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Enjoy a leisurely cruise on the Great Barrier Reef and a stay in Daintree Rainforest, and see Northern Queensland’s rich wildlife in some lesser known places on this comprehensive self-drive trip.

Inland you visit the fascinating Crater Lakes National Park en route to the Atherton Tablelands, and Mareeba Wetlands for fantastic birding and an opportunity to see many iconic animals. You’ll also experience the Outback to see ancient rock art and hear the stories of Dreamtime. However the undoubted highlights are the four days aboard a comfortable vessel to see the extraordinary marine life of the Great Barrier Reef and the time spent exploring the world’s most ancient rainforest at Daintree.

Suggested itinerary

  1. Day 1: Depart UK

  2. Day 3: Arrive Cairns

    On arrival in Cairns, transfer to your secluded accommodation at Palm Cove, on the Northern Beaches, a drive of 21 kilometres i.e. around 30 minutes depending on traffic. The rest of the day is free to relax after the long flight.

    Kewarra Beach Resort, 2-nights

  3. Day 4: Relax on the beach north of Cairns

    Today you have the opportunity to relax, explore at leisure, or choose an optional sightseeing tour.

  4. Day 5: Cruise on the Great Barrier Reef; Thetford Reef & Sudbury Cay

    Morning transfer to Cairns Marina to board Coral Expeditions II for a 4-day/3-night cruise on the Great Barrier Reef. Sail out of Trinity Bay bound for Thetford Reef and sandy Sudbury Cay, and your first opportunity to experience the majestic reef. Spend the afternoon snorkelling in shallow water or scuba-diving, and take a glass-bottomed boat trip with the ship’s marine biologist for up-close views of the hundreds of varieties of colourful corals and the reef’s 1,500 species of tropical fish.

    The cruise includes:  All meals, morning and afternoon teas, Tea and coffee are available at all times, use of snorkelling equipment, masks, fins, and flotation vests, guided glass bottom boat coral viewing and snorkelling excursions, presentations by Marine Biologists, access to islands, Marine and National Parks, use of comprehensive range of library and video resources, an introductory scuba-diving skills session is available for first time divers.

    Coral Expeditions II, 3-nights

  5. Day 6: Hinchinbrook Channel & beach BBQ on Pelorus Island

    Cruise past cliffs and mangroves in the spectacular 22-kilometre-long Hinchinbrook Channel, which separates Hinchinbrook island from the Australian mainland, keeping an eye out for crocodiles, dolphins, turtles and the rarely-seen dugong, all of which are seen in these waters. Land on the private island of Pelorus to explore the island’s rainforest on a guided nature walk and enjoy a gourmet beach BBQ. The fringing reef, in the shallow waters just metres from the beach, offers fantastic snorkelling, with an opportunity to see a giant clam garden. You can admire the colourful corals from the glass-bottomed, scuba-dive, or simply relax on the long stretch of golden beach.

  6. Day 7: Visit Dunk’s Island & Nathan Reef

    The ship’s naturalist guides accompany a fascinating morning walk to discover Dunk Island’s unique flora and fauna, including the iconic blue-winged Ulysses butterfly. Keen birdwatchers will enjoy the 100 native bird species, which include yellow-bellied sunbird, emerald dove and orange-footed scrubfowl. In the afternoon visit Nathan Reef to see some of the most colourful coral gardens on the entire reef, with as many as 400 different species of coral. Once again you can enjoy the balmy waters on a guided snorkelling tour, or take glass-bottomed boat trip with the marine biologist, but for the ultimate Great Barrier Reef experience, try an unforgettable scuba dive. Tonight, you join the captain and officers for dinner on your final night on the Great Barrier Reef.

  7. Day 8: Disembark in Cairns & drive to Malanda, Atherton Tablelands

    Spend the morning exploring Fitzroy Island, with a final opportunity to snorkel, sail back into Trinity Bay and disembark in Cairns in early afternoon. After picking up your hire car, set off for the Atherton Tablelands (80 kilometres / 1.5 hours) with a stop at Lake Barrine in Crater Lakes National Park. You can walk around the lake or take an optional boat trip to see the giant kauri pines that poke though the tree canopy in one of the world’s most complex and amazing rainforest ecosystems. Continue to Malanda, arriving towards the end of the afternoon.

    Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat, 2-nights

  8. Day 9: Explore Atherton Tablelands

    Explore the area to look for duck-billed platypus and musky rat-kangaroos and see some of the 160 species of birds found here. You can also go for a swim in Lake Eacham in Crater Lakes National Park, and look for tree kangaroos at Malanda Falls. After dusk we recommend taking a night tour with a local operator to spot native tree kangaroos and possums.

  9. Day 10: Explore Atherton Tablelands; drive to Mareeba Wetlands; boat trip

    Visit the extraordinary Curtain Fig Tree at Yungaburra, one of the largest trees in North Queensland, then drive on to your accommodation in the Mareeba Wetlands. Make sure you arrive before 16:00 i.e. in time for a sunset boat trip on nearby Clancy’s Lagoon to see its rich birdlife – 222 species that includes hundreds of brolgas and sarus cranes that come in to roost each evening, and thelovely but highly endangered Gouldian finch.

    Jabiru Safari Lodge, 1-night

  10. Day 11: Drive to Cooktown

    Early morning bird walk then drive north to Cooktown (245 kilometres / 4 hours). En route you pass through Mount Molloy, which was once a major producer of copper ore, but nowadays its main claim to fame is its birdlife. Almost 300 species have been recorded within a 15 kilometre radius of the town, which is also the home of the great bowerbird. You also pass Black Mountain, an imposing range of black granite boulders – some the size of houses – seemingly stacked on top of one another. Here the wet tropical forest meets drier savannah woodland – resulting in an unusual range of wildlife, including some that is found nowhere else. Known as Kalkajaka (meaning 'place of spear'), Black Mountain is an important meeting place for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, and is the source of many Dreaming Stories.

    Mungumby Lodge, 3-nights

  11. Days 12-13 : Explore Cooktown & surrounding area

    Enjoy an expertly guided full-day tour to Archer Point on the coast, for stunning vistas of the Coral Sea – if lucky you may even spot turtles swimming. The Traditional Owners of the area are the Yuku-Baja Muliku people, and your guide will give insights into the time when Cooktown was a major northern outpost. Continue via the scenic Endeavour Valley and the Aboriginal community of Hope Vale with its fascinating cultural arts centre. From here head across rolling heathland to the white sand dunes – another stunning landscape – and peaceful Elim Beach, home of the “coloured sands”. The route back offers fine views the Battlecamp Range, as well Isobella Falls.

    You have another full day to explore Cooktown and the surrounding area at your own pace. It’s worth driving south to Wujal Wujal to walk to Bloomfield Falls and visit the Bana Yirriji Art Centre, returning to Cooktown via Helenvale and Black Mountain. This scenic drive is packed with nature, and allows plenty of time to stop and enjoy the rainforest and the reef coastline. Before you head off it’s a good idea to check with the lodge staff where you should stop, and what wildlife you are likely to see.

  12. Day 14: Drive to Daintree National Park

    Drive to Laura (145 kilometres / 1.5 hours) to join the morning tour at Quinkan Cultural Centre and see some fine examples of Aboriginal rock art (duration 3 hours). After a quick bite to eat, continue north to Daintree and on to Cape Tribulation (280 kilometres / around 4 hours). NB: the ferry across the Daintree River operates from 06:00 to midnight; it can get very busy in the middle of the day, with long queues, so it’s best to cross either early or late. Arrive in the splendour of this ancient tropical rainforest that reaches right down to the shore.

    Daintree Wilderness Lodge, 2-nights

  13. Day 15: Explore Daintree National Park

    You have the entire day to explore the tropical splendour of Daintree National Park. Among the host of things you can do are:  guided day and night walks in the rainforest, cruise on the Daintree River and Cooper Creek, snorkelling or dive on the Great Barrier Reef, guided birdwatching cruises, self-guided walks through the rainforest and mangroves, visit Cow Bay and Thornton Beach to see spectacular untouched white sand beaches where rainforest meets coral reef; jungle surfing (abseiling through the rainforest), visit secret swimming holes, fishing, or visiting the Discovery Centre.

  14. Day 16: Drive to Cairns and depart

    Depending on the time of your international flight, you may have some free time to enjoy Daintree before driving south to Cairns (120 kilometres / 2 hours) and drop off your hire vehicle at the airport in time to check in for your international flight to the UK.

