TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND // a lush paradise (but watch out for crocs)

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Parking the jeep we start walking through the lush vegetation and, suddenly, there it is – Cape Tribulation Beach.

This is the kind of beach you dream about when you book your flights to Tropical North Queensland (also called Far North Queensland) – an unspoilt white-sand beach that hugs the coastline of the Daintree National Park – lush tropical rainforest to one side, the clear azure-blue waters of the Coral Sea to the other. It’s the kind of view that stops you in your tracks and steals your breath from your chest; it’s unbelievably stunning.

They’re not joking when they call it the rainforest, by the way, in the short time we’re there the heavens open twice – and it’s as if someone has upended a bucket of tepid water over our heads. Even once the rain stops (as quickly and suddenly as it starts) raindrops continue to drip steadily from the thick foliage. There’s a pungent smell in the air – damp soil and overripe fruit – and the chirruping of cicadas, which had stopped during the downpour, steadily picks up volume again.

WARNING! YOU’RE ENTERING CROC COUNTRY

But then a sight competes for my attention, a sign written in bright red and yellow: ‘Warning, Achtung!’ Crocodiles inhabit this area.’ Australia has been synonymous with these prehistoric reptiles since Crocodile Dundee hit movie screens back in 1986, but there’s nothing like seeing an actual warning sign to drive it home that we’re officially standing in Croc Country.

In an instant every shadow and pile of leaves becomes a potential croc, ready to leap out and drag you back to its muddy lair. OK, the reality is, it’s not THAT dangerous – although it’s true that you need to use your common sense. In areas crocodiles are known to inhabit don’t ignore no-swimming signs or take a dip anywhere where you can’t see the bottom, and avoid camping or walking near to the waterline.

Fortunately, there’s a whole lot more to what the locals affectionately call TNQ than crocs and box jellyfish (speaking of which, look out for them too – popular swimming beaches, such as Port Douglas, will put up nets that help keep the stingers at bay, but it’s recommended that you also wear wetsuits or lycra bodysuits to protect against any water nasties).

TRAVELLING TO THE TNQ – WHERE TO GO & WHAT VISA YOU’LL NEED

Located in the north-east of Australia, Tropical North Queensland stretches almost to the equator, making it officially in the tropics and ensuring warm temperatures all year round. It has a wet and a dry season; travel in the wet season to avoid the crowds, but expect hot, humid conditions and – of course – lots of rain. The heat of the dry season isn’t so cloying, but peak tourist time means more people to contend with.

Australia might take more planning to visit – unlike European countries, which (for now at least!) can be entered with a UK passport  – you need to apply for an Australia visa before you can visit; in fact, you can’t even book your flights before you have your visa in place. Luckily, there are companies that can make the process as pain-free as possible, quickly and simply leading you through the process to obtain your visa, which allows you to stay in the country for up to three months. If you fancy a longer stay, or hope to fund your travels as you go, search ‘working holiday visa, Australia‘ to apply for a Working Holidaymaker visa, that allow you to work and earn money for up to one year.

You can do as much or as little as you like in this picturesque corner of the Sunshine State. Travel to Port Douglas, and spend your days soaking up the sun (temperatures average 29º celsius all year round) and swimming in the turquoise waters of the famous white-sand beaches. If adventure is more your thing, try an adrenaline-filled free fall over this tropical paradise, before parachuting in to land on soft sands.

DIVING INTO THE DEEP

But it is, without a doubt, ecotourism that offers the most unique and incredible attractions of this most north-eastern corner of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site and the world’s most extensive coral reef system. Teeming with sea life, it’s been proclaimed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and is a bucket list destination for an estimated two million people every year.

Tropical North Queensland Sandy Cay

Arriving at the site, the magnificence of the reef is hidden below the surface – we could be bobbing about any patch of open water – but with dive tanks secured we drop into the water, and an entirely new world opens up. Spindly coral creations rise from the sea bed, as anemones wave gently in currents. Brightly coloured tropical fish dart in and out while silvery shoals shimmer past.

Afterwards, the boat takes us to one of the many cays that dot the coastline off Tropical North Queensland; a sandy island that sits atop a coral reef, cays range from several thousand, to a few dozen feet long – some only emerging from the water during low tide. With our boat moored, we grab our snorkels and masks and swim to the tiny white sand island.

Gazing out across the clear turquoise water, we imagined we’re shipwrecked here – a million miles from the bustle of real life, stress a distant memory.

A few hours later we return to our base in Cairns, sun-kissed, salty and smiling from a day of memories we’ll never forget.

To find out more about travelling to this slice of paradise, visit Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

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