Nothing beats a good old-fashioned road trip. Whether it’s a leisurely Sunday drive after an even lazier brunch or an extended journey to places without postcards, hitting the road offers unbridled freedom. Endless possibilities. So fasten your seat belt low and tight, shuffle your favourite playlist and settle back as we take you on a journey through Tropical North Queensland.
Great Barrier Reef Drive
If Tropical North Queensland were to claim a ‘signature scenic route’, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is it. Officially the Capt Cook Highway between Cairns and Cape Tribulation, this drive’s main claim to fame is its two famous World Heritage-titled neighbors either side of the asphalt. With the Great Barrier Reef to the right (heading north) and Wet Tropics rainforest to the left, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is the lip-smacking wagyu beef in a drool-inducing steak sandwich. But beware, this twisting turning highway has been the scene of accidents so drivers should leave the sight-seeing to their camera-snapping passengers.
Why we love it: Ellis Beach, Palm Cove and Rex Lookout are highlights, as well as numerous unnamed bays, coves and headlands to pull over at and soak up long stretches of unbroken beach sand. It’s likely the only footsteps you’ll spot are those left behind by sea birds and nesting turtles. Triathletes adore this road during the annual Cairns Ironman (annually in June) when it is partially closed to traffic.
Where: Cairns to Mossman via Port Douglas
How far: 75 km
Old Telegraph Track
One for 4WD fans, conquering the Old Telegraph Track on the way to Cape York comes with a ute full of bragging rights. Nervous drivers on their first off-road expedition might do well to take the much easier bypass road. But for those with the right vehicle, the OTT offers countless challenges laced with scenic river crossings and bush campsites with front row seats to watch others forging creeks. Gunshot Creek crossing is known for its near vertical tyre-hugging descent into a cavity mere inches wider than most 4WD’s. Don’t bother wearing clean underwear for the crossing: you’ll likely need to change into fresh ones once successfully across. Alternatively, leave your courage safely stashed in the glove box and take the easier Chicken Track crossing.
Why we love it: It’s rough and ready and the undisputed highlight for many on a Cape York driving adventure. You’ll be talking about this epic 4WD route for years to come
Where: The southern section runs between Bramwell Junction and Bypass Road Junction
How far: 64 km
Ascending from a junction 35km south of Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands, the Gillies Highway ducks, winds and weaves (reputedly with 263 corners) over an elevation of almost 1,000 misty metres. You’ll likely feel your ears pop and you’ll definitely feel the temperature drop as you ascend through the Rex Range. Stop off at Heales Lookout for the mandatory photo across the Goldsborough Valley and Walsh’s Pyramid.
Why we love it: The landscape changes from sugar plantations on the valley floor through eucalypt woodlands and dense rainforest before popping out in dairy farmlands of the Atherton Tablelands. During the wet season, countless waterfalls tumble roadside
Where: Gordonvale to Atherton
How far: Approx 60 km
Kirrama Range Rd
Closed for eight years and recently reopened, thanks in part to passionate local campaigners, the Kirrama Range Road’s original purpose was to service the timber industry. These days, campers and freshwater fishermen are its biggest fans. North-bound adventurous tourists too are using it as an alternative route into the southern Tablelands as it winds upwards through Kirrama National Park.
Why we love it: Firstly it’s dirt. Secondly, you don’t need a 4WD to access it (during the dry season). Bereft of bitumen, wind down the windows, silence the driving tunes and enjoy the soundtrack of the forest. Allow this road to sing to your soul.
Where: Kennedy (near Cardwell) to Society Flat
How far: 30 km
OK, first up let’s be clear, the Savannah Way is no Sunday drive. Rather, it’s an epic adventure traversing some of Australia’s most remote country from coast to coast across three states and territories. Get the picture? If you’re looking to find the ‘real Australia’ you’re on the right track. If on the other hand you’re merely trying to keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours, do a U turn and return to Cairns until you’ve got a few months to spare. We’d highly recommend you concoct a cunning plan that will allow you the necessary months to savour the Savannah Way. There’ll be no turning back the second time!
Why we love it: It’s a capital letter-worthy Epic Australian Adventure
Where: Cairns to Broome
How far: Approx 3,700 km
Here’s a scenic route through the historical heart of sugar cane country. Sugarcane plantations line the road either side, their swaying stalks swishing in the breeze. Depending on the time of the year (harvesting takes places any time between July and November), crops may be a few centimetres or a few metres tall. Either way, fields stretch across the plains between coast and mountains on the Canecutter Way.
Why we love it: There’s something reassuringly wholesome about seeing a healthy crop in peak condition. Salt of the earth, fruit of the land, call it what you will, 95% of Australia’s sugarcane is grown in Queensland. It might just explain our sweet tooth!
Where: Kurramine Beach to Innisfail
How far: 52 km
Mission Beach Waterfront
So little known it doesn’t even rate a ‘scenic road’ title, waterfront roads rarely come more pretty than Alexander Drive on Mission Beach’s waterfront. Locals would prefer to keep this little treasure to themselves. But the secret is out! Bookended by Clump Mountain National Park in the north and Clump Point in the south with Dunk Island lying offshore, there’s little chance of keeping quiet about this drive.
Beachwalkers this is your moment of glory. Ditch the car, abandon your shoes and sink your toes into a few kilometres of delightfully firm beach sand all the way to South Mission Beach
Why we love it: There’s rarely any traffic and there’s a really good chance of spotting the rare and endangered cassowary. Throw in the obligatory beach walk and a road trip swiftly morphs into a beach combing expedition.
Where: Mission Beach
How far: A handful of kilometres