Experience one of Australia’s most scenic driving route on the Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive. A complete self-drive itinerary, what to expect on the way, the best highlights not to miss and an option for an organized trip.
In my opinion, a trip to Cairns and Port Douglas just isn’t complete without taking the Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive. Following the scenic Captain Cook Highway, this drive takes you to the incredible coastal road and crosses the Daintree River north to where the rainforest meets the reef.
In this blog post, I’ll outline what to expect on this epic self-drive route, as well as some highlights not to miss along the way.
The Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive Route
The Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive is approximately 140 kilometres. In total, expect about 3 hours of driving time. Note, you will need to take a ferry to cross the Daintree River as no land crossing bridge exists.
Although it’s a three-hour drive, there are plenty of places where you’ll want to stop and explore. In regards to a driving itinerary, it’s definitely possible to take the scenic drive and explore the highlights in a single day. However, many choose to stop over in Port Douglas in order to get the most out of the incredible Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive.
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Map
The Best Cairns to Cape Tribulation Daintree Trip With a Cruise
If you don’t have your own car, then you can still explore this incredible journey. Luckily, there are plenty of organised trips departing from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. But by far, the best bang-for-buck trip is the one organised by Cairns Adventure Group.
This full-day Cairns to Cape Tribulation trip includes a stop at Mossman Gorge, a boat cruise on the Daintree, lunch and hiking at Cape Tribulation, a traditional smoke ceremony with the Kuku Yalanji people (traditional owners of the Daintree), as well as an epic boat cruise at Cape Tribulation.
Highlights on the Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive
Below I’ve listed some of the highlights of the Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive. If you’re on a tight time frame, make sure you at least make a couple of stops to make the most of this incredible part of the world.
The Thala Resort Palm Tree Road
From Cairns, one of the first highlights for me was the Thala Resort. Although I didn’t stay here, I wanted to check out the famous symmetrical palm tree plantation. It’s not a big detour, and you’ll probably spot the plantation from the main road.
It’s not as spectacular from the ground, but if you have a drone, then you can snap some pretty awesome photos.
The Incredible Captain Cook Highway
Only about half an hour north of Cairns, you’ll get your first glimpses of one of the best coastal roads in the world. The Captain Cook Highway winds around the tropical beaches and up the cliffsides of the Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive.
On this epic journey, you’ll find that the scenic road itself is one of the best highlights of the trip! There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view or take a swim at the nets at some of Cairn’s best beaches.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see plenty of signs pointing to a dual parking bay for Rex Lookout. This is one of the best views on the entire Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive.
There’s plenty of parking space and a spot to pull over on both sides of the road. Once you’re here, you’ll notice a large grassy clearing where you can stop for a break and enjoy the view.
Watch Hang Gliders Take Off
If you’re doing the Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive on a weekend or on a public holiday, then chances are there’ll be hang gliders launching off the Rex Lookout. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the famous hang gliding dog!
Next up on this epic coastal drive is Port Douglas. Famous for its beautiful waterfront and the world-class 4 Mile Beach.
To make the most of the journey, stop in Port Douglas for a coffee break or lunch. Alternatively, stay the night in order to make the most of all of the coastal walks, beaches and nearby attractions. Below I’ve included a couple of links to the best activities to check out when stopping by in Port Douglas on the Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive.
Daintree National Park
A short distance from Port Douglas is the Daintree National Park. This part of the World Heritage Wet Tropics Area is considered the world’s most ancient rainforest.
There are plenty of things to do here. Some highlights include:
- Checking out local life at the Daintree Village
- Taking a popular Crocodile Spotting Tour on the Daintree River
- Exploring the nearby walks and hikes, my favourite is the challenging Devils Thumb hike
Only a short 20-minute drive from Port Douglas is the famous Mossman Gorge. This is one of the best places to visit if you want to experience a walk through the Daintree Rainforest.
You can leave your car at the Mossman Gorge Visitor’s Center and embark on a 45-minute rainforest circuit. Highlights include huge rainforest fig trees, spotting unique rainforest birds and animals and swimming in the fresh (crocodile-free) rainforest creeks.
