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Cairns Daytrips To Hinchinbrook Island, The Atherton Tablelands And Mossman Gorge

So you're in Cairns, here's how to get outta' there.

25/11/2016 8:49 AM AEDT | Updated 30/11/2016 11:29 AM AEDT
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Wayne Walton
The islands off Cairns are stunning.

A sweating backpacker in polyester lederhosen squeezes past a flock of over-60s gliding by in tropical kaftans. A shirtless man on a bike cruises through with his portly dog in tow and the doors of a restaurant open, expelling a burst of chilled air and about 20 tourists in matching hats that say 'China Yeah!'

The people watching on Cairns waterfront is exceptional but for travellers who want to get into the rainforests, islands and culture of this Far North Queensland city, you'll have to go further afield.

If you've got a car, these are the best daytrips to take from Cairns CBD.

Atherton Tablelands

One hour and a half south west.

The fog presses itself against the windscreen, obscuring all but the reflective road markers.

We slowly climb the escarpment that hems in Cairns and as the car rounds the crest, the fog breaks away into ragged silvery breaths revealing a landscape so improbable, I feel like in the climb between Innisfail and Milaa Milaa, we have somehow driven to the top of the earth.

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Welcome to the Atherton Tablelands.

Neon grass carpets steep, frolicking hills that touch the clouds then roll down into valleys of dense rainforest. Waterfalls seemingly spill from the sky and our little car rolls in and out of the clouds as though they are as real as the comically fat dairy cows that stud the hills.

Welcome to the Atherton Tablelands in FNQ -- a place of such immense natural beauty I'm still not sure it exists.

And did I mention the wineries, gourmet smokehouses and bio-dynamic dairies?

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Yep. This place really exsists. Ellinjaa Falls at Millaa Millaa, Atherton Tablelands.

After perusing the selection of quark cheesecakes at Out of the Whey Cheesery and Teahouse at Mungalli Creek Dairy you'll be perusing the local real estate options and spitballing business ventures that will let you stay forever.

Then there's the glittering waterfalls and cloudy rainforests and Mt Uncle Distillery that makes a gin laden with Australian botanicals.

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In the Atherton Tablelands, kangaroos live in trees.

In short, it's paradise, perched on the ranges above Cairns.

Hinchinbrook Island

Two and a half hours south.

I'm keenly watching a shadow lurking in the shallows at Little Ramsay Bay on Hinchinbrook Island and I have the distinct feeling it's watching me back.

"Looks like a shovelnose ray," our water taxi-come-font-of-knowledge guide Craig says.

Cayla Dengate
It's easy to forget about crocs and stingers when the water is this stunning.

Sure enough a wave peels back over the ray to reveal the distinct diamond shape of the head.

I step into the shallows, all white sand and verdant turqouise rollers, to get a better photo.

"It's a croc," Craig says.

"I thought you said it was a ray," I reply.

"That's a ray," he says pointing towards the shadow, "and THAT's a croc," he says pointing past me.

I turn to see another shadow lurking a few metres from me.

If the 'Warning Cassowaries' sign didn't let you know you were in adventure frontier country, surely the saltwater crocodiles on Hinchinbrook Island will.

Cayla Dengate
Let's play spot-a-croc. You see it? Because it sees you.

Walking along the island's powdery beaches, with the towering Mount Bowen overhead and the thick fringe of jungle encroaching on the beach, it feels like walking back through time.

While you may bump into hardy hikers doing the multi-day walk around the island, you'll mostly get an entire beach to yourself, sans the odd, curious shape in the shallows.

Mossman Gorge

Boulders smoothed with generations of wet season deluges rise out of the alarmingly clear waters of Mossman Gorge. Small fish flit about in the sandy shallows no doubt trying to avoid platypus while above, the neon wink of Ulysses butterflies draw the eye up to the towering jungle canopy.

Cayla Dengate
Mossman Gorge's rain-smoothed stones.

It's easy to believe in the magical interconnectedness of the world at Mossman Gorge -- which is encouraged at the Indigenous eco centre's dreamtime walks where you can hear about the area's significance for the Kuku Yalanji traditional owners.

Rumored to be the inspiration for James Cameron's Avatar, this Daintree location is rich with remnant Gondwana rainforest and shows why the Wet Tropics are Unesco Heritage Listed.

Cayla Dengate
Everything is verdant with growth in Mossman Gorge.

Follow the flow of the river, and before it makes its way into the mangroves feeding the Great Barrier Reef beyond, it's picked up by Hemmingway's Brewery in Port Douglas -- making a clear, Australian brew.

The water is also used in spa treatments offered at the upmarket Silky Oaks Lodge. The Healing Hands Spa vichy shower therapies are a spiritual experience.

Driving back into the CBD for the flight home, it becomes apparent -- it's the city where the rainforest meets the sea and the best of Cairns isn't in Cairns at all.

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