G’day, my name’s Catherine and I’ve lived in Tropical North Queensland for the last 20 years. I’m an author and travel journo, so I spend pretty much all my time exploring my backyard. One thing I’ve learned is that if you can do it outside, you can do it in the Daintree and around Cooktown in Tropical North Queensland. And this list of top freebies is oh-so-budget-friendly (ie, they are all free). Packed with plenty of free things to do around from the Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation and Cooktown, this list will fill your days and mothball your wallet. All you need is a couple of lazy days (or weeks) and a set of wheels.
If these things whet your appetite, grab a copy of 100 Things To See In Tropical North Queensland, which I wrote for people like you. It’s a real book you can get here or from your local bookshop filled with detailed descriptions of all my favourite places after living here for 20 years.
1. Spot Daintree River crocs: These superior, prehistoric hunters haul out on the banks of the Daintree River at low tide. Spot them anywhere from the ferry crossing to Daintree Village.
2. 4WD the most controversial track in the north: Bulldozed through pristine rainforest back in 1984, the Bloomfield Track’s 33km-long stretch of gravel and concrete leads adventurers across Emmagen Creek, 5km north of Cape Tribulation, to deserted, coconut palm-fringed beaches and secluded rainforested swimming holes. See Bloomfield Track conditions here.
3. Rockhop from Blue Hole to the falls: From this turquoise swimming hole, sacred to the Eastern Kuku Yulangi people, a rockhopping adventure follows the creek to stunning Alexandra Falls – one for thrillseekers! Here’s a great blog about it.
4. Skinny-dip at Sunrise: Hike down the slope to secluded Cherry Tree Bay, tucked beneath Cooktown’s Grassy Hill lighthouse.
5. See the world’s largest cockle shell middens: Piled high on Red Beach (Prunung) in Weipa, which also offers free entry to the Western Cape Cultural Centre at Evans Landing.
6. Discover Quinkan Spirits: UNESCO rated the Quinkan Galleries one the world’s top 10 rock art sites. 13,000 year-old ochre paintings of the Quinkan spirits who inhabit Split Rock’s sandstone bluff and lend their name to this extraordinary site 12km south of Laura.
7. Cast a line in the Endeavour River: A top angling spot, named for the ship it saved after the HM Bark Endeavour struck an uncharted reef off Cooktown. This is the only Aussie river named by Captain James Cook who spent seven weeks in Cooktown, the longest period he spent ashore on his 1770 Australian voyage.
8. Beach comb Thornton Beach: Trek south to the croccy mouth of Cooper Creek for grand views of the often-clouded summit of Thornton Peak (1375m), one of the wettest spots in Australia and home to the Thornton Peak melomys and rare Bennetts tree-kangaroos.
9. Go butterfly spotting: Iridescent blue Ulysses butterflies accompany walkers on the easy trail from Cape Tribulation to Myall Beach, a magical sunrise viewing spot. Dress in blue to attract the attention of these butterflies, found only in coastal north Queensland.
10. Find Mary Watson’s memorial: Back in 1881, 21-year-old Mary Watson fled an Aboriginal attack on Lizard Island in a beche-de-mer boiling down tank with her baby and Chinese servant Ah Sam. After nine days at sea they died thirst on No. 5 Howick Island and a small plaque memorialises Mary’s ordeal in Cooktown Cemetery.
11. Climb Cooktown’s Grassy Hill: Captain Cook did so many times back in 1770, searching for a navigable passage north through the reef. Today, the lighthouse on Grassy Hill offers panoramic views of the Endeavour River & the Coral Sea’s vibrant patchwork of reef.
12. Amble along Jindalba boardwalk: This top short trail in Daintree National park is accessible to all.
13. Go around The Bend: This shady free camp on the Coen River provides a deeply relaxing stay beside sandy, croc-free pools. Set a pot to snare cherabin overnight.
14. Ponder the mysterious Black Mountain: Giant tors of jumbled granite tower ominously as you travel into Cooktown, home to lost souls who have vanished after venturing onto the mountain, perhaps lost in the hidden labyrinth of passages and chambers that lie beneath the boulders (or so the tall tales say).
Planning a big adventure through Tropical North Queensland in 2021, or just want to explore more of your own backyard? Get the guide written by me (a local).
100 Things To See In Tropical North Queensland
Written by people who’ve lived in and explored the region for over two decades, this is the only guide you need if you want to find the places locals love. Steer clear of the crowds and get to know the real TNQ. Explore Tropical North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef like a local!