The Great Barrier Reef Drive

Road trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation to experience two World Heritage sites sitting side by side.

Hugging the coastline in tropical north Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef Drive, one of Australia’s most picturesque coastal roads.

Starting in Cairns, the drive north weaves through tropical rainforest and sugarcane fields to two World Heritage areas–Daintree National Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The 140km drive is only two hours and 40 minutes one way and can be done easily in a day trip.

However, a five-day itinerary is recommended to fully explore the beaches, villages, rainforest, unique wildlife and Indigenous culture of tropical north Queensland. Here’s one to get you started.

Day one

Drive from Cairns to Port Douglas to explore tropical beaches and awe-inspiring coastal views along the Captain Cook Highway. Stop off at Palm Cove or Ellis Beach and enjoy a walk on the beach, swim or seaside café.

Day two

Relax in the chic, seaside town of Port Douglas, with its resorts, restaurants, bars, boutique shopping, marina and the glorious expanse of Four Mile Beach.

Day three

As Port Douglas is the closest mainland port to the reef, day three of the itinerary is ideal to board a luxury catamaran or high-powered jet boat to discover the islands, sand cays, coral gardens and vibrant marine life of the Great Barrier Reef. Dive or snorkel the outer reef or explore the sheltered lagoon of idyllic Low Isles.

Day four

Drive deeper into the rainforest to Mossman Gorge, just north of Port Douglas, where you can explore the jungle walks and swimming holes the Indigenous Kuku Yalanji people call home.

Further on is the Daintree River, where you can embark on a crocodile, bird and wildlife spotting cruise or visit the scenic and peaceful Daintree Village. The Daintree area is filled with unique wildlife, including cassowaries, crocodiles, kangaroos, platypus and more than 430 bird species.

Day five

Cross the Daintree River by ferry and explore the beautiful rainforests and beaches around Cape Tribulation, where the reef meets the rainforest. Step straight on to the beach from the rainforest at Cape Tribulation.

Travel tip!

Accommodation is available at several places along the drive, from secluded rainforest retreats near Mossman, Daintree Village or Cape Tribulation, to the resorts and boutique apartments of Port Douglas and Palm Cove.

RACQ members can save on accommodation with Mantra at Cairns and Palm Cove, terms and conditions apply.