By John Pedler
Published: Thursday, May 16, 2019
It must have been the undersea coral gardens, ancient rainforests, picture-perfect waterfalls and weird and wonderful wildlife that led Sir David Attenborough to declare, "My favourite place is North Queensland. It has, for a naturalist, everything".
There are few regions in Australia so cluttered with remarkable landscapes and jaw-dropping scenery.
Plus, with an adventure possible around every corner, even the most screen-addicted kids will be embracing the great outdoors in no time.
Cairns is the ideal base for your North Queensland holiday. Although a thoroughly modern town, the crocodile warning sign at the botanic gardens is a fair clue this place still has a frontier edge.
If you don’t spot a croc in the garden’s lily pond, you’re sure to meet one at Cairns Wildlife Dome where, among other activities, you can ride a zipline directly over Goliath, the dome’s resident 4m-long saltie.
From Cairns Marina, and further north at Port Douglas, tour boats head out to one of the region’s 2 UNESCO-listed World Heritage sites – the 2000km-long Great Barrier Reef.
With a mask and snorkel, the kids will have no trouble finding Nemo and his mates. The reef is simply brimming with brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes, as well as sea creatures so bizarre they’re sure proof aliens live among us.
And for those who shudder at the thought of a dip in our chilly southern seas, the warm embrace of Queensland’s tropical waters will help make swimming enjoyable again.
Since getting wet isn’t for everyone, some cruises head to reef platforms and include a trip in a glass-bottomed boat and access to an underwater observatory, where you can have a go at out-staring a parrot fish.
To the west of Cairns are the lush pastures and dense rainforests of the mountainous Atherton Tablelands.
Built in the late 1800s, the Kuranda Scenic Railway – which takes you to Kuranda in the Tablelands – is an engineering marvel, climbing steadily up the steep slopes of the range.
This is a thrilling ride through thick jungle, across towering trestle bridges, and past waterfalls that plunge down sheer cliffs.
Stunning views back towards the coast and Coral Sea complete the picture.
Kuranda itself is a quaint hilltop village, rich with local artisans and unique attractions, including the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.
At their breeding facility, you’ll discover the Hercules Moth caterpillar grows to the size of a sausage, but for the kids it will likely be the clouds of butterflies with dazzling green, orange and electric blue wings that will be the highlight of their visit.
Descending from the Tablelands can be just as much fun as the train trip on the way up. Skyrail is a 7km-long cableway that passes above North Queensland’s other World Heritage-listed area, the Wet Tropics.
Great care went into Skyrail’s construction to ensure minimal environmental impact.
Although this is reassuring to know, it will probably be the last thing on your mind as you float high above one of the most significant natural environments on earth, with great views in every direction.
A couple of stops along the way will get the family even closer to this remarkable wilderness.
A guided walking tour along the boardwalk at Red Peak Station will highlight the wonders of the forest, and could accidentally provide educational content while the young’uns have their guard down.
To venture deeper into the Wet Tropics region, take a tour north of Port Douglas to the Daintree Rainforest.
Here you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the endangered southern cassowary, a flightless bird about the size of an emu with brilliant blue and orange neck colouring, an odd helmet-like structure on its head, and a prickly demeanour that sees it pick fights at the drop of a hat.
A cruise along the Daintree River puts you squarely back on saltwater crocodile turf, another animal unlikely to exchange pleasantries when encountered in the wild.
Bumping into these prehistoric monsters at the water’s edge is a heart-pounding experience, and is sure to rank well among the holiday yarns when the new school term starts.
You don’t have to travel too far beyond the boundaries of a North Queensland town to find yourself deep in untamed wilderness, among some of nature’s greatest showpieces.
But there are also plenty of modern facilities, top notch hotels, and well-equipped caravan parks to ensure you don’t have to go without creature comforts.
So at the end of a day of high adventure, you can sit back and take in the fiery colours of a tropical sunset, while the kids cool down in the pool and contemplate who’d win a fight between a cassowary and a crocodile.