Mission Beach, two hours south of Cairns, is the paradise you thought you’d lost. An epic stretch of palm-fringed coastline, beach-front cottages, a handful of laid-back cafés and restaurants, rainforest walks, mesmerising sunsets and the chance to spot a cassowary. Pure tropical bliss.
Mission Beach is made up of four villages – South Mission, Wongaling Beach, Mission Beach and Bingal Bay. Porter Promenade in the heart of Mission Beach is the hub for restaurants, cafés and a handful of shops. You’ll find a Woolworths at Wongaling Beach and accommodation spread along the length of the unspoilt coastline.
Walk the beach at sunrise or try yoga
Do yourself a favour and get out of bed for sunrise. Strolling along the beach as the sun breaks through the horizon – the sky all kinds of colours and the islands just silhouettes in the distance – is absolutely magical. Add a yoga session, and you’ll be set for the day. Try Viv’s relaxing yoga or check out one of the Mission Beach studios.
Tuck into an all-day breakfast
Head to Mission Beach village for a delicious breakfast – any time of day. The Three Tony’s (Open til 3pm. Closed Tuesdays) on the main street is a great option for coffee and tasty food. Shanti Café (Open til 2pm. Closed Mondays) is another favourite for breakfast on the deck, takeaway wraps and veggie options.
For the perfect DIY breakfast, stop at one of the roadside stalls and pick up some farm-fresh fruit. Keep some change in the car for purchases as the stalls operate on an honesty system. Leny’s in Mission Beach village stocks yoghurt and milk from the Atherton Tablelands as well as a great range of locally sourced fruit. So good!
Hire a bike
A network of walking tracks and bike trails connects the townships that make up Mission Beach, offering a great opportunity to explore the rainforest. But for the most Insta-worthy pics, you need to get a fat-tire bike and hit the beach. At low tide you can ride all the way from Clump Point to South Mission. Bring a backpack for drinks and snacks and a pair of bike pants for extra padding if you’re planning a long ride! Mission Beach bike hire is at 26 Porter Promenade. Call 0407785505
Hike the Kennedy Trail
This 3.9 km walk starts just beyond the boat ramp at South Mission Beach (parking is past the no through road sign on Kennedy Esplanade) and offers spectacular views of Dunk and the Family Islands, diverse scenery, as well as the chance to spot turtles, dugongs and maybe even a whale.
The trail hugs the coastline, crossing creeks and beaches, finally ending at Kennedy Bay, where explorer Edmund Kennedy came ashore in 1848 with his crew, 27 horses and 100 sheep, to start an overland expedition to Cape York. The croc warning in Kennedy Bay puts me off doing any exploring of my own, but there is an information sign for history buffs that’s worth checking out. Allow at least two hours to get to Kennedy Bay and back. Pack plenty of water and mozzie repellent.
Take a fishing trip
There are several options for a deep-sea fishing trip out of Mission Beach. We went with Alistair at Hooked Up Fishing who has been taking tours for nearly 30 years. It was a breezy day and the swell was surprisingly steep when we left the Clump Point harbour. That meant a chilly and exciting trip out to the Mackerel Patch and very lumpy fishing conditions. Luckily we landed some decent-sized mackerel to take home for dinner. A successful day out!
Not interested in fishing? Try the snorkelling trip to the outer reef with Mission Beach Dive or grab a picnic and take a water taxi to Dunk Island. Beware: construction work is currently underway at the jetty and picnic area. Check on developments with a friendly local.
Spot the elusive cassowary
Habitat destruction, cars and dogs have all taken their toll on the cassowary population. The birds are listed as endangered and even though this area is called the Cassowary Coast, you have to be lucky to spot them. We tried the Licuala Fan Palm Walking Track – which is reportedly the best place to see cassowaries, and came across plenty of evidence that they’d been through, but no actual birds.
Your best option is to head to Etty Bay, just south of Innisfail. We encountered one on the roadside and another one strolling around the campsite. Take it easy on the roads through the rainforest to avoid hitting one!
