Go tropical for your next family holiday

If you’re thinking of going tropical for your next family holiday, consider the towns of Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove in Tropical North Queensland. This region offers something for everyone including access to two of Australia’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.

Here’s a breakdown of some of our favourite family friendly activities.


Cairns Lagoon

The Esplanade Lagoon

A favourite feature of North Queensland towns are their man-made pools by the beach. The summers up north can get hot so you need an ideal location close by to cool off, that doesn’t involve a dip with stingers.

The Esplanade Lagoon offers crystal clear water, shallow areas for the young ones and lifeguards on hand. Your kids will love the man-made lagoon. It’s a cool place to laze around for a few hours and meet other travellers.

The Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and probably the main reason you’re visiting, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

Tours range from small boats where you dive or snorkel off the boat, to bigger tours where you moor at a pontoon and from there participate in many different activities.

Having two young kids we decided the pontoon experience would be most practical.

We chose Marine World with Reef Magic Tours after hearing they were probably the best for families. The all-weather Marine World platform caters for all activity levels and makes for a great base.

Green Island

Green Island

Green Island, located 45 minutes by boat from Cairns, makes for a lovely day trip. It’s a sand island and is great for families, our kids loved seeing a few fish and stingrays!

You can snorkel straight off the shore near the jetty and also off the patrolled beach. There’s a nice boardwalk through the forest to the other side of the island, and whilst your kiddies play in the water you can enjoy a massage.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Kuranda Scenic Railway

One of the most popular things to do around Cairns is ride the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway up to the hinterland town of Kuranda, and then take the Kuranda Scenic Railway back down, or vice versa.

The Skyrail takes you for a 7.5km glide over the top of pristine rainforest with stunning views out to Cairns and the lush rainforest of the Tableland Valley.

The town of Kuranda is a quaint hinterland village and things on offer include the Koala Gardens, Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, as well as the markets.  

Kuranda Scenic Railway

If you’re into train journeys, great engineering feats and history then you’ll love riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway as it winds its way down along the McDonald ranges back into Cairns.

This famous railway takes 1 hour 45 minutes between Cairns and Kuranda with commentary explaining the history of the railway and the rainforest given throughout.

Atherton Tablelands – Drive the Waterfall Way

The Atherton Tablelands is a region about an hour south-west of Cairns and is worth spending a day exploring.

Starting near the town of Millaa Millaa there’s a 15km circuit that embraces some of the best waterfalls in the region with Millaa Millaa Falls being the main event and one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia.

The impressive Curtain Fig Tree is located just outside of Yungaburra, and to help keep your parents energised stop in at Coffee World at Coffee Works in Mareeba where you have access to unlimited quantities of coffee, tea, chocolate and liqueur.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

I loved Tapajukai Aboriginal Cultural Park for its simplicity and down to earth way the local people share their culture. It’s a tourist destination, but does not feel like a tourist stop.

You can watch dancing shows, make fire with sticks, learn about the didgeridoo, bush medicine and food, and have a chance to throw boomerangs and spears.

Port Douglas

Port Douglas is a fantastic place to spend a few days exploring the local area, enjoying sunset views from the marina and another perfect base to head out to the reef from and explore more of the surrounding region.

4 Mile Beach

On a sunny day, this beach is a tropical paradise. Take a walk, go for a swim, play on the sand, or get up early and do a bit of yoga as the sun rises. For spectacular views of the beach take a drive up to Flagstaff Hill.

Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation

Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation

A day trip to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation is a must. At 110 million years old the Daintree is the oldest existing rainforest in the world. And it’s the only place where two World Heritage areas meet – the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef.

Highlights include:

The Daintree Discovery Centre. Not only will you and the kids have a ball, but you’ll learn so much about the rainforest on the self-guided audio tour. The aerial walkway takes you up in to the forest canopy and climbs up a 23m high tower, each level giving you the opportunity to experience a different rainforest layer.

Cape Tribulation is the prettiest of the beaches in the Daintree. Walk along the beach and then back up to the Kulki boardwalk for stunning views back across Cape Trib beach. An amazing way to explore Cape Trib and for the chance to see turtles and dugong is on a kayaking adventure with Paddle Trek.

Stroll the 1.2km Dubuji boardwalk as it winds its way through the mangroves shaded by its canopy of enormous palms, figs and vines. The Maardja Botanical Walk at Noah Beach is a 540m interpretative boardwalk through a section of pretty rainforest.

For a bite to eat don’t miss the legendary burgers at Mason’s Cafe or try the Daintree Ice Cream Company for a choice of yummy homemade ice cream.

Family Friendly Eat & Drink

  • Surf Club Bar and Bistro - A local’s favourite for lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks. And a great kids playground attached.
  • On the Inlet – Great location. Go early and feed George (a 250kg Groper fish).
  • Yacht Club – Fantastic location and seafood. Great value meals and well-priced drinks.

Mossman Gorge

At the southern end of the Daintree, Mossman Gorge is ancient, pristine and just beautiful. A boardwalk takes you to the Mossman River and a beautiful swimming area - the water is said to be the second most purest in the world. I highly recommend one of the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks – your aboriginal guide will teach your kids about their customs, the food and medicinal properties of the plants, and share a few Dreamtime stories.

Stand Up Paddle Board on Mossman River

Stand Up Paddle Board on Mossman River

The picturesque Mossman River is the perfect place for a first time stand up paddle boarder or a seasoned expert. The river is fresh water so you can relax and not be concerned of anything below the surface.  Wind Swell offers board hire and lessons.

The Great Barrier Reef

Port Douglas is another great launching point for getting out on the Great Barrier Reef. Opal Reef ranks as the #1 thing to do on Trip Advisor and looks amazing, and Calypso Reef Cruises get a great review as a tour operator. An alternative is the pontoon at Agincourt Reef with Quicksilver Cruises.

River Cruise

The Lady Douglas River Cruise takes in the wilderness and scenery of the mangroves, whilst you search for wild crocodiles in their natural habitat, with the cruises also taking in the coastal and harbour views around the inlet entrance during sunset.

Palm Cove

Just a 20 minute drive north of central Cairns and 30 minutes south of Port Douglas, your family will delight in this colourful little village with easy access to all that the region has to offer.

Palm Cove Beach

Palm Cove is considered to have one of Australia’s most idyllic beaches. There’s a designated swimming area during stinger season with lifeguards, a beachfront playground for children, and lots of water activities available.

At the northern end of the beach is a jetty where local fishermen drop their lines in the hope of catching their evening’s dinner, and a gorgeous esplanade to stroll back and forth along for a coffee or gelato plus endless restaurants to choose from.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

Looking to get up close with a croc? Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure’s ranks as the #1 thing to do on TripAdvisor. You can see an array of wildlife, including crocs, snakes, cassowaries, koalas, beautiful tropical birds, insects and much more.

White Water Rafting on the Barron River

White Water Rafting on the Barron River

Looking for something more action packed? Consider white water rafting with Raging Thunder on the Barron River in the beautiful Barron Gorge National Park. Perfect for anyone who hasn’t tried rafting or those looking for an afternoon of fun and excitement.

Consider staying in quieter Palm Cove as an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the tourist hot spots Cairns and Port Douglas – you’re still perfectly positioned to enjoy the surrounding areas!

Caz and Craig Makepeace are a married couple from Central Coast Australia who are serial travel addicts and have lived in 5 countries and had adventures through 52. They believe life is about accumulating memories not just possessions, and now they are creating those precious memories with their two daughters. Follow Caz and Craig on y Travel Blog.

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