Great Barrier Reef: Places to Explore

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North of Cairns

The Captain Cook Highway runs from Cairns to Mossman, a relatively civilized stretch known mostly for the resort towns of Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Past the Daintree River, wildlife parks and sunny coastal villages fade into sensationally wild terrain. If you came to Australia seeking high-octane sun, pristine coral cays, steamy jungles filled with exotic birdcalls and riotous vegetation, and a languid beachcomber lifestyle, head for the coast between Daintree and Cooktown.

The southern half of this coastline lies within Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park, part of the Greater Daintree Wilderness Area, a region named to UNESCO's World Heritage list because of its unique ecology. To experience the area's natural splendor, there's no need to go past Cape Tribulation. However, the Bloomfield Track continues on to Cooktown, a frontier destination that tacks two days onto your itinerary. This rugged country breeds some maverick personalities offering fresh perspectives on Far North Queensland.

Prime time for visiting is May through September, when daily maximum temperatures average around 27°C (80°F) and the water is comfortably warm. During the wet season, November through April, expect rain, humidity, and lots of bugs. Highly poisonous box and Irukandji jellyfish make the coastline unsafe for swimming from October through May, but "jellies" hardly ever drift out as far as the reefs, so you're safe to get wet there.

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