Cairns to Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation in northern Queensland is one of Australia’s premier ecotourism destinations and is best accessed from the nearby city of Cairns. Separated by 140 km of roads of varying size and quality, the journey between the two locations can be just as exciting as the destination itself. Passing by deserted beaches, epic gorges, and ancient rainforests makes this an excellent mini-road trip. Throughout this guide, we’ll look at the best things to see and do in and on the way to Cape Tribulation. We’ll also look at how to get there, when to go and where to stay. We hope this guide will help make this beautiful stretch of Queensland one of your most memorable and exciting trips yet.

Where is Cape Tribulation?

Cape Tribulation is a headland situated within the Daintree National Park in Queensland. It’s famous for its exquisite beach, the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean, and the pristine rainforest surrounding it. Cape Tribulation is located between the towns of Port Douglas and Cooktown. Cape Tribulation is situated 140 km north of the city of Cairns, which is home to the closest major airport. 

How to get to Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation’s remote location within the Daintree National Park means it’s only possible to reach the area by road. The good news is that there are several ways to get there by road, either independently or as part of a tour.

Self-Drive – It’s possible to drive to Cape Tribulation from Cairns using your own 2WD vehicle. The road is paved the entire way, making it an interesting and accessible drive. The drive takes around 3 hours if you don’t stop along the way at all. The drive south from Cooktown is not paved the entire way, and you’ll need a 4WD to navigate part of the track. See the next section for further details. 

Bus – A 3 times weekly bus service runs between Cairns and Cooktown, stopping at Cape Tribulation along the way. Operated by Trans North, it departs at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The bus takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes and arrives in Cape Tribulation at 9:15 a.m. The return service departs Cape Tribulation at 3:15 p.m., arriving in Cairns at 6 p.m. The same service can be used to travel to and from Cooktown. 

Tour – There’s no shortage of tour options to Cape Tribulation from nearby Cooktown, Port Douglas, or Cairns. Expect to pay between $150 and $200 for a day tour from one of these towns, which will include a visit to both Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rainforest. Tours typically take between 6 to 8 hours, depending on your starting location.

View from the Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail
The Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail brings you to a spectacular viewing point overlooking the rainforest.

Can you Drive to Cape Tribulation?

Vehicle ferry for crossing the Daintree River
The wide Daintree River is only passable by taking a vehicle ferry across.

Cairns to Cape Tribulation Road Trip

The 140 km long route between Cairns and Cape Tribulation is a perfect location for a mini road trip. Not only are the roads good and the scenery fantastic, but there are also plenty of excellent attractions and side trips along the way. There are plenty of car rental firms in Cairns, meaning you don’t need your own vehicle to take this trip. The following are some of the best things to see and do on the way to Cape Tribulation on a road trip. 

Palm Cove – 30 minutes north of Cairns lies the beautiful beachside village of Palm Cove. Named after the trees that line its beautiful beach, it’s famous for its melaleuca trees, spas, and wellness treatments. If you’re looking for a relaxing and quiet place to unwind, this is a splendid place to do it.

Port Douglas – Stylish Port Douglas is a great place to stop for a day or two. It’s home to some exceptional beaches, fine boutique shops, and great places to eat. Its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest has made it an ecotourism center. These factors combine with its spectacular picture postcard setting to make it a must-see destination.

Mossman Gorge – The Mossman Gorge is a stunning stop north of Port Douglas. There are guided walks available through the rainforest led by a guide from the local indigenous community. It’s also possible to swim here in the Mossman River with its refreshing and crystal-clear waters. 

Daintree River Cruise – North of the Mossman Gorge, you come to the mighty Daintree River that can only be crossed by ferry. However, rather than rush across, why not take in the surroundings and take a hugely popular cruise upriver? On the cruise, expect to encounter plenty of crocodiles, birdlife, and fascinating plant life. A cruise at sunset is particularly atmospheric. 

Best Things to do in Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation’s stunning setting and eco credentials make this a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. Most of the best things to do will suit active types, although there is always the option of relaxing on one of the stunning beaches. Here are some of the very best things to do in Cape Tribulation:

Explore the Rainforest – The surrounding rainforest, which is part of the Daintree National Park, is one of the oldest and most biodiverse rainforests in the world. It’s a fantastic place to explore, with various walkways and trails for casual exploring. If you want to immerse yourself in the rainforest, a 4-hour tour around the Cooper Creek Wilderness area is hugely popular and comes highly recommended. 

Beaches – The beaches in the area are spectacular, with soft white sands and beautiful clear waters. With the rainforest backdrop, there really is nowhere else like it. The main beach is Cape Tribulation Beach, but there are plenty of others, including Thornton Beach and Myall Beach, which are slightly further afield.

Hiking – There are some great hiking routes in and around the Cape Tribulation area. The best and most challenging route is the Mount Sorrow Ridge Trail, which offers impressive views across the rainforest, ocean, Snapper Island, and even the Great Barrier Reef. There are shorter and more accessible hikes available as well, with both the Dubuji Boardwalk and the Kulki Boardwalk popular and insightful. 

Snorkelling & Scuba Diving – With the Great Barrier Reef just a few miles offshore, it’s no surprise that diving and snorkeling are some of the most popular activities in the area. There’s a range of half-day and full-day diving and snorkeling tours you can take out on the Great Barrier Reef. Most tours incorporate a few different stops to experience different parts of the reef. A popular destination is Mackay Reef, which is teeming with marine life. 

Aerial view of Cape Tribulation Beach
The amazing beaches at Cape Tribulation are one of the many highlights.

Best Time to Visit Cape Tribulation

The best time to visit Cape Tribulation is during the dry season, which runs from June to November. While rainfall is much reduced during this time, it’s worth noting there’s still some rain – this is the rainforest, after all! Across the dry season, there’s a sizeable variation in temperatures, with June and July hovering around 25°C before hitting 30°C across August, September and October. The mercury continues to rise into November, with temperatures over 33°C accompanied by higher humidity. Therefore, we’d recommend visiting during August, September, or October, although this is also peak season. If you visit at this time, you’ll need to book ahead for both trips and accommodation.

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