If you're wondering where to base yourself for your tropical north Queensland holiday, read below to see the different features of the main choices.

This is a very common question that can be loosely divided into three groups.

Domestic travellers seeking a rest and relaxation spa destination will want to head for the resort towns of Port Douglas or Palm Cove. International visitors tend to pack more adventure and action into their stay and should select accommodation located convenient for the activities they select. Often both can be mixed especially with 2-3 day itinerary.

Off the beaten track explorers have the time to split their stay between different localities, get off the beaten track to avoid tourist centres or do the ultimate road trip to enjoy the wonderful diversity and complexity of the region. Then there is another group who choose to stay on an Island, holiday parks, luxury hideaway or a live-aboard or private chartered yacht. So many, many options to select from.


The main attraction of staying in Cairns downtown area is that you're close to departure point for many Great Barrier Reef trips, shopping centres, nightlife, restaurants and facilities. It is a mix of industry, tourism and the regional administration centre so it's not the best choice if you're after a relaxing holiday.  It is great for budget travellers who will not be hiring a vehicle for their stay. It will also suit those on a quick visit with the simple aim of visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

Pros- Shopping. Nightlife. Restaurants. Traveller Facilities. Art galleries and events. Large number of reef excursions leaving directly from the wharf. Also departure point for liveaboards, cruises, Fitzroy Island. Easy access to Atherton Tablelands, waterfalls, Crystal Cascades, Kuranda, Mission Becah and Paronella Park. Central for day trips to Daintree, Cape Tribulation,  Wooroonooran World Heritage Rainforest. Wet Tropics. Close to the airport.

Cons - No natural beach in the business and wharf district downtown.  City noise, traffic etc.

Cairns Northern Beaches

Palm Cove and the other  Northern Beaches of Cairns are a great choice for those wanting a very quiet, relaxing holiday. Some tour companies that operate from Cairns and Port Douglas will pick you up from your accommodation for a small fee and there are lovely beachfront hotels to choose from. For self drive there are short trips to Barron Gorge National Park lower section (rapids and waterfalls) which ends at  Lake Placid. Crystal Cascades. Also easy access to Kuranda by road or skyrail. Other nearby attractions are cable ski, bungy jumping and Aboriginal Cultural Centre.  In 2010 plans are underway to construct a major water park in Smithfield near the skyrail terminus.

Palm Cove is very tropical quaint beachfront village with some of the best restaurants in the whole Cairns region. Known as the Spa capital of the north. Golf course and zoo nearby. The beachfront esplanade is dominated by magnificent 500 year old Melaleuca trees and coconut palms that line the beachfront providing natural shade on the beach. Surf life saving facilites. It is just the prettiest location of all beaches in Cairns. Great wedding destination. Great for families and couples. Most of the hotels apartments and resorts are on the beachfront esplanade. www.palmcove.net 

Trinity Beach accommodations can offer the best sea-views of Tropical North Queensland and the beach is popular with Cairns locals and families. Several great Restaurants and Supermarket. www.trinitybeachholiday.com

Kewarra Beach is attractive to those seeking the absolute beachfront hideaway hidden in rainforest gardens.

Clifton Beach is well loved getaway by Palm Cove.

Holloways Beach. Yorkeys Knob. Machans Beachoffer some accommodations for tourist though are largely residential. Some nice bed and breakfast stays, or apartments that offer a peek into the local lifestyle of these localitles. If staying at Yorkeys Knob be sure to visit the boat club with it's stunning location over looking Half Moon Bay marina.

Pros- Lovely beaches. Quiet, relaxing. Short drive to many places - Cairns, Kuranda, Port Douglas.  Lots of beachfront accommodation.

Cons - Not many options for shopping, every day facilities. No direct access to the reef - you'll have to transfer to Cairns or Port Douglas. 

Port Douglas 

Port Douglas is located about an hour's drive north of Cairns. The drive is very beautiful.The outer reef is a little closer to Port Douglas which means some day trips can offer visits to three different reef sites although faster vessels ex Cairns can offer this as well. Port Douglas is well situated for trips to Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge, both remarkable examples of the Wet Tropic World Heritage Rainforests. It is a resort town, so has more facilities than Palm Cove, but it is still much quieter and smaller than Cairns. It appeals to those that like village atmosphere with many eateries. Golf course, Rainforest Habitat and famous Sunday markets.

Pros- Lovely beach. Relaxing. Good mix of Cairns and Palm Cove.

Cons- Fewer facilities and shopping than Cairns. Port Douglas is an hour away from Cairns airport. Car is recommended though for shorter trips a great intinerary can be organised without one. As a tourist destination, prices of most things tend to be higher here than in Cairns which has a significant local population.  Vast majority of accommodation available at the Port  is not on the beachfront.  . 


Other destinations


Lizard Island

Lizard Islandis the jewel in the crown. paradise with the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep   The options are staying at expensive resort or camping. Campers cannot take take advantage of the resort facilties  though so no cheating. Requires a flight to access.

Double Island

Double Island is just offshore from Palm Cove on Cairns Northern Beaches and is accessed by their private shuttle which takes about 20 minutes from the mainland. It is only recently been opened to the general public for reservations having previously being available on a whole of island rental basis only.

Green Island

Green Island is a true coral cay and is also popular day trip destination. There are loads of activities on Green Island such as rainforest walks, fish feeding, underwater observatory, sea helment walking, helicopter trips, parasailing and trip to the outer barrier reef which is still recommended for superiour coral viewing.

Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is a lovely little island close to Cairns that has a little fringing coral, lovely rainforest walks and kayaking trips to little Fitzroy. Resort not opened at time of writing but is expected to recommence operations June 2010. Resort is open now with a nightclub type thing opening this weekend  

Camping, Cabins and Caravan.

Camping grounds open a whole new range of options for the traveller. Often located in out of the way places these destinations can offer fantastic  value for the self driver and often very unique experiences. Those that need more comfort then what a tent offers may enjoy staying in a holiday park cabin. These cabins range in quality from basic shelter to private luxury villa.


Ellis Beach -  Cabin or camp absolute beachfront along the renowned coastal drive between Palm Cove and Port Douglas. It is basic, not a resort  but stunning location. A  kiosk for some refreshments is the only other business here. Trip Advisor reviews

Cairns Coconut Resort - How to describe?  A village built right into a 28 hectare kids playground. water park features, mini golf, movies, jumping cushions, swimming pools, table tennis, badminton, nemo buggy and little trains as village transport. The list is endless. Perfect for famiies with kids with energy to burn. Location is out of town a little so you essentially drive in and drive out, nowhere local to walk to (aside from McDonalds). Rooms from luxury villa with personal spa bath to tent pitch sites. They do have a free shuttle into town. It is about 7km from city centre. Trip advisor reviews

Crystal Cascades -  This is near the popular swimming holes of Crystal Cascades and is where Cairns suburbs meet the rainforest. Not far from Cairns but the remote feelling is nice for those seeking a quiet getaway. Car essential. Trip Advisor reviews

Lake Placid Tourist Park - NIce riverside setting. Ideal for kids too old for the Nemo buggy at Coconuts perhaps. Lovely natural setting along the bank of the Barron River

Palm Cove - Managed by Cairns Regional Council this prime piece of real estate was bequesthed to the people by a private owner so they could enjoy this waterfront location for a reasonable cost.. There is talk of cabins being built but currently is availble for tent or van camping only,  Location 149 Williams Esplanade, Palm Cove and reservation can be made by contacting the caretaker on +61 7  4055 3824  international or  (07) 4055 3824 within Australia.