This blog post is all about what to do in Mission Beach. Before I dig in, here’s a little backstory about my relationship with this beautiful part of Far North Queensland.
In 2020, the Coronavirus Pandemic forced me to abandon my adopted home of Vietnam and rediscover the wonders of my former home of Mission Beach, Australia. Since those early days of being stuck at home and doubting my decision to stay, the wild rainforests and spectacular ocean sunrises have reminded me why I set up home here more than a decade ago.
Now, I am welcoming writing retreat guests into my beachfront home. Join me on retreat and let me show you exactly what makes this place special.
Oh, and we’ve just been ranked as the world’s fifth most beautiful village to visit. Of course it’s all subjective, but with all those beautiful palmtrees, Mission Beach is a very photogenic gem. A bit like Sri Lanka or Bali, one of my retreat guests commented, minus the hassle of overseas travel (if you happen to be in Australia).
I’ve created a what-to-do in Mission Beach guide for our retreat guests. If you can’t join me on person, join me in a bit of armchair travel, as I share a list of things to do in Mission Beach.
First up, About Mission Beach
Where is Mission Beach?
Mission Beach is a small laid-back beach-side community in Far North Queensland, Australia. Conveniently located between the airports of Townsville to the south and Cairns to the north (we do a courtesy pick-up from Cairns airport), Mission Beach is one of very few places in the world where two World Heritage sites come together: the world’s most ancient rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Mission Beach consists of four separate neighborhoods spread along a 14km stretch of unspoiled palm-fringed beach. It’s what Port Douglas looked like before development.
Facts about Mission Beach
It is home to the highest number of the endangered Southern Cassowary living in the wild in Australia. This majestic flightless bird is only found in two places in the world, in Australia’s Wet Tropics and in Papua New Guinea.
Iconic Dunk Island, just opposite, was home to a thriving artists colony in the 1970s established by Bruce Arthur, an Olympic wrestler turned tapestry maker. In 1969 it was the setting of the film Age of Consent by British director Michael Powell, starring a teenage Helen Mirren opposite James Mason who plays a successful artist who moves from New York to a tropical island seeking inspiration.
But its reputation as a place where artists come to retreat from the world to loose themselves in creative pursuit goes back to the 1908 bestseller Confessions Of A Beachcomber by E.J. Banfield, a Townsville journalist seeking refuge on a deserted tropical island after suffering burnout.
Top Things to Do in Mission Beach
Enjoy the beach
Starting with the obvious, go and stretch your legs on the the longest, emptiest palm-fringed beach you can imagine.
You’ll be surprised how liberating it feels to have 14 km of beach all to yourself. Especially after that long drive down from Cairns or up from Townsville.
I still pinch myself every once in a while for thinking that I live inside a postcard. You could be very lucky and spot a Cassowary making his way along the foreshore in North Mission Beach. I spilled my morning coffee, when he suddenly appeared very quietly along the Ulysses link walking track that starts right outside my house.
For more suggested walks, keep reading!
Wake up for sunrise
Make sure you start at least one day of your trip to Mission Beach early to catch sunrise on the beach. They are spectacular and every day brings a different one.
Even when I am really tired, I drag myself out of bed to watch the sky put on its show, reflected in the ocean and lighting up beautiful Dunk Island. It’s worth it. Trust me!
Explore the rainforest
The World-Heritage listed rainforest in Mission Beach is a great thing to do in any weather.
On a sunny day, you’ll enjoy the cool shade. On a windy day, you can take shelter among the trees. And on a rainy day in Mission Beach, the forest may be at its most beautiful.
I actually love walking through the rainforest on a rainy day, when my glasses fog up and the forest around me comes alive like a breathing, steaming organism. Don’t worry. There is nothing to harm you here, no matter what they tell you back home. Just make sure you protect yourself from those pesky mozzies and, occasionally, during the height of the wet season, when you most likely won’t be visiting, you might come across, dare I say it, a tiny, bloodsucking leech.
Marvel the Great Barrier Reef
Just as no trip to Mission Beach is complete without exploring the rainforest, no trip is complete without heading under the surface to marvel at the World-Heritage listed reefs!
Reef Goddess offers all day tours to the Outer Great Barrier Reef catering both to divers and snorkelers. They also operate a dive school if you fancy doing your PADI accreditation.
Discover tropical fruits
One of my favourite things about living in the tropics is the variety of delicious, fresh tropical fruits! My tip is to head to Mission Beach Market on the 1st or 3rd Sunday of every month (we try to match our retreats with market days). Wander amongst the colourful stalls along the foreshore under the shade of native Beach Almond and Calophyllum trees. As well as vibrant red paw paws, piles of giant avocados and trays of fragrant mangoes, you’ll find everything from local arts and crafts, to home made soaps, tropical plants and the best Thai food around.
If you aren’t in town when the farmers are, not to worry, you can go out to the Fruit Forest Farm and have third-generation local farmers Allison and Peter Salleras show you the most incredible tropical fruits. Buying fruit at a supermarket will never be the same again once you see, taste and touch what they grow. Make sure you try black sapote. It tastes like chocolate, minus the calories. We also have a local chocolate farm that makes the very best dark chocolate in the world! You can tour the farm or buy the chocolate at Leny’s Fruitstall, where you will also find a large spread of tropical fruits.
