In 2002, I visited Cape Tribulation for the first time. I was backpacking and signed up for a two-day tour from Cairns. Unfortunately, it rained the whole time I was there. It was a shame, but I still really enjoyed it and always wanted to return to visit in dry weather.
It took me some time to make my way back up that way, but I am so glad I finally did. This time, we had the most perfect weather for the entire 3 days we were there. It was delightful.
Cape Tribulation is a piece of paradise and my favourite spot in Tropical North Queensland. It’s best known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef. You have the lush and leafy Daintree rainforest on one side and the world-famous Great Barrier Reef on the other.
This off the beaten path little town has pristine beaches and offers plenty of fantastic outdoor activities. It’s a true gem, and if you haven’t been up there yet, it’s time to plan your trip.
Where is Cape Tribulation?
The remote township of Cape Tribulation is in Tropical North Queensland, 140 kilometres north of Cairns or 85 kilometres north of Port Douglas.
Cairns to Cape Tribulation takes approximately three hours by car and it is such an enjoyable drive along the Captain Cook Highway. Along the way, you will pass some of the most spectacular scenery in the state, with breathtaking coastal views, stunning beaches, rolling green mountains and sugar cane fields, before arriving at the Daintree River crossing.
Once at the river crossing, you will need to take the car ferry across to the north side of the Daintree River and drive through the Daintree Rainforest for the last leg of your trip.
If you want to travel slowly, read more about what you can do between Cairns and Cape Tribulation here.
What to know before you go?
The beaches are not safe to swim at
The saddest part about Cape Tribulation is that the beaches are so amazing but sadly it’s too dangerous to swim there. The area is home to Saltwater crocodiles that sometimes move from creek to creek via the ocean. It doesn’t happen often because most people follow the rules, but people have been attacked and killed by them in the past. No-one wants that to happen!
During the summer months, the water is also inhabited by stingers and if swimming in the water you risk a very nasty sting and they have also led to deaths in the past. Pretty annoying I know. However, thankfully there are a couple of safe waterholes to cool off at.
You don’t need a 4WD to make it to Cape Tribulation
Although Cape Tribulation is remote, it is the last place north of Cairns accessible without a 4WD. If you wish to keep going north of Cape Tribulation, you’ll need a 4WD but don’t get one if Cape Tribulation is your last stop, unless of course you really want to.
Don’t expect to sleep in
My favourite thing about Cape Tribulation was waking up to the sound of the jungle. About 20 minutes before sunrise (which is early in Queensland – 5.30 am when we visited) the jungle comes alive. You will never have heard anything like it! All the birds and wildlife start singing and calling out to the sun. It’s so loud; so spectacular. If you manage to sleep through this, well, you must be a very good sleeper! But I do hope you don’t sleep through it as it must be heard!
Best time to visit
The Daintree region has one of the wettest climates in Australia. During the wet season, from December to April, there are heavy and frequent downpours. It’s not uncommon for some areas to flood, including the Daintree River. Maximum temperatures through the wet season range from 27–33°C, with humidity often exceeding 80 per cent. It’s hot!
The cooler and drier months are from May to September. This is the best time to visit. The weather is still warm but with reduced humidity. Maximum temperatures average 26°C.
Bring insect repellent!
When it’s wet in Cape Tribulation you can expect to have a lot of mosquitoes around. So, make sure to bring some insect repellent as you will need it.
Keep an eye out for Cassowaries
The cassowary is a rare and endangered species that lives in the Daintree region. You may be lucky to spot one during your holidays in this area. If you do, great, however, you do need to follow the Cassowary rules. Keep your distance and DO NOT feed them. Observe them from a distance. This large, flightless bird can measure up to two metres tall and weigh up to 70 kg. They also can run up to 50 km/h. When driving, keep your speed down and be vigilant in case cassowaries unexpectedly step out on the road.
What to do in Cape Tribulation?
Take a long walk on the beach
Cape Tribulation Beach and Myall Beach are so stunning and a major drawcard for the area. The best part is that they always seem empty! They are the perfect spot to go for a nice long walk and to enjoy the spectacular sight of the rainforest meeting the sand.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, swimming on these beautiful beaches is not recommended. The waters in this part of Australia are full of dangerous jellyfish at certain times AND it is croc country!
Head out to the reef with Ocean Safaris
We have visited the reef from Cairns before but since we were at the place where the reef meets the rainforest, we had to visit the reef from Cape Tribulation too. Ocean Safaris run two daily trips to the Mackay Reef and the best part, it only takes 25 minutes to get there. We enjoyed our trip to the reef from Cape Tribulation a lot more than we did from Cairns. For starters, being such a short trip, I didn’t get seasick. The other reason is that we both thought that the reef looked a lot healthier this time around which made us very happy!