Discover Tropical Art Deco at Innisfail
Art Deco? In a country town? You got it. This regional centre, midway between Cairns and Mission Beach, is probably most famous for cyclones and sugar cane, but it’s also the home of Australia’s most impressive collection of Tropical Art Deco buildings. On practically every street, you’ll find brightly painted 1930s treasures, built after the town was practically annihilated by a cyclone. The architecture is a mixture of European styles, as a result of the many nationalities who had a hand in their design and construction.
Many of the buildings have been re-purposed – just brightly coloured facades, housing chemists, gift shops and healing centres. But others, including the Innisfail Shire Hall, remain grand tributes to a previous era of prosperity. Check the Cassowary Coast Regional Council for walking tours or download the app for a self-guided wander through this surprising town.
Step back in time at Paronella Park
A 45 minute drive from Mission Beach, past the historic towns of El Arish and Silkwood, you’ll find this surreal attraction. The remains of a huge 1930s amusement park, built by Spanish migrant José Paronella, to fulfil a dream of one day living in a castle. Decorative concrete structures and walkways overlook the Mena Creek Falls where visitors once played tennis, picnicked on the river bank and danced in the ballroom.
Paronella Park fell on hard times after a cyclone tore through, but the current owners have spent the past three decades working to restore the incredible structures and revive José’s dream. The $50 entry fee gives you access for two years, plus free camping in the neighbouring site. Pop across the road for a chicken parmie at the Mena Creek pub and return for the evening light show, for a full experience.
Enjoy a sunset cocktail and dinner
After a day of exploring Mission Beach and surrounds, what could be better than watching the palm trees turning gold and the sky glowing pink. Take a stroll on the beach with the locals or grab a drink and enjoy the sunset. There’s a BWS on the main road next to Woolworths if you want to organise your own beverages, or head to Noori Beachside Bar in Mission Beach for a cocktail. The dragon fruit daiquiri is a winner!
Buko Restaurant at Castaways is another beautiful setting for drinks and dinner. It’s pricier than Noori, but the food is mouth-watering. I can definitely recommend the seafood linguini.
Make your friends envious with lunch at Nu Nu
OK, this restaurant is well outside the things-to-do in Mission Beach brief. Nu Nu is two and a half hours north, in beautiful Palm Cove. But I’m including it here, as an added bonus, because it’s a very doable option if you’re heading back to Cairns for a late flight. And because Nu Nu is Tropical North Queensland deliciousness at its very best. Think spanner crab brioche, salmon with coconut, line and papaya and choc cream banana crunch in a stylish beach-front restaurant. Perfection!
Visit a waterfall and grab a pie
If Palm Cove feels too far away, you could visit Josephine Falls on the way back to Cairns. The car park for the tiered cascade is just five minutes off the main road at Mirriwinni. From there, it’s a 700 metre easy walk along a bitumen path to the falls. Wear your togs and have a dip in the rockpool. But follow the warning signs. The Falls are dangerous when flooded.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, make like a local, and visit the Babinda Bakery for the best pies in the region. Be prepared to queue pretty much any day of the day. Yes, it’s that popular!
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to beach-front accommodation at Mission Beach. Best to decide which village you want to be in, and then work from there. Here are a couple of suggestions for places I’ve loved.
Wongalinga Beach Apartments
I stayed here with a tribe of gals on a bookclub escape. The spacious three-bedroom apartments worked really well for a group. Plenty of space for lounging around, a great pool area and the view across the bay to Dunk Island is stunning. Local restaurant options are limited. Nana’s Thai is the closest and serves a good range of curries. A big shout out to the owner for squeezing us in on a busy Friday night. The supermarket is a five minute drive to stock up on groceries.
The beach huts, just metres from the sand at Mission Beach are discreetly tucked amongst the foliage. Our one bedroom cottage was stylishly decorated and thoughtfully stocked with breakfast supplies and two mini bottles of champers to get us going. Thank you! The location was superb – easy access to the beach and a short walk to the village for meals and supplies.
A little reminder: This is North Queensland. You need to swim inside the stinger nets between October and May, and follow the croc warning signs at the creeks.