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Tropical North Queensland

Tourism TNQ ©

Gone Troppo

Whether you’re seeking a relaxing break or a wild adventure, Sabine Morgan finds Tropical North Queensland is the perfect paradise for families.

While it may be best known for the kaleidoscope of colourful marine life on the Great Barrier Reef and its World Heritage listed rainforest, there's much more to explore in Tropical North Queensland. From buzzing towns and pretty villages to pebbly beaches and remote wilderness, Tropical North Queensland is bursting at the seams with things to see and do.

Paronella Park ©

Captivating Cairns

Whatever floats your holiday boat, you’re sure to find it in Cairns. With about 300 days of sunshine a year, there’s never a bad time to paddle in the crystal-clear, man-made Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, a saltwater swimming pool with sandy edges and shallow water for little ones and deeper water for adults. Stroll further along the waterfront and you’ll find Muddy's Playground. One of Australia’s best playgrounds, it has everything from splash parks to slides, seesaws and an onsite cafe.

At Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome you can view Australian native flora and fauna right in the heart of the city. It also boasts an all-weather high ropes challenge course with 65 complex and challenging crossings, tunnels, nets and ziplines — including one that zooms over a croc enclosure.

If watching your child dangling like a worm on a fishing line over the top of a toothy, four-metre saltwater croc gets you a little hot and bothered, head to Crystal Cascades. The freshwater swimming hole fed by waterfalls, secreted away in the rainforest, is a spot the locals tend to hide from visitors, so don’t tell them I sent you.

Tourism TNQ ©

At Tjapukai Cultural Park my kids watch traditional performances drawn from Djabugay corroborees, see fire being made without a match and listen to the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo. The centre provides employment for the local Indigenous people and is a must-do activity for visitors.

In Kuranda, the kids can cut loose at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld and Koala Gardens, while braver kids might prefer the creepy crawlies at the Venom Zoo. While the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers soaring views over the dense jungle, chugging along in the charming Kuranda Scenic Railway brings visitors past beautiful Barron Falls. Then there’s that amazing reef. At Fitzroy Island, 29 kilometres southeast of Cairns, you can enjoy a day of glass-bottom boat rides and snorkelling among a huge variety of corals, tropical fish and, if you’re lucky, a turtle or two.

We also found Green Island, which is close enough to explore in half a day, has it all going on. With easy snorkelling straight off the beach, the island boats have an amazing range of activities to suit pretty much every age, including the option of Seawalker Helmet Diving and the family-run Marineland Melanesia Aquarium.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway ©

Where the reef meets the rainforest

Port Douglas offers all the sophistication of the city with a chilled village vibe. It's also the only place in the world with two World Heritage-listed treasures on its doorstep: the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.

Take the kids swimming in the stingernetted waters or learn to surf the sky and the sea with kitesurfing lessons at pretty Four Mile Beach, which runs the entire length of town and beyond.

You can also enjoy a dip in Mossman Gorge's rainforest-shrouded freshwater swimming hole. It's a fairly gentle hike to reach the creek, but as you watch the cool river tumble its way over and around the huge granite boulders dotting the gorge you'll be glad you made the effort.

The Great Barrier Reef is easily accessible by boat from the Reef Marina. With younger kids in tow, the Reef Sprinter half-day snorkelling tour of the Low Isles is a good choice. There's amazing snorkelling in the shallow, sandy bay, coral. And the faster boats help alleviate seasickness.

One place to stay out of the water is at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, though you can still come face to toothy face with some of the residents on a tour of its croc-filled lagoon. One of Hartley's newest attractions is the Ultimate Wildlife Encounter where kids can cuddle, hold and pat koalas, wombats, pythons and lizards or, if they dare, feed a saltwater crocodile.

Tourism TNQ ©

If you're after more toothy adventures, the Lady Douglas River Cruises can take you on the hunt for crocs on a paddlewheeler as you cruise through the wetlands to see the fierce creatures in their natural habitat.

If you prefer your wildlife more feathered than ferocious, breakfast with the birds at the hugely popular Wildlife Habitat. After brekkie, take a wander through its three unique environments to meet some of the area's indigenous species.

Just a short drive north of Port Douglas is the prehistoric beauty of the mighty Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, which boasts the highest variety of plants and animals found in any rainforest on the planet. The Daintree Discovery Centre allows easy access to every level of the rainforest; from the forest floor to the uppermost reaches of the canopy. For more adventurous families, Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours in Cape Tribulation offers the most heart-thumping way to explore the rainforest - just strap yourself in and glide through the rainforest canopy on a series of ziplines and flying foxes. When the day is done, take the kids back to the Iron Bar in Port Douglas for a hearty meal and some cane toad racing, which is sure to generate good times giggles.

Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours ©


Getting there

Cairns Airport is the gateway to TNQ with direct flights available from all major Australian cities. You can hire a car to get from Cairns to Port Douglas.


This article appeared in volume 53 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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