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Tropical Family Getaway: 7 Days in TNQ on a Budget

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How
Car or Camper

Tropical North Queensland is a giant natural playground that allows you to save on some activities and splurge on others, making it an ideal destination for families on a budget.  

From free natural wonders such as rainforest, waterfalls and beaches to no-frills activities and animal encounters, drive your dollar further, embrace your sense of adventure and get ready to create family memories that will last a lifetime. 

Our seven-day road trip itinerary explores the very best of Cairns, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and everything in between. Pack those bags, it’s time to get out and discover the world with your little (and not-so-little) ones! 

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Day

Day 1: Cairns

Cairns

Morning

Once you land at Cairns Airport, the whole family will be abuzz with excitement and wanting to head out and explore straight away.  

For a cost-effective way of transporting the whole crew, a Britz campervan or rental car from Avis is an easy way to start your great Cairns road trip. You will have the freedom to explore on your own timeframe, plus the chance to pull-up at quirky roadside stops, see epic scenery and allow the kids to have a break in airconditioned comfort between activities. Prices start from $560 for Britz campervans or $140 for Avis car hire. 

 

Colourful fruit and vegetable stalls at Rusty's Markets in Cairns city


Lunch 

First stop, it’s time for a foodie fiesta. Fuel up with delicious bagels from $6 at Bury Me Standing or head to Rusty’s Market (open Friday, Saturday and Sunday) for cheap eats and to stock up on essentials for your stay. Rusty’s is Cairns’ iconic buzzing culinary mecca with fresh produce, artisanal breads and international cuisines.  

Afterwards, enjoy some fun in the sun with Cairns’ many free activities. Cairns Esplanade is a popular beachside recreational strip and the jewel in its crown is the 4,800sqm saltwater lagoon with a sandy beach, shade sails, fountains and shallow sections for little ones to splash about.   

Looking for more free activities? Visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens, a lush tropical paradise with an abundance of prehistoric-looking plants, or take a short (20 minute) drive out of Cairns and swim in the freshwater pools at Stoney Creek and Crystal Cascades 

 

Evening 

The Cairns Esplanade is an ideal spot to catch the sunset and cook up a BBQ feast on the free public facilities. If you feel like sampling the best fresh seafood around, head to family friendly Dundees on the Waterfront (with meals starting from $18 and a children’s menu) or the floating restaurant Prawn Star (snap up a generous portion of mixed prawns from $35).  

Tuck the sleepy travellers into bed at affordable family stays such as Hides Hotel from $179 for a family of four, or Cairns Coconut Holiday Park with cabins from $149 (including access to a swimming pool, putt putt course, games room and tennis court). It’s also pet friendly if you’ve brought your family pooch along for the adventure.   

Day 2 : Cairns

Fitzroy Island SUP


Being on the doorstop of an ancient rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, you can explore the best of the mountains or the sea depending on how your family’s feeling. 

 Fitzroy Island  

If you’re keen to meet the finned and flippered inhabitants of the reef, let the kids go wild on Fitzroy Island with endless adventures on land and in the water.  

Get up close with clown fish and turtles with a Sunlover Reef Cruises Fitzroy Island Full Day Package (Adults $129pp, Child $79pp) which includes return fare, glass bottom boat tour and snorkelling. Additional kayak and stand-up paddleboard hire is also available on board.  

Another affordable option is a return transfer directly to Fitzroy Island with the Fitzroy Flyer ($245 for two adults and two children). Once you arrive on the island Fitzroy Island Sports Hub is your go-to spot to organise a variety of tours, plus snorkel, wetsuit, stand-up paddleboard and kayak hire.  

For budding marine biologists and wildlife carers, the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is a wonderful spot to see the rescue, care and feeding of sick and injured turtles. Tours are only booked on the day with all proceeds going to maintaining the rehabilitation centre ($12 for children, $20 for adults), so get in early when you arrive. 

Fitzroy Island has scenic coves to enjoy a picnic with the produce you picked up from Rusty’s Market, otherwise Foxy’s Bar & Cafe has kid’s meals starting at $16.90 and is located directly on the beach. If staying a little longer, enjoy the sunset from the bar as it overlooks Welcome Bay.  

