The Wet Tropics is 80 million years older than the Amazon and covers a massive 9,000 square kilometres, including 30 national parks, and stretches from Cooktown to Townsville. It is a massive living natural wonder, and it is also a spectacular ecosystem serving home to many plants and animals, some of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Also boasting Australia’s longest stretch of sub-tropical rainforest, the Mackay Region is a nature-lovers dream location to explore. There are plenty of ways to take in the beauty of North and Far North Queensland, whether it be swimming, hiking, taking in a picnic, a gorgeous view or a short stay. With too many outdoor adventures to list here, we’ve compiled a few ‘must-do’s’ to inspire you to check out our magnificent backyard.
Walks and Hikes
Cairns and Douglas Shire Region
Kulki Walk, Cape Tribulation (easy, 10 minutes) – This walk takes you from the Kulki car park through the rainforest, onto a boardwalk to the beautiful Myall Beach.
The Arrow Tracks, Cairns (moderate, 1-5 hours) – The yellow, red, blue and green arrow tracks wind through Mount Whitfield, behind Cairns’ botanic gardens. There are stunning views along the way, some of the Cairns Airport where you can spot planes taking off and landing.
Mount Hypipamee National Park Crater Track, Tablelands (easy, 30 minutes) – This track leads to a viewing platform with incredible views looking into a volcanic pipe.
Walsh’s Pyramid (Difficult, 5-6 hours) – Hike the highest free-standing natural pyramid in the world! Standing at 922m tall, you can take on this challenging 6 km return track. Worth it for the 360-degree views at the top. Allow 5-6 hours to complete (allow for longer if you are taking kids with you.) Located 30 km south of Cairns.
Djyinda Walk, Wallaman Falls (moderate, 2 hours) – Starting from the spectacular lookout of Australia’s highest sheer drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls, make your way down the mountain to the base of the falls. It’s a stunning sight to behold.
Forts Walk, Magnetic Island (moderate, 2 hours) – Take a hike up to a historic WWII fort with stunning views of the ocean and mainland at the end. It’s also an amazing location to spot koalas in the wild.
Many Peaks Track, Townsville – A long trail over challenging terrain to get a look at some spectacular scenery in Pallarenda, Townsville.
Dugong-Sawmill track, Whitsunday Island (easy, 1 hour) – Stroll through the rainforest and a fairyland of mosses, lichens and fungi on this walk from Dugong Beach to Sawmill Beach.
Coral Beach track, Conway National Park (moderate, 1.5 hours) – Take a walk to the fantastic Coral Beach, enjoying glorious views across the Whitsunday Passage.
Bluewater Trail, Mackay (easy, walking time varies) – This trail will show you some of the best parts of Mackay, including the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, Bluewater Lagoon and Iluka Park playground. Stop off wherever you wish and enjoy all the city has to offer.
- Look out for stinging trees. The heart-shaped leaves are covered in needle-like hairs causing intense and long-lasting pain.
- Don’t go bushwalking alone. Many trails lead into areas with no mobile reception. It is a smart idea to take somebody with you, and take extra care not to let children out of your sight when hiking as a family.
- Be wary of wildlife. Forests are often frequented by snakes, cassowaries, dingoes and more. If you do happen to run into one, keep your distance, don’t aggravate them and quietly move the opposite way.
- Talk to children on how to treat wildlife respectfully.
- Wear appropriate clothing, especially if you are going on a longer walk or hike. Wear comfortable, protective footwear, dress in cool but sun-safe clothes, wear a hat and always carry plenty of drinking water.
Swimming Holes and Waterfalls
Cairns and Douglas Shire Region
Babinda Boulders – Surrounded by lush rainforest; the Babinda Boulders are a popular swimming hole for people of the Cairns region.
Josephine Falls a beautiful swimming hole and falls in the Wooroonooran National Park.
Crystal Cascades, located close to Cairns – Is a local favourite secluded swimming spot. A series of small waterfalls, flowing into large pools nestled amongst large granite boulders.
Behana Gorge – A 3.2km walk through the rainforest to view one of Cairns’ best waterfalls.
