Disclosure: travellye.com is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (paid link)
Welcome to The Great Barrier Reef Drive: The Ultimate Queensland Road Trip. A journey to Queensland’s most charming side road. The Great Barrier Reef Drive, which begins in Cairns and travels in a straight line to the north, is short but sweet.
Along the route are some of the most well-known locations in Tropical North Queensland, including luxury resorts, World Heritage Sites, and national parks. Toss your swimmers and shoes in the vehicle and investigate the amazing shoreline, segregated sea shores, enchanting occasion towns, and old rainforest.
The prime time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is between May and October when water temperatures are pleasant for swimming, rainfall is low and underwater visibility is high. You can still have a fantastic time outside of these months, but there are a few things you may want to consider.
One of the best ways to get the reef all to yourself is to participate in the Reefsleep Experience. Cruise Whitsundays takes small groups of visitors to its Reefworld platform, which is moored on the edge of Hardy Reef for a full day of snorkelling, diving, boat rides, and helicopter rides.
- Drive – 68 km
- Approximate time- 1 and a half hours
Cairns To Port Douglas
You will enjoy Cairns as your first introduction to the way of life in Tropical North Queensland. Take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef or just wander around the town, which is full of boutique shops, small bars decorated in the style of laneways, craft breweries, and bustling restaurants.
Despite being just 30 kilometres north of Cairns, Palm Cove is far from everything. Palm Cove, a small beachside village with chic resorts and restaurants, is all too easy to fall in love with. On the off chance that you possess energy for a back rub, Palm Bay is known as the spa capital of Australia. Go on, indulge yourself.
Return to the highway and head toward Port Douglas, which has bright lights. Port Douglas is known as the barefoot luxury capital of Tropical North Queensland for its high-end resorts, more than 60 excellent restaurants, and chic shops. While you wait for your freshly caught prawns to be cooked on the grill, settle in for a cocktail at sunset on the marina.
Detour Option: The Nature Reserve At Thala Beach
Thala Beach Nature Reserve is a paradise under palm trees. This eco-retreat is on a private headland 15 minutes south of Port Douglas. It has private access to stunning beaches, a public restaurant with views of the Daintree Rainforest and coral sea, and log cabins in the native forest.
Where To Stay
Some locations are so lovely that they require an entire day. One of them is Port Douglas. Start your Sunday in town at the well-known markets in Anzac Park, where vendors sell goods from all over the area.
Take a leisurely breakfast at a sun-drenched cafe before boarding one of the numerous boats that will take you to the Great Barrier Reef. The choices are nearly limitless, from quick to the Low Isles to a full-day, family-friendly excursion on a reef platform.
A rapid journey can arrive at the External Reef in only 40 minutes, providing an entire day of swimming or jumping at numerous locales to find the different environments of coral and marine life underneath the surface.
- Drive – 20 km
- Approximate time- 20 minutes
Port Douglas To Mossman Gorge
It is the entry point to the ancient Daintree Rainforest, approximately 20 minutes from Port Douglas. It’s a setting that makes you feel small. One of the world’s most complex ecosystems has been formed by the Daintree, which has existed here for 135 million years.
You’ll pass through lush greenery along elevated walkways and past crystal-clear rock pools (where you can always dip). The Ulysses butterfly, a recognizable representation of the rainforest, has wings that are a vivid shade of blue and black.
Join a directed Dreamtime stroll for an understanding of the profound meaning of this beautiful spot. The Kuku Yalanji individuals have lived here for over 50,000 years, and the nearby Native individuals will impart a portion of their old mysteries to guests.
The walks can be booked at the Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre, which also has a gallery for Indigenous people, a gift shop, and a restaurant called the Mayi Cafe and Restaurant, where bush ingredients are the star.
Where To Stay
The luxurious Silky Oaks Lodge is tucked away in the rainforest canopy, just a few kilometres from Mossman Gorge. You’ll sleep in a wooden treehouse, eat in an open-air restaurant using local ingredients, and wake up to the chirping of dark honeyeaters in the trees.
The Daintree Ecolodge, on the other hand, has 15 eco-friendly rooms or banyans that are surrounded by rainforests. It also has a fantastic spa, a restaurant focusing on local produce and overlooks the on-site lagoon.
- Drive – 70 km
- Approximate time- 2 hour
Mossman Gorge To Cape Tribulation
Back on the coast today to go on the north. As it winds toward the Daintree River, a slender road winds through quaint towns perched on the Coral Sea. You will arrive in the world’s oldest tropical rainforest once you cross the river on an old-fashioned car ferry. You are off the grid up here, so put your phone away and take a digital detox to bring your soul back to life.
