Whether travelling around all of Australia or whether you’re just in Cairns for a few days, you should definitely plan a day or two to explore some of the mountainous surrounding areas. Northern Queensland is famous for its many picturesque and impressive waterfalls, and many of them can be accessed by driving an hour or two from Cairns. It’s easy if you’ve already got your own car or camper, but there are plenty of cheap rental options around as well. The first time we came (2017), we hired a standard car from Jucy for under AU$80 for 24 hours including insurance – well worth it especially if you can split the price with friends to see the most beautiful waterfalls near Cairns.
This time we’ve had more time to explore since we’re travelling in our own car, so here is a list of our favourite waterfalls within two hours from Cairns. And by the way: Australia’s highest waterfall is also located here!
Waterfalls Near Cairns You Cannot Miss
Millaa Millaa Falls
A very pretty waterfall with an almost completely straight edge. Thus the water cascades down into the circular pool almost symmetrically, which is what makes this place so unique. All of this is surrounded by picturesque lush greenery and fern trees, making for a great setting. The parking lot is only a few steps from Millaa Millaa Falls.
It’s arguably the most popular and well-known waterfall in northern Queensland, made famous a few years ago by a Herbal Essences advert. Unfortunately it has gotten to the point where (at certain times of the day) busloads of people are lining up to attempt getting THAT insta-famous shot. It’s best to either come in the morning or late afternoon if you’d like to avoid the crowds, but it’s generally fairly quiet as long as no bus tour is currently there.
Just ten minutes down the ‘waterfall circuit’ road from Milla Milla Falls, Zillie Falls is quite impressive too. The lookout on top of the falls is easily reached after a few steps from the carpark, but we have also seen people going all the way down to the base of the falls. This is he quietest spot along the waterfall circuit.
Ellinjaa Falls is also part of the ‘waterfall circuit’, just another few minutes further than Zillie Falls. It’s only five minutes down some stairs from the carpark and again offers a great setting surrounded by lots of tropical vegetation. The water is cascading down the black rocks before flowing down a rocky stream, providing an excellent photo opportunity. There used to be some pretty little fern trees right on the edge of the stream, but those have been washed away by recent floods.
Nandroya Falls is a must do on your way around the Atherton Tablelands. It emerges from a narrow gap in the rock and then plunges down into beautiful tropical surroundings. Unfortunately, we missed out on this one because we didn’t do our research properly before we set off, so don’t make the same mistake as us!
Mungalli Falls is just down the road from the waterfall circuit, our camera battery died just before we got here, so another lesson learned, make sure to bring spare batteries when heading to these waterfalls! Instead of the long drop falls that is common is the area, this waterfall is tiered, and although it may not be as dramatic, the setting makes for a magical shot.
After completing the waterfall circuit and surrounding area, it’s time to head somewhere else:
Millstream Falls for example is a good next stop, located just outside of Ravenshoe. The viewpoint is located about 350 metres downhill from the carpark. Millstream Falls is said to be Australias widest single drop waterfall.
Little Millstream Falls
While Millstream Falls was a nice spot, we somehow liked Little Millstream Falls more. You can get up close to the multiple little waterfalls and take in the view from all sorts of different angles. Again, you’ll gain access to the falls by walking about 350 metres downhill from where you park your car.
Barron Falls is fairly close to Cairns. You’ll have to drive across a little mountain range to Kuranda, where the access road to Barron Falls originates. The parking lot isn’t far from the viewpoint. You can also see Barron Falls from either the Kuranda Skyrail or Scenic Railway, which both stop at Barron Falls.
Unfortunately, Barron Falls isn’t as roaring as it used to be before the dam was put into place, but if you can manage to visit after some significant rainfall, you might be able to see Barron Falls in full flood, which must be very impressive according to some photos we’ve seen.
Waterfalls Further Afield
Mena Creek Falls
Mena Creek Falls is part of Paronella Park, about twenty minutes south-west of Innisfail. You can either pay to enter the park and get some great looking photos with the falls in the background, or you can just walk across the swing bridge above the falls for free. We were too stingy to pay the AU$90 it costs for two adults to enter the park (although you do get two years free entry, one night free campsite and more with it), so we just walked across the bridge which wasn’t too impressive. If you’re willing to go into Paronella Park though, Mena Creek Falls make for some great photos.
Not really much of a waterfall, but Babinda Boulders is a popular and beautiful swimming spot about 45 minutes south of Cairns. After a short rainforest walk from the main pool, there are some nice cascades down the actual boulders that give this place its name. A few minutes further along the trail, you’ll find a great spot where you could go for some swimming or cliff diving (yes the signs say you’re not supposed to, but it’s always quite busy).
No list would be complete without this one. Yes it’s quite a way from Cairns, but it’s the highest waterfall in Australia and well worth a trip. To get here, drive to Ingham and then from there it’s about 50km (one hour) inland and up some winding roads. There is also a campground up there (AU$6.35 per person, payable online or at the visitor centre in Ingham), which is where we spent the night in order to see sunrise and sunset at the falls.
The parking lot and day use area is right next to the Wallaman Falls lookout. You can also venture down a trail all the way to the bottom of the falls. Since the water descends more than 250 metres down the vertical rock shelf, plan enough time to get back up to your car before dark.
So there you have it! The most beautiful waterfalls near Cairns! Have you been to any? Or planning on travelling to Far North Queensland in the near future? Let us know in the comments below 🙂
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