For scores of holidaymakers, honeymooners and off-the-beaten-path backpackers, Far North Queensland is an idyllic hidden tropical getaway. For those who live the salty dream every day, it’s our blissful and humble abode.

The Great Barrier Reef was the quirky and beautiful backdrop of my childhood. Some of my fondest memories with my father include crocodile-spotting in a ten-foot aluminum boat and eating salty oysters off rocks while submerged in bath-like seawater.

beach sunset in tropical north queensland
Photo by Kim Sutcliffe on Unsplash.

Hues of blues and greens and browns blurred into each other. From befriending bright speckled tropical fish in the sea, to gazing up towards the tree canopies of some of the  world’s oldest rainforest, our little bubble of paradise always knew how to put on a spectacular show. 

Far North Queensland is truly the wild, tropical Australia that visitors crave in a getaway, but it still remains a hop, skip and a jump off the common tourist trail. With just under 400,000 square kilometers to explore, it can be a mission to narrow down your bucket list. To help you out, I’ve rustled up some of the best hidden spots in Far North Queensland — Cairns and Port Douglas have nothing on these gems.

Mission Beach 

(Djiru country)

As someone who was born and raised in Mission Beach, I may be biased – but I’m certain my bias has not completely blinded me. Nestled in between Cairns and Townsville, the district is made up of four sleepy villages of bliss. Boasting a vibrant local community and some of the world’s finest natural sights, it has lured beach-lovers from far and wide over the last few decades.

My very own parents were lured here in the mid-90s in a bid to escape the hustle and bustle of city life; they were dedicated to raising their children barefoot and boisterous in the bush, and I couldn’t have asked for a more brilliant, free childhood.

As the closest mainland point to the Great Barrier Reef, the sleepy town is spread across 14km of brilliant yellow beach. On any given day, you’re more likely than not to have the beach all to yourself. The coastline is fringed by lush rainforest, colorful corals and content locals as far as the eye can see.

Overhead view of a coral reef

Deserted island life is also a reality here. The Family Group Islands, just a few kilometers off the pristine shoreline, are uninhabited and un-commercialized. Live your wildest island dreams on Coombe, Wheeler and Dunk Island. If you’re feeling lucky, seek luxury at Bedarra Island. 

Back on the mainland, Mission Beach is also home to Australia’s highest concentration of the endangered Southern Cassowary. The bold, beautiful flightless birds are the heart and soul of the town, and can be spotted (if you’re lucky) crossing roads, wandering through the rainforest and even pottering around local’s gardens. 

Cape Tribulation 

(Kuku Yalanji country) 

For a more raw experience of Far North Queensland, you can’t go past Cape Tribulation and the Daintree. The wild, ancient landscape reflects both the harshness and the purity of the region, drawing in adventure-seekers and nature-lovers looking for a tropical getaway. Marked by giant mountains, thick undergrowth and delirious shades of green, it truly is one of the most untouched areas in Australia.

The Daintree Rainforest also offers a glimpse back in time: at over 180 million years old, it’s tens of millions of years older than the Amazon Rainforest, making it the oldest intact tropical rainforest in the world. Covering 1200 square kilometers between Mossman Gorge and Bloomfield River, it boasts a complex and diverse natural ecosystem. It’s also home to 40% of Australia’s bird species, 35% of Australia’s frogs and an impressive 65% of the nation’s bat and butterfly species.

overhead view of tropical rainforest
Photo by Carnaby on Unsplash.
overhead view of tropical shoreline and forest
Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash.

The Kuku Yalanji people have lived and loved this beautiful region for over 50,000 years, and remain deeply connected to the land. One of the most incredible ways to enjoy a trip to Cape Tribulation is to pay your respects by learning and listening to the local Kuku Yalanji people. Aboriginal-owned tour companies like Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours offer unique and wonderful experiences like bushwalks, mud-crab spearfishing and lessons on bush tucker and traditional medicine. 

It’s important to note, the region is so remote and untouched that phone reception is largely limited – making it an amazing opportunity to slow down, switch off and unwind. 

Atherton Tablelands 

(Djirrbal, Mbabaram and Ngadjonji country) 

One of my favorite things to do in the region is explore the highland plateaus of the Atherton Tablelands. The lush rolling green hills begin south-west of Cairns, and rise over 700 meters above sea level. The Tablelands are a foodie’s delight: the region boasts over 2000 farms, leaving your taste buds tantalized and your tummy appeased. The hills provide some of Queensland’s finest produce, from bananas and limes to mangoes and strawberries (that you can even pick yourself). 

Get back to the roots of your food with behind-the-scenes peeks into locally produced organic cheese, milk and chocolate at Gallo Dairyland and Mungalli Creek Dairy, the buzzing Arabica at Skybury Coffee, as well as the Mt Uncle Distillery, which uses native Australian botanicals to produce award-winning local gin. 

waterfall in green rainforest
Image by David Clode on Unsplash.

Feasting aside, there’s still plenty of nature to sink your teeth into. You can explore the crystal caves at Atherton, unwind in Kuranda and Ravenshoe, spend a weekend at Lake Tinaroo or visit the oldest and largest market in the region at Yungaburra markets. If that’s not enough, there’s an amazing range of tropical unspoiled waterfalls and fresh-water swimming spots to explore on your getaway. Keep your eyes peeled for the illusive platypus, the rare Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo and the beautiful and bright birds that call the plateau home.

Gulf of Savannah 

sunlight through rainforest trees
Image by David Clode on Unsplash.

It’s a long way off the Far North Queensland tourist-trail, but it’s well worth the trip. Where the rugged outback meets the bottomless blue sea, you’ll find the heart of Australia’s bush life. Stretched from the east-coast all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Gulf of Savannah brags geological marvels, tiny outback towns and the bliss of life at its slowest.

From the incredible sandstone formations at Cobbold Gorge, to limestone caves, incredible fossil deposits and the world’s largest lava tubes, the Gulf of Savannah is dotted with things to see and do. Lying under a brilliant blue sky, the Gulf Savannah is deliriously unpopulated, holding the heart of the world’s oldest living culture. The 1.9 million square kilometers occupies around a quarter of the entire continent, making the 3,700 kilometre drive along the Savannah Way a marvel in itself. From Cairns to Burketown (Moungibi), the long road offers a wealth of marvelous experiences.

Have you experienced a tropical getaway in Far North Queensland? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

Header image by Manny Moreno on Unsplash.

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Imogen Kars
Imogen is an Australian journalist, activist and media educator. She is a passionate slow traveller and writes to catalyse climate and social justice. You can find her breaking down current events or drooling over Turkish kahvalti at earthcorrespondent.com, or on her Instagram at instagram.com/earthcorrespondent.