Mission Beach, I bet not many people know this beauty! A popular starting point for many tourists heading for the Great Barrier Reef is the rather large and loud city of Cairns in the tropical north of Queensland. If you book a snorkeling or diving trip here, you’ll find yourself on a huge boat with well over 100 other tourists. But if you prefer a more personal tour, there’s a great alternative!
We recommend leaving Cairns entirely and heading to the town of Mission Beach. The town itself is beautiful with a kilometer-long beach of the same name, ideal for romantic or family getaways. Here you can explore the Cairns Great Barrier Reef much more intimately and with fewer tourists blocking your view.
Mission Beach Weather
The weather in Mission Beach is always on point, just like the rest of Australia. The best time to visit would be somewhere around June and July when the temperature rarely goes above 25°C (77°F). You can expect a lot of rain between December and April, whereas August is the driest month. In fact, Queensland rates as one of the warmest travel destinations ever, with temperatures up to up to 68.9 °C (156 °F), so it’s definitely a treat!
How to Get to Mission Beach
You’ll need 2h to get to the beach from Cairns. The cheapest way would be to drive there yourself, but you can also grab a bus. They are usually really nice and air-conditioned, with comfortable seats and WiFi access, and go for around $60. You can also take a train, but they take an extra hour to get there, and the price is similar.
If you’re traveling from Townsville, the buses take a bit longer at 3h 25m, and the tickets go for $70. Trains once again take an extra hour, so we recommend a bus from either of these locations.
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Mission Beach Dive
Mission Beach Dive is a small but wonderfully organized for snorkeling and diving trips to the reef. They are keen on trying to make every guest feel right at home during the trip. True to their motto of experiencing the reef far from the crowds, their boat, the “Reef Goddess,” doesn’t fit more than 25 people overall. You can count on every trip with Mission Beach Dive to be a pleasant and professional experience.
Their day tours to the Great Barrier Reef start at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Mission Beach Dive office. You can find their office in Wongaling Beach, and you can start your journey from there. Don’t worry if they ask you to leave your shoes at the office. You definitely won’t need them at the reef, and they’ll be waiting right where you left them!
If this is the case, you’ll cross the wide beach barefoot, where the small ferry boat will be waiting. In less than 15 minutes, you should be ready and able to start your adventure. The boat trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef usually takes about 1.5 hours. Some boats even have on-board kitchens and staff so you can get a meal or a coffee during the trip.
Experience the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling here in the Great Barrier Reef area really is highly recommended. It’s a rather remote location, so you can see the water everywhere around you and immerse yourself in the surroundings.
Plenty of lively corals grow along the reef rocks, and countless fish in all shapes and colors swim around. It’s a lovely sight and more than worth it for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts.
Your other choice for a tour along the Barrier Reef is a pontoon that covers the area between the Airlie and the Mission Beach. These tours offer a plethora of choices and start from around $269. You can indulge in snorkeling, both regular and scuba diving, exploring the Whitsunday Islands and their wondrous marine life.
You can also take a semi-submersible submarine ride and witness the submerged plant life from their observatories. With so many options available, you don’t even have to be a swimmer for a journey like this. There are very few better ways to experience the underwater life of the Great Reef and the coast of Queensland. The food on these tours is also pretty delicious, so there’s no need to bring any with you.
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Watching Cassowaries in Mission Beach
Just the mention of cassowaries is enough to fill some people with excitement and awe. These large flightless birds with the bright blue feathers and long necks look are the closest thing we have to a dinosaur. They are arguably the most dangerous species of bird that exists but also equally fascinating. Unfortunately, the birds, which are up to 1.80 meters tall, are now critically endangered.
There are only about 4000 cassowaries left in the wild, so it can be incredibly hard to find one unless you know exactly where to look. They are a native Australian animal, and an entire area around Mission Beach, the Cassowary Coast, is devoted to them. There you can find many roaming cassowaries, but it would be best to admire them from a distance. Since cassowaries are fearless birds, you can occasionally catch them strolling through the middle of the village!
You can also see them on the sides of the road, so look out if you’re driving through the area. Numerous signs along the streets of Queensland warn about the crossing cassowaries, so drive slowly just in case. You don’t want to be responsible for further shrinking down the population of these terribly endangered birds.
Things to do at Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a tropical paradise for skydiving. It’s long contrasting beaches, and islands strung together are an awesome backdrop for a jump. The dense rainforests complement the blue and white beaches and make every moment of the drop memorable. The jumps usually take place from the height of 5 kilometers, but this can vary greatly.
Many consider Mission Beach to be the best drop zone in Australia and rightfully so. Your best bet will be to start with a tandem jump if you’re not yet comfortable enough for solo drops. The prices start from $199, but experiencing skydiving with these environments is a must if you’re a fan of the sport.
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White Water Rafting at Tully River
Fans of rafting also have nothing to worry about! The Tully River is a famous gathering spot for rafters and has been ever since 1984. White Water Rafting tours are available for anyone willing to brave the river and experience the thrills of rafting. Rafters usually have a barbeque at the riverside in the morning as they prepare to fight the river. They provide transport to the rafting locations from all major cities in the area and also storage where you can place your valuables for safekeeping.
