Cairns 4WD Hire Destinations

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Explore Cairns

Located in the far north of Queensland, tropical Cairns is best-known as the gateway to the famed Great Barrier Reef.

However, before setting off to explore the world’s largest, most pristine reef, the city of Cairns is a great place to spend a few leisurely days soaking up the sun and playing on the superb city beaches. Most visitors will head to the Cairns Foreshore Promenade for its star attraction, the 4,800 sqm saltwater swimming lagoon with views of the mountains and Trinity Inlet. Once you’ve had your fill of swimming and tanning, hike along the Esplanade Walking Trail, window shop among the chic boutiques or tuck into a hearty meal at one of the many trendy restaurants.

Walking trails are another great way to get out and explore the city and surrounds. For great views of the city, head to the 300ha Mt Whitfield Conservation Park and hike along its four nature trails that range from 1.5 – 6 km through rainforest, eucalyptus groves and grasslands while keeping a lookout for local marsupials. The Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk near the airport offers level, elevated paths among 11 species of mangroves with opportunities to spot crustaceans, fish and birds.

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For a better understanding the city itself, Cairns is home to several fascinating museums and cultural centres worth visiting, including: the Cairns Museum with a large collection of objects, photographs and archival records showing what life is like in the tropics; the Cairns Art Gallery featuring an ever-changing roster of exhibitions celebrating the cultural heritage both past and present of Aboriginal peoples in north Queensland; and Reef Teach which offers evening shows all about the Great Barrier Reef including tips on identifying corals, fish and other sea creatures commonly seen when diving and snorkelling.

The Great Barrier Reef

Undoubtedly, Cairn’s main attraction is the incredible World Heritage-inscribed Great Barrier Reef. Stretching along more than 2,000km of coast, the largest coral reef and largest living structure on Earth can be experienced in, on and above the water. Get up close and personal with some of the 1,500 species of fish and 400 types of coral through a diving, snorkelling or even submarine adventure, skim the crystalline waters on a cruise, sailboat or glass-bottomed boat, or take a scenic seaplane or helicopter flight for a bird’s-eye view of the entire breath-taking area. The beautiful diversity of marine life and habitats makes the Great Barrier Reef one of the most complex natural systems on the planet, and home to Australia’s so-called Great Eight: turtles, sharks, whales, giant clams, manta rays, potato cod, Maori wrasse and clown fish.

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Cairns camper car

Day trips to the many tiny islands are also very popular, allowing visitors to lounge on white sand beaches, frolic in clear blue waters and simply while the day away in a tropical paradise. There are numerous islands to choose from, ranging from tiny uninhabited coral cays to islands with resorts boasting golf and tennis.

Fitzroy Island

One of the area’s best unspoiled islands is Fitzroy Island, just 45 minutes from Cairns by private boat or ferry. Of the islands 339 hectares, 324 are protected national park, making Fitzroy an ideal family-friendly destination. There are four walks ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours which showcase the island’s rugged, diverse landscapes including rainforest, mangroves and coral beaches. Colourful butterflies, sulphur-crested cockatoos, and the 1.2 m-long yellow-spotted monitor lizard also call the island home. Snorkelling and swimming is best off Nudey Beach and in Welcome Bay where you may very well spot green sea turtles and clown fish among the fringing reef.

Atherton Tablelands

Take a break from the tropical scenery with a short inland drive to the Atherton Tablelands, where the forest meets the outback. A lush highland plateau, the Tablelands are all about dramatic mountain scenery, pristine rainforest, cascading waterfalls and some of Australia’s tastiest tropical fruit grown on nearly 2,000 farms in the area.

For great views of the surrounding landscape, head to nearby Hallorans Hill Conservation Park. Better yet, bring a lunch and make use of the picnic tables and gas barbecues on site. Afterwards, enjoy a scenic walk along the Aboriginal trail through eucalypt forest to the extinct volcanic crater.