Mossman Gorge – Beautiful walking tracks and crystal clear swimming in the World Heritage Listed, Daintree National Park. Experience an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of Australia’s Indigenous population and their connection to the natural environment. Located just 5km from Mossman. N.B there is no parking at the Gorge. Please park at the Mossman Gorge Centre, and purchase a ticket on the shuttle bus.
Tablelands and Surrounds
Millaa Millaa Falls – A heritage-listed plunge waterfall on the Atherton Tablelands. Take a dip in the cool waters and bring a camera… Millaa Millaa Falls are one of the most photographed in all of Australia.
Windin Falls is a spectacular waterfall in Wooroonooran National Park. The hike to the falls takes around 1 ½ hours walking at a steady space, so be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy this natural wonder.
Lake Eacham is a lake of volcanic origin located on the Atherton Tablelands. Enjoy a dip in its clear, blue waters and take in an abundance of wildlife.
Lake Tinaroo is a large lake on the Atherton Tablelands famous for water sports and barramundi fishing. If you don’t own a boat or kayak, don’t worry. Lake Tinaroo Holiday Park have items for hire.
Nandroya Falls is a multi-drop 50 m waterfall accessible by a 6.6 km loop track.
Cassowary Coast and Surrounds
Alligator’s Nest – Got its name from a Scout group…so don’t worry – it is a giant reptile-free swimming hole in Tully, about two hours’ drive from Cairns.
Cardwell Spa Pools, between Cairns and Townsville – Enjoy soaking in the geological wonders of their blue waters. Depending on the time of day and sunlight, the chemistry of the rocks and water can vary the colour from a bright, baby blue to a more milky-blue colour. Best visited May-September.
Wallaman Falls – View Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall located in Girringun National Park.
Big Crystal Creek and Paradise Waterhole is given that name for a reason. Located about halfway between Townsville and Ingham in the Paluma Range National Park.
Little Crystal Creek, picturesque falls and swimming hole neighbouring Big Crystal Creek. Mountain water cascades under a heritage-listed 1930’s stone arch bridge.
Lake Paluma is a popular camping destination with a lake ideal for swimming just north of the town of Paluma. Has both camping and picnic facilities for a day trip or longer stay.
Mackay & The Whitsundays
Finch Hatton Gorge – Experience its wonderful landscape of waterfalls, lush flora and volcanic boulder formations.
Cedar Creek Falls waterfall and swimming hole in Proserpine, north of Mackay.
Paronella Park, Mena Creek – One man’s dream to create a castle was opened to the public in 1935. The site of the first privately – owned hydroelectric plant. Paronella Park has received multiple Queensland tourism awards, is State and National Heritage listed and is a National Trust listed property.
Curtain Fig Tree, Yungaburra – Visit one of the largest trees in North Queensland, located on the Atherton Tablelands. Around 500 years ago, a small mammal or bird dropped the seed of a fig tree in the crown of a tree – and thanks to them, we now have the spectacular Curtain Fig Tree, measuring a gigantic 39m in circumference. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a fantasy movie (and if you really love it, you can visit its buddy the Cathedral Fig Tree nearby in Danbulla).
The Golden Gumboot – Was a prize given to the Wettest Town of Australia. Tully, claimed the prize hotly contested by Innisfail and Babinda. The 8m tall gumboot is located in the centre of Tully.
The Big Cassowary – If you want to add to your photographic collection of ‘Australia’s Big Things’ you can’t miss The Big Cassowary, located in Wongaling Beach.
Crystal Caves – One man’s dream of collecting precious rocks and minerals has been established as a shop and museum on the Atherton Tablelands.
Jezzine Barracks – A significant site for the Australian Military and Aboriginal people of the area and includes coastal boardwalks, artworks, traditional paintings and parklands.
Castle Hill landmark is a heritage-listed pink granite monolith located in the centre of Townsville. More than 2,500 locals frequent the site daily on a number of walking tracks. You can also just drive to the top for spectacular 360-degree views. Once used as a vantage point during World War II, an observation bunker sits on one corner of the Hill, reminding you of its military history.
SS Yongala is a famous shipwreck off the coast of Townsville, a favourite among divers.
The Big Mango – another ‘Big Thing’ to check off the list. You can find the 10-meter high Bowen Mango, located in its home town of Bowen at the Information Centre and why not try some delicious mango sorbet while you’re there.