Daintree Ice Cream Co. sells ice cream made with fresh tropical fruits, and Daintree Tea on the Cubbagudta Plantation sells organic tea. Put your money in the honesty box, which is only sometimes open. The expression is stunning and can be abused.
However, there’s no other word for Cape Adversity. Two World Heritage Areas meet at this isolated headland, where the rainforest meets the reef. You will adore this place.
Where to Stay?
The Daintree has a lot of unique places to stay. At Cape Trib Beach House, you can stay near the beach or camp in Safari Huts at Safari Lodge. Try the Mist at Cape Tribulation’s private luxury pavilion; Heritage Lodge, where you can swim in Cooper Creek, which runs through the property, with a freshwater turtle (pictured); or the eco-certified Daintree Wilderness Lodge, which features a nature walk and a seasonal creek on the property.
Even though you only have one day to spend in this remote paradise, you’ll want to stay for a week. Take a walk on the beaches first thing in the morning, then through the ancient rainforests. The Daintree has a few rainforest strolls, including the Marrja, Jindalba, and Dubuji footpaths. These are simple methods for investigating the Daintree and wondering about the one-of-a-kind vegetation of the rainforest.
With Ocean Safari, you can zip out for an afternoon snorkel at Mackay and Undine Reefs, just 25 minutes offshore from the Great Barrier Reef. Except for the enormous schools of tropical fish, there is a good chance that the reefs will be open to other people.
Optional Detour: Cape Trib Horse Rides
Saddle up with Cape Trib Horse Rides and ride through the prehistoric rainforest to a remote tropical beach in a scene more appropriate for a novel than real life. As you trot down spectacular Myall Beach at the intersection of two World Heritage sites, you should remember yourself.
Optional Detour: Emmagen Creek
If you still want to swim in the rainforest, head to the swimming hole at Emmagen Creek, about five kilometres north of Cape Tribulation. This excellent swimming hole, complete with its rope swing, can be reached by following a path through the rainforest.
- Drive – 140 km
- Approximate time- 3 hours
Cape Tribulation To Cairns
It will be hard to leave Cape Tribulation, but it’s time to return to civilization. But first, have breakfast at Lync-Haven Resort’s Doris’s Bar, Cafe, and Restaurant, about 15 kilometres north of the ferry.
You’ll venture to every part of the full 140km of the course back to Cairns in a single day today, and however fast it appears to be fast, there’s time to drop into every one of the spots you missed on the way up. You could look for barramundi at Snare-a-Barra in Wonga Ocean, stop at Beechwoods Bistro in Mossman for an espresso and biscuit, or chase after mud crab at Cooya Ocean side, only north of Port Douglas with Walkabout Social Experiences.
Not long before you get into Cairns, pull off the thruway at one of the lines of calm sea shores for a last swim in the warm waters of the Coral Ocean. Holloways is best for flop and drop, Trinity is great for families, and Yorkeys Knob is one of the world’s top 10 places to kitesurf.
Optional Detour: Palm Cove
You stopped in this beautiful beach town on your way north, so why not detour and explore its many charms as you head south? Do you want to unwind? After that, take off your shoes, relax on the beach with palm trees, and end the day at one of the best restaurants in the village, like Nu Nu or Vivo.
Hire a bicycle or kayak, cast a line from the jetty, or go on a day trip to Double Island if you want to get moving. The Reef House and Alamanda Palm Cove are two elegant lodging options in this area.
Can You Drive To The Great Barrier Reef?
The 140-kilometre stretch of bitumen between Cairns and Cape Tribulation, which is now known as the Great Barrier Reef Drive, is breathtaking.
How Long Is The Trip To The Great Barrier Reef?
A modern, fully motorized catamaran typically takes approximately 90 minutes to travel one way to the outer reef. The average travel time to the middle of the Great Barrier Reef—halfway between the coastline and the edge of the Continental Shelf—is approximately 70 minutes.
How Long Does It Take To Get To The Great Barrier Reef From Queensland?
Simply a short 45 min flight north of Brisbane, and you arrive at the Southern Passage to the Incomparable Hindrance Reef. The ideal distance for a few days away with friends and family to explore a new region of Queensland.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders. It also is one of the most biodiverse environments on Earth, rivalled only by a handful of tropical rainforests. More fish species live in a two-acre area of the Great Barrier Reef than bird species in North America.
Drive the Great Barrier Reef: The Ultimate Queensland Road Trip offers exceptional visitor experiences. Popular ways to see the Great Barrier Reef include scuba diving, snorkelling, cruising, sailing, island resorts, coastal land and waterways tours, and scenic flights with the best local guides in the world.