Discovering Mission Beach on the Great Barrier Reef

Explore Normanby Island - the surrounding waters and the island itself.

Mission Beach delivered all we could have wanted – and much more – on our family holiday to this under-appreciated Great Barrier Reef destination.  I am torn between keeping the secret and encouraging more of you to visit. But this Queensland region has suffered the wrath of a two cyclones over 10 years and needs to be rediscovered.

We spent 5 nights here in the September school holidays. In retrospect, we should have stayed longer, but had pre-booked accommodation in Port Douglas as well. There was no shortage of things to do and it was not over-run with tourists – a perfect mix that can be near impossible to find on school holidays.

Maybe some people still believe there is nothing here following the devastation of Cyclone Yasi in 2011 (just 5 years after Cyclone Larry). But while Dunk Island Resort has not re-opened, there are great accommodation options to choose from in and around Mission Beach.

I could have just sat on my balcony admiring this view all day - but there was plenty to do around Mission Beach.
I could have just sat on my balcony admiring this view all day – but there was plenty to do around Mission Beach.

Our love affair started from the moment we arrived at our apartment, across from the beach with balcony views to Dunk Island. I just wanted to open a bottle of wine and not move. I did that at times, but over the next few days we got out and about too. This is what we loved exploring this area:

Lacey Creek Rainforest Walk

Apparently, this is one of the places to spot a cassowary. But while we didn’t (and frankly were a bit ‘scared’ of doing so), we did see evidence of them in a big a pile of poo. We also spoke to a ranger who had seen them that day.

Evidence of cassowaries at Lacey Creek Rainforest Walk near Mission Beach.
Evidence of cassowaries at Lacey Creek Rainforest Walk near Mission Beach.

But cassowaries aside, this is a lovely walk through the tropical rainforest and the terrain is easy for kids. We also managed to turn a negative (big, bitey march flies) into a positive by swatting them and throwing them into the creek to feed the fish, who put on quite a meal-time show for us.

Charley’s Chocolate Tour

Who doesn’t love chocolate? This is a great opportunity for children to see how chocolate is made – with some tasting of course.

Charley’s Chocolate offers a unique opportunity to visit the farm and see cocoa trees, touch cocoa pods and learn about the stages of chocolate production.

This is where it starts - cocoa pods on a tree at Charley's Chocolates, Mission Beach.
This is where it starts – cocoa pods on a tree at Charley’s Chocolates, Mission Beach.

Run by a former Melbourne couple, we learnt a lot such as the fact that cocoa can only be grown in a band 15 degrees either side of the equator, making their Mission Beach location a perfect spot.

As well as producing chocolate from their own farm, the factory makes single origin chocolate from premium South Pacific cocoa beans – and this is where you can get to taste the difference between origins during the tasting session.

Some of the different chocolates you can buy after you taste. Yum.
Some of the different chocolates you can buy after you taste. Yum.

With extra touches, such as Freddo Frogs for palettes too young for strong flavours and an Aussie farm burger lunch, this is a fun experience for all the family

Dunk Island

The Mission Beach Water Taxi (conveniently located next to our accommodation, along with water equipment hire) offers a number of crossings during the day so you can explore Dunk Island.

To be frank, hubby and Mr 13 did not find the snorkelling there that good, but inspired by Bear Grylls, Miss 10 got stuck into building her own shelter.

And there are two other reasons to visit Dunk Island – to see the former resort, much of which looks like the cyclone has just hit it (except for the pool and restaurant area which have been renovated but are still closed to the public).

Parts of the former Dunk Island Resort look like the cyclone only hit yesterday.
Parts of the former Dunk Island Resort look like the cyclone only hit yesterday.

The second reason is the Sunset Bar. Now this is my type of vibe – laid- back casual dining where shoes are optional and the dress code is as you like. Add live music on weekends (including the Sunday we were there) and it’s hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

The Sunset Bar on Dunk Island - great for families. And reasonably priced too.
The Sunset Bar on Dunk Island – great for families. And reasonably priced too.

Etty Bay

“You have to go to Etty Bay,” said my Grey Nomad parents.

The cassowary at Etty Bay, north of Mission Beach. A stunning beach well worth a visit.
The cassowary at Etty Bay, north of Mission Beach. A stunning beach well worth a visit.

Yes, this small bay is stunning but there is another highlight we were lucky to see – the resident cassowary. Now, this is a bird who is used to being around people (not that I would approach it). But it was our one sighting of a cassowary “in the wild” which made it extra special.

Mamu Tropical Skywalk

It is a bit out of the way (travel via Innisfail) but this stunning skywalk through the tropics is a must.

The 2.5km walkway offers plenty of wow moments, the highlight of which is The Tower – 100 steps and 37 metres above ground, with spectacular views across the rainforest and the North Johnstone River gorge.

Taking in the views at MaMu Tropical Skywalk in Tropical North Queensland.
Taking in the views at MaMu Tropical Skywalk in Tropical North Queensland.

