Road Trip: Cairns to Cobbold Gorge
Most visitors to Tropical North Queensland come here expecting swaying palm trees and lush green rainforest, but if you head west on a road trip you can experience an entirely different landscape.
The drive to Cobbold Gorge takes about 6 hours from Cairns so it can be done in one day. However, there’s a lot to see along the way so we decided spread the journey over 5 days.
Here’s what we did:
day 1 (Cairns to Undara)
We set off early in the morning and drove up to the Atherton Tablelands via the Gillies Highway from Gordonvale, just south of Cairns.
Our first stop was Ravenshoe. Apart from being the highest town in Queensland it is probably best known for the huge wind farm.
It’s only a small town so there’s not really much to see but it’s somewhere to stop to stretch your legs and get a drink.
About 5-10 mins past Ravenshoe we took the turn-off to Millstream Falls, apparently the widest waterfall in Australia.
It’s beautiful so it’s worth stopping to see and it’s not too far off the highway and only a short 5 minute walk from the car park.
The landscape from this point onwards really begins to change to parched earth, scrub trees and red termite mounds. It’s fascinating to watch it change.
Next stop was Innot Hot Springs.
Like its name suggests, the main reason to stop here is to experience the thermal spring waters, more evidence of the volcanic history of this region.
There is a caravan park where you can pay to bathe in thermal pools, otherwise you can do what we did and just head to down to the creek for a paddle. The spring comes up from under the big pile of rocks, which is where the water is at its hottest so be careful where you dips your toes in.
By lunchtime we had arrived at Undara.
Famous for having the biggest/longest lava tubes in the world, Undara is a really great place to spend a day or two.
Besides going on a tour of the lava tubes there are also quite a few bushwalks to do in the area.
day 2 (undara)
We started the day with a bush breakfast, which is a whole different dining experience, that should definitely be on your to-do list.
The rest of the morning was spent checking out the lava tubes, which you need to do on a guided tour.
We decided to do the Active Explorer Tour, which requires walking over rocks rather than along boardwalks so you need to be steady on your feet and wear proper shoes.
It lasted for about 2 hours and is definitely worth doing.
In the afternoon, we went to Kalkani Crater (about 10 minute drive away on a gravel road) where you can walk around the rim. It’s a great bushwalk, not too long and great views of the area.
day 3 (undara to cobbold gorge)
We set off early again and headed further west.
The first place you come across is Mount Surprise, a small little town known for gem fossicking.
If you’re camping you can stay at O’Brien’s Creek campground on Mount Surprise Station. It’s about 35 kms north off the main highway.
We had a quick stop and then kept driving on towards Georgetown.
Georgetown is the main town of Etheridgeshire, which is apparently 3 times the size of Tasmania but only has a population of about 1500.
However because this is grazing country there is a much bigger population of cows!
Georgetown is an old gold mining town and apparently it used to be so easy to just pick nuggets up off the ground that it because known as ‘Poor Man’s Goldfield’. The visitor information centre has a collection of stones.
The other thing of note in Georgetown is the enormous riverbed, which is completely dry outside of the wet season.
It really is quite amazing. As you enter the town you will also see signs for the ‘river walk’ if you want to stretch your legs.
Turning south off the Savannah Way at Georgetown, we took the road to Forsayth, which is gradually becoming more sealed but there are still gravel sections so drive appropriately for the conditions.
Forsayth is a tiny little place but there is a pretty good pub and hotel as well as camping.
There is also a small store and you can buy fuel.
Cobbold Gorge is about another 30 minutes from Forsayth along a gravel road. After arriving and checking in we spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool.
day 4 (cobbold gorge)
While the pool area, restaurant and bar are probably where you will want to spend most of your time, the gorge is the main reason for coming here and it’s worth the journey.
We booked ourselves on the half day boat tour, which included a guided walk to the top of the escarpment.
In the afternoon we went bushwalking around the property.
day 5 (Cobbold gorge to Yungaburra)
The journey back to Cairns takes about 6-7 hours depending on how many times you stop.
You can do it easily in a day but we decided to stop for a night in Yungaburra on the way back to enjoy the change of scenery. Cairns is only another hours drive from here.
We stayed at Allumbah Pocket Cottages, which was fantastic. Right in the middle of the main street but really private.
travel nq fast facts:
- You don’t need 4WD to get to Cobbold Gorge but since sections of the road are gravel take care to drive to the conditions. Some people do take campervans etc.
- In the wet season (Jan-Apr), roads can become flooded.
- Mobile phone access is limited – Telstra is your best bet.
- You can buy fuel in Georgetown and Forsayth.