  15. Day 17: Arrive UK

Key info

Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
  • Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 17 days from £4,195 pp
  • Duration and price excluding international flights: 14 days from £3,195 pp
  • Single supplement: From £1,265
  • When to go: Apr-Nov
  • Activities available:
    • Boat trip
    • Nature drive
    • Panga ride
    • Photography
    • Scuba diving
    • Sea kayaking
    • Swimming
    • Walking
Featured locations:

Great Barrier Reef

The world's largest coral reef system of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands covers an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres. The biggest single structure made by living organisms is composed of, and built by, billions of tiny coral polyps and is easily discernable from space.

  • Where: Queensland / East Coast
  • Ideal for viewing: dugong, green turtle, saltwater crocodile, white-bellied sea eagle, roseate tern
  • Excellent for: Wildlife cruises

Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands occupy 32,000 square kilometres of fertile plateau in part of Queensland’s Great Dividing Range, inland from Cairns. Although it lies within tropical latitudes, the elevation of between 500 and 1,280 metres gives a climate suitable for dairy farming.

  • Where: Queensland
  • Ideal for viewing: Atherton scrubwren, bush stone-curlew, sarus crane, pied monarch, tooth-billed bowerbird
  • Excellent for: River safaris

Daintree National Park

Daintree is home to the largest range of flora and fauna on earth within Australia’s largest remaining tract of rainforest. This area of around 1,200 square kilometres contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare or threatened with extinction of anywhere in the world.

  • Where: Queensland
  • Ideal for viewing: Bennett’s tree kangaroo, swamp wallaby, saltwater crocodile, southern cassowary, striped possum
  • Excellent for: Self-drive

Cooktown

Cooktown is a small town (population around 2,500) at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on Cape York Peninsula in the far north of Queensland where James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770. Both the town and Mount Cook (431 metres) behind the town were named after him.

  • Where: Queensland
  • Ideal for viewing: laughing kookaburra, southern cassowary, Bennett’s tree kangaroo, striped possum, yellow-bellied glider
  • Excellent for: Self-drive

Cairns

Cairns is the perfect location to experience Australia’s wonderful biodiversity. From the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and its marine wonders, to the tropical rainforest of Daintree National Park, or the dry, remote outback, everything is just a short distance away.

  • Where: Queensland
  • Excellent for: Beach stay, City stopover
Suggested accommodation options are shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Daintree Wilderness Lodge

This ecolodge is surrounded on all sides by the World Heritage-listed Daintree National Park. In this ideal location halfway between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation, you can immerse yourself in the very heart of the world’s oldest rainforest in a thoroughly relaxing setting.

Jabiru Safari Lodge

Jabiru Safari Lodge is located in 2,000 hectares of savannah woodland, grassland and freshwater wetland in the Atherton Tablelands. The lodge offers unique safari-style cabins so guests can enjoy the exceptional natural beauty of the Mareeba Wetlands and see over 200 species of birds alone.

Kewarra Beach Resort & Spa

The accommodation at Kewarra Beach Resort and Spa is unique, exclusive and special. Individual bungalows and suites are dotted throughout 30 hectares of lush tropical gardens, offering an idyllic location for a relaxing holiday, as well as a safe and rich habitat for native Australian fauna.

Mungumby Lodge

The private boutique wilderness retreat and nature refuge of Mungumby Lodge lies on the northern edge of Mangkal-Mangkalba National Park which froms the property’s boundary on two sides. The lodge also stands in the lee of the famous Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) a 260-million-year-old rock formation.

Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat

Situated 1-2 hours drive from Cairns, in the cool tropical climate of the Atherton Tablelands, this award winning rainforest lodge sits beside World Heritage-listed Wooroonooran National Park. Accommodation consists of timber treehouses with spectacular views, and is a paradise for nature lovers.

This itinerary is available on the following cruise vessel:

Coral Expeditions I & II

Coral Expeditions I & II are fully equipped for the ultimate expedition cruising experience in Australian coastal waters, and are the ideal choice for discovering the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Western Australia’s remarkable Kimberley region, Cape York, Arnhem Land and Tasmania.