With a 3 day drive time and over 2000 spectacular kilometers, The Great Tropical Drive is one mighty stretch of asphalt. Branching into 14 different trails, the drive is like one scenic choose your own adventure. And, for backpackers on a budget, it offers a lot of paradise for an affordable price.
If you are looking to check out the exciting routes along the Great Tropical Drive, a great way to experience the region is to hit the road in a hired camper between May and October. This way you will avoid wet season and have the freedom to explore at your own pace.
With beaches, adrenaline pumping activities and bars aplenty, you won’t see the same sights twice. To begin the trip, here is a three-day Tropical Drive itinerary around Cairns, Port Douglas and the Daintree.
Cairns to Cairns
Best Time of the Year
May - October
- Jungle Adventures Nightwalk
- Island Point
- Skydive Cairns
- Four Mile beach
- Great Barrier Reef
- Kalkajaka National Park
Cairns to Port Douglas
Kicking off the road trip in Cairns, you can pick up a camper at the Mighty branch and begin your adventure by stopping at the markets in Kuranda to pick up some souvenirs and locally made treasures. The markets are open every day, and sit among a heritage listed rainforest, making the setting just as impressive as the market itself. Stop in at the Frog’s Restaurant for a coffee, before heading to the Dome Climb to get an incredible view of the city.
When you are ready to cool down, take a swim at Cairns Lagoon which is located on the Esplanade in the city. Pick up some food, and enjoy using the BBQ facilities on site for lunch. If seeing a Cairns beach is on your list, take the campervan out to Palm Cove which boasts ice cream parlours and cafes.
Make the most of the evening, and experience one of the best things to do in Cairns, with a visit to the Night market where you can find indigenous art, Australian bush hats, gift shops, and so much more.
Park the campervan and take an evening boat cruise under the stars, and enjoy a meal on board to finish off the evening and your Cairns holiday. Stay at campsite BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut Resort.
Port Douglas to Cooktown
Wake up bright and early and grab a bite to eat at The Chambers before setting off on the Captain Cook Highway, heading north for one hour until you reach Port Douglas.
Like so many towns along the Great Tropical Drive, Port Douglas is all about celebrating North Queensland’s turquoise tropical waters. There’s no better place to do that than Four Mile Beach. This beach offers a perfect spot for a relaxing morning swim or surf, or if you don’t fancy getting in the water, hire a segway to cruise along the beach.
Enter the Flagstaff Hill lookout from the beach to enjoy reef areas, rainforest and of course the beach.
If you are keen to go offshore to experience the stunning natural beauty of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, then contact Blue Dive tours. Limiting their diver numbers to just eight people, Blue Dive will take you out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas, and bring you up close and personal to one of the great natural wonders of the world.
Head out to the area of Mossman and get hands on a Janbal Gallery where you can paint your own canvas or boomerang, and learn about Aboriginal culture.
Visit Mossman gorge and take a guided walk conducted by Aboriginal locals. Listen to stories and legends while you wander along private tracks. Pop into the cafe for a coffee, then visit the art gallery selling indigenous art.
Treat yourself to a special dinner at Nautilus restaurant, where you can sit among palm trees and enjoy gourmet food and unusual options like mud crab. Enjoy some award winning dessert at Daintree ice cream.
Campgrounds like BIG4 Port Douglas Glengarry Holiday Park are the perfect landing place for the night.
Cooktown to Cairns
Start the day with a breakfast or coffee at Choo Choo’s while you overlook the marina.
Pack up and head out to the Mulligan Highway from Port Douglas to the Daintree Forest, 1.5 hours away.
For those with a taste for adventure, try jungle surfing with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours. Located in Cape Tribulation, jungle surfing is an exciting way to experience the Daintree Rainforest via a series of fast, yet smooth zip line cables.
If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, we recommend taking the Jungle Adventures Nightwalk. Experience a side of the jungle rarely seen by visitors as the two hour guided trek after sunset takes you into a world full of amazing creatures and exciting sounds.
Back in the camper; continue north along the Mulligan Highway for around three and a half hours until you hit Cooktown.
The James Cook Museum shows the interesting history of the town, and sits among the Sir Joseph Banks Garden, offering views of the Endeavour River, and a perfect spot for a lunch time picnic.
Next, take a trip to Kalkajaka National Park. The granite boulders in the park, some as large as houses, stack on top of eachother providing incredible views, and a home for many wildlife that are confined to the area.
The Cooktown Botanic Gardens is one of Queensland’s oldest botanic gardens. Featuring botanical collections from the 1700’s and 62 hectares to wander, it’s the perfect spot to stretch your legs and enjoy some lunch at the cafe on site.
Another part of Cooktown’s history, and a must see attraction is the Lighthouse on Grassy Hill. Built in 1886, it was one of only four on the coast of Queensland. The spot is perfect for throwing down a blanket, grabbing a drink and watching the sunset, just as James Cook did in 1770.
It’s a 4 hour drive back to Cairns, so be sure to grab a takeaway from Obi’s on the way out of town.
Explore Queensland’s Great Tropical Drive for your next campervan holiday
Visit a Mighty branch today to hire a campervan for your next adventure, and experience Australia your way.