Spending Magical 3 Days in Cairns

Experience unforgetable days in Tropical Cairns

Have you ever had one of those unexpected questions from someone visiting the town you lived for years? I got 3 days to spend in this place before I leave and what do you recommend to do? Instantly, your mind goes blank and think hard what is best option to recommend. I constantly have these questions asked all the time from people visiting the town I live in. That is how I felt about my unplanned visit to Canberra, Australias Capital. Canberra is a wonderful and interesting place to visit. Had I known about Canberra, I definitely would have planned on more time there.

Cairns is very beautiful and a very special place. It has a unique blend of outdoor adventures, epic road trips and reef cruise adventures and neighbouring islands. With such blend of beautiful and pictureques beaches and enless natural attractions has drawn millions of visitors all over the globe to experience some of the unforgettable moments in this tropical paradise. Every visitors dream list of “what to see” and “what to do” is endless. You need to spend at least a week or more to really enjoy what this tropical north Queesland has to offer.

While Cairns is a beautiful and special place with a blend of unique adventures, this city and its surrounding areas is a great place for micro holiday destination. Many people come to visit the region for 3 days, some for weeks. Many come to relax, come for adventure, come to explore or do the combination of three. Since the pandemic eased and was able to move around without restrictions, it has allowed me, more time to explore, discover and experience sun, sand and sea in tropical far north Queensland. With a healthy dose of outdoor activities, tropical exploration and day trips to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding reef islands allowed me to make the most of my 72 hours in tropical Cairns. These sightseeing activities maybe done in any particular sequence depending your preference.

Day One: Drive to Rainforest (Daintree)

(All-Day Trip)- Highlights: Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation and Marrdja boardwalk

No trip to Cairns would be complete without a journey along Great Barrier Reef Drive to Daintree – Cape Tribulation, the very heart of World Heritage-Listed Rainforest. Along this coastal scenic drive offers beautiful scenery ranging from secluded palm fringed tropical beaches, hidden coves and rugged headlands to the rich green of lush sugarcane fields and rainforest covered mountains. Along this drive, it takes you through the coastal villages of Ellis Beach, Wangetti to Rex Lookout and Port Douglas to Heals Lookout with sweeping views south along the coast to Cairns. Further north is Mossman to Mossman Gorge and Daintree Village and Cape Tribulation.

To have a relaxing day outing, let someone else take the wheel as you embark on a guided day tour, soaking up the views along the coastal scenic route – its postcard-perfect beaches, coral reef coastlines, lush rainforest and small beachside towns. However, to be more adventurous and allow flexibility, I decided to go on a relaxing self-drive tour along this Great Barrier Drive to Cape Tribulation. Knowning that it was a long day return road trip, thought of leaving early would allowed me more time on what to see and do as I leisurely drive back. Leaving Cairns early hours of the morning, I headed straight to the tiny beachside town of Port Douglas, just 60 kilometres north of Cairns, where I had my morning breakfast at the local cafe, my favourite place – The Little Larder Port Douglas. Along this scenic coastal drive between Cairns and Port Douglas is the Rex Lookout where I had stopped for the stunning views of the coastline and the Coral Sea.

After having this mouth-watering breakfast, I headed straight up to Heals Lookout to see the stunning view of Port Douglas township, beach and coastline. From there, back on the main road again, I continued my scenic drive through lush sugarcane farmlands, passing through the tiny sugar township of Mossman and Daintree Village to Daintree River Ferry Crossing. Crossing the Daintree River via a vehicular ferry was an experience not to be missed. The Daintree Ferry provides only access into the Cape Tribulation area. This is accessible by conventional vehicles except during periods of heavy rain.

After crossing the Daintree Ferry, I continued my drive through lowland and tropical rainforest to Alexanderia Lookout for the magical view of the Daintree and its lush rainforest. The road is sealed as far as Cape Tribulation. Leaving early to Cape Tribulation allowed me more time to stop to take photographs and do the boardwalks as I made my way slowly down to Cairns without have to fight with the time. Also, to avoid the waiting time at the Ferry Crossing at Daintree River Crossing as it can take up to 30-60 minutes of waiting during peak periods. Along this road trip, especially the section from Daintree River to Cape Tribulation was exciting with each twist and turn—there are more than 200 of them—revealing something new.

From Alexanderia Lookout, I continued my drive along the narrow bitumen road surrounded by thick rainforest, passing through creeks and rivers. Just before 11:30am, I arrived at Cape Tribulation village, the end of my road trip. Not far from the village is the remote headland of Cape Tribulation, where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet – the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. The forest tumbles right down to the coast with just a thin strip of sand separating it from the clear blue water. I took a stroll along the boardwalk that leads to the viewing plathform to see the stunning view of the thick lush rainforest covered mountains and shoreline. Beyond Cape Tribulation track is the road that leads along the coast to Cooktown township, passing through indigenous communities and tiny remote villages. For those who are more adventurous can go further from Cape Tribulation, only accessible by 4WD.

