Only 350 kilometres of road connects Cairns to Townsville, and you could drive it in just over four hours. But really, you’ll want to take four days. Or four weeks.
This is tropical Queensland and the road is sandwiched between glorious landscapes: rolling hills, rainforest waterfalls, magnificent beaches – and the islands and reefs beyond.
Hit The Hinchinbrook Way and you’ll travel through 60,000 years of human history and landscapes millions of years old. You can swim, fish, hike, bird watch, dine on scrumptious local produce, camp out, luxuriate at a beach resort and, most of all, unwind and rediscover the joys of wide open spaces. Here are 10 top experiences.
1. Snorkel at Yanks Jetty
Surrounded by a national park, decorated with fine beaches and fringed in reefs, Orpheus Island has plenty of snorkelling opportunities. The recently restored Yanks Jetty, used by American ships and submarines during the Second World War, is a great spot to bliss out for the day. Duck your head into a big blue world filled with colourful corals, fish and occasional turtles and reef sharks. You can camp overnight or stay at a luxe resort on the island.
Duck your head into a big blue world filled with colourful corals, fish, and more.
2. Wade in waterfalls
This is the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, so you aren’t short of wonderful waterfalls for a freshwater swim. Among them, Wallaman Falls in Girringun National Park is Australia’s highest permanent single-drop waterfall (268 metres) and throws misty beauty across the surrounding rainforest. Paluma Range National Park has several waterfalls, including Jourama Falls, a great spot for a barbecue lunch and a refreshing swim.
Wallaman Falls is Australia’s highest permanent single-drop waterfall.
3. Walk to Zoe Falls
Zip out on a boat to Hinchinbrook Island and you’ll find a perfect bay at its southern end, where sapphire water, sandy beaches and emerald rainforest collide. An easy half-hour walk takes you to Zoe Falls, which has a glorious waterhole for a swim. If you climb to the top on a steep track – part of the Thorsborne Trail – you get fabulous island views and natural infinity pools in which to cool off. Camp overnight at Zoe Bay for a castaway treat.
Zoe Falls has a glorious waterhole for a swim.
4. Check out Lucinda Jetty
Facing the southern end of Hinchinbrook Island, this 5.76-kilometre Lucinda Jetty, designed as a sugar-shipping terminal, is the longest in the southern hemisphere. Although you can’t access it, the jetty is an impressive engineering sight. The old wooden wharf just 100 metres away is a beaut spot favoured by local fishermen, so cast in a line and see if the bluefin tuna, giant trevally or Spanish mackerel are nibbling.
The Lucinda jetty is an impressive engineering sight.
5. Connect to country at Mungalla Station
Indigenous people have lived in this region for tens of thousands of years. Learn more about the history and culture of the Nywaigi people at this award-winning cattle station, where you can tour the property and its old homestead, enrich yourself with cultural experiences, spot birds and crocodiles, and find out about the Indigenous relationship with the environment. You’ll also learn about Pacific Islander and European settler influences on the land.
6. Swim at Forrest Beach
While you’re spoilt for beaches on this coast, Forrest Beach is particularly special, running right over the horizon and letting you gaze out towards several islands. You’ll find patrolled sections, netted areas for swimming and plenty of empty sand for a romantic sunset stroll or – if you stay overnight – an early morning jog. No complaints about the little town either, which provides fish and chips or a cold pub beer to round off a lovely day.
Gaze out towards several islands in Forrest Beach.
7. Visit TYTO Wetlands
These rehabilitated wetlands at Ingham are afloat in water lilies and shelter wallabies and over 240 species of birds, including the eastern grass owl (Tyto Longimembris) that provides its name. Time your visit for early morning or late afternoon and you have every chance of bird-spotting up close on the wetlands’ walking tracks, viewing platforms and hides. Look out for the adorable crimson finch, red right down to the end of its beak. Ingham has a great variety of hotels, motels, B&Bs and a caravan park.
It’s best to time your visit to TYTO for early morning or late afternoon.
8. Taste a Frosty Mango
Stop 40 kilometres south of Ingham for a taste of the tropics at Frosty Mango, set among fruit orchards. It’s your chance to try unusual tropical fruits (or ice cream flavours) such as sapodilla, canistel, soursop and Brazilian cherry. Tip: abiu tastes just like crème caramel. But this is only one of many taste sensations on The Hinchinbrook Way, where you’ll also find great bakeries and cafes, steakhouses and pubs, as well as the Italian delicatessens of Ingham.
9. Throw in a fishing line
Abundant big fish swim in these warm waters, and fishing fans will enjoy many world-class fishing opportunities. Take to a charter boat and try your luck at bagging barramundi, coral trout, red emperor and giant trevally, or simply dangle your legs and your line off Lucinda or Dungeness jetties. You can also get out into the rugged landscapes of Herbert River Gorge and try your luck at heli-fishing. Lucinda Fishing Lodge is a top stay for fishing enthusiasts.
Find some of the best fishing in Australia from the shores of the Hinchinbrook Coast. (Image: Katie Purling)
10. Dive the Great Barrier Reef
With so many distractions on land, it’s easy to forget that the Great Barrier Reef runs down the Hinchinbrook coast, with plenty of tour companies to take you scuba diving and snorkelling. Some islands, such as Pelorus and Orpheus, are almost undisturbed and have fringing reefs you can reach by wading off the beach. The outer reef provides a stunning day out in peacock-coloured waters where, apart from coral and fish, you’ll spot turtles and giant clams.
Don’t forget to visit the Great Barrier Reef which runs down this coast.
For more information on what to see and do and where to eat and stay, visit hinchinbrookway.com.au