Australia

One Week in Tropical North Queensland: A Travel Guide

I was fortunate enough to  be able to spend a week of my life in one of the most lovely destinations in the world: Far North Queensland, Australia. From the moment my plane touched down in Cairns, I was transported into an absolutely stunning world of tropical wonders, one-of-a-kind experiences, and amazing food. If you haven’t been there already, this stunning destination should definitely be on your bucket list.

Stay.

While I can’t vouch for every hotel in the region, I can provide the highest recommendation based on my own experiences. We stayed at the Reef House Palm Cove, a boutique resort right across from the waterfront in the lovely town of Palm Cove. I highly recommend Palm Cove as a home base when staying in the region. It has a nicer waterfront than Cairns itself, and the beach itself is just lovely. The town of Palm cove is really nice as well, with quite a few incredible restaurants (I’ll get to those restaurants later).

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The Reef House hotel had a number of features that, in my mind, made it a truly special place to be. They had a number of refreshing pools and beautiful flowers and landscaping all around. It truly felt like I was living in paradise. Another feature of this hotel that I found to be delightful was that at 5:00pm every day, they would have their ‘Brigadier’s Punch’ (an alcoholic cocktail that was delicious) and snacks available complimentary for their guests. Not only did I enjoy the punch and snacks very much, but it was also a great opportunity to meet other travelers from all over the world who were staying at the hotel with us. We spent nearly every afternoon laughing and sharing stories with our new friends.

The complimentary breakfast buffet was one of the best I’ve ever had at a hotel. Their selection of cheeses, meats, espresso drinks, yogurt, and fruit was delicious and of a high quality. We enjoyed spending our mornings lingering over a plate of delicious foods while watching the sea softly lapping against the shore. They also have hot cooked breakfast options on offer for an additional charge, but honestly, their breakfast buffet was so good I didn’t feel the need to order anything else.

The room itself was clean and comfortable. We stayed in one of their ‘Brigadier’ rooms, which was more of a standard hotel room, but they do have rooms ranging from a standard hotel room all the way up to a 4-bedroom apartment, depending on your style of travel and budget. Since we were on a budget, we found the Brigadier room to be quite comfortable and suited our needs perfectly. It had a nice mosquito net over the bed, which is much needed in this area of the world, as well as Appelles brand shampoos, conditioners, soap, and lotion. I confess I liked the lotion so much I started ordering bottles of it online after my stay at the Reef House.

In short, I can’t recommend the Reef House Palm Cove highly enough. I will definitely be staying there again next time I’m in the area.

See.

There is so much to see in Far North Queensland, a week doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. However, these are a few of my favorite highlights from the trip.

Kuranda Skyrail

The Kuranda Skyrail was a delightful surprise. We decided to go on it on a whim, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is a very long gondola ride over the most incredible rainforest you’ve ever seen. Along the way, there are opportunities to stop and get a look at different areas of the rainforest, which I highly recommend that you do. The end of the line is the town of Kuranda, a very cool little town with plenty to do that is a great place to spend the afternoon.

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Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought this place was going to be a cheesy tourist trap. I’ll also be the first to admit that I was wrong. This place is awesome. There are opportunities to see crocodiles and some of the world’s most dangerous snakes up close ,with knowledgeable keepers to teach you something new and make you laugh at the same time. They also have a wide variety of other Australian animals to see, including the beautiful and exotic Cassowary. Plenty of opportunities to meet kangaroos and wallabies up close as well. I found this place to be highly enjoyable.

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Palm Cove

I know I talked about the town of Palm Cove a little bit above, but I would like to add that the town is absolutely beautiful with a gorgeous Esplanade to walk around on. Even if you’re not staying in Palm Cove, I encourage you to spend an afternoon strolling around town, checking out the shops and restaurants, and soaking in the beauty of the place. It really is the loveliest little town I’ve ever seen.

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The Daintree National Park

Other than the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree National Park is one of the biggest draws in this area, and for good reason. This World Heritage site is some of the most beautiful, rugged jungle you’ll ever see. Make sure to stop off at the Daintree Discovery Centre and explore the rainforest canopy on their boardwalk (bring some mosquito repellant though…you’ll need it).