 

Evening 

After a big day, dinner time calls for an easy meal in Cairns or a quiet evening relaxing at your accommodation of choice 

 

Optional Detour – Kuranda

Option 2 – Kuranda 

Step back in time to a period when dinosaurs roamed the earth with a visit to the tropical rainforest that has survived for millions of years, The Wet Tropics.  

There are two ways to ascend the mountain to the village of Kuranda, and both offer truly unique perspectives of the heritage-listed wet tropic landscapes.  

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway soars meters above the rainforest canopy with stops along the way to see the rainforest at ground level, while the Kuranda Scenic Railway train clatters along tracks sidling up close next to gushing waterfalls and overlooking lush gorges. Return family fares are available (starting from $152) or enjoy a journey on each with one-way family fares (starting from $100).  

Up in Kuranda, the whole family is catered for. There’s shopping galore at the markets, entertaining buskers and street performers in the laneways, and tasty tropical fruit smoothies and meals available. It’s also home to over 1,200 delicate butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. Witness the magical kaleidoscope of colours fluttering through the aviary – the kids will be talking about it for weeks! A family pass is $58.  

Day 3 – Drive to Port Douglas

great barrier reef drive

Morning

Up and at ‘em for your journey to Port Douglas. Just follow this scenic road and you’ll find paradise.  

If you want to hightail it straight to Port Douglas for some reef action, check out Quicksilver Great Barrier Reef tour to the Agnicourt Reef. The second child travels free.  

Alternatively, if you’re open to a more leisurely drive, take your time and enjoy the hour drive to Port Douglas from Cairns stopping at the pockets of beauty at every turn of the coastal drive, such as Palm Cove. While this beach enclave is known for its luxe resorts, day spas and high-end restaurants, affordable family fun can be found amongst the towering palm trees and tranquil ocean waters (swimmable all year round as they have stinger nets). 

Further north, as you enter croc country, pull-up at Mowbray Bridge to play a game of count the crocodile. From the bridge’s vantage point, see how many crocodiles you can spot in the river below.  

Mossman Gorge indigenous dreamtime walk

Afternoon  

Finish up the day with a visit to Mossman Gorge. Join a guided walk to learn more of the Kuku Yalanji land and culture, and cool down with a dip in the swimming holes surrounded by rainforest and granite boulders. The cultural centre is free for all to enjoy, and the buses to the gorge from the centre start at $7 per person with family passes and children under four-years-old travelling for free. 

 

Rex Smeal Park Port Douglas

Evening 

Check into your accommodation choosing from a variety of affordable stays. BIG4 Port Douglas Glengarry Holiday Park has a water park for the kids and camping sites from $78 and cabins from $126. Tropical Breeze Caravan Park offers camp sites from $55 and units from $120, plus it’s only a minute walk to Four Mile Beach and Port Douglas town centre.  

 

Day 4: Port Doulgas

Four Mile Beach


Morning

Wake up to the warm tropical sun and set your sights on the local free activities. Explore the boutiques in the village centre and then take a walk on the palm tree-lined stretch of Four Mile Beach (patrolled and safe to swim all year round with stinger nets in the warm months).  

For a BBQ lunch with a view, choose from the summit at Flagstaff Hill Lookout with postcard perfect panoramas or Rex Smeal Park which looks out to the Daintree ranges and yachts sailing the seas.  

For more things to do in Port Douglas – both free and paid – check out this guide. 

kangaroo feeding at wildlife habitat

Afternoon  

To see all things cute, cuddly and scaly, a trip to Wildlife Habitat is your chance to get up close with native animals. Walk over the giant estuarine crocodiles on the Predator Plant, hand-feed kangaroos and observe the endangered cassowary. Entry is $112 for two adults and two children.  



Evening

Head to Rattle n Hum Bar & Grill or dinner, with pizza, pub meals, pasta and seafood starting at $16 or get your burger fix at N17 Burger Co (kids will love the mac and cheese burger, and dad will love the whisky cola pulled beef burger) with all burgers priced between $13 and $20.   