For a slightly more adventuresome day out, the Dunbulla National Park and Dunbulla State Forest offer a road network through the Tinaroo Range. Take your Cairns 4WD Hire for a two-hour, 43 km drive through rainforest, open forest and sclerophyll forest, climbing 450 m into the Lamb Range. The track is narrow and steep in some places, crossing creeks and streams including the sandy-bottomed Kauri Creek. Keep your eyes peeled for some of Danbulla’s endangered, rare and vulnerable species including the Herbert River ringtail, Mareeba rock wallaby and the spectacled flying-fox.

For more on the history of the region, a visit to the Tyrconnell Mine is in order. Once the most famous mine on the Hodgkinson goldfield, visitors can experience what a miner’s life was like by visiting the museum, touring the mine, panning for gold in the creek and even staying in one of three miner’s cottages on the property overlooking Mt Mulligan Ridge and the outback savannah.

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Situated in the Wet Tropics, the Atherton Tablelands are known for their gorgeous cascading waterfalls. Follow the so-called Waterfall Circuit south of Cairns to take in some of the area’s most spectacular cascades including the wonderfully photogenic Millaa Millaa where you can swim and possibly even spot platypus; the Ellinjaa Falls which cascade over a series of lava columns; and the three-tiered Josephine Falls where visitors can slide down a natural waterslide before swimming at the Bottom Pool.

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Cairns rental offroad cars

The nearby Tully River is also a magnet for adventure seekers, offering what many consider the best river rafting across Australia and New Zealand with grade 3-4 rapids featuring drops and eddies. To admire the river’s power from a safer vantage point, take your Cairns 4WD Hire down Tully Falls Road (last kilometre is unsealed) to the Tully Gorge Lookout for superb views of the rushing water cascading over 300m-high falls during the wet season. The Tully Gorge National Park is a great place to spend the day or night, with scenic picnic spots by the rainforest, swimming holes boasting clear, cool water, walking trails known for butterflies and great views, and two designated camping areas.

For an up-close view of the UNESCO-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland, known for their extensive array of flora and fauna including marsupials and songbirds, take a walk along the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway. Offering more than a kilometre of ground-level walking tracks along with a spectacular 350m of elevated walkway high up in the rainforest canopy, this is an excellent way to experience the rainforest comfortably and safely. The 37 m-high observation tower is not to be missed for its sweeping views over the North Johnstone River gorge and surrounding rainforest.

For a slightly different forest adventure, the fairy tale-like Paronella Park makes for an interesting half-day excursion. Set beside the Mena Creek Waterfall, Paronella Park is comprised of a Spanish-inspired castle built almost single-handedly by Jose Paronella over a period of 21 years in the 1920s and 30s. He also planted more than 7,500 plants on the 5ha property which have since grown into a genuine rainforest. There are both day and night-time tours available as well as a self-guided botanical walk. A small on-site caravan and camping park is a cosy place to spend the night in your Cairns 4WD Bush Camper.

Nature lovers will also want visit the privately owned Granite Gorge Nature Park, an hour’s drive west of Cairns. A great family- and pet-friendly destination, the park features an otherworldly landscape strewn with huge boulders, home to the Mareeba rock wallaby which can be fed by visitors. There are also bushwalking trails through the savannah wilderness-like habitat with opportunities for birdwatching, cuddling the park’s unusual pets and night wildlife spotlighting.

Take your Cairns 4WD Hire another two hours west to the Chillagoe Caves where it will come in handy navigating the last stretch of unsealed road leading to this 400-million-year-old cave system. Located in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park, the 700 or so caves here began as a coral reef. Visitors can take guided and self-guided walks through a section of the caves, taking in the impressive stalactites and stalagmites found within as well as ancient Aboriginal paintings.

Due south of Chillagoe in the Australian outback is another set of spectacular caves known as the Undara Lava Tubes. Nearly 200,000 years ago, a large volcano spewed lava down a dry riverbed. When the top, outer layer cooled, a series of hollow tubes were created. Visitors can now walk through one of the longest lava tube cave systems on Earth, interspersed with pockets of rainforest. Look for intricate patterns on the smooth walls, the result of trees above sending their roots down looking for water.