With enough time before lunch, I decided to spent little time in Cape Tribulation village and headed straight back to Marrdja Boardwalk, my favourite boardwalk, which I passed on the way up. This easy 1.2 kilometre boardwalk is unique and runs through a pocket of rainforest and mangroves. With lots of time on my sleeve, I spent more time on this incredible jungle walk and other “must see” places on my return trip. As I wandered along Marrdja boardwalk, immersing myself in dense lowland rainforest, marvelling at the change in sights, sounds and smells as it merges into a muddy mangrove habitat when I crossed Noah Creek along the boardwalk. Daintree rainforest is widely known and is home to most of the world’s 19 primitive plant families. Interestingly, as I walked along the boardwalk, I looked for well-marked signs along the boardwalk that label various plants and trace the evolutionary journey of plants. To amuse myself, I spending more time peering into the creek to look for fish and possibly eels. Sometimes, at low tide pause to listen to the bustling of crabs and other crustaceans on the muddy banks.

From Madja boardwalk, I drove back the windy road through the rainforest, onto Daintree River Ferry Crossing to the tiny village of Daintree, where I stopped for lunch at the local cafe. Since, Daintree Village is a small tiny place, there was nothing much to see, except couple of shops I wanted to see which caught my attention. However, there are few tours that provide tourists to cruise along the Daintree River to spot crocodiles in the wild and incredible wildlife along the river.

From Daintree Village, just 45 minutes of drive south is the tiny town of Mossman set amongst lush sugarcane fields and just 10 kilometres north of Port Douglas town. Just five minutes west of Mossman town lies the Mossman Gorge. Mossman Gorge is a “must stop” for all trips heading up to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation and is the towns only major tourist attraction. It is easily accessible and scenic section of the World Heritage listed Daintree National Park. I strolled along the Mossman Gorge boardwalk that led to the Mossman River Lookout. The view and surrounding wet tropics was stunning. From there, I then took a few minutes walk from the Lookout to the Suspension Bridge which was impressive. The Mossman Gorge has a crystal clear water cascades over large granite boulders in the Mossman River gorge.

From Mossman, I had plenty of time to have a stroll along Port Douglas township and the waterfront area for afternoon coffee and snack before driving back slowly to Cairns, with a stop at Rex Lookout for another impressive view of the Cairns coastline.

Highlights along the way include the Mossman Gorge, Marrdja Boardwalk and Cape Tribulation apart from Daintree Village, Rex Lookout, Alexanderia Lookout and Port Douglas township and Lookout. To finish off my day, I had a quenching drink at Palm Cove, beachfront bar before heading back into Cairns.

Day Two: Drive to Atherton Tablelands

(ALL-Day trip) - Highlights: Barron Falls, Curtain Fig Tree and MillaMilla Waterfalls

Today, was all about driving around Atherton Tablelands and seeing the abundant natural attractions—its postcard-perfect waterfalls and farmlands. There are several routes to access the Atherton Tablelands: Drive 24 kilometres south of Cairns to Gordonvale and head west inland up Gillies Range, drive 60 kilometres further south to Innisfail and head west inland up Palmerston Highway or drive 60 kilometres north of Cairns to Port Douglas and head inland west up Rex range to Mt Molloy and onto Mareeba. I choose to drive 10 kilometres north of Cairns to Smithfield surburb and headed inland west up Kuranda range to Tablelands within an hour or so. It may sound like a short road trip but there are a lot of captivating views of natural attractions and tasting some of the locally produced coffee.

Leaving Cairns early before 8am, I stopped at Kuranda Village, a village in the rainforest up in the mountains, which is about 30 kilometres from Cairns. My windy drive began from Smithfield to Kuranda village as I made my way up the narrow and well-paved bitumen road, surrounded by rainforest. Just half way up the range, is the Henry Ross Lookout where I stopped for a stunning views of the coastline, sugarcane fields and surrounding beachside suburbs. From the lookout was an easy drive from the top of the range to Kuranda where I spend little time in Village. From the village, I took a scenic route to Barron Falls Gorge, just 5 minutes drive out from the Kuranda township. The view of the Barron Falls was amazingly beautiful. There is an easy walk that leads to the Barron Falls station for a wider view of the Falls from the carpark. Many locals will tell you that, the best time to visit the Barron Falls is just after the rain where you will be able to see the breathtaking view of the water gushing over the rocks, making its way down to the ocean.

Leaving Barron Falls and the lush greenery surroundings behind to savannah surroundings, I was back on the main Kennedy Highway to Mareeba. Just before 10am, I was in Mareeba township and made my way to coffeeworks for my morning tea. This local coffee cafe and coffee museum in Mareeba is one of my favourite place to visit where I get to taste this locally grown coffee and many more other products they have in their shop. This coffee cafe may look like an ordinary tin-shed from the outside but once your inside, you will feel the aromas of coffee attacking you. I couldn’t leave this place without a home-made cake and cup of coffee. It was a great way to begin the day.

Leaving coffeeworks, I was back on the highway to Atherton, just 20 kilometres drive from Mareeba. Along the highway to Atherton, is the Rocky Creek War Memorial Park, situated virtually on the side of the road among the gum trees. For those who are interested in World War military history, this is worth stopping-by to have a look.

