348 km (one way)
Car or Camper
Townsville to Cairns
This road trip from Townsville to Cairns may only be four and a half hours, but it is packed with heaps of sights and attractions. Journeying through over 12 national parks, it’s easy to see how the Great Green Way got its name.
Explore seaside towns where the locals hang, walk to giant waterfalls, explore a castle, and see a giant gumboot- would it really be a ‘straya road trip without one big thing? Hit the highway for a drive to remember on the Great Green Way.
Townsville to Paluma
Your trip starts in “the Ville” and to see the city in all its glory, hike or drive (who are we to judge?) to Castle Hill Lookout for 360 degree vistas. Before you take to the wheel, head down to the Strand for a bit of brekkie. Tide Café delivers dishes with locally-sourced ingredients and has vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.
Say sayonara to the city and head 65km north to Paluma Range National Park, the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest. If you’ve built up a sweat en-route, there’s plenty of places to cool off: Paradise Waterhole at Big Crystal Creek offers sparkling green waters and natural waterslides; Little Crystal Creek has a series of cascading pools centred around a 1930s concrete arch bridge; while jaw-dropping Jourama Falls features swimming holes and lookout points to the 180m multi-tiered waterfall.
Stay: Eco-friendly Hidden Valley Cabins are set in nature and have unique smoked wood-fire cuisine, or find camping grounds by Jourama Falls and Big Crystal Creek.
Optional Detour – Magnetic Island
If you’re not strapped for time, bail on your plans to head north straight away and head out for some island time at “Maggies”, as she’s known by the locals. Take a 20min ferry to this true-blue paradise and spot koalas, hang at one of the many bays or pull up a pew at one of the many beach-front bars and restaurants.
Paluma to Cardwell
Swap the rainforest for the seaside and veer towards the coast to Lucinda, which offers a bewdy of a view of Hinchinbrook Island. The mammoth jetty here stretches almost 6km into the sea. Although you can’t walk on the jetty, you can head to the nearby fishing jetty to throw a line for giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, queenfish or northern bluefin tuna. If you’ve given it a fair go and still no luck, there’s fish and chips at Lucinda Point Hotel Motel Restaurant.
Alternatively, drive 62km up the road and chow down on a crab sanger in Cardwell. Once you’ve had your tucker, take a cheeky 10min detour inland on the Cardwell Forest drive. Take a dip in the beautiful blue Cardwell Spa Pools and Attie Creek Falls, and enjoy scenic lookout points.
Stay: Hit the hay at Cardwell Beachcomber Motel and Tourist Park located on the beachfront.
Optional Detour – Wallaman Falls
If there’s something worth chucking a u-ie for, it’s the largest single drop waterfall in Australia. Detour from the main drag at Ingham and head 52km up the hill to Wallaman Falls, a mega 268m single drop. If the view from the top doesn’t satisfy your waterfall hunger, head to the bottom on a 3.2km trek.
Cardwell to Mission beach
When your day starts with a giant gumboot, you know it’s gonna be a good one. Make way to Tully, 30 minutes north and go grab a photo with a classic Aussie “big thing”. The giant golden gumboot is 7.9 metres tall, homage to the highest annual rainfall this town has received. If you’re visiting between June and November, go behind the scenes at the Tully Sugar Mill on a guided tour.
Veer back towards the coast to Mission Beach, four seaside villages linked by a 14km stretch of golden sand. Road trips call for recharging days and Mission Beach is made for reading a book on the sand, relaxing by the pool or walking barefoot along the beach.
Stay: Castaways Resort has a poolside sun lounger with your name on it and the onsite restaurant Buko offers an awesome feed too.
Optional Detour – Murray Falls
If your road trips are best served chock-a-block with waterfalls, head to Murray Falls, in the Kirrama Range. A 20km detour off the Bruce Highway between Tully and Cardwell will take you to a lookout at at the base of the falls, with a swimming hole just downstream.