Continue on and visit Cape Tribulation, a place where, despite the name, is one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen.

One of the coolest things about visiting the Daintree is that you will get to cross the Daintree River Ferry in your car, thus making you feel like you’ve truly departed from the hectic life of the “real world”.

Do.

The must-do activity in the area, of course, is to visit the Great Barrier Reef. We went twice with two different tour companies, so I can tell you the benefits of both.

The first reef trip we went on was with the large Quicksilver Cruises tour company out of Port Douglas. This was a very big boat, which made for a fast and comfortable ride. We arrived at a giant platform the company had floating out near the reef, from which all our activities were to take place. The benefit of this company was that there was so much to do in our day out on the reef! Not only could you go snorkeling, but you could also take an introductory diving lesson or opt to go down for a snuba session, which I did and was an interesting and fun experience. They also had a glass bottom boat, areas to lounge in the sun, and a really delicious tropical seafood buffet for lunch.

Our second reef outing was with Silverswift, out of Cairns. This was a smaller boat, so when we arrived at the reef, the only options were snorkeling and scuba. However, the advantage of this boat was that we got to visit three different areas of the reef rather than just the one, and I do think they took us to some really nice places where the reef was beautifully vibrant and I saw a lot of animals. They, too had a wonderful buffet lunch on board.

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So…the Quicksilver Cruise was a fun, action-packed day with a lot of amenities, and the Silverswift cruise was a more intimate experience with the chance to see some different areas of the reef. Both were fun and I think you’ll have a good time whichever one you choose, but hopefully this write-up will help in your decision. It really comes down to a matter of preference, but I think both options have something to offer.

Eat.

The Apres Beach Bar and Grill in Palm Cove was a pleasantly surprising place. I say it was pleasantly surprising not because the restaurant didn’t look good, because it did, but more because this was the first place we ate upon our arrival in town. I had been sleepless and traveling for over 30 hours and after we checked into our hotel next door, I ravenously ran out the door vowing to stop and eat at the very first restaurant I came upon. Luckily for me, I came upon this place. We sat down and had a lovely time. It turns out the restaurant’s food is absolutely awesome. Seeing as though it was my first meal in Australia (unless you count airport layover food in Brisbane, which I don’t count), so I saw it fitting to order the Aussie Outback Grill, which is described on their menu as a mix of marinated chargrilled crocodile, barramundi, emu koftas and kangaroo served with a trio of dipping sauces, scalloped potatoes and salad. This platter came in skewer form and I can say all the meat was seasoned and cooked wonderfully. It was delicious!

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The Chill Cafe was another gem we found in Palm Cove. It was a great place to go to breakfast or lunch and everything we had there was amazing (we went several times while we were in town). My breakfast recommendation is to try the French Toast, which comes topped with the sweetest, most beautifully cut mango you’ve ever seen. But honestly, everything is good here. You can’t go wrong.

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Another restaurant worth mentioning is the restaurant inside of the Reef House hotel. Since we were staying there, we of course had a dinner there one night. It is more of a fancy place to have a meal, but oh, was it good. The menu is seasonal so it does change, but the food we had there was incredible. I would have eaten here every night had it been in my budget. In addition to incredible food, the ambiance is absolutely beautiful with the dimmed lights and the beautiful windows looking over the sea. This one is not to miss.

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Additional Tips.

I highly recommend renting a car while you’re in this part of the world. If you are from a country where they drive on the left side of the car (as I am) you may or may not be comfortable driving on the right. If this is the case, there are plenty of guided tours available to take you anywhere you want to go, and most will pick you up from your hotel, so not to worry.

However, if you’re down for a little adventure, I found renting a car not only to be an exciting activity on it’s own (where to look when crossing the road!) but also gave us the opportunity to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted,which was a huge bonus.

The car was also helpful in that we ended up making several trips to the local grocery store to stock up on snack items so as to reduce our trip spending a bit. It was also fun to see how an Australian grocery store differs from an American one (not too much, it turns out, though all the brands are different names).

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