>  Destinations   >  Australia   >  What to do on the drive from Mission Beach to Cairns

The trip from Mission Beach to Cairns is only a distance of around 139 kms – roughly a 2-hour drive – but there is plenty to see and do along the way. If you’re planning a trip south from Cairns to Mission Beach or doing the drive from Mission Beach to Cairns you might want to look at taking a bit more time so you can check out the abundance of waterfalls, crystal clear swimming holes, rivers and rainforests along the way.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is a destination that is so laid back it is almost horizontal. Mission Beach is actually made up of four coastal villages consisting of  Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach and South Mission. But the jewel of Mission Beach is the 14 kilometres of golden sand and its glistening waters. There is no shortage of places to stay or delightful dining by the beach or nestled in the townships of Mission Beach. This is the place you truly come to tune out and chill and the perfect place to branch out and take a day trip to Dunk Island or drive to your favourite waterhole.

Mission Beach
The stunning sands of Mission Beach

Tully River

Get wet and go wild on a rafting trip on the Tully River. The Tully River has more than 40 rapids and winds its way through stunning Tully Gorge National Park which is filled pristine rainforest, bright blue Ulysses butterflies and the singing of the birds which call this region home. Cooling down on this fun rafting trip is a great way to cool down in Tropical North Queensland.

Rafting Tully River
White water rafting in the Tully Gorge

Paronella Park

Venture into the hills to Paronella Park which is best described as a Spanish inspired mansion/villa that is slowly corroding back into the Queensland rainforest. This fascinating dwelling has a very interesting history that takes visitors from Catalonia in Northern Spain to the cane fields of North Queensland and José Paronella, a cane cutter who wanted to build his dream home. Starting in the 1930s, this epic adventure is a tale that sounds like an episode of Grand Designs, albeit one from the early 20th century, set in the tropical Queensland rainforest. The 13-hectare site included a  movie theatre that transformed on weekends into a huge ballroom with live bands,  tennis courts,  refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers and Queensland’s first hydroelectric power plant and the first electric lights in Tropical North Queensland. Take a guided walk around the estate to get the full history and grandeur of this fascinating building and the man behind the dream.

Mena Falls from the air
Mena Creek Falls and Paronella Park

Josephine Falls

Closer to the coast and just over an hour from Cairns is Josephine Falls. Part of the Wooroonooran (Black Rock) National Park, Josephine Falls and its swimming holes are ranked amongst some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland with a backdrop of stunning rainforest and birdsong. This area is extremely popular with locals and visitors alike so a weekday visit is great is you can fit it into your itinerary. One feature of Josephine Falls is its natural waterslide which takes you down the rocks to a great swimming hole. Toilets and picnic tables are available here.

Rock waterslide at Josephine Falls
Sliding down the rock slide at Josephine Falls

Babinda Boulders and Babinda Bakery

About an hour from Cairns is the lovely township of Babinda and the famous Babinda Bakery. Cairns locals have been known to do the hour-long trip just to get their hands on the super fresh cream buns (the jam ones are even better). The other reason to visit is the Babinda Boulders swimming holes, another stunning collection of waterways that are as refreshing as they are beautiful. This area has a strong connection to the First Nations people of the area who tell the story of the area known as the Devil’s Pool which they believe is a haunted spot that lures young men to their deaths. The boulders and waterholes themselves are very serene and a big drawcard for locals and visitors alike especially in the summer months when the weather is humid and temperatures hit the high 30s. You can easily spend a few hours here floating and chilling out in this stunning location. You’ll find toilets, change rooms and BBQs here. If you’re also planning a leisurely day perhaps look at staying in town in the cute art deco B&B called the Babinda Quarters. This is a converted nurses’ hostel dating back to the 1960s with loads of quirky charm. 

Swimmer at Babinda Boulders
Emerald waters at the Babinda Boulders

Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls

To get the most from the journey, allow time to drop into Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls before you get to Cairns which is only a 30 minute drive from here. It’s a 45-minute walk each way to this stunning collection of emerald green waterholes and waterfalls located in Wooroonooran (Black Rock) National Park. Even if you get a bit hot, it’s a nice walk and jumping into the waterholes feels great once you get there. Always check weather conditions before swimming as with all watercourses in Tropical North Queensland, as waterfalls and swimming holes can become treacherous after heavy weather or if it is raining further up the mountain.


Once considered little more than a convenient jumping off point for the reef, Cairns is now a fabulous destination in its own right. Don’t make the mistake of only spending a night or two here as you will find plenty to keep you entertained for much longer. There’s a vibrant new arts precinct, chic small bars, boutique coffee roasters, award winning restaurants, microbreweries, and plenty more things to discover in and around the CBD. Here’s our guide to the perfect 4 days in Cairns if you want to stay a while in this friendly tourist town.

Cairns waterfront
Chill out in Cairns

Looking for things to do while you’re in Cairns? Go white water rafting on the Barron River, take a day trip to Paronella Park and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail, check out Cairns’ thriving coffee scene, or head out of town and spend a few nights at the luxurious all inclusive Mt Mulligan Lodge . If the weather is good, a day trip to Fitzroy Island is a top choice if you don’t mind venturing slightly further afield.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.