Underwater photographer Jemma Craig’s top ten things to do in Cairns and North Queensland
in partnership with
If there is ever a time to heed the advice of a seasoned crocodile handler, dive instructor and underwater photographer, it is on your trip to tropical north Queensland. Having literally grown up on the Great Barrier Reef (her family owns and runs a crocodile park there), Jemma Craig, now 25 and Instagramming as @islandjems, knows the ins and outs of the region, famous for its rainforests, relaxed style and that sweeping, threatened stretch of coral reef.
In partnership with Pullman Hotels and Resorts, we’re helping you explore more on your next holiday and make sure you get those experiences that the area’s most switched-on residents wouldn’t want their visitors to miss. In north Queensland, we’ve called in Jemma, whose favourite things to do in her extended backyard range from cruising in Australia’s most awarded dive liveaboard catamaran to self-guided exploration of underground caves.
A stay in one of Pullman’s four five-star properties in north Queensland — whether Port Douglas, Palm Cove or Cairns — will not only let you bliss out in their pools, spas and sunloungers, it will put you in the thick of all this action.
Read on for Jemma’s favourite things to do on land and sea in north Queensland in her own words, and check out the rest of our Explore More content series to hone your itinerary for some of Australia’s best holiday destinations.
CORAL SEA SAFARI — MIKE BALL EXPEDITIONS
One trip on Mike Ball Dive Expeditions‘ luxury liveaboard Catamaran, the MV Spoilsport, and you’ll see why they’re on the top of my list. Spoilsport is Australia’s most awarded dive liveaboard, custom built for diving and with a twin-hull design that maximises space, stability and comfort. Their trips take you far from home into the rarely visited Coral Sea and all the incredible deep reefs it has to offer, to the remote Lizard Island and back down the spectacular Ribbon Reefs to Cairns. If you don’t dive, these trips alone are a reason to start.
MARINELAND CROCODILE PARK
Where else in the world can you come face to face with a living dinosaur while relaxing on a tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef? Green Island’s Marineland Crocodile Park is the home of Cassius, the Guinness World Record-holding Australian crocodile, and this is your opportunity to get close to a 5.5m croc, along with many other reptiles and sea life. My family founded this park in 1972 and I was lucky enough to grow up here — I love that it is hidden away from the tourists and that the island also boasts diving, water sports and arguably the best snorkelling in the area.
TURTLE SPECTACULAR — MIKE BALL DIVE EXPEDITIONS
Mike Ball‘s Turtle Spectacular Expedition is perfect for the summer months — green turtle nesting season on Raine Island, a remote national park at the very tip of Australia that is home to 70 percent of the world’s nesting green turtles and can only be visited by a lucky few guests each year. The trip takes you to the Coral Sea, the remote Lizard Island, and then into the wild northern Great Barrier Reef and Raine Island. Dive on the most pristine coral reef flat I’ve ever laid my eyes on, and be surrounded by the largest turtles you’ve ever seen in your life.
PORT DOUGLAS, CAPE TRIBULATION AND THE DAINTREE RAINFOREST
Port Douglas is a town on the Coral Sea in tropical far north of Queensland. It’s known for its beach resorts and as a base for visits to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest. In town, Macrossan Street is lined with boutique shops and quaint restaurants. The white sands of Four Mile Beach stretch off into the horizon, and you can visit the incredible Opal Reef for a snorkel. Further north you can visit Cape Tribulation, which offers walking routes and boardwalks through the jungle and mangroves, and a historical ridge trail on Mount Sorrow.
UNDARA LAVA TUBES
Set in the Gulf Savannah country in tropical north Queensland, Undara National Park is a bit of a drive from Cairns inland into the outback but is worth it for the unique opportunity it offers. Its main attraction are the lava tubes, which were formed by volcanic activity approximately 189,000 years ago. They are among the largest and longest of this type of lava cave on the planet, and the guided tours really make you appreciate this fascinating geological formation. There’s also the option to stay here overnight — in an antique railway carriage, no less.
Fitzroy Island is a gem, close to the coast and only a short ferry ride from Cairns. It’s an unspoiled tropical paradise of rainforest and beaches within the calm sheltered waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Discover spectacular walking trails in the national park with abundant marine life and local wildlife. Visit the pristine Nudey beach or take a romantic walk to the hidden waterfall. Fitzroy has campgrounds and a boutique resort so stay a night or two and explore everything it has to offer.
TJAPUKAI ABORIGINAL CULTURAL PARK
If you’ve only ever had limited interaction with Indigenous Australian culture, Tjapukai is a must. You can visit day or night to taste native foods and be led in activities such as boomerang throwing. Performances are a key part of the experience, as the park was built around theatre and dance shows devised with the local Djabugay people. The park lies claim to being the largest Indigenous employer of any tourism enterprise in Australia, with more than two-thirds of the team coming from Aboriginal backgrounds.
THE CRYSTAL CAVES
Located a short drive out of Cairns up into the Atherton tablelands, the Crystal Caves offer guests an interactive tour of a truly unique underground cave system. Visitors are able to explore at their leisure — seeing and touching the ancient treasures of the earth. You are given a miner’s helmet, a light and a comprehensive map with printed guide before you set off on your self-guided tour. This is a truly special experience that only a few places in the world offer.
A short distance from Cairns is the mountain village of Kuranda. It’s known for the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which winds along forested hillside tracks carved out by early settlers. Kuranda offers a vibrant arts and crafts culture, with quaint little stalls and a colourful market running through the rainforest. Enjoy some homemade ice cream or candy and visit one of the many Wildlife Habitats Kuranda has to offer. Travel via shuttle bus, car, Skyrail or Kuranda’s Scenic Train.
SKYRAIL RAINFOREST CABLEWAY
You’re in the tropics now, so how fitting to go hang out in the jungle for a little while. The Kuranda Skyrail offers you the opportunity to glide above the treetops in a secured windowed gondola running along an 8km cableway through the Barron Gorge and the Kuranda Range Rainforest. Glass-floored and open-air gondolas are also on offer. The Skyrail has won a number of tourism and sustainability awards, and provides a unique link between the bustle of Cairns City and the beautiful jungle village of Kuranda.