Go Skydiving over Mission Beach
Mission Beach is one of Australia’s most famous skydiving destinations, offering the country’s highest tandem skydives and arguably the best views. You land right on the beach!
Check out their packages here.
Visit Dunk Island
The Mission Beach Dunk Island Water Taxi does regular scheduled trips across to Dunk Island. Dunk Island copped the brunt of cyclone Yasi, but there is a wonderful walk you can do on Dunk Island, up to Mount Kotaloo or right around the island.
Walks in Mission Beach
The Ulysses Link trail starts straight outside my house, making it one of my favourites! Follow it to the right and 500m after Castaways Resort it turns right into tangled rainforest shrub across a couple of short boardwalks. It’s an easy walk and a nice alternative to a beach walk on windy days or on extremely hot days.
Taking the Ulysses Link Trail to the north, it will take you past the council camping ground to the northern end of the beach. From there you follow the shrub along the main road for a short stretch until you enter the Cutten Brothers Trail which takes you through beautiful littoral rainforest, along boardwalks, past mangroves to the next beach and Clump Point Jetty.
The Bicton Hill Trail, which starts shortly before you enter Bingil Bay is a favourite with the local fitness freaks. It’s an energetic 45 minute loop walk with stunning views over the islands from the top.
The Musgravea Trail is an old logging road, cut through rainforest so pretty it looks like a landscaped garden. You can start at the Licuala Day area just off the Tully-Mission Beach road or near the Dreamtime track on the El Arish-Mission Beach Road. Watch out for the resident Cassowary who patrols the rainforest highway here. Make sure you always give way to the big birds.
The Kennedy Track in South Mission Beach is another great way to explore the coastline. You can go for a leisurely stroll to Lovers Beach or do the whole hike past Tom O’Shanter Point to the Hull River. You might even see a Cassowary on the beach! But be aware that crocodiles live in the Hull. Don’t swim there.
Lacey Creek Trail and the Licuala Walk are short and sweet options to spot a cassowary, whilst the Dreamtime Track is a beautiful longer (one-way) walk through thick rainforest, across streams and waterholes.
Swimming in Mission Beach
During the wet season (November to May) you must swim inside the stinger net which is a short stroll to the south of the house. Getting stung by box jellyfish and irukandji can be fatal. The most dangerous times are those perfect days when a Northerly blows and the ocean looks like glass. Don’t be tempted, always swim inside the net or wear a stinger suit. Outside of the stinger season it is safe to swim in the ocean.
Swimming Holes and Waterfalls
A nice way to cool down during the months when the ocean is unsafe or perhaps a little choppy, is to visit one of the many rainforest fresh water holes.
Closest to town is the smallest of the waterholes at Lacey Creek. There is a nice 25 minute loop walk through the rainforest here and a natural stream to cool off in.
Alligators Nest (named after the local scout group; no predators present here) in Tully is very popular with the locals, but visit during the day when everybody is at work and at school and you could be lucky and have this natural freshwater pool all to yourself.
Murray Falls is a 40 minutes drive south of Townsville and has been very popular with my guests. Follow the Bruce Highway south towards Cardwell to the turn off just before the township of Kennedy. Drive through quaint sugar cane and banana plantations, past an Aboriginal settlement. The last little stretch of road is unsealed, but you won’t need a 4WD here. The falls are stunning and the natural pools totally refreshing. There are clean public toilets and a picnic area and the walk up to the falls will tell you much about local indigenous culture. Bring a picnic and spend the day or half a day here.
Josephine Falls is about an hours drive away and unless you are staying for a week or more in Mission Beach, it is recommended that you make this a stop on your way to or from Cairns. To get to the falls it’s a short walk through beautiful rainforest that hasn’t seen recent cyclone damage. There are natural water slides here that are great fun.
The Boulders just behind Babinda is a natural freshwater swimming pool in the jungle, complete with stunning walk, but again, it would make a great side trip on the way to Cairns.
Where to Eat and Drink in Mission Beach
To the south, Castaways Resort and Spa is arguably the most scenic place for a leisurely lunch or sundowner drinks or even a meal overlooking the Coral Sea.
Walking north on Donkin lane, the first place you pass is Shanti. The tropical deck here is a beautiful setting for a chai latte and a slice of vegan chocolate cake.
In the Village Green (to the north), The Garage Bar and Grill serves consistently great boutique pub food (think sliders with pulled pork and caramelized onion). It’s also a great place to catch live music most Sundays from 4 pm. They also make a pretty darn good coffee, though their opening hours are limited (check the noticeboard).
It’s worth getting into the car or the local bus (or a bicycle) to check out the quirky Bingil Bay Café for reliably awesome breakfasts, lunch and dinners, including signature dishes such as the German Sausage Fest, Fried Calamari with home made tzaziki, Greekish pizza and burgers that have recently been voted amongst Australia’s best (!). There is also a trivia night and a slam poetry night and Friday nights there usually is live music. It’s a lot of fun and a great excuse to sample their range of German beers.
Wow! That was a mega guide on what to do in Mission Beach! I hope it inspired you to consider this tropical beach destination in Far North Queensland.
If you’d like to experience Mission Beach on one of our writing retreats, check out upcoming dates here.