Epic Road Trip of Queensland - Part 2 ....
Airlie Beach to Mission Beach
507km / 6 hours
Before heading north, we enjoyed a relaxing morning in Airlie Beach. Though by late in the morning our feet started to get itchy, so we headed to Cedar Creek Falls, which was a 25 minute drive in the direction we needed to go. Of course, being the dry season, the waterfall was non-existent, so there was just a watering hole for swimming in. This meant there were a lot of mosquitos, so we quickly escaped back along the 2 minute track to the car park. We jumped in the car and kept heading north, having a late lunch in Townsville, and arriving at Mission Beach in the evening.
Mission Beach to Cairns
139km / 1 hr 50 mins
Before leaving Mission Beach, I wandered down to the magical beach, which overlooks Dunk Island. We also had a quick walk along the path which runs next to the beach. The path is long and would have been nice to ride a bike along if we’d had time. Instead, the kids checked out the playground and splash pad, both getting the thumbs up.
In Cairns we ended up in the main tourist section; the Esplanade, where we discovered the massive lagoon pool. When you are road tripping with all your luggage, you are prepared for a spontaneous swim if the opportunity arises. We couldn’t resist a dip in the lagoon pool with the city buildings in the background. It was so refreshing after our drive. Then we did a spot of sunbaking to dry off, and we were ready to keep travelling up the coast.
Cairns to Port Douglas
68km / 1 hour 10 mins
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is spectacular. Captain Cook’s Highway winds beside the ocean, which is great for spotting islands just off the coastline. Just stunning!
Port Douglas has grown a lot since I was there 17 years ago! We really enjoyed our time in Port Douglas. We enjoyed the shops, pool time and lounging around our resort. We also went to the lookout, and even though it was windy, we still snapped away. The lookout overlooks Four Mile Beach, the main beach of Port Douglas. As it was so windy, it was a no go for the beach, (plus you have to watch out for the saltwater crocodiles that come from the river system into the ocean).
Best tip: swim at Four Mile Beach, where the lifeguards can watch you (and also look out for the crocodiles). And in stinger season, you will need to swim in the stinger nets.
There is plenty to do whilst based at Port Douglas; a tour out to Low Isles, snorkelling, a visit to the lighthouse, Cape Tribulation, Daintree, Mossman Gorge, and further south...Palm Cove.
We only had two days, so on the first day we decided to visit Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure (20 mins from Port Douglas). We ended up being there for 6 hours as there is lots to do, and it's well laid out. There is a 20 minute cruise, feeding sessions of the different animals, and a crocodile attack show. It’s well worth the money, especially if you have kids or want to learn about and experience Aussie animals up close.
On the second day, we went to Cairns Skyrail Rainforest (50 minutes from Port Douglas). It’s costly, but well worth it as each section of the gondola takes about 10-15 mins and you have 3 stations each way. The first station is only a short walk around the rainforest, and then back on to the gondola to Barron falls, which was flowing but not as spectacular as it is in the wet season. In 2019, a boardwalk was built, which extends right out with a semi-clear floor in a section. This makes it much easier to really admire and snap a photo of the waterfalls. Back onto the gondola to the final station at the top to Kuranda Village, which has many eateries, shops and a souvenir market. From there you can choose to travel back via the train, go on a boat ride, or like we did, take a return trip on the gondola.
Port Douglas to Townsville (Magnetic Island)
413km / 5 hours and 15 mins
Yes, we did drive all that time in one hit...straight to the car ferry at Townsville and onto Magnetic Island. The car ferry takes 40 minutes whereas the passenger ferry takes 20 mins. The cheaper option is to leave the car in Townsville and use the excellent bus service to get around on the island. But we decided to pay the extra and take the car because we had two young kids and 5 suitcases (one suitcase for each person, and one suitcase for toys). Taking the car meant we could bring our own food, go and come as we pleased, and drive directly to our destinations.
Another alternative to the bus, if you chose not to take your car, is hiring jeeps and barbie style cars from Topless Car Hire. These are super popular with the tourists and...our 3-year-old daughter. She just loved spotting ‘her’ pink Barbie car everywhere we went.
After checking into our accommodation in the Arcadia Bay area, we drove around to Horseshoe Bay to watch the sunset whilst climbing over the massive boulders that Magnetic Island is famous for.
The next day was our son’s 6th birthday. He loves hiking and climbing and scrambling over rocks, so this was the perfect destination to celebrate his special day. First, we tackled The Forts walking track, which is a mostly flat, mainly gravel path with occasional incline. Right at the end you have to go up natural rock steps to the old forts that were built to defend Australia during World War II. There are amazing views from the top of The Forts; you can see right down to the bay and across the island. This walk takes 1.5 hours return. Essential Tip: wear runners/hiking shoes, sun protection and bring water. If you are going by bus, the bus stop is conveniently located in the carpark, close to the entrance of the walk.
After our hike, we went back to Horseshoe Bay, and being a Sunday, we could check out the local market. There was a real festival vibe, people enjoying swimming, boating activities and tours, plenty of eateries and shops. It’s definitely a great place to stay if you want to be amongst the action.
From Horseshoe Bay you can climb up and over the sand dune to Balding Bay Beach, Radical Bay and Florence Bay (40 minute trek each way). You can also drive around to these bays, and we started to do that, but the road was badly damaged, so we had to turn back. I strongly suggest only experienced 4-wheel drivers attempt it.
Instead, we took a short walk from Horseshoe Bay to check out the resting butterflies. To get there, you go past the IGA, over the pedestrian bridge, turn left, and it’s on your right. The butterflies didn’t get much rest time with my kids gently shaking the trees to make the butterflies fly up and around. Oh the joy of nature!
After lunch, we just wanted relaxation and swim time, so we headed to Alma Bay, which is very close to where we were staying. Seriously, this is the best swimming area on the Island! It is easy to park, there are few shops, there is a playground on the grass area as you enter, and it is a small sheltered bay, plenty of sand to find your own spot, and clear water with massive boulders on each side surrounding it. The best thing is that no boats are allowed in this area; pure swimming bliss.
Next morning we went to Arthur Bay. To get there by car, it is only a 200 metre walk from the carpark, but by bus it is a bit longer from the bus stop at the Fort. We then walked approximately 500 meters further up to the lookout, which is so worth it. We then drove around to the other side of the island to Picnic Bay Jetty, had a nice walk out on the jetty and then played on the playground. Then we were off, back on the ferry leaving as quickly as we came. It was short and sweet, but next time we will allocate at least 5 days to really explore the island and relax. Till next time…..