The walkway was named in recognition of the indigenous Ma:Mu, the traditional landowers of the area, who are recognised on information plaques along the way. It offers families an insight into the Wet Tropics region. Plaques also provide details on the history of the region, as well as flora and fauna.

Climb the tower to get even better views at MaMu Rainforest Walk.
Climb the tower to get even better views at MaMu Rainforest Walk.

What I love about this place is that it was designed to have minimal impact on the rainforest. It was actually built after 2006’s Cyclone Larry, which stripped away some of the canopy, allowing the walkway to be built without the need for more clearing.

Wear good footwear and don’t be put off by the weather. It was raining on the coast when we left, but clear here when we arrived. However, we were given umbrellas at the entrance just in case.

Frankland Islands

One of the hardest decisions when travelling to the Great Barrier Reef is which reef tour to do. There are cruises that leave from Mission Beach, but with one child who is still very tentative in deep water, we opted for the Frankland Islands cruise.

The Frankland islands cruise is great for young families, with a short travelling time and island for paddling and shallow snorkelling.
The Frankland islands cruise is great for young families, with a short travelling time and island for paddling and shallow snorkelling.

This tour actually leaves from the Mulgrave River, about 1.15 hours north of Mission Beach (an hour south of the Cairns Beaches).

Often what makes these tours are the guides – and ours was no exception. The marine biologist who lead discussions, an island walk and snorkelling tour, was passionate and knowledgeable. You could not help but become engaged.

Explore Normanby Island - the surrounding waters and the island itself.
Explore Normanby Island – the surrounding waters and the island itself.

My daughter, who was a bit scared at first, was enticed to snorkel in the shallows. My son, who is a waterbaby, was absolutely thrilled to swim with turtles. A trip in a semi-submersible and a lunch with plenty of prawns were also highlights.

Fresh food stalls

This is the heart of banana growing and there are opportunities to pull up and buy direct from the farms. But it’s not just bananas. All sorts of tropical fruit and fresh produce is available.

Fresh bananas - just one of the many roadside stalls we passed and stopped at around Mission Beach.
Fresh bananas – just one of the many roadside stalls we passed and stopped at around Mission Beach.

We found one selling lettuces – another lady who I understand is a local institution, a few minutes’ drive from Mission Beach sells all sorts of fruit and vegetables. And then there are the markets, with many local made preserves for sale.

Out of the 5 nights we stayed in our self-contained apartment, we only ate out once. A testament to the fresh food available

The vibe

“It’s the vibe.” Personally, I don’t like hustle and bustle and these days, dressing up to go out for dinner, especially when on holidays, can be too much effort.

Mission Beach - ahh, the serenity......
Mission Beach – ahh, the serenity……

Mission Beach suited me – and my family – to a tee. Sure, there are restaurants where you can dress up, but if you just want a relaxing tropical holiday, this is the place for you too.

What we didn’t do

There is still much more more to see and do, including:

Paronella Park – We visited here on an earlier trip to Cairns and I highly recommend it. This is a unique attraction – the result of a Spanish man’s dream to build a castle in the rainforest.

Sugar – This region is about sugar. Kids will love stopping for the cane trains and for those with more enthusiastic and older children, there are sugar mill tours at nearby Tully.

Waiting for a sugar train to pass near Mission Beach.
Waiting for a sugar train to pass near Mission Beach.

Queenslander pubs – the El Arish Tavern, about 15 minutes from Mission Beach, is a classic 1920s Queenslander pub. Unfortunately it was closed for dinner the night we visited, but it is renowned for its food and memorabilia that adorns its walls. About an hour up the road is the Garradunga Hotel, originally built in 1888 and rebuilt in 1935, the property is famous for its Resident Ghost .

Innisfail – Did you know Innisfail, rebuilt after a cyclone in 1918, is known as the Art Deco capital of Australia, for its large number of buildings in this style?

About Mission Beach

For those not familiar with the region (which I was not), the area classed as Mission Beach is actually made up of a number of beaches and small towns, the largest of which and the main centre is Mission Beach. Further south (and home to a new shopping centre with large supermarket) is Wongaling Beach. This is where we stayed. South Mission Beach is a short drive further south and has a stinger net and surf lifesaving club.

Tip: If you are planning a holiday to Tropical North Queensland, why not consider staying at a couple of different places, across Mission Beach, Cairns and Port Douglas. This way you will be able to see a lot more with a lot less driving around.

Learn more about what to do in Mission Beach and surrounds.

More posts about holidaying in Queensland:

Australia Zoo – family friendly tried and tested

Sunshine Coast attractions for families

Thunderegg fossicking on the Gold Coast

 

 

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Author: Amanda

Holidays with kids is a changing feast. With more than 12 years now under my belt, I am passing on what I have learned to help other parents plan their family holidays to make them as stress-free as possible.

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