READ THE FULL BLOG POST: Daintree Hike: Mossman Gorge Walk – Rainforest Circuit
Cairns to Cape Tribulation Ferry
Just a little north of Port Douglas, nearby to the Daintree Village you will get to the famous ferry crossing. Here is the only way to continue north, as no bridges exist to cross the huge river. However, it’s not too expensive, and they even offer flexible return tickets if you intend on coming back to Cairns or vice versa.
Cape Tribulation Ferry Timetable
The Cape Tribulation Ferry over the Daintree River operates from 5 AM to midnight. Ferries run every hour or so, depending on the season. Also, it’s only a short 10 minute crossing to get your car or motorbike over the river. You can pay for the ferry once you arrive.
For an up-to-date full timetable, check out the official ferry website.
Daintree River Ferry Cost 2021
The Daintree River Ferry costs $17 for a one-way car ticket. However, ff you want a return ticket, it’s $30. Keep in mind that the return tickets are flexible and you can use them another day if you plan on staying in Cape Tribulation.
For a full list of updated ferry prices, you can find them on this website.
Shortly after the ferry, the road continues about 50 minutes towards Cape Tribulation.
Cape Tribulation is a famous Australian landmark and North Queensland attraction because it’s where the rainforest officially meets the reef. Here, there’s a few short walks and viewpoints to check out.
It’s one of the rawest coastlines in Australia and certainly a highlight for those taking the scenic coastal road from Cairns to Cape Tribulation.
Mason’s Swimming Hole
Unfortunately, swimming at Cape Tribulation is highly discouraged due to the marine dangers present. However, there is a great croc and stinger-free spot known as Mason’s Swimming Hole right off the main road. This is easily the best spot to cool off and enjoy the serenity in this incredible freshwater swimming hole.
The Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail
Mount Sorrow is a rainforest peak located just above the reef in front of Myall Beach. Hiking the ridge track is one of the best ways to experience the ancient rainforest and get a great vantage point of where the rainforest meets the reef.
FULL POST: Mount Sorrow Hiking Guide
Where to Say at Cape Tribulation
Whether you decide to climb the Mount Sorrow hike or not, below I’ve included some tips on the best places to stay on your trip to Cape Tribulation. There’s also a promotion on at the moment with Booking.com which can get you 20% off your stay in Cape Trib, so make sure to check that out.
Incredible rainforest stay: Wildwood Rainforest Cottages
Wildwood offers easily the most incredible rainforest-stay experience on offer in the Daintree. Located in the heart of Cape Tribulation, Wildwood is set on a rare exotic fruit orchard. Guests have exclusive access to the orchard and can freely explore the 800+ trees on the property, picking and sampling any of the fruits in season. All rooms provide access to a landscaped garden and fire pits for guests to cookout under the stars.
Best Hostel in Cape Trib: Daintree Crocodylus Hostel
For backpackers and those on a budget who would prefer a bit more of a raw Daintree experience, I’d recommend the Crocodylus hostel. Located in Cow Bay, closer to the ferry, but just a short hop from Cape Tribulatio and Myall Beach, this hostel offers safari-tent style rooms which are built from wood and canvas, with high ceilings, fans and mosquito net. All rooms have rainforest views and include access to their swimming pool!
Epic Holiday House For Groups: Cape Tribulation Holiday House
With a group or prefer a big house in the rainforest all to yourself? This accommodation is the highest-rated holiday house in Cape Tribulation. It’s set on 5-acres of rainforest and includes a huge balcony, 2 bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen!
MORE PHOTOS OF THE CAIRNS TO CAPE TRIBULATION DRIVE
Need some more inspiration for your Cairns to Cape Tribulation drive and road trip? Check out some photos of the best spots on the road below.
If you found the guide useful, drop a comment in the section below. Otherwise, scroll down for some more epic adventures in North Queensland, including trips to the Great Barrier Reef Islands and the Best Waterfalls in Cairns. I’ve also written a comprehensive guide to the Best Things to do in Cairns and the Best Hikes in Cairns, don’t miss them before your next trip!