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Great Barrier Reef Drive

Where Reef Meets Rainforest

North Tropical Queensland

With the sun getting warmer, Elle Matula heads north to discover the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef for the weekend to luxuriate with the family in a land of year-round sunshine, sand and surf.


Cruising along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, I find myself at the epicentre of some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia I have ever seen.

Stretching from the shores of Cairns, through trendy Port Douglas and up to the rainforests of Cape Tribulation, we are passing through the only region in the world where two World Heritage sites collide: the Great Barrier Reef hugging close on the coastline, and the 140-million-year-old Daintree Rainforest bursting from the mountains.

To keep the little ones entertained, we take advantage of the secluded beaches, spot hidden waterfalls along the way and stop at Rex Lookout for a family selfie, our backdrop the magnificent blue ocean of Trinity Bay stretching out into a seemingly endless horizon.



Port Douglas


Port Douglas


Cradling the picturesque Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas’ atmosphere is a vibrant mix of barefoot beach ambience and tropical resorts.

Family holidaymakers have long relished the natural beauty and year-round warm climates, and mine is no different.

We soak up the sunshine as we stroll between Macrossan Street’s boutique shops towards the Reef Marina for brunch. Absolutely spoiled for choice in such a small town, Lure Restaurant & Bar ends up being a wise choice for both our holiday budget and its delicious menu.

Overlooking the sailboats casually floating in and out of the wharf, our locally sourced seafood is served outside on the large deck, with enough room for the kids to safely wander and play.



Port Douglas

The Great Barrier Reef


Swimmers on, we sail away for an afternoon of underwater exploration with Quicksilver Cruises, which offers child-friendly reef tours fit for toddlers through to teens.

We choose the Outer Reef Tour, a popular choice with its underwater observatory, snorkelling platforms and specially designed introductory scuba dive areas with lessons offered for children aged 12 and over.

Great Barrier Reef



The open water doesn’t scare the kids as they dive in head-first in search of Dory, Nemo and – fingers crossed – a few Squirts!

Using the swimming noodle to float above the colourful corals, I bask in a moment of pure relaxation and bliss.

Alternatively, Low Isles is perfect for families that prefer to feel the sand between their toes while splashing about in more shallow waters.



Great Barrier Reef


Accommodation and Food


After an afternoon in the sun and three turtle sightings, we escort our rumbling tummies back to our rooms at the beachfront Mandalay Luxury Apartments for a home-cooked dinner. Later on, our private patio proves to be a relaxing night time retreat after the kids are tucked away in bed.

Great Barrier Reef Drive


An early morning start takes us shopping at the Mossman Markets. Shaded under towering raintrees, we stop to chat with the local farmers and sample their exotic fruits and vegetables.

We make a day out of our visit to the small town and enjoy lunch at The Junction Cafe, an accidental find which turns out to be an absolute treasure.

I have since tried desperately to replicate its coconut and mango quinoa porridge (tried being the key word).


Daintree rainforest


Daintree Dreaming


Our early start also means we get to experience the Daintree Rainforest as it should be... with no-one else around.

Driving onto the Daintree Ferry and crossing over the river en route to Cape Tribulation, we make a quick stop at the Alexandra Range Lookout for, well, yet another family selfie.

Driving deeper into the forest, we keep an eye out for cassowaries while our little adventurers begin their unique Jungle Surfing experience.

There’s nothing quite like zip-lining nearly 20 metres in the air, looking down on the world’s oldest rainforest and out to the coral fringes of the Great Barrier Reef.

If you are anything like me, and your fear of heights starts to kick in, you couldn’t be in better hands. The guides have a PhD in encouragement, are the Kelly Slaters of jungle surfing and with a Masters in rainforest ecology, they will hit you with more interesting facts then Wikipedia, but with way more panache!


Jungle Surfing Cape Tribulation

For daring of a different kind, stop and dine at the local Mason’s Café for a delicious crocodile, kangaroo or emu burger before a refreshing swim in Mason’s Waterhole.

Before returning back to Cairns, a stop at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures simply can’t be missed.

Home to over 2100 metres of boardwalks leading you through an array of tropical birds, reptiles and other native fauna, it is also one of the best places to see crocodiles in Tropical North Queensland.


Daintree Rainforest


Coasting once again along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, with the Coral Sea now glistening on my left-hand side, the weekend has ended all too soon.

As I listen to the kids energetically practicing their reenactments of jumping crocodiles for show and tell, I mentally start planning my next coconut and mango quinoa porridge.


Great Barrier Reef



This article featured in volume 48 of Holidays with kids. Enjoy it? Subscribe to see more!

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