This is how you do summer in Tropical North Queensland
As the weather heats up, Mother Nature looms large up north.
Tropical North Queensland is certainly no stranger to natural, pinch-me beauty. But when the rain comes falling down and wet season is at its peak, the sight of these tumbling waterfalls will render you speechless.
Sure, summer in Tropical North Queensland may be known to the locals as the Big Wet – but don’t let that deter you.
From November to April, the rainforest explodes with colour, the native wildlife is at its best and the waterfalls are at their peak.
And there’s still plenty to do here. We’re talking everything from tackling thundering rapids in the heart of the tropics, to secret waterfalls, and witnessing the roaring Barron Falls in all her glory.
Here are 11 things you need to tick off your bucket list during summer in Tropical North Queensland.
Important: Please avoid swimming in waterholes and waterfalls during or after heavy rainfall.
1. LET BARRON FALLS TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY
There’s big… and then there’s do-your-eyes-deceive-you, Barron Falls big.
During summer in Tropical North Queensland you can expect to see this roaring, thundering beauty tumble dramatically down a near-vertical rock face in Barron Gorge, shrouded in mist and shimmering rainbows.
How to see it: Being so close to Cairns, you’ll find yourself spoilt for options when it comes to choosing how to see Barron Falls.
- Want to fly past the Barron Falls? The best aerial view is on board Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Cruise above and through 7.5km of World Heritage-listed tropical rainforest canopy on this bucket-list-worthy gondola, before venturing deep into the forest, and past Barron Falls.
- Looking for a day trip that dishes up unsurpassed views of dense rainforest, steep ravines and a kaleidoscope of natural flora at every turn? From the comfort of your leather booth in a heritage timber carriage, the Kuranda Scenic Railway takes you on a picturesque one hour and 45-minute journey through Barron Falls National Park. Keep your eyes peeled for the Northern Bettong and Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo on the way!
- Take a (short) road trip to Kuranda or hop on the bus, where it’s an easy climb up to Din Din Barron Falls Lookout from the car park.
2. HIDE & GO SEEK WATERFALLS IN CRYSTAL CASCADES
Hidden in the tropical rainforest near Crystal Cascades – just 15 minutes out of Cairns – you’ll find no shortage of secluded pools and swimming holes to cool off in.
But there is one local favourite that shines a little brighter.
Introduce yourself to Fairy Falls – and get acquainted – because this natural beauty will have you coming back time and time again.
How to get here: To the left of the car park, you’ll find an opening between the trees. Keep the creek on your right, and climb over a series of boulders until you stumble across this lesser-known wonder nestled in the rainforest.
TIP: Take your time and wear appropriate shoes. The climb down to Fairy Falls is a little steep and can be slippery. Save it for a not-so-rainy day as this spot can be dangerous after heavy downpours.
3. EXPLORE NATURE’S OWN PLAYGROUND
Meet Josephine Falls. A place where you can wander along rainforest paths, channel your inner-Tarzan, laze on smooth granite boulders and slide down a natural waterslide.
Fed from the summit of Mt Bartle Frere (Queensland’s highest mountain), it’s made up of three pellucid swimming pools and nestled in the heart of Wooroonooran National Park.
How to get here: Head west from Cairns on Mulgrave Road and continue south towards Townsville and you’ll find yourself on the Bruce Highway. Enjoy the scenic 75km drive to Mirriwinni, just south of Babinda, then take the turnoff to Mount Bartle Frere. Follow the signs for another 8kms.
Once you arrive, you’ll be treated to a short hike through the dense rainforest, until you find yourself knocking on Josephine’s door.
TIP: Please avoid swimming during or after heavy rainfall. When you’re at Josephine Falls, follow the signage and stick to the two bottom pools for swimming. Simply kick back and take in the view of the top pool (or you might break the bank with an on-spot fine).
4. CHASE WATERFALLS ON THE ATHERTON TABLELANDS
Hit the jackpot with a visit to the Atherton Tablelands: three-for-one waterfalls!
For a day trip you’ll remember long after your return flight, journey along the popular 17km loop road (accessible off the Palmerston Highway). Here you’ll find Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls waiting to be explored.
TIP: Keep your eyes peeled as you may catch a glimpse of a platypus while you’re here. A colony of flying foxes are also often spotted near the Ellinjaa Falls car park.
