There’s a quiet magnetism to this natural utopia far from the tourism bustle, where the Great Barrier Reef comes closest to the mainland and friendly locals seem to outnumber tourists.
The most famous inhabitants of Mission Beach and the Cassowary Coast have the right idea: there’s no need to fly when there’s nowhere you’d rather be. Human visitors to the southern realm of Tropical North Queensland feel a similar urge to get lost and linger in this tranquil stretch of paradise, like the shy cassowary, and never re-emerge.
This is the place to combine relaxation and adventure in equal measure. Explore empty beaches, crystal reef waters and lushly forested islands one day, and soak up to the incredible interior of the World Heritage wet tropics rainforest the next.
Mission to reef in minutes
Mission Beach, about two hours’ drive south of Cairns, is the heart of the Cassowary Coast. In reality a series of villages along 14 kilometres of golden sand, Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach and South Mission are where visitors stay, dine, relax and access the reef, islands and rainforest.
The Great Barrier Reef comes within 40 kilometres of the coast here, and local reef diving and snorkelling cruise operators promise crowd-free visits. Local operators based at Mission and Wongaling beaches offer day trips, charters and learn-to-dive courses.
Dunk Island, four kilometres off the coast, is one of the area’s leading attractions. Dunk’s famous resort remains closed after the 2011 cyclone, but the island and its gin-clear waters delight snorkelers, campers, picnickers and bushwalkers. Water taxis depart Wongaling Beach three times a day and reaches the island in about 10 minutes. Book ahead and take food and water.
For extended island-hopping, gliding from beach to idyllic beach in a sea kayak is an amazing opportunity to encounter marine wildlife, including humpback whales, turtles and dugong from a respectful distance. Small groups and private expeditions set out on relaxed three-day and seven-day paddles from South Mission to Hinchinbrook, Dunk and the Family islands, with all camping, gourmet al fresco meals and even a nightly wine part of the package.
It may give off a sleepy vibe, but Mission Beach has a bucket list of action attractions when an adrenaline fix is in order. Try skydiving from 5000 metres, gaping at the stunning views on the way to a soft landing on the sands of Mission Beach.
White-water rafting on the wild Tully River inland from Mission Beach is one of the must-do TNQ experiences. Considered Australia’s premier white-water course, you’ll be on the water for five hours with trained guides helping you navigate challenging rapids, hair-raising drops, boulder fields and placid stretches through the beautiful rainforest of the Tully River Gorge National Park.
Paronella Park and the romance of the rainforest
A monument to love, Paronella Park is one of Queensland’s finest, and strangest, tourist attractions. A fairytale Spanish castle built deep in the rainforest in the 1930s by an immigrant sugar grower for his betrothed, the park is a magical, heritage-listed ruin and tropical garden beside beautiful Mena Creek Falls.
Tours are available from Mission Beach, or hire a car and take in the incredible Mamu Tropical Skywalk, a high metal walkway wending through the rainforest canopy in misty Wooroonoon National Park near Innisfail.
On the way back to Mission Beach, go cassowary-spotting and swim in a crocodile-free waterhole at Lacey’s Creek in lush Djiru National Park, just inland from Mission Beach.
Whether you spend your days making tracks on empty beaches, drifting in aquamarine waters or wandering deep into the rainforest, Mission Beach is the hidden gem of TNQ’s multi-jewelled crown. Don’t miss it.
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