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Far North Queensland by train, plane, car and ferry (photos)

Far North Queensland by train, plane, car and ferry (photos)

Old Aug 30th, 2022, 02:03 AM
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Far North Queensland by train, plane, car and ferry (photos)

Earlier this year, in June/July, my husband and I travelled by plane, train, ferry and car on a trip centred around the far north of Queensland (FNQ). It worked well for us to mix it up with different transport options. We'd driven from Brisbane, where we live, as far as Cooktown, a few years before and it's a loooooong way. Concentrating on a smaller area suited us. Having visited before, we'd done a lot of the touristy things, so this trip was relaxed and pretty slow, spending between 3 and 5 nights at each place.

We had lovely sunny days the first week, then the weather turned, bringing drizzly, cloudy and cool days. We were told it was unusually cold for that time of year and a few places we stayed didn't have heating, or many blankets, so we were sometimes cold at night. Even in the tropics, good weather is never a given.

We had a month away​, staying in​ -

Magnetic Island
Townsville
Cairns
Fitzroy Island
Yungaburra, Atherton Tablelands
South Mission Beach
Palm Cove
Port Douglas
Cairns

Being Australian, I'm aware of Australia's size, but the distances involved on this trip still amazed me. We flew for two hours, from Brisbane to Townsville, then travelled by train for six hours, to Cairns. All this was within Queensland and we hadn't even travelled the entire length of the state. It really emphasised the huge distances here.
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 02:09 AM
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A highlight was seeing wildlife and birds, especially some we'd never seen before. Two pretty sunbirds, about as big as my thumb and coloured vivid yellow and blue, darted about in the tree above our cafe table on Magnetic Island. They had a curved beak and were fast as lightning. The waitress told us how their nests are built, hanging down from trees in an unusual manner.

We really enjoyed the hikes on Magnetic Island and saw two koalas in the wild which is always wonderful. One was close to the path but I would have walked straight past if not for my husband spotting him/her sleeping in the tree branches. Later we saw a few people aiming their cameras at a tree and went to check. Another sleepy koala.

There were also small rock wallabies on Magnetic Island, they seemed unbothered by humans, not that we got too close. They were bounding around the rocks, very sure-footed.

​At South Mission Beach we saw two cassowaries, one an adult size (around five feet tall) and the other must have been younger, it was quite a bit was smaller. They are fabulous looking birds but potentially dangerous so keep your distance if you ever see one.​
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 02:20 AM
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Magnetic Island - koalas and stunning sunset

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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 02:39 PM
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Looks an interesting trip, Kay.
We flew to Brisbane and drove to Cairns a long time ago, time we did a revisit. I think I’d fly to Cairns from here next time, though.
I’ll be following along
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 05:54 PM
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Looking forward to hearing more, too. Was the train ride scenic? How would you compare Magnetic Island and Fitzroy Island?

Wonderful koala photos. What a sleeping position!

I'd be thrilled to see cassowaries in the wild (from a respectful distance) or sunbirds, for that matter. Yungaburra must be a dream destination for birdwatchers.

My husband were looking forward to returning to Far North Queensland ourselves this winter and last winter, but Covid surges deterred us, so it'll be nice to vicariously enjoy the destination through your report.
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 09:17 PM
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Thanks Adelaidean, we'd like to revisit SA and WA but the distances put us off a bit. Longish flights or an even longer drive. We did think of getting a cruise to Freo then flying back. I wish train travel here was quicker and cheaper.
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 09:42 PM
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Hi Diamantina, honestly there wasn't a lot to see from the train, mostly paddocks. It was very green and lush. I'll write a bit more about the train trip soon, we also travelled by train from Cairns to Brisbane (very long trip!).

We really liked the laidback vibe of Magnetic Island and the scenery was lovely. Staying in Horseshoe Bay was a good choice, it was prettier than Nelly Bay, where the ferrries come in, but still a few places to eat. Decided not to hire a car and were happy with the bus service. Overall it worked well but once we were waiting with about eight others and the bus stopped to let someone off then took off again, the driver saying it was full. We all just stood looking at each other, what now? The next bus was over an hour away so we gave up and went back in the other direction which was quicker. We must have been relaxed as it didn't bother us that much.

Fitzroy Island was a disappointment. There was so much wrong with it. Our accommodation was dark and dreary, on a tropical island! Staff were nearly all young Europeans and they mostly looked unhappy, not sure why. There were a few mix-ups and miscommunications at the two eating places, I'd say lack of training. We prebooked a turtle rehabilitation centre tour and stood waiting for over half an hour before giving up. It turned out the tour guide wasn't even on the island but no one thought to tell the 20 people who had prepaid and were standing around getting irritated. I could go on.

I know what you mean about that koala! He looks so uncomfortable. I often think they look like they could fall out of the tree, wedged into a thin branch fork, but of course they don't.
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Old Aug 31st, 2022, 03:05 AM
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View of Picnic Bay from Hawkings Point Track. We timed the bus ride and then the hike so we'd get back in time for lunch at the pub, which is right by the jetty. Aaargh, pub closed due to staff shortages. Luckily for us, we found a cafe open so we didn't starve.
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Old Aug 31st, 2022, 03:10 AM
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View back to Nelly Bay, the main settlement on Magnetic Island.


Taken from the Forts Walk, view of Horseshoe Bay where we stayed.
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Old Aug 31st, 2022, 03:58 AM
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Wow! What fabulous coastal scenery! Nice photos, too.

Thanks, KayF, for answering my questions. The train ride you took sounds a bit monotonous. But at least the landscape was green and not drought-stricken. My gosh, how long did the train trip from Cairns to Brisbane take?