Or enjoy a delicious dinner at the Port Douglas Surf Life Saving Club – its family-friendly relaxed bistro is well known for their fish tacos, crisp beverages and views over Four Mile Beach. Best to reserve a table to avoid missing out. Grab kids’ meals for only $12, and if you’re in the mood for an afternoon drink, make sure to pop in during happy hour from 3pm until 5pm for 30% off. 

 

Day 5 : Drive to Cape Tribulation

solar whisper cruises daintree rainforest

Morning

Start your day off right but fuelling the fam with some delicious breakfast. Choose from these delicious options.

Once you’ve bid farewell to your cozy abode, chart a course northward to Cape Tribulation. A mere 45-minute journey from Port Douglas will bring you to the quirky Daintree River Ferry Crossing ($47 return). But hold your horses before rolling onto the ferry—why not spice things up with a jaunty tour courtesy of Solar Whisper?

For a totally wild encounter, the Solar Whisper Croc & Wildlife Tour is an unmissable family experience. The zero-emission solar electric boat quietly glides up the estuaries, allowing you to get close to nature without disturbing it. Saltwater crocodiles, birds, butterflies, snakes and frogs are all regular features. A one hour tour is $81 for a family of four 

aerial of daintree cape tribulation


Afternoon

Drive your way north an hour to Cape Tribulation, going deeper into the ancient wonders of the Daintree Rainforest. Along the way, stretch the legs and be awestruck by the views at Mount Alexandra Lookout 

If you’re up for a treat, tantalise your tastebuds with a tour of Cape Trib Farm, where you can sample over 70 rare and exotic fruits, from the moreish chocolate pudding fruit to zingy carambola. Family tours are $150 for two adults and two children.  

For accommodation, choose from Cape Tribulation Beach House where cabins are nestled amongst the rainforest (prices start from $225), or Ocean Safari with cabins and camp sites on the doorstep to Myall Beach (prices start from $20 for camping and $145 for cabins), or PKs Jungle Village offering budget stays (prices start from $40 for camping and $130 for dorms and cabins). 

 



Evening 

Feed the hungry pack with a delicious meal at the beachfront restaurant at Cape Trib Beach House or head to Cassowary Restaurant to take advantage of their kids menu from $15. For DIY dining, a BBQ near the beach as the sun sets is the perfect antidote to a busy day sight-seeing.  

Day 6: Cape Tribulation

daintree rainforest boardwalk

Morning 

There’s plenty of free things to start the morning right in the Daintree Rainforest. Stroll along the Jindalba Boardwalk (650m), Madja Boardwalk (1.2km) or Dubuji Boardwalk (1.2km) and immerse yourself in the smells and sounds of the rainforest. 



Afternoon  

On the southern side of Cape Tribulation headland is Myall Beach, with silica white sand crystal waters. This tropical paradise is mainly enjoyed by crocodiles and jellyfish, so swimming is not advised. The white sands are beautiful for setting up a picnic (a safe distance from the water) and seeing what you can spot while you enjoy a relaxing lunch or afternoon snack. 

Alternatively, if you do want to take a swim with the kids and cool down, head to Masons Swimming Hole – a freshwater oasis located inland that’s ideal for both a splash and a picnic.  

 



Evening  

If you fancy leaving the cooking to others, head out for a delicious dinner at Whet Restaurant. It offers a unique blend of casual charm and culinary excellence. With an emphasis on local produce and fresh seafood and with dinner dishes from $28, their creatively curated menu guarantees a memorable dining experience in tropical paradise.

Day 7: Return to Cairns



Morning

Grab breakfast at Turtlerock Café before leaving Cape Tribulation. One of their fruit smoothies or coffees are the perfect kick start, paired with breakfast starting from $14. 

 

 

Afternoon 

On your way back to Cairns, if you missed out on the freshwater swimming holes on day one, now is the perfect chance to take a dip at Stoney Creek in Barron Gorge National Park.  

Then it’s onto Muddy’s Café on Cairns Esplanade for gourmet burgers, fish tacos and fresh seafood baskets. Located just across the road from the recreational hub of Cairns, this is a great opportunity for the kids to have one last splash about in the lagoon. 

Evening 

It’s not goodbye, but see you later to Tropical North Queensland!  

Return your vehicle and catch your flight home to tell your family and friends about all your fun family adventures.  

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