Tourism in far north Queensland is alive and well in the bigger centres, but what about the smaller working towns nearby? Recently we discovered that Mossman is one such town that offers an array of activities, yet has a peaceful and laidback lifestyle.
Located just 15 mins north of Port Douglas, Mossman is a working man’s town where sugar cane is the main industry. The cane farms run from the roads all the way east towards the ocean, and west to the base of the mountains. Often you’ll see the cane trains operating day and night, carting cane to the local mill. If you’re lucky too you’ll see the trains pass right through the heart of town on their own little narrow gauge line, and they have right of way when the cane season is operating.
Mossman dates back to the late 1870s when explorer George Dalrymple discovered the area, and within a few years a settlement had grown. Loggers found red cedar trees were growing in the hinterland and by 1874 several areas had already been logged extensively. It wasn’t long before the first super cane farms were planted and the town had its first mill before the turn of the century.
Over the next few years the town flourished with dozens of cane growers, multiple churches, schools and much more. The town has had its share of bad luck however. The place has been hit with destructive cyclones and during WW11 a Japanese bomber dropped a bomb on the town.
These days Mossman is a flourishing town. Heritage buildings line the busy streets, with banks that resemble temples built back in the 1920s, and an array of churches, some having a Spanish influence others a more traditional build. Of course every hard working town needs an iconic drinking hole and Mossman is no exception, with the Exchange hotel sitting proudly in the heart of town. The original hotel was built in 1896 but destroyed in the 1934 cyclone. It was rebuilt the following year, grander then ever, with huge verandahs, elegant stairways, a ballroom, accommodation rooms with art deco styling.
The biggest draw however, has got to be the world heritage-listed rainforest sitting right on Mossman’s doorstep, just 4km to the west. The world-renowned Daintree National Park attracts thousands of visitors every year, and the Mossman Gorge Eco Tourism Centre is always busy with tourists. But that’s to be expected when you’re at the gateway to some of the oldest continuously growing left on our planet.
To explore the gorge you need to pay a small fee and a shuttle bus will transport you to the heart of the walking trails for your adventure. There are several trails that take you deep into the wild forest along designated tracks, others lead you to areas where you can swim in the crystal-clear water, and then there’s the Indigenous walk and talk tour with some Kuku Yalanji locals. Experts say that there are nearly 30,000 species of plants and animals living in this amazing forest and they hope to preserve this bio-diverse system for years to come.
When you’re surrounded by such beauty, it’s easy to forget that you’re in crocodile country up here, but Mossman has some of the best croc river boat cruises that you will find in north Queensland. Ten minutes away at Daintree village is where the boat tours depart for a fantastic ride up and down the river spotting these prehistoric monsters. The tour guides are all switched on with local knowledge on where the crocs hide, tree life, local history and can answer any other questions you have. On our tour we spotted five crocs; one alpha male and four females, the tour guide said the crocs are in the river all year round.
Mossman hasn’t got the hustle and bustle of nearby Port Douglas, where the rich and famous seem to gather, but it’s got all the top notch facilities you’ll ever need – including plenty of nearby white-sand beaches and little villages overlooking the flat ocean that north Queensland is known for. We found that the beaches around Mossman weren’t jammed with tourists despite boasting long stretches of sand and lookouts with stunning views of mountains up and down the coast. In these parts Newell, Wonga and Cooya were a few standouts.
A quirky little fact is that the highway between Cairns and Mossman, named the Captain Cook Highway, is the shortest highway in Australia with a length of just 75km. Winding its way beside the Coral Sea you’ll discover many more unpopulated beaches right along this stunning route. If you have the time be sure to explore it all. Laying claim to both the heritage listed forest and the Great Barrier Reef, it goes without saying this is one special place.