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Daintree National Park

In the other direction, the Daintree Rainforest in Tropical North Queensland is Australia’s largest rainforest. Encompassing an area of roughly 1,200 sq km that also uniquely borders the coastline, Daintree may also be the world’s oldest rainforest, estimated to be 180 million years old, older than even the Amazon. Prized for its amazing diversity, Daintree is home to a dense population of rare or threatened plant and animal species. Visit Daintree on a 2- or 4-hour walk led by a local expert who will highlight the staggering biodiversity and complexity of this privately-owned rainforest. Other activities in Daintree include zip-lining through the forest canopy, cruising the winding waterways and relaxing on a deserted beach.

Located in the southern end of Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge is a beautiful marriage of Nature and Culture. Walk along the crystal-clear Mossman River as it flows over huge granite boulders while listening to Dreamtime stories and legends told by indigenous guides. The walk showcases the relationship between the local Kuku Yalanji people and their natural surroundings, visiting culturally significant sites and showing visitors how the forest has long provided food, medicine and other necessities.

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In the heart of Daintree, where the two World Heritage sites of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropic meet, lies Cape Tribulation known for its pretty, remote beaches and fringing reef. Popular activities here explore both rainforest and jungle. Beachside attractions include kayaking, snorkelling, horseback riding and exploring mangrove systems and isolated beaches of the coast, while rainforest adventures can be had on zipline tours, interpretive walks and wildlife cruises.

Bloomfield Track

From Cape Tribulation, put your Cairns 4WD Hire through its paces on the picturesque Bloomfield Track, a 33 km-long rough road through remote tropical wilderness connecting Cape Tribulation to the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal and Cooktown beyond. The unsealed road with no gravel can get very muddy after heavy rains, but in return, rewards experienced off-road enthusiasts with exciting creek and river crossings, and extremely steep climbs and descents. With rainforest on one side and secluded beaches on the other, there are plenty of secret spots to stop and enjoy along the way, including swimming holes and waterfalls offering irresistible dips. Once at the mouth of the Bloomfield River, it’s time for a picnic along the riverside or a spot of fishing.

CREB Track

For a longer, more challenging route, the 137 km CREB Track also runs from Daintree to Cooktown, taking a more inland approach. Cut through the rainforest by the Cairns Regional Electricity Board (CREB), the track requires low range gearing and high ground clearance. Steep and rough even in the driest of conditions, the CREB Track becomes practically impassable after even moderate rainfall, turning its red clay into bog and its steep terrain into a knuckle-whitening exercise of braking and steering. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to check with the Douglas Shire Council to make sure the track is open before you go.

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While there are many side trips available to explore the Eastern and Western Cape, there’s really only one way to get to the top and that’s straight through the middle. Most visitors will more or less follow this itinerary to the very top of Australia and we’ve broken down it down for you by legs that can be each covered in a day with options for excursions and detours along the way:

Cooktown to Musgrave Station via the Peninsula Development Road (278 km)

Many begin their assault on the northernmost point of the Australian continent at Cooktown, the unofficial gateway to the Cape York Peninsula. Noted for being the site of the first known contact between Europeans and local Aboriginal peoples, Cooktown is named after none other than Captain James Cook who spent 48 days here with his crew fixing up damage to his boat caused by hitting a nearby reef.

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The small town later developed into a busy gold port and still retains many of its heritage buildings like the post and telegraph office (now the Cooktown History Centre) and the old Cooktown Railway Station (now the Cooktown Creative Arts Association). After enjoying sweeping views of the area from the Grassy Hill or the Lighthouse, set off on your Cape York adventure heading northwest up the PDR.

One of the first towns you’ll hit is Lakeland, a small farming and cattle community which once supplied the nearby Palmer River Goldfields, Australia’s richest alluvial goldfield and site of a 1870s gold rush.

