Swapping Sydney winter for Queensland tropics

Ditch your puffer jacket and head to where the sun shines brighter. Here’s why Tropical North Queensland is your ideal winter escape.

It’s freezing in Sydney, with rain drumming on my window like an AC/DC album on repeat. The chill and the damp make it the perfect excuse to head north, way north, up to Cairns and surrounds. I’ve wanted to visit for a while now, and suddenly, I hear it so clearly – short sleeves and the tropics calling my name. The region’s stand-up spirit following the devastation of Cyclone Jasper in December means the welcome mat is well and truly laid out for holiday-makers: you might even say they’re ‘Good to Go’, so I’m going.

Daintree ice cream
Daintree Ice Cream Company © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

So much to see

Joining some new mates on a road trip, we plan to travel from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, making stops along the way in Port Douglas and Palm Cove. It’s a whirlwind trip in four days, but there’s so much to see and do here. We trade sleeping-in for getting up early and deep dives for distance, but we manage to see everything we’d hoped.

Becoming familiar

We get to know each other our first night with a sunset cruise aboard Sailaway Port Douglas’ first-class catamaran. Watching the sun dip into the Coral Sea while chatting away with sparkling wine is an easy ice breaker, and soon, we’re all friends here. One hot tip for you: if you sit in front, where the view is most incredible, you’re going to get wet. Guess what, though. it’s worth it.

Sailboat on water in Port Douglas, Australia
Sailaway Port Douglas © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

A rare sighting

The next daybreak, we’re up and caffeinated for the Total Daintree Experience from Daintree Discovery Tours. We spend a full day immersing ourselves in the loamy green, of course, but a big surprise is the swim in the icy clear Coopers Creek at the Daintree Heritage Lodge. It’s here that we have our Southern Cassowary sighting, a teenager who’d likely recently been evicted from the care of his parents. There are fewer than 4000 left in the world, all here in the wet tropics and Cape York , so to see one in person is extraordinary.

Daintree rainforest Queensland aerial view
Daintree Discovery Centre © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

A living dinosaur

Another highlight? Meeting Bob Smith (yes, that’s really his name) for a swamp gander on his flat-bottomed boat. His captain’s podium is a pulpit from which he preaches all things saltwater crocodile. The Daintree River, upon which we currently float, houses about 70 of them. “You’d get taken,” he quips, nodding for effect. “I reckon you get in this water and tried to swim across….well.” He’s matter-of-fact about it, a man who’s seen it all and then some. “They’re fast as lightnin’, and their tails give ‘em a thrust that evolved from their ancestors snatching pterodactyls outta the air.” Their existence dates back to the era of the supercontinent Pangea, and they’re right at home in the archaic and furtive spaces of the world’s oldest tropical woodland.

Rainforest to reef

Comprising 1200 square kilometres, the Daintree Rainforest is 10 million years older than the Amazon and nurtures extraordinary flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet. You’ll find the curiously named idiot fruit, the aforementioned Southern Cassowary and the lofty tree kangaroo if you’re a keen and quiet observer. Further along into Cape Tribulation (two hours from Port Douglas), we check into Cape Trib Beach House, a simple beachfront cottage accommodation with plenty of personality and not one iota of internet connectivity. We’ve heard they’re famous for their espresso martinis, so four of us grab one and take the trail through the sand to where the waves crash on the shore.

Cape Trib Beach House
Cape Trib Beach House © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Into the deep

The next morning we’re spending half of the day on the water, something that would be rather unpleasant this time of year in Sydney. Boarding one of Ocean Safari’s rigid inflatables and sleek as seals in the wetsuits they provided, we spend hours snorkelling and pointing and discovering the life that lives in the healthy reefs here. We spot sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays, giant clams, and myriad tropical fish. One undisputable jewel is the sandbar off of Mackay Reef, its own deserted island. You’ll 100% want photos here, so bring your camera with you off the boat.

Turtle swimming on Great Barrier Reef
Snorkel with Ocean Safari © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Exotic delights

Afterward, on the way to check into our new accommodation, the resort-style Thala Beach Nature Reserve, we stop by the Daintree Ice Cream Company for some orchard-to-spoon goodness; we feel we’ve earned it. Most of us get the signature cup, four pre scooped balls of ice cream made from tropical fruits like soursop, yellow sapote, rollinia and sapodilla. Don’t miss it.

Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Thala Beach Nature Reserve © Tourism Tropical North Queensland

A sweet ending in Cairns

And just like that, it’s time to head back to Cairns. We end our time together with a celebratory beachfront lunch at Nu Nu in Palm Cove (the cocktails are spectacular) and exchange goodbyes, keep in touches, and Instagram follows. It’s an easy direct flight back to Sydney, home sweet home. Landing in my window seat I’m immediately struck by something, a sight, a sound. Raindrops drumming.

Nu Nu Palm Cove restaurant
Nu Nu © Nu Nu Restaurant, Tourism Tropical North Queensland

The writer was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

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