From Rocky Creek War Memorial Park, it didn’t take long to arrive at Atherton township, just 5 kilometres drive away. Atherton Tablelands is known for is their great variety of landscapes – rolling hills, dense rainforests, dry savannah – wherever you look, there are visual surprises. It is simply nature at its best. My favourite area in the township of Atherton is the Hallorans Hill Lookout, located 1.4 kilometres from the heart of the township. The expansive views from the summit exhibit the tableland’s mosaic of land use and geological formations. The views are stunning, especially early mornings as the sun begins to rise or evenings when the sun begins to slowly disappear among the hills.

Just a short 10-15 kilometres drive from Atherton township is the tiny classic town of Yungaburra, where the curtain fig-tree is located just kilometres out from the township.

This large figtree is unique because of the extensive aerial roots. It drops 15 metres to the forest floor, that have formed a ‘curtain’. An interesting read about how it all began to where it is now at the site. Just a seed drop high in the canopy and as it grew, it strangle the host tree causing it to fall into a neighbouring tree. Vertical fig roots then formed a curtain-like appearance and the host trees rotted away, leaving the free-standing fig tree. This is one of the ‘must see’ while visiting the area. It is just incredible to know how nature take its own course at times.

Before leaving the heart of Atherton Tablelands, I had a quick visit to Gallo’s cheese factory for cheese-tasting just a short drive away from the curtain fig tree. I am not a great cheese eater but once I have tasted these variety of cheeses, I have changed my opinion about eating cheese. This locally produced cheeses just tasted so delicious and it is definitely a cheese lovers hub. Deciding not to stay longer at the Gallos cheese factory, I continued my 15 minutes drive to see Malanda watefalls for few mintues before passing through the township of Malanda before reaching MillaMilla township where the famous MillaMilla Falls is located just 45 kilometres drive from Malanda township. The drive from Malanda to MillaMilla is not just a ordinary countryside drive but it is quite scenic – passing through tiny country towns, rolling hills, farmlands and green hills. The views are just breathtaking.

Arrving at MillaMilla Falls, I didn’t need to take a hike to see this waterfall. MillaMilla Falls is a magnificent waterfall surrounded by lush rainforest located on the Waterfall Circuit, along with Zillie and Ellingaa Falls. MillaMilla Falls is my favourite spot. The falls cascade perfectly to a pristine waterhole below when I was able to enjoy a refreshing swim in the cool water. There is a grassy picnic area to relax with a snack while enjoying the waterfall in front of me as if I was watching a live aquatic show. This waterfall is one of the most photographed in all of Australia, so it was so handy when I brought the camera with me. At times, if your lucky, you might even have a glimpse of a platypus along the creek.

To be adventurous on this self-drive tour of Tablelands, I went along the Waterfall Circuit drive and conitnued down the scenic Palmerston Highway to Innisfail and on the National Highway (A1) and drove slowly up to Cairns. For those who have time to explore few places, Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders are worth visiting. To end my day, I had a refreshing swim in the cool water at Babinda Boulders, located few minutes drive of Babinda township before driving back to Cairns.

Day Three: Reef Cruising

Highlights: Fitzroy Island Summit, Fitzroy Island.

Now that you’ve experienced the best of Cairns, it’s time to head off-shore and visit some of Cairns neighboring islands, located in the heart of Great Barrier Reef. The options are endless and can be a headache when it comes to choosing where to go depending on your preference. It is either visiting an island and relaxing on the beach or going out to an open outter reef to snorkel and to relax on a pontoon. Whatever you decide, you will experience Great Barrier in style and you won’t be disappointed. One of the most popular options is Green Island and Fitzroy Island, where you can spend half-day or full day to enjoy snorkelling, diving or simply enjoying the beach.However, for many visitors to the region tend to head out to the outter reef to better experience what it is like to be in the middle of one of the Great Natural Wonders of the World – The Great Barrier Reef.

Having two hectic days of driving up north to Cape Tribulation – Daintree area and west to Atherton Tablelands, I decided to take on an easy short cruise to Fitzroy Island, which is less than an hour from Cairns city. I not only wanted to relax but have enough time to hike to the island’s summit and have the birds eyeview of the reef. which was the major attraction for me. For sure, I wasn’t disappointed.

Fitzroy Island is an unspoiled paradise and only a 45-minute ferry ride from the hub of Cairns. This island national park is close to Cairns on the mainland, and its surrounding waters form part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Fitzroy Island National Park is rugged with diverse landscapes featuring granite outcrops, open woodlands, rainforest, mangroves and coral beaches. I wasn’t disappointed when I stepped off the ferry, where I had the pleasurable time discovering Fitzroy Island’s peaks, valleys, rainforests, coral beaches, crystal clear springs, and wildlife. This island is an ideal place for families and for those who love the island life.

It was a relaxing day for me on the island and to end the day after returning from the island, I dropped by at one of the few local gathering places for a refreshing cocktail on the waterfront. This is a great way to experience tropical North Queensland in a more relaxing atmosphere and nothing is never too rush for anyone.


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