Next, you’ll pass Laura, a small town nestled in Quinkan Country. Home to two of Queenland’s premier cultural events – the Annual Picnic Race Meeting and Rodeo and the epic, biennial Laura Dance Festival (both in June) where 500 performers and 5,000 attendees gather to celebrate the Aboriginal culture of the Cape – the area is also known for its fantastic Aboriginal rock art. Visit the Quinkan & Regional Cultural Centre for more on the area’s ancient heritage, and explore the public Split Rock Gallery on your own, walking through the sandstone escarpments showcasing paintings said to be at least 15,000 years old.

From Laura, take your Cairns 4WD Hire for a detour north to see two of Queenland’s most beautiful national parks. Braving challenging roads with corrugations, washouts and tidal creeks, experienced off-road drivers will be rewarded with a visit to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park. Boasting diverse landscapes including grasslands, woodlands and wetlands as well as coastal estuaries and mangroves, Queenland’s second largest park is popular among the fishing and camping crowd. Top wildlife experiences include spotting estuarine and freshwater crocodiles as well as a wide range of waterbirds and cockatoos.

Continue due north to far-flung Cape Melville National Park to witness some truly remote, rugged beauty. Situated on Aboriginal land, the park features rocky headlands, impressive granite boulders and fishing directly from the sandy beaches, creeks and rivers. Your fully-equipped Cairns 4WD Bush Camper is perfect here, as remote campgrounds close to beautiful beaches and mangroves have no built-in facilities.

Back on the Peninsula Development Road towards the top of Australia, the Musgrave Roadhouse makes for a good place to stop and stock up on food and fuel. Originally built as an overland telegraph station in 1887, the homestead is now home to cabins and grassy camp grounds offering hot showers, toilets and BBQ facilities. Remember to look for the original wooden telegraph pole at the front of the homestead and take a walk to the dam in the rear where freshwater crocodiles can sometimes be found sunning themselves on the banks.

Musgrave Station to Lockhart River (335 km)

Proceeding north on the PDR, you’ll soon come upon Coen, a tiny town of 400 or so whose history is tied into the Coen goldfields discovered in 1892. Stop for a cold beer and check out the Coen Heritage House with its superb collection of historical artefacts. Of note is the building itself, constructed from original materials of the Mein Telegraph Station.

Continuing north another 50 km or so past the Archer River Roadhouse, you’ll now have three options: 1) Detouring to the eastern coast at Lockhart River, gateway to the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park and the remote Portland Roads community; 2) continuing on the PDR to where it ends at Weipa on the western coast; or 3) continuing straight up the centre towards the northern tip of the peninsula.

Option 1:
For the detour to Lockhart River, veer off the PDR and head to the peninsula’s eastern coastline facing the Coral Sea where you’ll find pristine beaches, excellent fishing and lush rainforest. For those interested in wartime history, the area was home to a significant number of American soldiers during World War II, as well as four airstrips and a communications base.

Nearby Chilli Beach is accessible by 4WD only and offers great beach fishing, beautiful windswept beaches and secluded beach front camping. Look up in the trees and on the ground along the beach where Palm Cockatoos are known to feed with their distinctive black bodies and red cheeks.

Nature lovers should also include the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park on their itinerary, just minutes from Chilli Beach. Featuring long, sweeping beaches and lowland tropical rainforest, this remote park has excellent wildlife spotting opportunities, including green pythons and Papuan frogmouths.

From the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, experienced 4WD drivers will likely be tempted to brave the “shortcut” known as Frenchmans Track to rejoin the Old Telegraph Track heading north. With more than 60 km of rough, badly corrugated track, drivers should be prepared for everything from boggy sections and deep mud to high river crossings, making sure to have traction aids and recovery gear. The track ends at the Old Telegraph Track about 20 km south of Moreton Telegraph Station.

