Cairns to Cobbold Gorge

Head west from tropical north Queensland to experience the outback.

Visitors to tropical north Queensland usually come for the pristine beaches and lush rainforest but you only need to head a few hours west of Cairns for a true Australian outback experience. 

The 460km trip from Cairns to Cobbold Gorge can be done in about seven hours but there’s so much to do and see along the route that it’s worth breaking up the drive over a few days.

Cairns to Atherton (95km, 1.5 hours)

An easy 90-minute drive from Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands is known for its fertile green pastures.

The Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park is a must-do for both beginner and experienced cycling enthusiasts. The 54km of world-class single-track mountain bike trails is located in the Herberton Range State Forest, an open forest of gums, bloodwoods, mahoganies, she-oaks, grasstrees and cycads, and are easily accessible from Atherton’s CBD. 

Check out the heritage-listed art deco Barron Valley Hotel, which features a historic ‘ladies lounge’ from when women who enjoyed a tipple were banned from entering the public bar. Built in 1941, the pub was requisitioned as an officer’s club by the Australian Army during World War II, as the cool weather of the region provided respite from the tropical heat of the coast.

Atherton to Undara (220km, 3.5 hours)

Follow the Kennedy Highway from Atherton to the Innot Hot Springs, natural mineral springs located between Ravenshoe and Mt Garnett. Soak your cares away in the rejuvenating waters of the hot springs – each pool is a different temperature so be aware that some sections can reach up to 75 degrees. 

Turn off the sealed road at Whitewater Cattle Station for a guided tour at the Undara Experience and walk among the Earth’s longest flow of lava from a single volcano.

During April to September, active visitors can take part in the Wind Tunnel Explorer and trek through three sections of Australia’s largest lava tube.

Undara offers a variety of accommodation from unpowered tent sites to glamping swag tents and refurbished railway carriages.

Undara to Georgetown (160km, 2.5 hours)

On your way to Georgetown stop off at Mt Surprise to try your luck at fossicking for gemstones including garnet, topaz and quartz. Grab breakfast, a fossicking license and hire a field kit at the Gem Den before heading O’Brien’s Creek Gem-field.

If you’re lucky enough to find a gemstone, the Gem Den’s in-house factor can style and cut your gem to show off its natural beauty.

While in Georgetown, visit the Terrestrial Centre, home to more than 4500 mineral specimens from all over the world. The collection is the life work of Ted Elliot and reputed to be the most detailed and comprehensive private collection in Australia.

Georgetown to Cobbold Gorge (90km, 2.25 hours)

Fuel up at Forsyth before travelling the 51km of unsealed and gravel roads to Cobbold Village on Robin Hood Cattle Station. Most vehicles will be able to handle the roads to Cobbald Gorge, including those towing caravans, but road conditions can change so contact the Ethridge Shire Council for up-to-date road conditions. The village is open annually from Easter to 31 October and closed during the wet season.

Cobbold Gorge is Queensland’s youngest gorge, with some sections estimated to be just 10,000 years of age. Join a guided tour to the gorge’s sandstone escarpments, fossick for agate and cruise the channels in a custom electric boat. Adventurous visitors can take a scenic helicopter flight over the 80km2 of striking chasms or try their hand at stand-up paddle boarding through the gorge’s narrow channels.

Heading to the Queensland outback? Follow these tips to tackle the outback’s unique conditions.