5. WATCH THE RAIN FALL DOWN AT PARONELLA PARK
You might be surprised to discover a dreamy Spanish castle nestled in the rainforest. But Paronella Park completely transforms come summer: peaking through mist and plunging waterfalls.
It’s even better after a heavy downpour, when you’ll witness the power of the tumultuous Mena Creek Falls.
TIP: Here’s how to do Paronella Park in a day. And if you visit when it’s rainy, seek shelter in hideaways dotted throughout the historic castle ruins.
6. STEP INTO THE RAINFOREST AT MOSSMAN GORGE
Up for an adventure that’s rich in heritage, ancient culture and natural beauty?
One-hundred and thirty-five million years in the making, Mossman Gorge is located in the heart of the oldest continuously surviving rainforest in the world, but this is only where the allure of Mossman begins.
The local area has been inhabited by the Kuku Yalanji people for the past 50,000 years, so let them take you on a guided Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk. It’s the best way to truly appreciate Mossman Gorge.
Armed with an intimate knowledge of nature and the cultural significance of the sites, plant use, bush foods and the importance of wet season, you’ll leave with a deep respect for the significance of this iconic Tropical North Queensland wonder.
7. GO GREEN AT UNDARA
Here you’ll find the oldest and best-preserved lava tube systems across the globe. We’re talking 190,000 years in the making.
And when it’s summer in Tropical North Queensland, it’s green season here.
This is when Undara goes from incredible to an out-of-this-world nature fix. The usually dry vegetation surrounding the lava tubes explodes with colour.
It’s also the best time to experience the incredible native wildlife who call Undara home. Macropods are having their babies and are out in droves, and the sunset wildlife tour will leave you speechless.
Here, snakes hang from the trees at the entrance of Barkers Cave and the catch the bats as they exit to feed at night. You have to see it to believe it, but here’s a peek at the action.
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The #lavatube #snake tour at @undaraexperience was the best land based wildlife experience i've ever had. Just after sunset at the entrance to one of the #lavatubes the #snakes wait in a tree for the #bats to fly out and then pick them out of mid air. All around you! It really is a must do if you can handle being that close to the snakes and only happens in the green season! Happy #EarthDay #thisisqueensland @queensland #ExploreTNQ #SeeAustralia #Australia #wildlife #bbcearth #natgeo #wildlifeplanet #UndaraLavaTubes #Undara #UndaraExperience @tropicalnorthqueensland @australia @australiangeographic @natgeowild @bbc_travel @BBCearth
Did you know? In seasons of extreme monsoonal rain (approximately once every 20 years) the ancient lava tubes can fill with water to create a phenomenal natural underwater environment. Don’t believe us? Just watch.
8. TAKE TIME OUT AT LAKE EACHAM
Ready to dive into a volcanic crater lake in the Atherton Tablelands?
This blue and green hued stunner – Lake Eacham – sits nestled in the tranquil surrounds of Crater Lakes National Park. It’s the perfect spot to take a dip, go bird-watching and soak up the serenity while exploring the shaded walking tracks.
9. SEEK ADVENTURE AT BEHANA GORGE
Want to beat the heat and escape the crowds? You’ll do a little more than just chase waterfalls when you venture out with Behana Days.
Abseil down Behana Gorge, leap off towering cliffs, slide down rocks into refreshing rainforest pools, swim under waterfalls, snorkel through crystalline tropical water and hike through dense tropical rainforest – all in one day!
10. SOAK UP SERENITY AT BABINDA BOULDERS
Secluded swimming holes set in the rainforest. A cauldron of silvery rocks and emerald green water. Yup, you already know this is going to be good.
How to get here: The Devil’s Pool Walk will take you on a 1.3km-return walk along Babinda Creek. Weave through cool, dense rainforest to two viewing platforms to spot water cascade down a number of waterfalls, tumble over smooth granite boulders and through washpools. Please only swim and walk in the designated areas here.
11. RAFT DOWN THE RAGING BARRON RIVER
As summer in Tropical North Queensland picks up, so do the rapids! And if you’re chasing adventure and adrenaline, the crew at Raging Thunder don’t do it by halves.
The thundering Barron River, just south of Cairns, is renowned for its wild rapids, rips and cascading waterfalls, making it one helluva spot to take to the water with experienced guides.
For the latest information on access, closures and conditions check online for any Park Alerts.
Please avoid swimming in waterholes and waterfalls during or after heavy rainfall.
Need more inspo? Work your way through 9 more unmissable day trips out of Cairns.