A day of adventure
Whether it is one of the myriad day walks through national parks, a ride on a world-rated mountain-bike trail system or a paddle in a river or the ocean, the sheer volume of choice is nearly too much. We’ve made it easier for you by selecting some of the very best experiences.
Misty Mountain Walks
Time: From 5 hours to 3 days (depending on walk selection)
We’ve cheated a bit here – this is actually a 130km network of short and long walking tracks bordered by Tully, Innisfail, Millaa Millaa and Ravenshoe. It offers the ubiquitous TNQ experience of rainforests, remote waterfalls and cracking viewpoints along all the tracks, with walk times ranging from a few hours to three or more days. The good news is that there are myriad short/day walk options in this network, such as the 10.4km-return sojourn to Elizabeth Grant Falls Lookout, which is accessed via Cochable Creek camping ground, via Cochable Creek Road (off Cardstone Road, about 40km north of Tully). This intermediate walk takes about five hours. Another day walk is to Cannabullen Falls, accessed from the Hinson Creek trailhead, off Sutties Gap Road. This 13.6km return walk is graded intermediate and has a (literal) highpoint of reaching the top of Cannabullen Falls. Basing yourself in Tully or Ravenshoe and exploring the many day walks here would make for a fantastic week of foot-borne adventures.
Manjal Jimalji Trail
Time: 8 hours
Windswept vegetation characterises the higher section of the Manjal Jimalji Trail. (Image credit: Paul Curtis)
Located in the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park, north of Mossman, this 10km-return walk is steep but offers a unique experience. As you make your way up from the start point of Little Falls Creek (be careful crossing this creek) you will walk through a variety of terrain, ranging from lowland rainforest to a coral fern-dotted clearing at just above 1000m. This clearing is one of the turnaround points for day walkers, so if you’re not confident of climbing further to the summit, take in the views to the coast here, and then head back down the hill. For those wanting to continue to the lookout, you will follow an undulating track that passes the high point of Split Rock. Then it drops down again slightly as you scramble over boulders before reaching the lookout of Devils Thumb (a large boulder overhanging the rainforest, pictured below). Here, there are sublime views across the Main Coast Range, the coastline and Coral Sea to the east and the Dagmar Range to the north. It’s challenging, but with the views and abundant birdlife to spot, the hard work is rewarded.
Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail
Time: 5 to 6 hours
A brilliant day walk that takes in some of the Cape Tribulation area’s best, it is about 104km north of Cairns. Ben Brearley, of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, rates this as his favourite day walk; it has many highlights along the 7km-return journey, as you hike through dense lowland rainforest before starting the climb to the lookout through a variety of vegetation types, such as orania palm and acacia trees.
“The trail hugs the ridge line the whole way with a couple of opportunities to glimpse the Coral Sea and Cape Tribulation,” Ben says. “About halfway the canopy opens up to an amazing fan palm forest – a perfect place for a break where you can take in the diversity of the Daintree.”
The final 1.5km to the lookout at 680m is very steep but, according to Ben, worthwhile. “The summit surprises you with a grated platform that raises you enough to provide views to Myall Beach and Snapper Island… It does provide a great perspective to the surrounding ridge lines and higher peaks. Deep valleys of mesophyll rainforest are often draped in scattered clouds and rising mist.”
Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park has more than 55km of trails. (Image credit: Mark Watson)
Cairns and its surrounds have become synonymous with fantastic mountain-bike trail networks. Cairns, or, more accurately, the suburb of Smithfield, has hosted World Championships in 1996, and will do again in 2017. It has also hosted two rounds of the Union Cycliste International World Cup (2014 and 2016) and is rated worldwide as an MTB mecca. Cairns/Smithfield is not the only must-ride area; the Atherton Tableland features impressive trail networks – most notably the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park, which was built nearly entirely by the local community to bring MTB tourism to the town – as does Mareeba, and, further north, there is brilliant riding at Port Douglas and the Daintree.
For riders visiting Cairns, Smithfield has trails rated from family-friendly ‘Easy’ (green), to ‘Intermediate’ (blue) and even Black-Diamond-rated ‘Difficult’. Being so close to the city (20 minutes north of Cairns Airport) makes Smithfield the ideal day-riding destination for those staying in Cairns. The trails at Smithfield travel through dense rainforest and are brilliant fun.
Head up to the Atherton Tableland and you’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of variety. The Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park has more than 55km of trails – again, with plenty for beginners as well as more experienced riders – so one day could see you start off on the lower green trails, then work up to a memorable descent of the mountain ranges on a blue trail. You can easily spend more than one day here.
Heading further north to the Port Douglas/Daintree region, visitors will find one of Australia’s most famous MTB routes, the Bump Track. This takes you up, then down again, through spectacular country (including an awesome creek crossing at the end) before you finish with a ride along Four Mile Beach. This area is also home to the famous RRR (Rural, Rainforest and Reef) Race – a bucket-list event for any half-keen mountain biker. Add in all these trail networks and it would be easy to fill a week day-ride adventures.
A day of sea kayaking in TNQ is a must-do for paddlers. (Image credit: Mark Watson)
Getting out on the raft or kayak for a day is a no-brainer in this paddle-friendly region. With its many flat and whitewater rivers, as well as the Coral Sea, TNQ can provide a water-based day adventure for all skill levels.
For an island paddling experience, it is hard to beat a guided day paddle out to Dunk Island with Coral Sea Kayaks. The trip is rated easy and the double sea-kayaks are very stable. It proceeds at a nice slow pace, allowing you to keep an eye out for sea turtles and dolphins as you cross to Dunk. Once you reach the island you can don a snorkel for further exploration before it’s back in the kayaks again for the return journey, which takes in some of the smaller surrounding islands.
If this island trip is not enough, you can head back for another day of coastal exploration. Starting out of South Mission Beach, paddlers can head south along the coast, passing rocky headlands and moving in close to mangroves, all the while keeping an eye out for more marine life – there’s even the chance of spotting the reclusive dugong.
For whitewater fanatics, a day of guided rafting along some of the region’s famous rivers is a must. The Tully River, (about 145km south of Cairns), is a 12km river journey that takes you through the amazing landscape – deep gorges, rainforest and waterfalls – of Tully Gorge National Park. You’ll negotiate about 45 rapids during your day on the water (grades 3–4) and be back in Cairns that evening. The Barron River is ideal for those after a milder experience (grades 2–3) and it is only 20 minutes from Cairns. Guided rafting trips on the Barron are half-day only.
This article was originally published in the AG Tropical North Queensland Special Edition.