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Combining adventure, relaxation and some of the greatest environmental wonders of the world, Tropical North Queensland is one of the best places under the sun to take a cruise. Words: Kris Madden

CAIRNS

It’s no wonder that travellers go ‘troppo’ for Cairns, Australia’s busiest cruise port. Magnificent mountain backdrops and UNESCO World Heritage-listed tropical rainforests that run all the way down to the sea make it a popular cruise destination. It’s set to become even more so after the opening of the multi-million-dollar Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal last year.

Dine: At The Pier, directly alongside the Cairns Marlin Marina, you’ll find casual and fine restaurants as well as boutiques, souvenir shops, duty-free stores and galleries. A short walk away, the Esplanade and the streets behind it also offer plenty of dining options.

Must do: Cairns is one of the best bases for visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Take a day trip to the Marine World offshore reef pontoon, where you can take in underwater views of the colourful fish and coral gardens from viewing chambers and glass-bottom boats. Scenic helicopter flights reveal the full panorama.

Tours: Wooroonooran National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of Queensland, is about an hour’s drive from Cairns and boasts the two highest mountains in the state, Mount Bartle Frere and Mount Bellenden Ker, as well as scenic rivers, gushing waterfalls and lush ancient rainforests. Walk among the treetops on the spectacular Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway.
www.wooroonooran-safaris.com.au

Details: www.cairns.com.au

PORT DOUGLAS

A favourite destination of the rich and famous, the relaxed village of Port Douglas, affectionately known as ‘Port’, is located just north of Cairns. Once a service port for the agricultural, timber and mining industries, since its transformation into a tourism hot spot in the 1980s the area has become a regular feature on many cruise itineraries. Ships usually anchor off Port Douglas with tender transfers to the Marina Mirage.

Dine: Port Douglas has some of the best restaurants in North Queensland, with several local eateries winning ‘Best Restaurant’ in the state’s tourism awards over the last decade. The Marina Mirage shop and restaurant precinct has exclusive fine dining on the waterfront; or mix with savvy locals at the Salsa Bar & Grill, Harrisons or the oldest pub in town, the classic 1878-built Court House Hotel.

Must do: Stroll back through time with the Douglas Shire Historical Society for a fascinating insight into the stories of bullock wagons, Cobb & Co and gold escorts.
www.douglas-shire-historical-society.org

Tours: Take a guided tour to the crystal-clear freshwater pools of the beautiful Mossman Gorge. This is the country of the Kuku Yalanji people who welcome all visitors and host traditional activities offering insights into the local Aboriginal culture. www.yalanji.com.au

Details: www.tourismportdouglas.com.au

TOWNSVILLE

Townsville is the biggest city in north Queensland and is well connected to the main attractions – the Barrier Reef and resort islands, Daintree and other national parks, and the north Queensland outback. The outback region west of Townsville was the site of a major gold rush, and the town also played an important part in Australia’s military history. About seven kilometres off the coast of Townsville lies Magnetic Island, which offers scenic walking trails, sandy beaches and plenty of water-based activities.

Dine: Townsville’s leisure hubs are found around Flinders Street, Palmer Street, The Strand and the Breakwater Marina. One of Townsville’s most popular places is The Watermark Restaurant, which serves good food in a relaxed outdoor setting overlooking Magnetic Island. For a big night out, Jupiters Casino has three restaurants and five bars that feature regular shows by some of Australia’s favourite performers.

Must do: Trek up Castle Hill for sweeping 360-degree views of the city and Magnetic Island and a slice of Australian history; then visit Reef HQ, the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. www.reefhq.com.au

Tours: Take a tour inland west from Townsville to the heritage centre of Charters Towers. This city of history and charm boomed following the 1870s gold rush. Relive the legends of this bygone era through the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail and pan for gold at The Miner’s Cottage. www.kookaburratours.com.au

Details: www.townsvilleholidays.info

AIRLIE BEACH, THE WHITSUNDAYS

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the magnificent Whitsunday Islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Ships anchor at one of the designated anchorages and tender passengers to Abel Point Marina, where friendly volunteer ambassadors meet and greet all arrivals.

Dine: Airlie Beach has some excellent cafes and restaurants, most of them located around the waterfront on Shute Harbour Road. One
of the best restaurants is upmarket Déjà Vu
at the Water’s Edge Resort, which has spectacular views over Airlie Beach and
the Whitsunday islands. Capers at the Airlie Beach Hotel is more for casual dining.

Must do: Take a helicopter flight over Heart Reef for a romantic experience or head out into sugar cane country where you’ll discover its pioneers at the Proserpine Historical Museum. Here you’ll learn about the district’s history, including the sugar industry, gold mining, the gas experimental station and the Proserpine rock wallaby.
www.proserpine.com/historicalsociety

Tours: Reeforest Adventure Tours runs a variety of excursions by coach from Airlie Beach to Eungella National Park, Mackay, Cape Hillsborough National Park, the Pioneer Valley and the Whitsundays, and includes full commentary on the history of the area as well as a few tall stories. www.reeforest.com

Details: www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au