Sarah Latham Cardwell Spa Pools Cairns

Cairns to Townsville (or Townsville to Cairns) is one of the most popular road trips in Australia. While only 350km apart from each other, there is SO much to do between these two North Queensland towns.

While this road trip could be spread out across weeks, for time poor travellers who still want to experience the best of what exists between Cairns and Townsville you can hit the best of Tropical North Queensland by following this road trip itinerary below.

Cairns to Townsville Road Trip: Day 1

Start in Cairns

After you’ve explored the tropical city of Cairns, and ticked off the many different things to do here (suggested read: 101 Things to Do in Cairns), it’s time to depart. Be prepared to leave early to make the most of your first day of your Cairns to Townsville road trip.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon sunrise Sarah Latham
Cairns Lagoon

Behana Gorge

Your first stop is Behana Gorge, located in Gordonvale, a 30 minute drive out of Cairns City. 45 minute walk each way, Behana Gorge is not only a good morning hike but you are also greeted with these emerald green pools and a stunning waterfall.

Behana Gorge Cairns Sarah Latham
Emerald green pools of Behana Gorge

Babinda Boulders

A further 30 minute drive from Behana Gorge and you’ll find the quaint country town of Babinda. Turn right off the highway and follow the clearly marked signs to Babinda Boulders, a popular local swimming hole and one of the most Instagrammable locations in the Cairns region. Babinda Boulders is equipped with barbecues and picnic areas if you want to stop for a mid-morning brunch.

Sarah Latham Babinda Boulders Cairns
Babinda Boulders

Josephine Falls

Only slightly further south along the Bruce Highway (about a 20 minute drive) is Josephine Falls (another one of the best waterfalls in the Cairns region). Popular with Cairns locals and visiting backpackers, Josephine Falls is famous for its ‘natural waterslide’ and gorgeous backdrop.

Josephine Falls Cairns Sarah Latham
Josephine Falls

Paronella Park

Continue south for another 40 minutes before arriving at Paronella Park just outside of Innisfail. One of the dreamiest places in Queensland, Paronella Park is the ruins of what once was a Catalan castle and is definitely worth investing a few hours wandering through the beautiful grounds.

Paronella Park Cairns Sarah Latham
The Grand Staircase, Paronella Park

Mission Beach

Finish your first day of your Cairns to Townsville road trip, slightly further (about 40 minutes) down the road in Mission Beach. Walk along the coconut tree lined beach or take in the ambiance with a wine at Castaway’s restaurant and bar.

Coconut Trees Mission Beach Sarah Latham
Mission Beach

Cairns to Townsville Road Trip: Day 2

Start your second day of your Cairns to Townsville road trip by waking up bright and early for another spectacular day ticking off some of the best Queensland road trip sights.

Cardwell Spa Pools

Less than an hour south of Mission Beach, Cardwell Spa Pools is a vibrant blue natural spa. While you have to leave the sealed road to get to this spot, it’s an iconic North Queensland location and a must see for anyone road tripping between Cairns and Townsville.

Sarah Latham Cardwell Spa Pools Cairns
Vibrant Cardwell Spa Pools

Attie Creek Falls

While you’re here… Attie Creek Falls is 5 minutes from Cardwell Spa Pools and is of the same vibrant colour the Cardwell region is famous for.

Wallaman Falls

Hop back in the car for another 90 minutes and head down towards Ingham. From here leave the highway and follow all signs (clearly posted) to Wallaman Falls. Pull up at the carpark, and admire the highest single drop permanent waterfall in Australia from above.

You can hike to the base of the Falls, called the Djyinda Walk. I highly recommend it as the waterfall is even more impressive from below. The hike is only 3.2km return; however, the way back up is quite steep. I am of moderate fitness and found the return relatively easy/manageable but take enough water and make sure you do it at your own pace.

For more information about Wallaman Falls see Queensland Parks official website.

Sarah Latham Wallaman Falls
Wallaman Falls from the base

Little Crystal Creek

After a spectacular experience at the base of Wallaman Falls, hike back to the top, hop back in your car and head back to the highway. Another 90 minute drive from Wallaman Falls will lead you to Little Crystal Creek. Just north of Townsville, this waterfall is popular with Townsville locals and a great spot to enjoy a refreshing dip.

Upstream at Little Crystal Creek

You are now only an hour north of Townsville. Depending on your time limit, you can end your Cairns to Townsville road trip here, having experienced some of the best natural attractions between Cairns and Townsville. However… you can also…

Continue your Cairns to Townsville Road Trip

Magnetic Island

If you have a little bit extra time, catch the 4:25pm ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island (or stay the night in Townsville before jumping on the morning ferry) to add a few more days of paradise to your Cairns to Townsville road trip itinerary.

You can either leave your car in Townsville and take the passenger ferry over or you can bring your car with you, which also gives you easy transport options on the island. For prices see Magnetic Island Ferries.

You can enjoy Magnetic Island (also known as Maggie to the locals) for a day or several days if you wish to take more advantage of the beautiful island. While you’re here make sure you check out the S.S. City of Adelaide ship wreck and look for koalas in the wild.

Townsville Recommendations

Whether you are finishing or beginning your Cairns to Townsville (or Townsville to Cairns) road trip in Townsville, make sure you check out the top Townsville attractions while you’re here.

1. Visit the Reef HQ Aquarium.

2. Hike (or drive) to the top of Castle Hill.

Castle Hill, Townsville, Sarah Latham
Castle Hill, Townsville

3. Have a bite to eat at Cbar on The Strand, overlooking the ocean and Magnetic Island in the distance.

Cbar at The Strand

Cairns to Townsville Itinerary Pinned in Google Maps

To follow the above itinerary through Google Maps please click here. Please note that Cardwell Spa Pools and Attie Creek Falls are in the same area.

Cairns to Townsville road trip pinned by Google Maps
Cairns to Townsville trip itinerary

Have a great trip!