Family-Friendly Road Trip: Captain Cook Highway

3 January 2017
Read Time: 2.7 mins

If you haven't visited Australia's Sunshine State, the Captain Cook Highway, hugging Queensland's coast from Cairns to Port Douglas, is a rewarding introductory trip that delights with scenic tropical seaside, lush rainforests and friendly beachfront communities. 

Days 1-2: Cairns

Cairns is a laid back coastal city with plenty of attractions to keep the family occupied. (Image: Getty)

Cairns, the 'gateway to the Great Barrier Reef', has numerous trips available to anyone wishing to see the world-famous marine life of this Heritage-listed reef.

The rest of the city is also best experienced by stepping outside and embracing your adventurous side. Boat charters out to the nearby islands, jet boating on the Trinity Inlet, kneeboarding and waterskiing at Cable Ski, and the ropes courses at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome all utilise Australia's natural gifts.

Yet it's not all rough and tumble on the coast. Hot-air balloon rides, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park keep you relaxed and entertained.

Choose beach or rainforest at one of Cairns' family-focused resorts. Bay Village Tropical Retreat has two- and three-bedroom apartments slightly back from the Esplanade's playgrounds, walking paths and weekend markets.

The award-winning Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort packs a ridiculous amount of kid-friendly facilities into its expansive area including an interactive play area, water park, jumping pillows and outdoor cinema. 

Days 3- 4: Palm Cove

Palm Cove is the image of paradise. (Image: Getty)

Captain Cook Highway is intended to be taken at a more leisurely pace. Remember the plastic bags for wet towels and swimmers in case you stop for a dip in one or more of the beaches between Cairns and Palm Cove.

Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Trinity Beach and Clifton Beach are all viable options for relishing golden sand licked by cool, blue waves.

Clifton has an additional drawcard: Cairns Tropical Zoo. This wildlife retreat isn't frugal with its special encounters. You can feed, pat or hold certain animals, including koalas, crocodiles, lemurs, wombats and birds.

Get ready to settle into Palm Cove's serene beachfront setting where the resorts are separated from the beach by towering melaleuca trees that wave through the ocean breeze.

Watersports are an option with stand-up paddle boards and kayaks for hire, or you can taste the local flavours at beachfront cafes and restaurants. A cruise out to Double Island and its nearby reefs also provides quality swimming, snorkelling and wildlife experiences.

Families are spoilt with the amount of resorts that feature swimming pools, kids clubs and beach activities. Peppers Beach Club & Spa delivers two- and three-bedroom self-catered accommodation right on the beachfront.

Days 5-6: Port Douglas

Explore the unique ecosystems of the Daintree, home to an abundance of wildlife, including the mighty saltwater crocodile. (Image: Getty)

This section is one of the most scenic, as the highway hugs the coastline tightly before heading slightly inland to Wangetti, home to one of the coast's most exciting attractions.

Hartley's Crocodile Adventures is a fun and educational wildlife reserve where crocodile spotting and feeding in the lagoon, koala feeding, turtles and quolls are all on the agenda. There are also daily presentations on cassowaries, snakes, wallabies and other native animals.

If you're still searching for that perfect family holiday portrait, you might find it at Rex Lookout, slightly north of Wangetti.

Entering Port Douglas, you're between two Heritage-listed sites: the Great Barrier Reef on one side and Daintree National Park on the other. Not to mention Cape Tribulation to the north.

Deciding which to visit or to simply stay put and enjoy the sights and activities along Port Douglas' Four Mile Beach might just be the toughest choice you'll have to make all holiday.

The range of affordable resorts and apartments is also plentiful, with Oaks Lagoons, Pink Flamingo and Club Tropical all standing out for families. 

This story first appeared in Travel Ideas Magazine. 

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Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.