Find the warmth: Cairns to Daintree

Take a winter road trip, savouring the flavours of the tropics along the way.

Story Kerry Heaney

You may need to add an extra layer, but it’s still T-shirt weather most of the time during September in tropical North Queensland, the perfect place to escape cooler temperatures.

Take a discovery drive along the spectacular Great Barrier Reef Highway from Cairns to Daintree, one of Australia’s best coastal routes. Linking two World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Daintree Rainforest, the highway affords views of deserted beaches lapped by the Coral Sea. This 124km journey should take just over two hours, but could extend to two days if you visit all the stops along the way.

From Cairns, head north on the highway but not too far because your first break should be the small, seaside village of Palm Cove. You’d naturally expect to find lots of palms here, but tall paperbark trees line the esplanade. Although there is a wide selection of restaurants and cafes, my pick is Nu Nu, a beachfront restaurant that offers the perfect opportunity to try tropical produce at its best.

Next destination is Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, where you can not only see crocodiles but eat them too! Watch the crocodiles being fed and then head to Lilies Restaurant, overlooking the lagoon, for a croc burger.

stop at Rex Lookout and get the selfie stick out

For panoramic coastline views, stop at Rex Lookout and get the selfie stick out. This is a favourite spot to see hang-gliding action.

A right-hand turn leads to Port Douglas, which is both a jumping off point for the reef and a relaxing holiday destination. Walk Four Mile Beach, drive to the top of Flagstaff Hill for the view, take a sunset sail, or stroll the shops in Macrossan Street. Port Douglas has a good selection of restaurants, including the hatted Harrisons, delicious Italian food at Bucci, seafood at Salsa Bar & Grill, and memorable pies at Mocka’s Pies.

Port Douglas has a good selection of restaurants

Back on the Great Barrier Reef Highway, make another detour to Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery. Made from single fruits, their tastings range from dry white mango wine to a medium red jaboticaba or a kaffir lime cello port.

At the Mossman Gorge Centre, you can take a journey through the area’s rich indigenous heritage with a Dreamtime Walk guided by the Kuku Yalanji, and explore the lush tropical rainforest and cascading waterfalls.

The Mossman Markets, held every Saturday under the towering rainforest trees, are filled with fresh tropical produce. You are sure to discover something new and delicious, such as peanut butter berries or vanilla bean fruit.

The only way to cross the Daintree River with a car is on a vehicular ferry, which takes about 10 minutes. If you are keen to spot a crocodile in its natural habitat, this is the place to look. Head out on the water with a tour and heed all safety warnings, especially on the riverbanks.

From here, the road is lined with verdant rainforest, and you will feel as though you are in another land. The outdoor deck or cocktail lounge at Whet Cafe Bar Restaurant is a good cold beer stop, and there is also free Wi-Fi.

Wrap your lips around the delectable chocolate pudding fruit, creamy mamey sapote or other exotic tropical fruits on a Cape Trib Farm Exotic Fruit Tasting Tour. The 90-minute tour runs five days a week and includes a walk through the orchard.

Taste some of the same fruits at Floravilla Biodynamic Organic Ice Cream at Cow Bay, where they have up to 60 flavours.

You can hire a normal sedan to drive to the Daintree, and as far as Cape Tribulation where the sealed road ends. From there to the tip of Cape York, it is four-wheel-drive country with remote beaches and incredible wilderness.

For more flavour-inspired road trips, try the foodie highlights of Bundaberg and surrounds.