Scenic Drive: The Great Green Way

Babinda Boulders. About an hour's drive from Cairns, Babinda Boulders is a popular swimming hole—and a sacred Aboriginal site. It's 7 km (5 miles) inland on The Boulders Road from the town of Babinda, accessible via the Bruce Highway about 60 km (37 miles) south of Cairns. You can also hike to the boulders, taking the 19-km (12-mile) Goldfield Track (Wooroonooran National Park) that starts in Goldsborough Valley, southwest of Cairns, and ends in Babinda Boulders car park. Babinda is kid-friendly, yet not overrun with offspring. Babinda Information Centre, 1 Munro St., Babinda, Queensland, 4861. 07/4067–1008; 07/4067–6304; Information center daily 9–4.

Great Green Way. A scenic section of the Bruce Highway locals call the Great Green Way links Cairns with Townsville, taking you through sugarcane, papaya, and banana plantations, past white-sand beaches and an island-dotted ocean. The 348-km (216-mile) drive takes about 4½ hours. Add a few more hours to explore towns, parks, waterfalls, and rain-forest tracts along the way. Queensland, 4870.

Paronella Park. A sprawling Spanish-style castle and gardens grace this offbeat National Trust site in the Mena Creek Falls rain forest. Explore the park on a self-guided botanical walk or 45-minute guided tour, enjoy Devonshire tea on the café's deck, buy local arts and crafts, and cool off under a 40-foot waterfall. On hour-long flashlight-lit evening tours (a must-do if you're traveling with kids) starting nightly at 6:15, you might spot eels, water dragons, fireflies, and glowworms. Allow at least three hours to explore. It's around 1½ hours' (about 60 miles) drive south of Cairns via the Bruce Highway. 1671 Japoonvale Rd. (Old Bruce Hwy.), Mena Creek, Queensland, 4871. 07/4065–0000; A$43. Daily 9–7:30.

Tully Gorge National Park. In the wettest zone of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area, the mighty Tully River is a magnet for white-water rafters, while the gorge's scenic, often mist-shrouded trails suit walkers of all levels. Access Tully Gorge National Park via the town of Tully, 141 km (88 miles) or about two hours' drive south of Cairns, then continue for 54 km (34 miles)—approximately 40 minutes—along Jarra Creek and Cardstone roads to Kareeya Hydroelectric Station parking lot and viewing platform. Other excellent vantage points are the Tully Falls lookout, 24 km (15 miles) south of Ravenshoe, and the Flip Wilson and Frank Roberts lookouts. September to February, the short, wheelchair-accessible Rainforest Butterfly walk is filled with brilliant creatures. Rafting trips can be booked through operators in Tully and Cairns. Tully Falls Rd., Koombooloomba, Queensland, 4872. 07/4068–2288; 13/7468;

Wooroonooran National Park. Extending south of Gordonvale to the Palmerston Highway near Innisfail, this is one of the most densely vegetated areas in Australia. Rain forest rules—from the lowland tropical variety to the stunted growth on Mt. Bartle Frere—at 5,287 feet, the highest point in Queensland. Walking tracks range from the stroll-in-the-park Tchupala Falls and Josephine Falls circuits (30 minutes each) to the challenging Walshs Pyramid track, just south of Cairns, and the gruelling two-day Bartle Frere trail. You may camp throughout the park with permits (A$5.95 per person, per day), except at Josephine Falls; BYO drinking water and stove. At Henrietta Creek campground, look out for platypus, turtles, and possums after dark. Josephine Falls is 75 km (47 miles) south of Cairns off the Bruce Highway, near Miriwinni. Josephine Falls Rd., Cairns, Queensland, 4861. 07/4067–1008;

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