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It may be known as the gateway to the reef and rainforest but North Queensland has a few idiosyncratic attractions that many people probably wouldn’t expect to find.

The Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage listed rainforest should be on the top of anybody’s list when visiting north Queensland but if you’re staying in the area for more than a couple of days, you’ll have more time to explore what else the region has to offer.

Here are some of the more unusual aspects of North Queensland that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in tropical north Queensland:


1. a spanish castle


paronellafallsThe Canecutters Way is a beautiful scenic drive south of Innisfail but few people would expect to come across a dilapidated Spanish castle right in the middle of all the banana plantations and sugar cane farms.

Paronella Park was built by a Spanish migrant in the 1920’s and for many years since then the property was neglected and the rainforest was left to take over until the current family bought it and began restoring the buildings and gardens back to their former glory.

This used to be the place for parties and balls, believe it or not, and in many ways Jose Paronella was way ahead of his time. His story, plus the beautiful surrounds, are what make this quirky tourist attraction so appealing.


2. chinese temples


Australia has a long history of Chinese migrants and during the gold rush era of the 1860’s there was an influx of Chinese coming to work in the Far North Queensland goldfields.

The Chinese influence is still apparent today with a small Chinatown area in Cairns, the Hou Wang Joss House temple in Atherton and the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, which are becoming increasingly popular and attract thousands of Chinese tourists every year.


3. volcanoes


undara caveThere’s a reason why the Atherton Tablelands are prime agricultural land – it sits on vibrant red volcanic soil.

Most people probably wouldn’t associate Far North Queensland with volcanoes but many thousands of years ago this used to be a very active volcanic area.

Of course, there are no active volcanoes now but there are still enough clues to the area’s volcanic past to make it a geologist’s dream.

Undara is the obvious place to start. It has one of the longest lava tube cave systems in the world and it is set in beautiful outback country. It’s four hours from Cairns or Townsville but well worth a visit if you’ve got time.

Other notable places to visit if you’ve got an interest in natural history are:

  • Mount Hypipamee Crater – this is a huge diatreme (or crater) in the middle of rainforest near Dinner Falls that was created by a huge gas explosion
  • Innot Hot Springs near Ravenshoe – have a sit in these natural geo thermal mineral springs
  • Seven Sisters near Yungaburra – these beautiful hills are actually volcanic cones
  • Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham – both beautiful volcanic lakes


4. art deco buildings


Innisfail is an unassuming farming town south of Cairns but did you know that it has one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco buildings in the world?

After a devastating cyclone destroyed much of the town in 1918, the locals decided to rebuild using more indestructible materials so they fashioned their new town out of concrete and brick in the Art Deco trend of the 1920’s.

Within the CBD there are lots of examples of curved buildings, porthole windows and geometric designs.

It’s not quite Miami South Beach but there are definitely some architectural similarities.



5. Wineries


de brueys winesOkay so we’re not talking about the Barossa or Hunter Valley but if you’re roadtripping around FNQ you are very likely to come across a winery at some point.

However, rather than making their products from grapes they use tropical fruits so if you pop in for a tasting session be prepared for some challenging new taste sensations.

The ones to look out for are:

  • Murdering Point – Mission Beach
  • Golden Drop – Tablelands
  • DeBrueys – Tablelands
  • Shannonvale – Port Douglas

Mt Uncle Distillery on the Tablelands also deserves a notable mention since they make spirits and they also have a nice restaurant.


6. old fashioned pioneering village


herbertonSince quite a few of these unexpected attractions are historical it would be crazy not to include Herberton on this list.

Herberton is a quiet little town on the Atherton Tablelands and home to a unique historic village. It has over 50 restored heritage buildings including a school, bank, stores, sawmill and lots of other curiosities.

It’s a bit quirky but history buffs and children will love it.


7. rodeos


Last but not least, the unashamedly wild west town of Mareeba, which teeters on the edge of the outback, is home to one of Australia’s biggest and best rodeos each year in July.

So if you’re in need of some leather goods or a proper bush hat this is the place to come.


travel nq fast facts:


  • All of these attractions are easy to visit on your own self-drive tours of the region
  • Undara is 4 hours drive from Cairns, the rest are all within 1-2 hours