My husband and I have discussed the possibility of staying on an island off Queensland several times and, well, based on your description, it won't be Fitzroy! I agree tropical island accommodation should be bright and cheery, not "dark and dreary". What a pity you could not tour the turtle rehabilitation centre due to their disorganization. Sounds like it would have been quite interesting.

Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic sounds perfect. I also love that you didn't need to rent a car, though getting left behind that one time must have been mildly annoying--glad it worked out in the end.

Koalas must be very bendy. If I slept like that, I'd wake up with the worst backache.

Last edited by Diamantina; Aug 31st, 2022 at 04:00 AM.
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 02:28 AM
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Rock wallaby on Magnetic Island.


Mum and baby, awww...
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 02:35 AM
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We noticed issues with staff shortages everywhere and inexperienced and untrained staff. People all over the world have been experiencing travel delays and cancellations and we had our share.

The taxi we booked to take us to the airport was late (the guy who took the booking never turned up), our flight left late, the shuttle we had booked from Townsville airport was nowhere to be seen, we eventually rang to find out he was waiting in a different area. The train from Townsville to Cairns was running two hours late. The shuttle to take us to Port Douglas was 40 minutes late. Pack your patience and allow for delays.

Accommodation seemed to ​have gone up in price a lot. Certainly it's harder to wing it ​than in the past ​and I'd recommend booking ahead where possible. Cheapest we paid was $138 and dearest was $275 per night. Mostly we stayed in self-contained places so we didn't have to eat out all the time. A few were nice, clean and spacious but not luxurious, others were worn and needed updating. Occasionally we had a washing machine, yay!
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 02:47 AM
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Townsville has some wonderful street art, spread around the city. We saw quite a few, this was a favourite, tucked down at the end of an alley.


This mural was absolutely enormous. It was tucked away in a car park in a side street but well worth seeking out.


Castle Hill in Townsville, as the sun started going down.
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 03:01 AM
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Diamantina, years ago there were a lot more island resorts off the Queensland coast but most have closed. Some due to cyclone damage, some not profitable I guess. There aren't many that I'd consider affordable. Magnetic Island was a surprise, it's quite big and a lot of people live there so it's not just a tourist resort. There are a couple of different areas to stay, I had trouble deciding but Horseshoe Bay suited us. There were a couple of cafes, a tiny supermarket, a pub and a casual restaurant. It was all very low key. Having a car would mean you could be more flexible and see a bit more but we quite like using public transport.
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 03:40 PM
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Hi KayF,
Thanks so much for your interesting report & I love the photos!
I moved to the Gold Coast just as Covid was rumbling and have Magnetic Island ("Maggie" as my friends here call it) on my list.
It's a pity about Fitzroy Island, but not the first time I've seen very poor reports about it.

If you post on Trip Advisor too, I'm sure your Report would be of great interest there as well. We quite often have people asking about train & public transport outside of the major cities & the usual response is that they don't have the time, which of course, most tourists don't. Yours is a different take on it, though.

Thanks again & I'm looking forward to the next chapter of your wanderings.

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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 06:17 PM
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Thanks K, enjoyed your TR and admired the fotos. We don't get enough from your neck of the woods. My fave shot was a toss-up between the rock wallaby-mom-and-child versus the giant turtle-atop-the-croc mural.
Then again, that slumbering koala was a wonderful image too!
I am done. the down-under
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Old Sep 1st, 2022, 06:43 PM
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Thanks Bokhara, I've posted loads of reviews of hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor over the years but never a trip report. I know the forums are there but they seem to be mostly short questions and answers. They tend not to lean towards the hundreds of posts you get sometimes on Fodors. Or am I missing a whole area of the website? Anything's possible! I'd happily post this on TA if I knew it would be useful and knew where best to put it.

Hi zebec, great that you are reading from afar. You are right, we don't get much on the Australia/NZ/Pacific forum. I think covid and the awful border closures have temporarily changed tourism, for Australians and also people visiting here from overseas. You may know that Fodors is a brand that is not well-known in Australia, their guidebooks are not sold here at all, not that I've ever seen, and most Australians would never have heard of them. I guess that's a big reason why posts from this part of the world are so few.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2022, 03:17 AM
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From Yungaburra, on the way back towards the coast, we stopped for a tour we'd booked at a cocoa farm. Charley's Chocolate Tour went for around 1.5 hours and was surprisingly popular, for such an out of the way place. It's run twice a week and showed us the cocoa pods on the trees and we were given a talk about growing, processing, manufacture etc. Samples of different flavours were given at the end and - no surprise - we could buy chocolate! I'd never seen cocoa pods so found it interesting. Facilities are basic, it's all outside, so wear a hat and take water.

If you're visiting Port Douglas, they have a great Sunday Market, down the opposite end of town to Four Mile Beach. It can get very busy so go early. There are food stalls if you want breakfast or lunch while browsing. The last week of our trip it was school holidays and so busy in Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Cafes and restaurants were full and struggling with lack of staff so go early or book ahead. A tip we were told by locals was to drop in and book, don't ring as they probably won't call back.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2022, 03:30 AM
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Fitzroy Island. The beaches are coral, not sand. It seemed to be made up of small broken shards of coral, all different shapes and sizes, not soft under foot like sand.


Sunset, the colours were amazing.


A wild cockatoo trying to crack a nut for his lunch. He was banging it on the ground too.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2022, 03:39 AM
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Cocoa pods growing on tree at Charleys Chocolate factory/farm.


Samples to taste and enjoy at the end. Some of the flavours were interesting - native Davidsons Plum, local macadamias and raisins soaked in Bundy Rum...yum..
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