The Great Barrier Reef Drive, also known as the Captain Cook Highway, from Cairns to Cape Tribulation takes you along some of the best coastal sights in Queensland (Australia). Including two incredible heritage listed areas! Because of this, a Cairns to Cape Tribulation road trip is a must-do when you are in the tropical far north Queensland.
From spectacular views over the Coral Sea, too postcard-perfect secluded beaches, beachside villages like Port Douglas and Mossman, and crocodile spotting at the Daintree River, this road trip has it all.
So check out this my Cairns to Cape Tribulation Road Trip to get the best tips possible to cruise this spectacular highway sandwiched between two World Heritage Areas. I will make sure you will see the best beaches, viewpoints and more.
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Road Trip | Route Overview & Drive Times
I have broken up this road trip itinerary into several stages, to make it a bit more structured. The stages of the trip are as follows:
Stage 1 | Cairns to Port Douglas
Stage 2 | Port Douglas to Mossman Gorge
Stage 3 | Mossman Grove to Cape Tribulation
|Port Douglas||Mossman Gorge|
|Mossman Grove||Cape Tribulation|
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Map
Underneath is a more detailed description of all the stages of this epic road trip. Including the route to drive and some of the most amazing places, you should check out.
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Including The Great Barrier Reef Drive
Stage 1 | Cairns to Port Douglas
Leave Cairns behind you and start driving north past the northern beaches of Clifton Beach, Trinity Beach and Palm Cove. Just after Palm Cove, you will find your first stop of the day.
Ellis Beach is the first beach you will encounter on the Great Barrier Reef Drive. The beach is lined with waving palm trees, and offers deserted beaches stretching as far as the eye can see! Since there is hardly any development in this area, it simply breathes tranquillity.
From Palm Gove to Ellis beach is less than a 10-minute drive. You can not miss this beach!
The next stop is The Gatz Balancing Rocks, which is located a 10 minutes drive from Ellis Beach.
The Gatz Balancing Rocks
Impossible and unique beach not to be missed along the Captain John Cook Highway. On your left-hand side, you will suddenly see stacks and stacks of rocks piled up. It truly is a standout spot to stop. Try to balance some rocks of your own, and see how high you can go.
After you are done stacking drive to Wangetti Beach, just a couple of kilometres further up north.
WANGETTI BEACH & REX LOOKOUT
This beach is an impressive 4-kilometre long beach. It is one of Australia’s most photographed, yet little used, beaches. Most people only stop at the lookout. There is only parking and access at either end of the beach.
The lookout offers some awesome views looking out over Wangetti Beach to the south, and the Coral Sea in front of you. Hang gliders often hover over this area, try it for a thrill and even better views.
STAGE 2 | Port Douglas to Mossman Gorge
The nest step is to head to Massman Grove in the Daintree Rainforest. Here you will get the opportunity to learn about the Aboriginal people, who inhabited these rainforests for thousands of years.
Mossman Gorge is the southern section of the Daintree National Park where roughed steep mountains, thick with rainforest send the Mossman River tumbling over the Gorge’s massive granite boulders creating cool, clear freshwater swimming holes.
Port Douglas is a lovely quiet town where it is perfect t grab a bite to eat. Make sure to check out their famous Four Mile Beach and go for a quick dip. For amazing views for the beach then head to Trinity Bay Lookout! This is a great lookout for coastal photos of Port Douglas. Whilst you are there, wander over to Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse for some lovely photo opportunities.
Only 15 minutes north of Port Douglas you will encounter Mossman Gorge! Besides learning about Aboriginal culture, this place also has a couple of amazing self-guided walks.
- Baral Marrjanga walk is only 270 meters and is pretty easy. it is wheelchair accessible as the walk is on an elevated boardwalk. It offers some lovely views of the Mossman River.
- Lower River track is a 300-meter easy walk along the Mossman River to adjoin to Baral Marrjanga. It included several amazing lookout points.
- Rex Creek Bridge walk is A 460-meter moderate walk to the Rex Creek suspension bridge over the Mossman River.
- Rainforest Circuit track is the longest track, about 2.4 kilometres long. It is a moderate return walk beginning at the suspension bridge with lookout points and views of Manjal Dimbi.