Mission Beach is the birthplace of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where in the 1960s-70s, John Busst campaigned to save Ellison Reef from limestone mining, setting the legal precedent for the protection of the entire marine park. Thus a trip to the Great Barrier Reef should be on your agenda!
Hop aboard Mission Beach Dive to explore the coral gardens of the outer reef, or snorkel the fringing reefs of Dunk Island. Dunk Island is only 4km off the coast of Mission Beach, and takes only 10mins with Mission Beach Water Taxi, so it’s almost rude not to visit. Spend your day chilling on the beach, or opt for one (or more) of the island walks, including to the summit of Mount Kootaloo, greeting you with panoramic views of the Family Islands National Park and to the mainland.
Eat: PepperVine Restaurant serves a range of cuisines, each dish beautifully presented with outstanding flavours.
Mission Beach to Paronella Park
Start your day with a spot of brekkie at the funky Bingil Bay Café, then hit the road north to Paronella Park, one of the most unique places you’ll see along the Great Green Way. Join a local guide for a tour and discover the history of the park, which was built by Spanish cane farmer Jose Paronella in 1935. Save some dollars by buying a double pass for both Paronella Park and Mamu Tropical Skywalk, a scenic 30mins drive away.
At Mamu Tropical Skywalk, meander through the rainforest canopy on a raised boardwalk, and climb to the top of the 37m observation tower delivering epic views of the North Johnston River Gorge. If time allows, drive 5mins up the road for (you guessed it!), even more waterfalls. Wallicher and Tchupala Falls are a short walk from the car park and are well worth a gander at.
Head back to Paronella Park for their Evening Experience, exploring the grounds and night and seeing the castle and Mena Creek Falls come alive with lights.
Stay: Paronella Park has on-site camping and cabins, or stay 2mins down the road at Mena Creek Hotel, also promising a tasty pub feed.
Paronella Park to Babinda
If you haven’t seen a Cassowary during your travels, a trip to Etty Bay should be at the top of your to-do list. Hit the wheel and head 25mins down the road, keeping your eyes peeled for these big birds as you go. Etty Bay itself is a stunner of a beach, but its locals make it even more amazing – cassowaries are often spotted sneaking along the sand. Make a few hours of it and tuck into takeaway from Etty Bay Kitchen or save your appetite and head to the famous Oliveri’s Deli in Innisfail for European-inspired lunches and gourmet products.
While in Innisfail, download the Cassowary Coast’s Tropical Deco App for a self-guided Art Deco and historical walk around the town, and jump aboard a croc-spotting and wildlife tour with Snapping Tours.
Finish your day at Babinda and pull up at the Babinda State Hotel or Boulders Tavern for some classic pub tucker.
Stay: Head to Babinda Quarters for some much-needed shut eye in a restored art deco guesthouse, that was once the nurses and doctors quarters.
Optional Detour – Josephine Falls
Head to the foothills of Mount Bartle Frere and cool off at Josephine Falls. If you’re feeling like a big kid, or you’re travelling with actual kids, the natural waterslide here will be very popular.
Babinda to Cairns
First things first – brekkie! The Babinda Bakery is a local legend and offers pies, cakes and pastries. Once you’re full enough to face the day, make way for Babinda Boulders, a stunning rainforest swimming hole just seven minutes away from the township. Take a refreshing dip in the main pool and wander along the rainforest path to the eeringly-named Devil’s Pools and discover the Indigenous legend behind this spooky spot.
Pick up some takeaway lunch then explore lesser-known parts of Babinda Creek on a self-guided kayak or SUP with Babinda Kayaking. Dogs are welcome on this part and there are many great spots to pull up and enjoy your lunch along the way.
Optional Detour – Behana Gorge
If you’re craving more swimming, make way to Behana Gorge behind Walsh’s Pyramid and embark on a 7.4km return hike with the stunning Clamshell Falls as a cooling reward.