Water Taxi and Kayaking
To further admire the scenery, you can take a kayak or a water taxi. These can take you from Wongaling Beach to the nearby Dunk Island and are a fun little diversion. Water taxies take up to 24 passengers, so they are more akin to water buses, but they maintain comfort as a priority.
Clump Mountain National Park and the Bicton Hill
About 4.6km north of Mission Beach lies the Clump Mountain National Park. This park aims to preserve the tropical rainforests and a few endangered species. This type of rainforest was widespread throughout Queensland but is now a rarity due to forest clearing. It also fosters the local cassowaries, so it’s a good place to start if you’re set on seeing one.
The main feature, however, is the Bicton Hill. This is a steep walking track that promises spectacular views for all determined enough to reach the top. This area, along with the park itself, holds cultural significance for the indigenous people, namely the Djiru tribe, who used the summit of Bicton Hill as a scouting lookout.
In Mission Beach You Can Visit Attie Creek Falls
About an hour south from Mission Beach is the tropical town of Cardwell. Here you can find some of the more exotic waterfalls in Queensland, and Australia in general. The Attie Creek offers picnic opportunities to make a stand and admire the nature around you, while the falls themselves are half an hour of walking away. There are usually people around as the place is rather famous, but it’s also secluded. It’s great if you want a quiet break from the journey and a hike through the woods.
Charlie’s Chocolate Factory
What might draw you in expecting a wild cinematic theme park will turn into something completely different, but equally interesting. Chocolate Factory aims to provide a realistic tour of the actual process of making chocolate. Namely, the transition from “Tree to Bar.”
It’s really authentic, without trying to “sugar-coat” the process. It’s also one of the few places where you can witness this whole process as a part of a guided tour. The tour includes the history of cocoa, visiting the plantations, and the machinery they use. They also allow you to take part in the actual process of making chocolate! Tour guides are really hospitable and friendly, and prices go from $22 for children up to $34 for adults.
Hike on the Famous Walking Tracks
Mission Beach has lots of opportunities for hiking for nature lovers and joggers. The beautiful forests offer clean air and relaxing greenery and are all well worth your time. There are various types of trails available, all to fulfill different needs. Some for children to play around, and others for botanists, bird watchers, and connoisseurs of nature in general.
Ulysses and the Cutten Brothers Walk
Ulysses Link is a 1,5 kilometer-long trail that takes around half an hour to walk through. It’s a popular trail for families and larger groups, and it provides an excellent view of the Mission Beach area.
Winding through the local attractions, along the beaches, and providing a great view of all the neighboring islands. Ulysses walk was named after blue butterflies that can be seen all around the area, and it’s pretty close to the nearby Dunk Island. The path intertwines with the Cutten Brothers Walk, and the two share some of the roads and areas.
There are multiple paths you can take through the local rainforests, all equally alluring and teeming with life. If you’d like to take a walk through the rare fan palm trees, Licuala State Forest would be a great start. The forest spreads throughout the Mission Beach area and hides the impressive Licula Fan Palms, which are over 15 meters tall.
They also contain fleshy orange fruits, the food of choice for the local Cassowaries, as well as the birds themselves. If you manage to spot one, keep your distance, and try not to provoke them. Cassowaries are lovely to look at but are quite irritable by nature.
Kennedy Track in the southern part of Mission Beach is huge in comparison to some others, and around 7 kilometers-long. It takes over four hours of walking to complete, so it’s not ideal for children or the elderly. It continues on into the Kennedy Esplanade, both named after Edmund Kennedy, part of the expedition to Cape York.
To reach this track from the Visitor Centre, take the Tully road and then head for South Mission Beach. The trail itself is rather varied and starts off in a eucalypt forest. While hiking, you’ll have a clear view of the Coral Sea, the Barnard Islands, and many others.
Wongaling-North Mission Shared Walkway
This trail links the northern Mission Beach and the Wongaling Beach, with the access to Cassowary Drive. Alongside it, you’ll see many villages that the path cuts through. The walkway is both for pedestrians and people with bikes, so it’s rarely empty.
Musgrave Bike Track
When it comes to bike tracks, there are few more immersive and scenic than the Musgrave Track. It goes along the old forest road that was used to transport timber in the sixties. The road requires a certain degree of fitness as it goes along the forest terrain. You’ll be passing through the looming palm forests, tributaries and rivers, and numerous bridges. At times it can really feel like you’re roaming through a jungle, surrounded by huge trees and wildlife.
Mission Beach Accommodation
There is a range of hotels to choose from in Mission Beach, and you can’t really go wrong with any. Castaways Resort is a great choice as they serve the best breakfast in the area. Aside from that, they offer cozy rooms, a beautiful pool in front of the hotel, and a nice view from the balcony, full of palm trees and endless beaches.
There’s also Cassawong Cottages as a pet-friendly alternative, with free WiFI and a lovely garden. The rooms are equipped with huge TVs, DVD players, and espresso machines. This is an excellent option if you want to prepare your own food. The rooms all have refrigerators, microwave ovens, stovetops, and the like.
You can also opt for The Wongalinga Apartments too. Their rooms are equipped with all the tech you can ask for, but there’s also the barbecue grill, free parking, and laundry facilities. It’s rather close to the Licuala State Forest, so it’s a good starting point for a hike. There are many other options to choose from, but these three would be our top picks.
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