STAGE 3 |Mossman Gorge to Cape Tribulation
40 kilometres north of Mossman Gorge you will arrive at the Daintree River where the cable ferry transports you into the worlds oldest Rainforest. Continue the leisurely drive, pausing at lookouts for a glimpse of the Coral Sea as you wind your way past pretty beaches. Alexandra Lookout enjoys spectacular views of Snapper Island, Port Douglas and beyond and is located on the fringes of dense Daintree rainforest.
The drive journey concludes at the only place in the world where two incredible World Heritage areas of the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef collide and is nothing short of spectacular. It is the perfect climax to the completing of the Great Barrier Reef Drive.
Tiny little Daintree Village was originally a settlement created in the 1870s by timber-cutters. Today is an unspoilt oasis in the midst of some of the loveliest and most varied scenery in the far north of Queensland. The Village hosts a number of restaurants, artists’ studios, locally-created souvenirs and picnic areas complete with free electric barbeque and picnic table. It is a lovely place to have a quick lunch break in stunning rain forest surroundings.
Before you head on the Ferry you should check out some croc-tours! they depart literally meters from the ferry and offer you some amazing sights from the water. From the rainforest itself to possible crocodile spotting, these 1-hour tours are a cool stop along the way.
At less then 10 kilometres from the ferry crossing you will find the Mount Alexandra Lookout.
Situated at the top of the hill after leaving the ferry with turn off to its own car park. A short free stop-off to enjoy distant rainforest, river and sea views with Port Douglas prominently in mid-distance. On a clear day, you can even see Low Isles and as far as Cairns. So beautiful and you can stay as long as you like there, but it will probably be a maximum of 15 minutes.
This is another stunning, beautiful beach where the forest meets the ocean. It goes on for miles and offers a lovely post to just chill, kick-back and enjoy everything Australia has to offer. Just remember – NO SWIMMING – and keep an eye out for crocs.
If you have always wanted to see the reef, but only want to go half a day then the Ocean Safari tour might be ideal for you. Because of the location of the reef ( only a 20-minute boat trip), you can easily see it with a half a day tour.
During the half-day tour, you will to two different reef sites (Mackay and Undine Reefs). In total, you swim for about 2 hours and you have the opportunity to see turtles, stingrays, lots of parrotfish and much more. The tour includes all snorkelling equipment and personalized snorkel instructions.
I have written a stand-alone post about this experience as well. Due to some very rough conditions, this tour was quite a spectacle for us.
If you are not interested in snorkelling, then underneath are a couple of additional sights that you could check out in Daintree:
- Check out the Swimming Hole @ Masons Cafe – Besides having some pretty taste burgers (From Camel to Standard Aussie beef) you should take a short walk around the back of the Cafe, through a patch of regenerating forest and check out their swimming hole. Beautiful clear cold water running down from the mountains into a swimming hole below. It makes this spot perfect to cool off on a hot sunny day as there are no Crocodiles or stingers!
- Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre – collect lost of incredible information on the Daintree rainforest and all its inhabitants.
- Marrdja Boardwalk at Noah Beach – This boardwalk will take you through the dense rainforest, some muddy mangrove plains and along the beach and riverbanks. It is only 1.2 kilometres long and will take about 45 minutes to complete.
- Jindalba Boardwalk – Another great boardwalk through dense rainforest. You will pass the creek her and there and you will also go past a waterfall. This walk is only 0.70km and takes less than 20 minutes to complete.
WHERE TO GO AFTER YOUR TRIP TO CAIRNS?
Australia is an incredibly beautiful country and has so of the best destinations. Underneath are just a couple of options for you to explore after you have checked out Hervey Bay.
- Cape Hillsborough National Park | One of the most amazing sights in Australia – Kangaroos on the beach during sunrise. You can experience this at cape Hillsborough National Park, Queensland.
- Exploring the Red Centre | A 3-day and 2 night organised trip to the Red Centre. Exploring Uluru, Kings Canyon and more.
- Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef | The reef is something that you have to see at least once in your life. I have snorkelled at a couple of amazing locations, including a full-day trip from Airlie Beach and a half a day trip from Daintree Rainforest.
- Exploring the rainforest | A must-see! Daintree Rainforest just above Cairns. You can take a crocodile cruise over the river, look for cassowaries, enjoy time on stunning beaches and snorkel at the GBR.
I hope you enjoyed my blog and it has helped with your trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation! I have tried to pack in a lot of amazing sights for you, but you can skip a couple here or there if you feel the time crunch. Top tips are Ellis Beach, Daintree River Cruise and a half a day snorkel safari is not to be missed!
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