway and reach Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Take advantage of prime opportunities to view these imposing creatures and other wildlife.

Port Douglas is an alluring village that grabs a slice of the global spotlight. Walk palm tree-lined Four Mile Beach and you’ll fall in love with this holiday hotspot.

While Port Douglas is well-suited to lazy days soaking up the sunshine, it also makes a superb base for exploring world-famous wonders that are within easy reach.

Abundant tours options will take you to the Great Barrier Reef, which earns several mentions along this driving route.

The other gem is Daintree National Park, part of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. The national park incorporates the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest-surviving tropical rainforest on the planet. Viewing the rainforest is a jaw-dropping experience, especially from Cape Tribulation.

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Port Douglas to Cooktown

270km (3hr 15min)

The next stretch of the Great Tropical Drive touring route skirts around Daintree National Park. Near your final destination, stop at Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) National Park to view gigantic boulders and abundant wildlife.

Become reacquainted with the coast at historical Cooktown. The town earns its name as it was discovered by Captain James Cook; only after the HMS Endeavour hit a reef. Learn more about this story and a wider town history at the James Cook Museum.

Or take a wander to Grassy Hill lookout to soak up glittering views from a vantage point Captain Cook once enjoyed.

Stay outdoors and enjoy a stroll through the Cooktown Botanic Gardens or at nearby Mount Cook and Endeavour River national parks.

Cooktown to Atherton

300km (3hr 30min)

Retrace your tyre marks along the opening stretch of this section before continuing an inland journey that passes the small town of Mount Molloy.
From here, you will be introduced to the Atherton Tablelands. This area reveals diverse landscapes that include crater lakes, extinct volcanoes, and rainforest.

Stop at Mareeba and take the palate on its own journey. Tour coffee plantations, visit a distillery, and sample various fruity wines. Or retrace town history at the Mareeba Heritage Museum & Visitor Information Centre.

Atherton is sure to impress. This town is at the heart of the Atherton Tablelands and has some top-notch attractions to indulge in.

Uncover Atherton’s strong Chinese influence at the Hou Wang Temple. Learn about the many Chinese immigrants who flocked to the area in the late 1800s in search of gold and the importance of the temple to their community.

The Crystal Caves museum is another fascinating find and showcases an incredible collection of crystals, minerals, and more.

Atherton is a great base for exploring nearby attractions. Visit Curtain Fig National Park to view an extraordinary tree; then stop at nearby Crater Lakes National Park to swim or picnic at two massive lakes. Meanwhile, the old tin-mining town of Herberton has an impressive historical village as well as the intriguing Spy & Camera Museum.

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Atherton to Mission Beach

145km (2hr)

Continue your inland touring and enjoy the scenic wonders of the area. The town of Malanda is home to the Malanda Falls, a small but wide waterfall that makes a great picnic and swimming spot.

This gushing water is a sign of what’s to come. Millaa Millaa is surrounded by a cluster of impressive waterfalls. Towering Millaa Millaa Falls are the easiest to reach from this town.

More waterfalls are lined on the side of Palmerston Highway as you journey past the fringes of Wooroonooran National Park. This drive provides easy access to the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, which gifts elevated viewing of Wooroonooran’s glorious World Heritage-listed rainforest.

When you reach the small town of South Johnstone, take the route that leads to Paronella Park. This award-winning creation features a castle, rainforest, and waterfalls, and has to be seen to be believed.

From this point, head to Mission Beach, a majestic area consisting of four villages joined by a 14km stretch of sand.

Mission Beach enjoys a rare and breathtaking distinction: this is where the rainforest meets the reef. Plentiful water activities are available in these majestic surrounds, whether sedate or daring.

Enhancing its appeal, Mission Beach is a departure point for cruises to the Great Barrier Reef and its various islands, including Dunk Island.

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Mission Beach to Innisfail

50km (0hr 45min)

Depart from the coast and reach the Bruce Highway, taking the direct route north if you have already visited Paronella Park.

Nearing Innisfail, Mourilyan houses the compelling Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, which comprehensively retraces this important industry.

Located on the North and South Johnstone rivers, Innisfail is a thriving town at the heart of diverse and appealing landscapes, including flourishing sugar plantations and more dazzling coastline.

Its architecture is just as attention grabbing. Cyclones have devastated Innisfail but a positive has emerged in the shape of art deco buildings that dominate the town. Pay particular attention to Edith and Rankin Street.

Grab abundant delicious tropical fruit and pack a picnic to take to Warrina Lakes. This delightful area includes a playground and a botanical garden.

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Innisfail to Cairns

90km (1hr 10min)

Various national parks line either side of the Bruce Highway on the final stretch of the Great Tropical Drive. Among them is aforementioned Wooroonooran National Park, and from this ‘side’ of it there is easy access to glorious Josephine Falls. Wooroonooran is home to Queensland’s highest mountain, Bartle Frere, and a climb to its summit is challenging yet most rewarding.

Press ahead to the town of Babinda, where a short detour leads to another natural wonder. The Babinda Boulders is a refreshing swimming hole dotted with – you guessed it – huge boulders.

Continue along the Bruce Highway, soaking up superb scenery and passing through several small towns such as Gordonvale, where the sight of towering Walsh's Pyramid dominates the landscape.

From here, it’s a return to where it all began – the buzzing city of Cairns.

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