Far North Queensland is a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors, whether you’re a bushwalker, camper, fisherman, day-tripper or 4-wheel driver. The opportunities are endless and there is always somewhere to go regardless of the time of year.
Thanks to its mining and timber history, Far North Queensland has an extensive network of tracks and trails and, while many have disappeared due to cyclones and time, there are still plenty left just waiting to be explored on off road trips around the region.
Here’s five of my favourites that at most times of the year require just your average SUV or 4WD with some care and a sense of adventure. They can be accomplished in a day trip from Cairns.
1. Mt Haig Circuit (aka the Tinaroo Range roads)
If you’re driving along the Kennedy Highway between Kuranda and Mareeba, you’ll see a signed turn-off to Emerald Creek Falls. Head along this road and past the falls turn-off and the road soon starts to climb up into the Tinaroo Ranges.
About 12km past the end of the bitumen the road forks.
Go left along the Mt Edith Rd as the road continues up and down through tall rose gum and casuarina forest before descending down into the headwaters of Emerald Creek.
Emerald Creek is a pretty, sandy-bottom stream that meanders through tall rainforest. There are lots of opportunities for exploring.
The road ascends from here up to the saddle between Mts Edith and Haig.
Before it descends you pass the slightly obscure pull-over area and the short, steep and unsigned walking track up to Mt Edith and some great Wet Tropics views.
The road winds down past the fern gardens of upper Robson Creek until you come to a hoop pine intersection on the Danbulla (Tinaroo) Rd.
At this point you’ve got three choices: 1) Veer left and eventually join up with the Gillies Highway, 2) Go right and continue west along the Danbulla Drive towards Atherton or 3) Veer right and follow the road for about 2 kms and then take a right hand turn-off to the Kauri Creek Road, which eventually returns you to the road fork you encountered earlier on this 40 km circuit.
The road is closed (locked) during the wet season.
2. herbert range roads
Outside Atherton the mountain bike community have given a new lease of life to a network of old forestry and mining trails that criss-cross the Herberton Ranges.
There’s a great through drive commencing from near the shooting range that is now well signposted.
The road eventually heads up into the rainforest and when you reach the top in the vicinity of Mt Baldy, another road heads off to the right.
It’s a slow but scenic four km drive along this road to the summit of Mt Wallum.
To the best of my knowledge this is one of the highest points you can drive to in Queensland (1292m).
The ‘main’ road continues south through dense rainforest for another 12 kms before it arrives back on the Atherton-Herberton Rd.
3. maple road
In the wilds of Wooroonooran National Park there are many old forestry roads that have been maintained for the benefit of those wanting a Wet Tropics wilderness driving experience.
What’s known as the K Tree Road leaves the Palmerston Highway near the Wallicha-Tchupala Falls carpark and becomes Maple Road before turning in to the Suttie’s Gap Road to Millaa Millaa.
Along the 36 kms of gravel and dirt road you cross over the South Johnstone River at one of my favourite Wet Tropics campsites – it’s very neat and tidy and very remote.
This is about as deep into the woods as you can get in north Queensland and if you want to break this drive up with an over-nighter I thoroughly recommend it.
Just up the road you’ll find the trailhead for the Gorrell Track, which is one of my favourite Misty Mountains walks. Near where the road becomes the Suttie’s Gap Road there is also the walking track access to Cannabullen Falls. Maple Road is usually closed and locked during the wet season.
4. mount mulligan
This off road trip is probably a bit much for a day trip, especially if you want to take your time and enjoy the scenery, but it offers some different country to the previous Wet Tropics drives.
Heading north from Dimbulah the road follow parts of the old railway line to the Mt Mulligan mine. On the way you pass the old Thornborough cemetery and the road into the Tyrconnell mine.
Both Mt Mulligan and Tyrconnell offer accommodation options.
Mt Mulligan is spectacular and unlike anything else you will see in north Queensland.
You can wander freely (and carefully) around the mine ruins but please don’t take souvenirs.
Heading north you cross the Hodgkinson River and then eventually the Mitchell River.
The owners of the property around the Mitchell allow camping but please leave the place tidy.
Soon you are back on the bitumen west of Mt Carbine. Allow 10 to 12 hours for the drive from Cairns and avoid this route after heavy rain.
It can also be very dry and dusty when it’s not wet!
5. petford to irvinebank
This is another dry country road but its slightly more civilised.
West from Dimbulah, the road leaves the bitumen at Petford and initially follows Emu Creek, which has a number of sightseeing opportunities.
Emu Creek is one of the best streams in FNQ for camping, swimming and exploring.
Castle Rock, another notable spot, is on your left after about 6 kms.
Also further along the road at Emuford there are some more potential places along the creek to stop and explore – particularly after a good wet season.
The road continuing on to Irvinebank winds through scenic and historic countryside.
At Irvinebank you have the choice of continuing to Herberton or taking the diversion to Mt Misery and back down to the Silver Valley road, assuming you haven’t had enough dirt roads yet!
travel nq fast facts:
- Avoid travelling these roads in really wet weather
- Check your spare tyre for air and tread before leaving for off road trips
- Don’t go if your car is making unpleasant rattles and clunks!
- Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back
- Make sure you have more than enough fuel and time in case a road is unexpectedly closed and you have to go back the way you came
- Most of the places described are outside mobile phone coverage so you need to be self-reliant if something does go wrong
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All the photos featured on this page are thanks to Paul Curtis