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Spreading from Cairns to Cardwell, Far North Queensland Cassowary Coast is one of the regions we explored during our recent motorhome trip. It is a relatively quiet stretch of coastline bordered by the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It takes in the townships of Cardwell, Tully, Kurramine Beach, Etty Bay, Innisfail and Mission Beach – is at its heart.
We spent a few, mostly wet days, driving around the Cassowary Coast, only venturing as far as Tully to the south.This included the very scenic 52 kilometre drive from Innisfail to Kurrimine Beach on Canecutter Way, through vast expanses of cane fields and fruit farms.
We completed the first half of Canecutters Way from Paronella Park at Mena Creek, through acres and acres of cane fields and banana plantations, and the small towns of South Johnstone and Wangan. Arriving in Innisfail it had started to rain, so with umbrellas we did a quick walking tour through the city centre to check out Innisfail’s art deco style buildings.
Innisfail is located on the confluence of the South Johnstone and Johnstone Rivers and is predominantly a sugar cane and banana city. After it was hit by a cyclone in 1918, the city was rebuilt in the popular art deco style of the era. In fact, Innisfail now boasts the highest concentration of art deco facades in any Australian city.
You can find examples of French, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan and Anglo-Saxon art deco designed facades along the main streets of the city. Buildings of note include: Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Cathedral, Innisfail Courthouse, Johnstone Council Shire Hall, Queens Hotel, Lit Sung Goong Temple, Innisfail Fire Station, Innisfail Masonic Temple, White Horse Hotel and Innisfail Water Tower.
Afterwards we strolled along the riverfront and Fitzgerald Park where there is a caravan selling fish and chips, a few fishing trawlers moored and some interesting mosaic art called river reflections – depicting the history of Innisfail. The heritage-listed statue titled “Canecutters Memorial” also stand tall and proud in the park.
We took the 15 kilometre drive out towards Etty Bay, where we were in for a treat, as I spotted my first southern cassowary and chick in the wild, in the Moresby Range National Park. The cassowary and chick were casually strolling alongside the road, so we stopped to observe and photograph this magnificent bird.
Etty Bay is a very pretty and popular beach town, just big enough for the beach, the road in, the Surf Life Saving Club and a small caravan park. The soft white-sand beach is fringed by a tree-shaded reserve, then the steep, forested slopes of the Moresby Range rise up to 250 metres behind the beach.
There was a nipper carnival in full force on our visit to Etty Bay and it was almost impossible to get a car park. We only spent a short time here before we headed back to Innisfail for the night.
Our campsite for a rainy night in Innisfail was at the CMCA RV Park, located along the banks of the Johnstone River, south of the Innisfail CBD and directly opposite the cemetery. Needless to say, we had a very quiet and restful night!
After we left Innisfail we continued our drive on Canecutter Way from the Bruce Highway stopping for some fruit wine tastings at Murdering Point Winery in Silkwood. These exotic tropical fruit wines included flavours of lychee, passionfruit, banana cream, mango and Davidson plum. They were a little sweet for my palate but my husband liked them.
We arrived in Kurrimine Beach in what was wild and windy weather. The beach was not that attractive under these conditions, even though this seaside town is “where the Great Barrier Reef nearly touches the coastline”. There is a lovely stretch of long beach alongside King Reef where apparently turtles come into nest and you can see manta rays near the shoreline.
This town is a favourite fishing spot with anglers where there are abundant supplies of reef fish and painted crayfish, just offshore. There are several beachfront caravan parks available here, a motel, a resort, pub, cafes and a fish and chip takeaway.
I was disappointed not to be able to go for a snorkel on King Reef, nor walk the reef at low tide, but could see that this town would be a popular choice for holidaymakers. We chose to stay at Kurrimine Beach Caravan Park right near the boat ramp for the night.
Due to the inclement conditions we got in our car and decided to drive further south to Tully, whose claim to fame is the wettest town in Australia. It was probably a stupid decision, because it was very wet indeed! We stopped by the big Golden Gumboot that stands 7.9 metres tall and learnt that this was awarded after the town recorded 7.9 metres of rainfall in 1950.
The Tully River runs to the east of the township and Mt Tyson, in the Misty Mountains, to the west seemingly looms over the township of Tully. For the thrill seekers there is white water rafting available in the Tully Gorge that is located 40 kilometres inland.
The region is rich with crops of watermelons, paw paws and other exotic tropical fruit, but bananas are more prolific – with 90% of Australia’s bananas being grown here. The other mainstay is sugar cane. There is a sugar mill in town where you can take a guided tour to see how sugar cane is crushed and made into sugar.
After a quick visit to the laundromat and a re-stock of supplies at the supermarket, we headed north towards Mission Beach, hoping the conditions may be better here.
