Unless you’ve been living with your head in the sand, but the sand at the exact same beach your whole life, then you’ve definitely heard about plenty of fab places all the way up the Queensland coast. Well at least, all the up until you get to Cairns. This small hub itself is a popular tourist destination thanks to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and tropical vibes, but what happens north of Cairns?

A whole lot actually. Whether you’re looking for adventure and wildlife or chill island vibes with drinks and fancy food, there’s plenty of reasons for you to venture further north.

8 Must-Go Queensland Spots North Of Cairns

1. The Ribbon Reefs

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Although a misleading article has been running around social media recently claiming the Great Barrier Reef is dead, the Great Barrier Reef still harbors a vibrant reef life in many areas (like the one pictured). Now, coral cover in the northern third of the GBR has suffered massive decline due to the most severe coral bleaching event recorded to date. This is indeed a big deal. It is also true that the GBR system is struggling to cope with many other human impacts. For instance, ocean acidification, dredging, illegal fishing, and pollution, to name a few. We can still revert this situation but our management actions should always be informed and driven by those that know these issues best: the scientists. Always look for the scientific data, folks. Ignore clickbaits. #gbr #greatbarrierreef #australia #coral #reef #fish #ocean #sea #dive #scuba #scubadiving #coralreef #queensland #australiagram #wanderaustralia #underwater #uwphotography #uwphoto #just4dive

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You didn’t think Cairns was the only place to experience the Great Barrier Reef, did you? The Ribbon Reefs are long thin strips of reef on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef that is THE place to be if you’re a diving and/or snorkeling enthusiast. It’s the only place in the whole world you can swim with Dwarf Minke Whales for starters. You’ve also got giant Queensland grouper and multitudes of other fish, and even whitetip reef sharks.

It’s about 50 to 100km off the mainland which means you’ll need to book a diving cruise and also that you know the reef is never going to be overcrowded. And newbies don’t worry, they’ve got dives for all levels.

2. Barron Gorge National Park

If you love yourself some natural waterfalls, this national park is particularly well-known for them and you’ll want to put Barron Falls on your hiking list. Even if you don’t is darn beautiful and only a day trip from Cairns so it’s perfect for your first venture further north.

The park is part of the Djabugandji Aboriginal people’s traditional lands and you can include their historic walking trails on your bushwalk through the extensive tracks that take you past those waterfalls, peaks, gorges, and an elevated walkway through the rainforest. Not to mention all the wildlife

3. Port Douglas

The whole of the Daintree Rainforest is a very solid reason to head north of Cairns, but this small town on the Coral Sea where the Daintree meets the ocean has some serious pull when you’re deciding which part of the rainforest to visit.

Spend part of your time spotting all the wildlife that can only be found in the Daintree, like Southern Cassowary, Bennet’s Tree Kangaroos, Lesser Sooty Owl, Ulyssus Butterflies and so much more. Then pop on over to the Great Barrier Reef on your other side. There are some serious foodie offerings in between. Tough life.

4. Cape York

Don’t even pretend you wouldn’t proudly proclaim you’ve been to the northern-most point of Australia. Especially when it’s as pretty as Cape York. You can get there any time of the year by plane or boat, but if you want to get really adventurous with it and see the surrounding beauty of the largest unspoiled wilderness in northern Australia you can 4WD it on your own or with a tour group when the Peninsula Development Road (PDA) is open.

5. Cape Tribulation

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The Giving Tree. #Emmagencreek

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Can’t get enough of the Daintree? Pop on over to Cape Tribulation, a place that only 4WD’s can reach and you can explore the rainforest on your own, in a tour group or zipping down a flying fox. On the northern side of the headland, you have the very calm waters of Cape Tribulation Beach which is easy access and perfect for easy access exploring.

6. Michaelmas Cay

What the heck is a Cay? Fair question. It’s basically a low bank in the ocean, and this particular one is made of sand and coral. Why would you visit a sand bank? Another fair question. Because this particular one is a protected bird sanctuary, home to 23 species of seabirds. Its surrounding waters are also home to a huge amount of sea life, including super adorable green sea turtles which even nest one the actual Cay sometimes.

Due to the delicate wildlife balance, there’s obviously no camping, but you can make one heck of a day trip there by a reef tour or private boat.

7. Mossman Gorge

You should definitely head smack bang inside the World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest for the unique experience that is Mossman Gorge. Besides the truly rare wildlife and flora, you can get a unique look at Australian Indigenous history here by joining the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk. Conducted by the local Indigenous Kuku Yalanji people, discover their traditional culture and stories while being guided along private and culturally significant sites throughout the area.

8. Palm Cove

Palm Cove is only a half hour drive north of Cairns and makes a perfect stop between Cairns and Port Douglas, or as your main destination. You’ve still got the reef and the Daintree, as well as a unique way to view it all from above thanks to the cable cars. Being just a short way from the main hub of Cairns means you can experience all the same things while having the place to yourself a little more. Perfect.

Image: iStock Images / [Colin_Davis]