A quintessential Tropical Queensland road trip awaits.
Only 350 kilometres of road connects Cairns to Townsville and you can drive it in just over four hours. But really, it’s best to take four days. Or four weeks. Known as The Hinchinbrook Way, this route is home to ancient rainforests, Australia’s highest single-drop waterfall, rugged tropical islands, and the Great Barrier Reef running the whole way along.
It’s a place where breathtaking scenery, unique wildlife, world-class fishing experiences, delicious, locally sourced food, inspirational art, and 60,000 years of culture are all woven into one incredible road trip. Eager to explore? Here’s our guide to the best places to stop in at from Cairns to Townsville.
Made up of four beautiful beach villages (Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach, and South Mission), Mission Beach is a great place to start your off-the-beaten-path tour.
Leave your car behind and cycle Mission Beach for a change of pace. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Aside from uncrowded beach time and local cafe gems, there’s a surprising amount of high-adrenaline activities to get stuck into.
Brave the river rapids for a potent hit of adrenalin. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
From tandem skydiving and white water rafting to exploring the Outer Great Barrier Reef, you’ll leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something unbelievable.
Explore the Spanish-style castle at Paronella Park. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Paronella Park is also nearby if you’re interested in something a little more low-key but no less intriguing. This surreal parcel of land has a stone structure that resembles a small castle hidden among a plethora of verdant foliage.
Walking around Paronella Park is like falling into a fairytale. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The park’s ‘refreshment rooms’ were inspired by the late owner’s childhood memories of Catalan castles. Stay a while and stroll around the park, soaking up the abundant flora and fauna and admiring Mena Creek Falls.
Mena Creek Falls is sequestered in a lush rainforest. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland/ Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Just a boat ride away from Cardwell or Lucinda is Hinchinbrook Island where sapphire water, sandy beaches, and emerald rainforest collide.
Enjoy stunning nature views out to Hinchinbrook Island. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
With no resorts or vehicles around, the island remains relatively untouched so you’re free to choose your own adventure by foot — hike, kayak, cast a line from a secluded beach, marvel at the picturesque landscapes, or snorkel the fringing Great Barrier Reef Marine Park waters.
The views are nothing short of spectacular from every angle. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Most bushwalking trails on the island can be done in just a few hours, but if you’ve got time up your sleeve and have a thirst for adventure, you may want to tackle the Thorsborne Trail.
Tackle the epic 32-kilometre Thorsborne Trail. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
This epic 32-kilometre walk is rated as one of the top 10 walks on the planet and should take you around four days to complete while camping along the way.
Fog clings to the forested hills along Thorsborne Trail. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
A permit to hike the Thorsborne Trail can be booked out months in advance, but there are plenty of day trips to enjoy too. Join Wild Hinchinbrook Adventures on their half-day Zoe Falls Guided Tour to experience the stunning falls, along with a glorious waterhole, natural infinity plunge pools, and fabulous island views. Camp overnight at Zoe Bay for a castaway treat.
Stop to take in the sights at Zoe Falls. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Along The Hinchinbrook Way, you’ll find bakeries and cafes, steakhouses, and pubs, as well as Queensland’s Little Italy – Ingham. Renowned for its exceptional diversity and quality of Italian culture, make sure to sample the region’s finest Italian-inspired delicatessens.
Ingham is the main town centre of the Hinchinbrook Region so it’s absolutely worth carving a dent into your itinerary to spend more time here. There’s a variety of hotels, motels, B&Bs, and a caravan park to choose from so it couldn’t be easier to base yourself here.
Spot a wild cassowary at TYTO Wetlands. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
You’ll also find a birdwatcher’s paradise at TYTO Wetlands. With over 240 species of birds to spot, a myriad of photographic opportunities exists along its extensive walking tracks, viewing platforms, and 11-metre-tall observation tower. Time your visit for early morning or late afternoon and look out for the adorable crimson finch, red right down to the end of its beak.
On your way out of Ingham, stop for a taste of the tropics at the iconic Frosty Mango and try unusual tropical fruits (or ice cream flavours) like sapodilla, canistel, soursop, and Brazilian cherry. Tip: abiu fruit tastes just like crème caramel.
The wetlands make for a perfect backdrop to a romantic picnic. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Paluma Range National Park
Nearby is Paluma Range National Park, famous for its idyllic rainforest setting at Jourama Falls.
The majestic Jourama Falls are a must-see. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Its swimming holes and shallow streams are a cooling escape on a hot day. Or a little further out in the scenic Herbert River Valley is Abergowrie State Forest where you can stroll along the 1.6-kilometre return Rainforest Walk, relax in your very own calm water rocky nooks, and stop for a BBQ lunch.
Abergowrie State Forest is surrounded by exotic pine plantations and eucalypt forests. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Girringun National Park
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.
Wallaman Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in Australia. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Get up close to Wallaman Falls from the trail. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
But that’s not all that you’ll find here – there’s also Herbert River. 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. You can also get out into the rugged landscapes of Herbert River Gorge and try your luck at heli-fishing.
Learn more about the history and culture of the Nywaigi Aboriginal 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, find out about the Indigenous relationship with the environment, and try your hand at throwing a boomerang. You’ll also learn about Pacific Islander and European settler influences on the land.
Learn about the culture and history of Nywaigi Aboriginal people at Mungalla Station. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
While you’re spoilt for beaches on this stretch of coast, Forrest Beach is a particularly special small coastal locality, running right over the horizon, and dragging your gaze out toward 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 has accommodation options and provides fish and chips or a cold pub beer to round off a lovely day.
Head to Forrest Beach for a romantic sunset stroll. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Surrounded by a national park, decorated with fine beaches and fringed in reefs, the secluded Orpheus Island is not to be missed and has plenty of snorkelling opportunities.
Expect an abundance of stunning sandy white beaches. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
The recently restored Yanks Jetty, used by American ships and submarines during the Second World War, is the perfect spot to bliss out for the day.
Orpheus Island hosts a plethora of snorkel and dive sites. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
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 luxury resort on the island.
The beauty of Orpheus Island at sunset is hard to put into words. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
This article was originally written by Brian Johnston with updates by Jemma Fletcher.