A long white (and empty) sandy beach, lush tropical rainforest, relaxed coastal cafes, and waterfalls with swimming holes in the hills. This is Mission Beach in Far North Queensland, a tropical escape where you’ll find cassowaries crossing the roads and fruit stalls along the side of them.
If you’re flying into Cairns for a relaxing holiday, it’s understandable that the last thing you may want to do is jump in the car and drive another couple of hours to Mission Beach. But believe me when I say that it’s worth it.
Cairns itself is buzzing city and you can easily base yourself there to explore the reef and the other great adventure activities in the region. With good food and new bars, it feels cosmopolitan, with a bit of vibrancy.
But Cairns is quite a big city – and a very popular tourist destination. You’ll be surrounded by large hotels and busy malls, and I think it’s worth getting out of town at some point to find somewhere quieter.
Many people head north to Port Douglas and it’s also lovely place to go. There are lively bars and restaurants, a nice beach, easy access to the rainforest, and a wide range of accommodation options.
But Port Douglas also has a lot of development. While it doesn’t have the tall buildings and in-your-face large hotels of Cairns, you’ll never quite forget that you’re in a busy tourist town.
And this is why Mission Beach is so appealing. You feel relaxed as soon as you arrive, slipping into the slow pace of village life.
You’ll almost have the 14 kilometre stretch of beach to yourself, you’re right on the door of the rainforest, yet there are excellent dining and accommodation options in Mission Beach.
Visiting Mission Beach
Firstly, it’s worth giving you a quick explanation about the name of the region. There is a village called Mission Beach but, when we talk about Mission Beach in a general tourism sense, we’re actually talking about a stretch of coast of about 14 kilometres that includes four villages in total – Bingil Bay, Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach, South Mission Beach (from north to south).
The largest is Wongaling Beach, which has a population of about 1200 people, and this is where you’ll find a supermarket and a few other main shops. The other villages all have less than 1000 residents.
It doesn’t really matter where you base yourself in Mission Beach because you’ll likely have a car and be able to easily get between the villages. Even if you’re not driving, it’s only a 30 minute walk between the villages of Mission Beach and Wongaling Beach, for instance.
There are quite a few things to do in Mission Beach and I’ll go into some more detail about that shortly. But one of the reasons people enjoy coming here is for the relaxation. It’s a beautiful area to take things slowly. Don’t be afraid just to slowly explore the environment.
But Mission Beach is also a good spot to use as a base to visit some of the sights in the region, and for activities like rafting and diving. I’ll get into that a bit more soon too.
Getting from Cairns to Mission Beach
The easiest way to get from Cairns to Mission Beach is to drive. Even if you don’t have a car, I would recommend renting one for the trip, because you’ll be able to explore the region once you’re there.
The bonus is that the road trip to Mission Beach from Cairns is actually a highlight in itself. This is not a boring arduous drive – if you stop a few places along the way, you’ll discover some of the best of the Cassowary Coast.
I would recommend stopping at Babinda, for example. This charming little town has some delightful cafes for a meal or a coffee – the cream buns at the Babinda Bakery are famous!
While you’re there, head a bit further up the road to the Babinda Boulders, where you can go for a swim in a large natural pool and take a walk along the path for views across the spectacular rapids.
Further south, you can also stop at Josephine Falls for a swim and to have a look at the beautiful series of waterfalls.
And then you’ll also pass through Innisfail, which has a wonderful collection of Art Deco buildings. All of these stops can take a whole day, and I think it’s a good way to make the drive from Cairns an enjoyable part of the visit.
If you don’t have a car, there are a couple of companies that will do a taxi transfer from Cairns, but they are quite expensive.
There is a bus service twice a day run by Greyhound Australia that costs just $18 each way, if you book in advance.
And there’s a Queensland Rail train five times a week that leaves from Cairns but only goes to Tully ($33 for an adult), so you’ll still need to arrange a taxi or a transfer with your accommodation.
The fact that it is a little tricky to get to Mission Beach without a car is perhaps one of the reasons that it has stayed so chilled, while other parts of the coast have become busier.