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Option 2:
Follow the PDR all the way to Weipa township, home to the world’s largest bauxite mine. The town is a great place to restock with food and supplies and makes a good base from which to explore the Western Cape. There’s also a beach front campground for those who want to stay a bit longer to enjoy all the outdoor activities on offer here, including world-class fishing from beaches, creeks and rivers, watching the spectacularly coloured sunsets over the Gulf of Carpentaria, or simply spending the day birdwatching and picnicking around Lake Patricia and Lake McLeod.

From Weipa, re-join the Old Telegraph Track by driving east to Batavia Downs or detour southeast and take the Merluna route past a working cattle station which also has a campground and an abundance of wildlife to view, domesticated or otherwise.

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Cairns 4wd hire rental

Option 3 :
Continue on the Old Telegraph Track following the now defunct Overland Telegraph Line heading north through the peninsula all the way to the top. Expect rough conditions with several deep sand patches and a few creek and river crossings.

Moreton Telegraph Station to Bramwell Station (42 km)

If you’ve come either from Weipa to the west, Lockhart River to the east or straight up the peninsula, you’ll likely pass the campgrounds and restaurant at the Moreton Telegraph Station, a nice, peaceful spot for some bushland camping near the Wenlock River. Stay an extra day to fish for barramundi or black bream or try and spot the more than 120 bird species which call this area home.

From the Moreton Telegraph Station, continue northwards to Bramwell Station, Australia’s northernmost cattle station and a scant five-hour, 200 km drive from the northern tip of Cape York. Enjoy a good station meal and an icy cold beer before continuing or if you happen to be here in July, look for the Bramwell Cup Bush Carnival featuring horse races and other fun activities for the whole family.

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Bramwell Station to the tip of Cape York (200 km)

At this point, the northernmost point of Australia feels tantalisingly close. However, to get there, you’ll have to conquer the northern section of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT). This difficult road features deep water crossings and steep, slippery river banks with forks leading to optional side excursions including swimming spots and scenic waterfalls. For a slightly less challenging drive, opt for the two bypass roads that skirt the creek crossings and the roughest sections of the road, even though the bypass roads themselves tend to be heavily corrugated.

Either way, you’ll need to cross the 140 m-wide, crocodile-infested Jardine River. Fortunately, there is now a vehicle ferry that makes the short but dangerous crossing. From the ferry, a 42 km drive will take you past the Torres Strait Islander communities of Bamaga and Seisia and another 30 km to your ultimate destination – the tip of Cape York Peninsula, the northernmost point of mainland Australia!

Walk the final 20-30 minutes from the car park to find a simple sign stating that “you are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent”. From here, enjoy the views over the Torres Straight and Possession Island where Captain Cook landed in 1770 and claimed “possession” of the entire eastern coast of Australia.

Since you’ve made it this far, why not stay a few days to explore the area? Convenient bases include Bamaga, Seisia, Loyalty Beach and the campgrounds at Punsand Bay, just 5 km from the tip. From Seisia, there’s a ferry to the remote and beautiful Thursday Island in the Torres Strait where you can spend a blissful few days fishing, island hopping, visiting old military sites and checking out the pearl farms, a wonderfully restful way to reward yourself for completing an epic Cairns 4WD Hire adventure!

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Cairns 4WD Hire is part of Australian 4WD Hire, a nationwide network of premium rental agencies strategically positioned in close proximity to all famous 4WD destinations and hotspots as well as major regional and capital cities throughout Australia, ensuring you’re never far from a pick-up point.

Australian 4WD Hire is renowned for our meticulously maintained vehicles and top-tier customer service. Our fleet is constantly being updated to ensure you enjoy your self-drive adventure in comfort and safety. 4WD Tourism is one of the best ways to see the broad range of amazing sights Australia has to offer, with the flexibility and freedom to discover the outdoors at your own pace. For your Cairns 4WD Hire adventure, please contact us at 1300 360 339 or +617 5527 6191. Or email us at sales@australian4wdhire.com.au or visit us at australian4wdhire.com.au.