If you’re into adventure and nature, point your compass south and explore Cairns’ under-the-radar southern corridor – a region of breathtaking natural beauty with a whole lot of country charm.
Southern Cairns is the perfect place to dive into refreshing swimming holes, tackle epic hiking trails, sink a cold one at a country pub and discover untouched Great Barrier Reef Islands.
Leaving Cairns City, the further south you travel, the greener the scenery becomes. Seas of sugarcane give way to mountains on either side covered in thick World Heritage rainforest. As such, it should come as no surprise that this landscape is laden with spectacular swimming holes and epic hikes.
For the latter, make a beeline to Gordonvale to hike the iconic Walshs Pyramid, standing at 922m elevation. Soak in the panoramic views from mountain ranges to the tapestry of farmlands and all the way to the sea.
At the base of Walshs Pyramid’s closest neighbour, Mount Bellenden Ker, Queensland’s second-highest peak, find the trailhead for the breathtaking Behana Gorge. This undulated track weaves through the forest and past lookouts to the stunning centrepiece, Clamshell Falls. After a 3.5km hike in, there’s nothing better than jumping into the icy waters to cool down.
For a more relaxed swim and one that’s wheelchair accessible, keep heading south the Babinda Boulders. Be sure to make a pit-stop at the famous Babinda Bakery to stock up on a picnic to enjoy on the grassy lawns or, if you’re lucky, at one of the picnic tables. The bakery has gained quite the reputation, particularly for their fluffy cream buns, but rest assured that there are plenty of tasty options for savoury lovers too.
Spend your day floating around the emerald waters, and take the 1.3km return Devils Pool Walk to discover the tragic Dreamtime story of Oolana and Dyga, and admire the swirling waters of Devils Pool from two lookouts.
Tip: Explore Babinda Creek on a self-guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard with Babinda Kayaking.
For the active and adventurous, the southern trailhead for the Goldfield Trail leaves from Babinda Boulders. This 19km historic trail winds through lush rainforest and picturesque creek crossings. Find a campground with a swimming hole approximately halfway, and another at the northern trailhead at Goldsborough Valley (the latter accessible by car). Bikes are allowed on the Goldfield Trail on the Goldsborough to the causeway section, but not between Babinda and the causeway.
If you’re a little bit adventurous and a little bit chilled, head down to nature’s water park at Josephine Falls at the base of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere. An easy 750m stroll will take you to the cascading waterfall, the bottom swimming-hole section complete with its own natural water slide.
Swap freshwater for saltwater with Frankland Island Reef Cruises. This tour encompasses reef, rainforest and river environments, with the first part of your journey cruising down the Mulgrave River, rich with wildlife. From there, it’s a short cruise to picturesque Normanby Island, with stunning fringing coral and rainforest. Take a guided walk with a marine biologist and Master Reef Guide to understand how truly special these environments are.
This uninhabited archipelago is also renowned as one of the best islands to spot some iconic marine life including turtles, manta rays, giant clams and dugongs, best discovered on their optional snorkel safari tour.
Tip: Visit Bramston Beach for a relaxing, uncrowded beach getaway.
After a day (or two!) of exploring, wind down with a cold one at one of the many charming pubs peppered throughout this area. Discover a slice of history at the Babinda State Hotel – the only pub of its time constructed and operated by the Queensland Government, sip with a view overlooking the Little Mulgrave River at the Mountain View Hotel or soak in the country vibes of Fishery Falls Hotel.