The Mackay Reef is a great spot to see turtles, as well as huge clams.
Take a walk in the rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest is one of the main reasons why people drive up to Cape Tribulation. There are plenty of nice walking paths through the jungle to explore near Cape Tribulation. Some of the best trails to hike are the Marrdja Boardwalk,the Dubuji Boardwalk, and if you like amuch harder, hike Mount Sorrow.
Take a dip at a swimming hole
Since the ocean is off-limits for visitors, swimming holes are the best alternative to cool off from the heat. There are a few in and around Cape Tribulation. We visited the Mason’s Waterhole, located next to the Mason’s Cafe. All you need to do is make a $1 donation and you can soak in this waterhole to your heart’s content.
We were also recommended Emmagen Creek about 10-15 mins drive from Cape Tribulation, although you need a 4WD to get to this one.
Check out the view at the Alexandra Lookout
Only a few minutes after you cross the Daintree River, you will find the Alexandra Lookout. From this lookout, you’ll have views of the Daintree River mouth, rainforest, oceans, and islands in the distance.
Take a walking tour with Cooper Creek Wilderness
Driving south towards the ferry, halfway between Cape Tribulation and Cow Bay, you will find the Cooper Creek Wilderness walking tours. This is a wonderful, family-run, guided walk in the oldest part of the rainforest – some of it 1700 years old.
It’s unbelievable! Afterwards, you will see the rainforest in a completely different light. We enjoyed it so much and were blown away by how much our guide knew about the land, where she’d lived for 25 years. Their day-guided walks are great, the options start from 2 hours upwards. It’s a great thing to do if you want to learn about the forest and all the little critters and wildlife that inhabit it. It costs $75 per person for the two-hour tour but you won’t be bored, that’s for sure.
Take a cruise on the Daintree River
You can’t visit the Daintree and not take a cruise along the Daintree River. It’s a must! We used Solar Whisper who run a few one-hour cruises throughout the day. You can book online or turn up (although when international borders finally reopen, I would recommend booking ahead).
On the cruise, you are very likely to spot some saltwater crocodiles (low tide is the best time to do the cruise), as well as a myriad of birdlife such as Kingfishers. It’s an hour well spent.
Cool off with an ice cream
On a hot tropical Queensland day, there is nothing better than cooling off with an ice cream. Head to the Daintree Ice Cream Company to try out their famous four flavoured cups of tropical fruit ice creams (flavours change daily). They specialise in exotic tropical flavours using fruits grown on site. You can also take a free self-guided walk in their orchard and see all sorts of tropical fruits to learn about what you are eating.
Go on a night walk
If you are a wildlife enthusiast, take a guided night walk through the rainforest to encounter plenty of critters that only come out at night.
It last two hours and is a great way to get up close and personal with all sorts of frogs, insects, reptiles and more.
Ride a horse on the beach
Horse riding is another popular thing to do in Cape Tribulation and Cape Trib Horse Rides offer mid-morning and afternoon rides. All routes will take you along the stunning beaches and give you beautiful coastline views.
Where to stay?
I can’t recommend Wildwood enough. We had the most amazing 3 nights in one of their wooden cabins, nestled right in the rainforest. It’s a short distance from town and set within a rare exotic fruit orchard. Guests have exclusive access to the orchard and can freely explore it and help themselves to the tropical fruits in season. It was perfect for us. Find their prices here.
PK’s Jungle Village
Situated in the heart of Cape Tribulation, PK’s Jungle Village offers air-conditioned cabin-style rooms and dorms in a rainforest setting. It is a 2-minute stroll through tropical rainforest to Myall Beach. Find their prices here.
Cape Trib Beach House
Set on 7 acres nestled within the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Trib Beach House boasts a private white sand beach area and an outdoor swimming pool. Guests can enjoy a daily beach bonfire. The property is a 5-minute drive from Cape Tribulation’s town centre. Find their prices here.
If none of those are suitable, try using HotelsCombined to search across all the major accommodation websites using the search-box below.
Where to eat in Cape Tribulation?
The Cassowary Restaurant is set in a beautiful rainforest setting within the gardens of Ferntree Rainforest Hotel. It’s open for breakfast and dinner and serves classic dishes and a true Aussie dining platter.
We really loved the tropical rainforest dining ambience at night.
The Turtle Rock Café
The Turtle Rock Café is open daily for breakfast and lunch. It’s situated right next to the information centre where the Ocean Safari boat trips depart, so it’s a great place to eat breaky before the tour or lunch afterwards. They serve good breakfast, homemade pies, great burgers, wraps, smoothies and have decent coffee.
Thornton’s is 10 minutes south of Cape Tribulation and they serve breakfast and lunch, right by the beachfront.
Whet Restaurant has lovely food and is open for lunch and dinner (dinner bookings recommended). However, the business was for sale when we visited.