The Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns to Cooktown is one of the most spectacular coastal journeys, hugging two coastal and scenic areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest – finishing in the historic Cooktown, before heading back down south of Cairns where you can drive down to quaint coastal villages such as the four along Mission Beach.
6 - 10 days
Cairns to Cairns
Best Time of the Year
Spring to Summer
- Port Douglas
- Mossman Gorge
- Bloomfield Falls
- Mission Beach
- Babinda Boulders
Cairns to Port Douglas
Distance 66.6km - Driving Time 1hr 5min
Ready for white-sand beaches, tropical rainforests and quaint coastal villages all in one drive? The trip starts in Cairns, where you can pick up your Britz campervan from our Cairns branch. The coastal road long the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown is 4WD only, so take the 1.5 hour detour back to Mossman and head inland for a 2WD track. From Cairns, head north across the Barron River to the Cairns Northern Beaches such as Trinity Beach, Ellis Beach and Palm Cove (which recently won the accolade of Australia’s cleanest beach!)
The drive then winds along the edge of the Coral Sea past unspoiled tropical beaches to Port Douglas, the ideal place to cruise to the Great Barrier Reef and immerse yourself in the laid back tropical village atmosphere. You’ll then head into intimate and relaxed Port Douglas, which has been voted one of the top three towns in the whole of Australia.
Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation
Distance 83.8km - Driving Time 1hr 50min
Stay in Big4’s Glengarry Holiday Park for a couple of balmy nights as you get to know this glorious town. As well as being home to the world-renowned Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas is the gateway to the Daintree, the world’s oldest living tropical rainforest. In the southern region of Daintree National Park is beautiful Mossman Gorge where you can discover the culture of the Kuku Yalanji people before driving through sugar cane fields to the Daintree Village.
Take a crocodile spotting tour, fish for barramundi, take a walk through the rainforest and marvel at the incredible abundance of birdlife. Cross the Daintree River on the cable ferry for a breathtaking drive through ancient rainforest, pausing at lookouts for a glimpse of the Coral Sea as you wind your way past stunning, remote beaches to Cape Tribulation where the rainforest truly meets the reef. There are a number of fantastic walking tracks (with plenty of picnic stops!) in which you can hunt for some of the incredibly rare plants that are unique to Cape Tribulation. All of these walks lead to beautiful, insta-worthy views.
Cape Tribulation to Cooktown
Distance 105.3km - Driving Time 3hrs
Stay a night in the rainforest with a range of accommodation options available in the area and join a night spotting tour through the rainforests.The Great Barrier Reef Drive offers all things nature and indigenous culture. For example, at Wujal Wujal, just a further 49kms from Cape Tribulation, you can visit Bloomfield Falls and learn all about its’ ancient cultural history from one of the indigenous guides and visit their art gallery.
The journey is not complete without a cold drink or even lunch at the Lion’s Den Hotel on the Annan River before arriving in the historic town of Cooktown.Stay a night or two in Cooktown visiting the Aboriginal Community of Hopevale and the famous Coloured Sands or do a spot of fishing off the jetty at Cooktown.
Cooktown to Atherton Tablelands
Distance 314km - Driving Time 4hrs
Head back to Cairns straight down the inland road and carry on southwards. Pass through the Gillies Range before reaching Yungaburra, where we’d suggest stopping for an alfresco lunch in this pretty heritage village. From here, it’s onwards to explore the beautiful Atherton Tablelands, where you can get to know amazing wildlife; the tableland has been classified as one of Australia’s Important Bird Areas.
You also need to check out the gourmet food and wine on offer in the area (which is why this area is known as North Queensland’s food bowl).Whilst you’re in the Tableland, visit Lake Tinaroo for a swim or water ski, or cool off in the volcanic crater lakes of Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine, where rainforest walks are also available.
Atherton Tablelands to Mission Beach
Distance 147km - Driving Time 2hrs
Travel along the Milla Milla waterfall circuit which includes five fabulous falls and opportunities for a swim, before heading down the Palmerston Highway through the Wooroonooran National Park. Visit the MaMu Tropical Skywalk Canopy Walkway, taking a walk in the clouds high in the rainforest canopy. Once in Innisfail, the road takes your further south through Sugar Cane fields, Banana plantations, picturesque towns and rainforest mountains, before you arrive at beautiful Mission Beach.
This beautiful beachside village is famous for its cassowaries and endless beaches.Spend a night or two at any of the four villages along Mission Beach, enjoying the regions attractions, adventures and local produce. Have time to just laze on the beach, take a water-taxi to Dunk Island, or an early morning kayak along the beach.
Mission Beach to Cairns
Distance 152.3km - Driving Time 2hrs 15min
Travel from Mission Beach back to Cairns via Canecutter Way to visit Paronella Park, a heritage listed Tourist Park inspired by the dream of Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella and his love of Spanish castles. Stop at the Mena Creek hotel for a drink or lunch and travel on through Innisfail back towards Cairns.Along the way you can make a stop at the mystical Babinda Boulders, or walk through the Rainforest to Josephine Falls. Arrive back in Cairns after a final stunning photo opportunity at Walshs Pyramid.