The big question for most travellers planning to drive from Cairns to Cooktown is, which road is better? There are two options: a sealed inland road or the coastal road, which includes the Bloomfield Track.
The answer all depends on the time of year and the type of vehicle you have. We recently travelled from Cairns to Cooktown and we decided to take the inland road on the way up and the coastal road including the Bloomfield Track on the way back. The road and scenery were completely different.
1. The Inland Road from Cairns to Cooktown
The inland road is a tarmac, sealed road all the way. It is definitely the better option for caravans and non-4WDs.
Starting from Cairns, head up through the Kuranda range and onto Mareeba, then follow the highway all the way to Cooktown.
The inland road travels through dry savannah landscape and is fairly flat and easy to drive. This is apart from Bob’s Lookout, a 6-7kms of steep incline, which can be a bit of a strain on the car if you are towing a lot of weight (like we were).
This route to Cooktown should only take about four hours.
You will travel through Mt Carbine, Bob’s Lookout, Palmer River Roadhouse, Lakeland (which is the gateway to Cape York) and past Black Mountain, an imposing mountain made up of large black rocks.
There aren’t really any spectacular views and there’s not much to look at except cattle, wallabies, birds and funny road signs.
Once you get to Cooktown this is as far north as you can get in Queensland with a 2WD vehicle. This road beyond to Cape York is unsealed all the way to the tip.
2. The bloomfield track from Cooktown to Cairns
The coastal road back from Cooktown, which includes the Bloomfield Track beyond Cape Tribulation, travels through beautiful rainforest scenery.
However 32kms of the Bloomfield Track is unsealed and there are a few very steep sections of road, so good working brakes are a must.
There are also quite a few creek crossings which can make the road impassable in the wet season. When the creeks are flooded the road is only accessible by 4WD.
However, it hadn’t rained in quite a while when we drove along it so many of the creeks were dried up.
As you drive south from Cooktown, head to Lion’s Den first where there is a must-visit pub (a typical old Aussie bush pub) and campsite. Then, just after driving through a little town called Ayton, the road snakes along beside the Bloomfield River.
Eventually you come to Wujal Wujal, an aboriginal community where you can stop and have a look in the art centre and use the public toilets.
Then it’s back on to the dirt with rainforest surrounds before reaching the town of Bloomfield.
If you want to visit the Bloomfield Falls, don’t turn left over the bridge, drive straight ahead. Unfortunately there are no visible signs to the Falls when driving from the north, but if you are coming up from the south there are plenty of signs pointing the way.
The Bloomfield Falls are quite impressive and only a short walk, although some rock-hopping is required.
As you continue driving south you eventually reach Cape Tribulation (known as Cape Trib). At this point the road becomes sealed again so it’s suitable for all vehicle types.
The views switch between rainforest and beach until you come to the Daintree Ferry that takes you across to the mainland. The road then takes you through Mossman, past Port Douglas and on to one of the most breathtaking coastal roads in Australia all the way into Cairns.
TRAVEL NQ FAST FACTS:
- Petrol stations can be few and far between in North Queensland, especially in remote areas, including both routes from Cairns to Cooktown.
- There are no petrol stations in Cape Tribulation so if you travelling via the Bloomfield Track. The only one in the Daintree area is about 15kms south of Cape Trib and then there isn’t another one until you’re closer to Mossman on the other side of the river.