Experience Tropical North Queensland

Atherton Tablelands, North Cairns and Cape Tribulation

On a recent campervan adventure of ours, we set out to explore the Atherton Tablelands and the area north of Cairns to Cape Tribulation.

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Tropical northern Queensland circuit

Starting the road trip by driving south of Cairns to Gordonvale and then up into the Atherton Tablelands, we found this kept things interesting by doing a nice loop up through the tablelands before heading north to Mossman and joining up with the coastal route again.

There were plenty of waterfalls and little villages to explore in the Atherton Tablelands with lots of walks, which was a perfect way to stretch the legs. There are a couple of interesting ‘tourist drives’ that took us on narrow roads through farmland where everything so green and picture perfect.

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Stunning Millaa Millaa waterfalls

Tarzali Lakes was definitely a pleasant surprise as we meandered through the tablelands. If you haven’t been lucky enough to see platypus before, this is the place to do it. Not only did we see plenty, we also learnt a lot about these elusive creatures. The added bonus for us also was the sampling and consequent purchasing of smoked meats at the little café by the lakes. Smoked locally, these were a real treat and went perfectly with our ‘happy hour drinks’ for the next few nights.

We’re avid coffee lovers too, so Mareeba was also on our list of places to stop as we made our way north through the tablelands. After sampling 16 different coffees, plus handmade chockies, we were definitely on a buzz for the remainder of the day!

At the end of a stunning few days on the Atherton Tablelands, we made our way north towards Daintree. The Daintree River is well known for its scenic surroundings and the vast native wildlife that inhabit the area.

River Cruise experience watching crocodiles and nature at its best.

On board a boat cruise to explore the river we joined a few other guests and with binoculars provided we were informed by Bruce, our captain for the hours cruise, that we had a 99% chance of seeing crocodiles today. We’d only been on the water for less than 10 minutes when we spotted our first crocodile! This beauty was a 3.5 metre female enjoying a rest on the banks of the river under a mangrove tree. Quite the poser and she didn’t mind that she was at the centre of attention – making for great photographs.

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Female crocodile on the Daintree River

Two minutes later, we spotted a four week old crocodile hatchling that was 25cm in length and bobbing around the banks of the river. We were really lucky to see such a young crocodile in the wild.

We spent time cruising down river, seeing plenty of birdlife like brahminy kites, azure kingfishers, jabirus and of course the welcome swallows. We can’t forget these birds, as they enjoyed a free ride on the boat which was a treat for the budding photographers on-board.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in an offshoot to the river and Bruce spots our third crocodile for the day, and this time the 2.5 metre crocodile is hunting on the banks of the river which was pretty special. We were just returning to our seats when we hear lots of screeches and Bruce has turned the boat around and takes us to the other

bank. “A snake’s got a frog”, he tells us. There’s another almighty but different screech this time and a brave butcher bird is now trying to steal the frog from the green tree snake. What a treat nature provides to the interested spectator!

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Green tree snake and a butcher bird fight over a tree frog

This cruise was for an hour which we found to be a perfect amount of time – imagine though how much more action you would get if we were out for a full day?

We had lunch in the back of the camper and then we crossed the Daintree River by barge to head to Cape Tribulation. The drive up to ‘Cape Trib’ as it is fondly called, is simply stunning. There are a few vantage points all worth stopping at which provide spectacular views of the northern beaches of Cairns.

Signs are everywhere for cassowaries, so our peepers were peeled to try and spot one amongst the rainforest. Unbelievably, on this trip we were so lucky with the wildlife, we found a cassowary standing on the side of the road! Oblivious to our excitement, the cassowary continued strutting along the side of the road, before disappearing into the bush.

Cape Tribulation truly is a beautiful destination to spend a few days. There are a few camping grounds in the village, with one being right next to the beach, others nestled in the rainforest and a national park camping ground, all of which can be booked online. All these camping grounds look like they would be great places to stay.

4WD experience in Cape Tribulation

While in ‘Cape Trib’ we chose to do a 4WD trip with Masons Tours to experience the Bloomfield Track. This road is very steep in places, has water crossings and covers a beautiful piece of the country but is no place for a 2WD hire campervan.

Lawrence Mason’s family have been in the area since 1932, so there were plenty of stories about the early days

shared by Lawrence. A highlight for us was joining an Aboriginal Cultural tour as part of this trip, we always enjoy learning more about the culture and history of the indigenous people as we travel throughout Australia. Vast quantities of delicious home baking were also consumed as we enjoyed a picnic on the banks of a river. A little tastier than the green ants we also tried – although perhaps the ants were better for the waistline!

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Appetising lunch of green ants

On the way back to Cairns, we stopped for a couple of days at Ellis Beach, one of the many camping grounds that dot the northern beaches.

The drive south from Port Douglas to Cairns is really stunning, with plenty of areas to stop and admire the view. There is also a low cost camp at Palm Cove which is a popular area to spend a few days – very handy with lots of cafes if you feel like taking a night off from cooking as well.

It is always sad when a campervan holiday is over for us, as we always seem to have such a great adventure and experience new and interesting things. This trip provided us with a bit of everything, including beautiful weather, so we could not have asked for more!

For those interested and would like a quick overview of this route, below you will find a quick summary of what you can expect on this circuit.

Road conditions

  • Sealed road through Tablelands and Cape Tribulation

Camp Grounds

  • Plenty of commercial campgrounds throughout the Tablelands, northern beaches of Cairns and Cape Tribulation
  • Usually no need to book

Dump Stations

  • Available at many commercial campgrounds and Cairns Wastewater Depot (Macnamara St, Manunda)
  • Atherton Sewerage Works (northern end of town)
  • Mossman (outside Leisure Park)
  • Mareeba Eales Park Dump Point (opposite Davies Park, west side of town)

Wildlife

Viewing the Wildlife is definitely a highlight of this trip and being respectful of their environment will ensure your safety. You’ll most likely get the chance to see:

  • Crocodiles
  • Cassowaries
  • Snakes
  • Wide range of bird life
  • Platypus
  • Flora and fauna in rain forest

Do you like reading about our adventures? If you do, please let us know as we’d love to hear from you! We will be sharing more of our travel stories and would like to hear your stories too.

If you are planning a trip to Australia and are interested in finding out more information, we have a wealth of information on our site to help you plan your holiday.

Get in touch if you would like us to help you plan your adventure, drop us a note or look through our site for lots of helpful information. You could check out our top tips for motorhomes for hire, have a read of other articles on our blog or if you’d like an idea of cost and vehicle options for your planned route with a campervan in Australia – please get in touch and ask for a Camper Hire Quote.