There are numerous lookouts around the region that’ll give you stunning views over the rainforest. Check out the
Mount Alexandra Lookout in Cape Tribulation,
Henry Ross Lookout on the way to Kuranda,
Hinchinbrook Island Lookout near Ingham,
Castle Hill Lookout in Townsville,
Lion’s Lookout in Airlie Beach
Lamberts Lookout in Mackay.
Places to Picnic
Cairns Botanic Gardens, Edge Hill – If you want to experience the beautiful tropical foliage of Cairns then the Botanic Gardens are the best place to go. It’s a peaceful place that creates a wonderful atmosphere to sit and relax while enjoying your favourite picnic foods. If the kids are getting restless, there are many different gardens to explore and learn including the Gondwanan Heritage Garden and Aboriginal Plant Use Garden. There is also kilometres of paths and boardwalks to explore, the Nature Playground, the Tanks Arts Centre, the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory for valuable and tender plants and butterflies. Plus the ground has plenty of toilets, an information centre and café.
Cairns Esplanade – You can take a walk along the foreshore and find your picnic spot, which is sure to be close to a playground or the Lagoon, a popular, free swimming pool. Muddy’s Playground is a must visit for families, there’s also Skate Plaza to check out, a bouldering park, the beach volleyball courts and multi-use court which is FREE to use. Don’t forget to BYO basketball or Volleyball. Whether taking shade under a tree or basking in the sun, the Esplanade is a great place to have a picnic with your kids and play outside.
Crystal Cascades – In the rainforest, less than a 30-minute drive from Cairns, lies the peaceful Crystal Cascades. Here, there are several small waterfalls and an abundance of swimming spots. All of these are along a track that winds slightly uphill for over a kilometre next to the creek. You can experience a relaxing picnic while listening to the birds and admiring the greenery. When you’re done you can go for a swim to cool down.
Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas – With crystal clear waters and golden sand, this beach is the ultimate tropical picnic spot. It’s perfect for a lazy day of relaxing in the sun by the beach or under the shade on the grass. You can cool down by going for a swim in the patrolled section of the water.
Pioneer Park, Thuringowa, Townsville – A popular fishing spot, Pioneer Park is located on the banks of Ross River Dam and Ross River. With both picnic and barbeque areas as well as sporting fields, the park has everything you need for a family day out. Playgrounds are available to keep the kids active and happy. Additionally, the park is not difficult to get to.
Dan Gleeson Memorial Gardens, Townsville – These gardens are home to a range of wildlife and native and exotic trees. These are situated amongst large lawn areas and paved pathways (which are perfect for a stroll, walking the dog and for the kids to ride their bikes on). Set up a picnic on the grass by one of the water features. Or, use the undercover picnic tables for a relaxing family outing.
The Strand, Townsville – The strand is a thriving beach foreshore where you can choose sand or grass for your picnic spot. Both will give you a great view. There are a number of fantastic playgrounds and the popular Strand Water Park to keep the kids entertained for hours. Bring the swimmers to take a swim in the ocean or the rock pool, or just enjoy a stroll along the beach foreshore. If you want to, you can even try catching a fish from the jetty.
Eungella National Park, Mackay – With all the essentials right there, including toilets, barbeques, tables and walking tracks, you can have a bush picnic in the mountains of West Mackay. Sky Window and Broken River are two great places to picnic and enjoy the nature of the beautiful Eungella National Park. If you want to take it a step further and camp overnight at Broken River, keep an eye out on the river platform. You might see some platypuses and turtles! The circuit and viewing platform and at Sky Window offer a spectacular view of the park.
Cedar Creek Falls, Whitsundays – If you’re keen to have a picnic with a fantastic waterfall backdrop, Cedar Creek Falls is the way to go. Lush greenery and local residents including lizards, butterflies and more will accompany you in this gorgeous spot. It’s only a short walk from the car park and a 20-minute drive from Airlie Beach. You can cool down by having a swim in the crystal watering hole. Make sure to pack a snorkel if you want to spot the turtles!
Cape Hillsborough, Mackay – Cape Hillsborough has a great picnic area with tables, but you can also enjoy a lovely beach picnic and swim if you wish. Kangaroos are often spotted at the beach during late afternoon. Pack a picnic for this time, watch the wildlife and stick around for the sunset.
Find more things to do here.