Mission Beach actually consists of four separate villages along the 14 kilometre coastal strip – South Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach, Mission Beach and Bingil Bay. The beaches here are fringed with coconut palms and Dunk Island, Bedarra Island and the Family Group of Islands are situated not far offshore.
We initially drove into South Mission Beach where there was a triathlon in full swing. We stopped near the caravan park here and had a look around. We saw an amphibious boat coming into shore from nearby Dunk Island, being the closest access point to this tropical island.
South Mission Beach backs on to the Hull River National Park and the mouth of the Hull River is further south. The Kennedy Walking Track to Lugger Bay is supposed to be a spectacular walk if you have time. We also heard that the Mission Beach Surf Club is a fantastic spot for a meal and a cold beverage or two.
We drove through Wongaling Beach where there are plenty of shops, beachfront restaurants, a large resort, caravan parks and hotels. Although we didn’t see it, Wongaling Beach is the location of the 5 metre tall “Big Cassowary”.
Mission Beach was our next stop. We drove out to Clump Point to take in the views from the lookout and then back into the main street of town, stopping by the Visitor Information Centre. Strolling around town we checked out the Blues Bar & Cafe – with a great range of music memorabilia, browsed some of the fashionable boutiques and then enjoyed a cold beer at the Mission Beach Tavern.
The town has a beachfront caravan park, an eco village resort, parklands fringing the beach and the Ulysses Walking Track along the shoreline. If you’re looking to do a diving or snorkelling cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef or a day trip to Dunk Island, boats depart here from the Clump Point boat ramp.
The short coastal drive to Bingil Bay is very picturesque, with Djiru National Park tropical rainforest literally meeting the ocean. This pretty-as-a-picture seaside village is reminiscent of Byron Bay with an eclectic group of locals and laid back charm. The palm-fringed beaches here are are as pretty as you would see anywhere in Far North Queensland – even rivalling Palm Cove.
For a bird’s eye view over Bingil Bay and Narragon Beach take the 4 kilometre circuit walk up Bicton Hill in the Clump Mountain National Park to the lookout.
Once we took a look around the Mission Beach villages we returned to the Bruce Highway via El Arish and headed back to Kurrimine Beach to our campsite for the night.
The rain was persisting so we made the decision to head northwards towards Cairns where we heard the weather may be improving within the next day or two. I was interested to explore Josephine Falls and the famous Babinda Boulders set in the tropical rainforest of the foothills of Mt Bartle Frere.
Queensland’s highest mountain, Bartle Frere is part of Wooroonooran National Park in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Although I wasn’t prepared to conquer this beast, there is a hiking trail to the top of the mountain starting at Josephine Falls.
The drive out to Josephine Falls is spectacular. We wound our way through the foothills of Mt Bartle Frere with vast banana plantations everywhere. Once we reached the car park at Josephine Falls we set off on the 700 metre walk through the rainforest to the falls. On this particular day, after all the rainfall, the water was thundering down over the boulders into Josephine Creek.
We were able to view the falls from three different viewing platforms along the creek. There were warning signs everywhere about swimming here, and I could understand why! Thirteen people have died here in the swimming holes.
Golden Hole is located a short driving distance away on the Russell River and is a pretty spot to stop with its adjoining recreation area. It is known for good fishing in the river, swimming and canoeing. But beware there have been saltwater crocodiles sighted in this river!
It was only a short drive further north into the town of Babinda, and another 6 kilometres west out to the Babinda Boulders. It is a very popular swimming spot on the Babinda Creek, however on the day we visited the water was thundering down the creek over the large boulders. So possibly no swimming on this day!
There is an easy 2 kilometre walking path to Devil’s Pool that passes through tropical rainforest alongside the creek that eventually reaches three lookout vantage points that have views over the rocks. The waters traverse large granite boulders that have been carved and smoothed out by the massive volumes of water. There is also a pretty reserve, picnic ground and camping ground for those who want to stay longer.
On our return to Babinda we found a great camping area at the Rotary Park on the Babinda Creek. It was a fantastic location and at just a “donation” extremely affordable. We camped here for the night and walked into the town for dinner at the Babinda State Hotel. This hotel was built from rainforest timbers in 1917 and still remains pretty much in its original state.
Other points of note in Babinda are the Boulders Tavern, the old Police Station, Babinda Hospital, the art deco Babinda Guesthouse and the Native Creations Gallery.
Our next destination was the city of Cairns, where we started our journey. The Cassowary Coast was a wonderful experience, despite the rain, and I could easily see myself spending more time here lounging on one of the beautiful beaches or on one of the tropical islands offshore. It certainly lived up to its name of the “Wet Tropics”.
Read more about our Far North Queensland adventures in the Atherton Tablelands Unearthed.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.