Less than 30km east of the Bruce Hwy’s rolling sugar-cane and banana plantations, the hamlets that make up greater Mission Beach are hidden among World Heritage rainforest. The rainforest extends right to the Coral Sea, giving this 14km-long palm-fringed stretch of secluded inlets and wide, empty beaches the castaway feel of a tropical island.
It's hard not to love Maggie, as she’s affectionately known, with her coastal, rocky walking trails, gum trees full of dozing koalas (you're likely to spot some), and surrounding bright turquoise seas. While she may rake in the tourists, there are also plenty of permanent residents who live and work here, making it feel more like a laid-back community than a holiday hotspot.
Cardwell & Around
Most of the Bruce Hwy runs several kilometres inland from the coast, so it comes as something of a shock to see the sea lapping right next to the road as you pull into the small town of Cardwell. Most travellers stop here for seasonal fruit picking (check at the backpackers if you're looking for work).
Ingham & Around
Ingham is the proud guardian of the 120-hectare Tyto wetlands, which has 4km of walking trails and attracts around 230 species of birds, including far-flung guests from Siberia and Japan. The locals – hundreds of wallabies – love it too, converging at dawn and dusk. There's an art gallery and library on-site.
Dunk is known to the Djiru Aboriginal people as Coonanglebah (the island of peace and plenty). They're not wrong: this is pretty much your ideal tropical island, with lush jungle, white-sand beaches and impossibly blue water. Walking trails criss-cross (and almost circumnavigate) Dunk: the circuit track (9.
One of Cairns' most popular day trips, Paronella Park is actually closer to Innisfail, about 90-minutes drive south. When construction of this art deco castle with it's own hydro-electric power system was completed in 1935, the world was an entirely different place. Self-made Spanish immigrant José Paronella built the place as a gift to his wife Margarita.
Paluma Range National Park
As the southern gateway to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, Paluma Range National Park and the little village of Paluma offer a leafy respite from the tedium of the Bruce Hwy. Running almost all the way from Ingham to Townsville, the park is divided in two parts, the Mt Spec section and the northern Jourama Falls section.
Australia’s largest island national park (399 sq km) is a holy grail for walkers, but it's not easy to get to and advance planning is essential. Granite mountains rise dramatically from the sea. The mainland side is dense with lush tropical vegetation, while long sandy beaches and tangles of mangrove curve around the eastern shore.