It’s easy to become spellbound by the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef, but make no mistake, there’s plenty of ways to experience Far North Queensland that don’t involve a snorkel and fins. The reef and rainforest are world heritage listed for a reason and, together with the region’s ancient cultures, unique wildlife and bountiful food trails, are 100% worth seeing from every possible angle.
Explore by paddle-power
Most visitors to Far North Queensland hop on a boat for 45+ minutes and spend their days snorkelling or diving the outer reef (which is awesome, don’t get us wrong), but there’s also something to be said for hitting the water closer to shore. Join a sea kayaking trip from Palm Cove and you’ll reach the inner reef in 20 minutes or so.
Pacific Watersports guide an epic turtle-spotting trip, where you’ll see hawksbill and green turtles lolling in the sunlit shallows, and their island hopping kayak adventure gives you the chance to snorkel straight from the sand. If stand up paddleboarding is your thing, you can do a sunrise lesson on Palm Cove’s beach or practice your strokes on the calm waters that flow through the Kuranda rainforest.
Summit a mountain
Wait what? Nah, we’re not lost, and we know mountains aren’t the first things that spring to mind in Australia’s reef and rainforest capital. But an hour west of Cairns you’ll find the often-overlooked Lamb Range. Kahlpahlim Rock is the highest point in the range, and the steep skyward trails that converge at the 1300m granite summit are the perfect excuse to wake up early and head for the clouds. Panoramic views of the Wet Tropics await you at the top, and back at the bottom, you can cool your feet in the fresh mountain streams of Davies Creek National Park.
If you’d prefer not to venture out alone, check out the guided bushwalks offered by FNQ Nature Tours.
Learn traditional hunting and gathering techniques
Cooya Beach (Kuyu Kuyu) is the traditional ﬁshing grounds for the Kuku Yalanji people. Here, close to Port Douglas but far from crowds, Kuku Yalanji custodians the Walker family share their knowledge of Aboriginal hunting, gathering and survival techniques. Amongst tidal lagoons and mangrove mudflats, you’ll learn how to use a spear and collect a variety of medicine and food which you can sample over morning tea back at the Walker’s family home. The Coastal Survival Experience is one of many guided trips offered by Culture Connect. There are also painting and weaving workshops, guided rock art tours and multi-day experiences led by Far North Queensland’s Traditional Owners.
Follow the foodie trail
The Tropical North Queensland food network gives you a literal taste of paradise – and the touring options are as varied as they are many! From the lush volcanic pastures of the Atherton Tableland to the plantations of the Cassowary Coast, you’ll discover farm-fresh produce and delicious fusions of the region’s signature tropical fruits, nuts, coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, seafood and dairy. You can explore at your own pace, stocking up on in-season produce from roadside stalls and farm gates, or join a trip such as Port on a Plate – a chef-guided tour of Port Douglas which includes a wine tasting and a three course lunch prepared with ingredients collected during the tour.
Catch your own barra
The waters of Tropical North Queensland are rich with fish species that appear on many anglers’ bucket lists. Barramundi is arguably the region’s most iconic targeted species but due to remote locations and seasonal restrictions they’re notoriously difficult to find. Your best bet (especially if you’re a beginner) is to let the in-the-know locals show you around. Hook-a-Barra caters to all ages and abilities with a sustainable land-based catch-and-release tour that’s fun for the whole family. If it’s monster species such as giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, wahoo, sailfish and dogtooth tuna you’re chasing, consider hopping on an outer reef charter with East Coast Angling or Coral Sea Sportfishing Safaris.
Take to the skies
The enormity of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest can only really be felt from above, and an adventure in the air is guaranteed to add a certain wow factor to your holiday. For the ultimate rush you can freefall from 15,000 feet on a tandem skydive in one of the most spectacular locations in the world, or opt for a more peaceful pace by ballooning at sunrise. A heli tour is the ideal middle ground. Pair your flight with a Daintree River cruise, or spend a full day being choppered with your mates between classic North Queensland pubs like Peeramon Hotel – the oldest on the Tablelands. To book, check out Heli Tours North Queensland in your CamperMate app.