7 tropical road trips you don't want to miss

Fasten your seat belt low and tight, shuffle your favourite playlist and settle back as we take you on a journey through Tropical North Queensland. 7 tropical road trips you don't want to miss
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7 tropical road trips you don't want to miss

Jump in the car and set off to explore the best Tropical North Queensland has to offer. 

Nothing beats a good old-fashioned road trip. Whether it’s a leisurely Sunday drive after an even lazier brunch or an extended journey to places without postcards, hitting the road offers endless possibilities. So fasten your seat belt, shuffle your favourite playlist and settle back as we take you on a journey through Tropical North Queensland.

                                                                    Words by Tourism Tropical North Queensland


If Tropical North Queensland were to claim a ‘signature scenic route’, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is it. Officially the Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Cape Tribulation, this drive’s main claim to fame is its two famous World Heritage-titled neighbors either side of the asphalt. With the Great Barrier Reef to the right (heading north) and Wet Tropics rainforest to the left, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is the lip-smacking wagyu beef in a steak sandwich. Stop in at Port Douglas, a picturesque seaside village set alongside the spectacular Four Mile Beach. Stroll along Macrossan Street, visit galleries see the town’s historic buildings, play a round of golf or relax over sun downer drinks at a boardwalk café. 

Why we love it: Ellis Beach, Palm Cove and Rex Lookout are highlights, as well as numerous unnamed bays, coves and headlands to pull over at and soak up long stretches of unbroken beach. It’s likely the only footsteps you’ll spot are those left behind by sea birds and nesting turtles. Triathletes adore this road during the annual Cairns Ironman (held in June) when it is partially closed to traffic.
Where: Cairns to Cape Tribulation via Port Douglas
How far: 155 kilometres (96 miles)



One for 4WD fans, conquering the Old Telegraph Track on the way to Cape York comes with a ute full of bragging rights. Nervous drivers on their first off-road expedition might do well to take the much easier bypass road. But for those with the right vehicle, the OTT offers countless challenges laced with scenic river crossings and bush campsites with front row seats to watch others forging creeks. Gunshot Creek crossing is known for its near vertical tyre-hugging descent into a cavity mere inches wider than most 4WD’s. Alternatively, leave your courage safely stashed in the glove box and take the easier Chicken Track crossing.

Why we love it: It’s rough and ready and the undisputed highlight for many on a Cape York driving adventure. You’ll be talking about this epic 4WD route for years to come
Where: The southern section runs between Bramwell Junction and Bypass Road Junction
How far: 64 kilometres (39 miles)


Ascending from a junction 35 kilometres (21 miles) south of Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands, the Gillies Highway ducks, winds and weaves (reputedly with 263 corners) over an elevation of almost 1,000 misty metres (3280 feet). You’ll likely feel your ears pop and you’ll definitely feel the temperature drop as you ascend through the Gillies Range. Stop off at Heales Lookout for the mandatory photo across the Goldsborough Valley and Walsh’s Pyramid.

Why we love it: The landscape changes from sugar plantations on the valley floor through eucalypt woodlands and dense rainforest before popping out in dairy farmlands of the Atherton Tablelands. At the top of the Gillies, we recommend taking time to explore the quaint town of Yungaburra or the Curtain Fig Tree, a jurassic like tree towering towards the canopy of the rainforest
Where: Gordonvale to Atherton
How far: Approx 60 kilometres (37 miles)



Closed for eight years and recently reopened, thanks in part to passionate local campaigners, the Kirrama Range Road’s original purpose was to service the timber industry. These days, campers and freshwater fishermen are its biggest fans. North-bound adventurous tourists are using it as an alternative route into the southern Tablelands as it winds upwards through Kirrama National Park.

Why we love it: Firstly it’s dirt. Secondly, you don’t need a 4WD to access it (during the dry season). Bereft of bitumen, the Kirrama Range Road weaves in and out of the Girringun National Park and is dotted with beautiful camping spots and one of the most impressive waterfalls in the region, Blencoe Falls
Where: Kennedy (near Cardwell) to Society Flat
How far: 30 kilometres (18 miles)



OK, first up let’s be clear, the Savannah Way is no Sunday drive. Rather, it’s an epic adventure traversing some of Australia’s most remote country from coast to coast across three states and territories. Get the picture? If you’re looking to find the ‘real Australia’ you’re on the right track. We’d highly recommend you allow yourself the necessary months to savour the Savannah Way. 

Why we love it: Focusing on just the Tropical North Queensland section of the Savannah Way, you’ll be mesmerised by the spectacular limestone caves, small galleries of Aboriginal rock art, jagged limestone outcrops and an historically significant mining site of Chillagoe. Continue on the road but make sure you stop for a couple of nights in the beautiful outback surrounds of the Undara Experience where daily tours run through the 190,000 year old lava tubes of the Undara Volcanic National Park
Where: Cairns to Broome
How far: Approx 3,700 kilometres (2299 miles)


This is a scenic route through the historical heart of sugar cane country. Sugarcane plantations line the road either side, their swaying stalks swishing in the breeze. Depending on the time of the year (harvesting takes places any time between July and November), crops may be a few centimetres or a few metres tall. Either way, fields stretch across the plains between coast and mountains on the Canecutter Way.

Why we love it: 95% of Australia’s sugarcane is grown in Queensland and the Canecutter Way takes you right through the heart of sugar cane country. The Mena Creek Pub is famous for it’s large, country counter meals so stop off for lunch before you explore Paronella Park
Where: Kurramine Beach to Innisfail
How far: 52 kilometres (32 miles)



So little known it doesn’t even rate a ‘scenic road’ title, waterfront roads rarely come prettier than Alexander Drive on Mission Beach’s waterfront. Locals would prefer to keep this little treasure to themselves, but the secret is out. Bookended by Clump Mountain National Park in the north and Clump Point in the south with Dunk Island lying offshore, there’s little chance of keeping quiet about this drive.

Beachwalkers this is your moment of glory. Ditch the car, abandon your shoes and sink your toes into a few kilometres of delightfully firm beach sand all the way to South Mission Beach

Why we love it: There’s rarely any traffic and there’s a really good chance of spotting the rare and endangered cassowary. Throw in the obligatory beach walk and a road trip swiftly morphs into a beach combing expedition. Hot tip, Bingil Bay Cafe is THE spot for an awesome lunch when you can eventually pull yourself away from the beach
Where: Mission Beach
How far: A handful of kilometres


This article originally appeared on Tropical North Queensland

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