Cairns and Daintree waterfall and swimming hole guide: Mossman Gorge, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Emmagen Creek
Like most backpackers, Cairns was my starting when I decided to travel Australia’s East Coast first. Although the town is full of backpackers (and blessed with gloriously hot weather) there’s not all that much to do in Cairns itself.
However what Cairns is good for is to use it as a base for exploring all the national parks, waterfalls and beaches that surround it and believe me, there are a lot of them.
How to do it
To explore everything around Cairns you really need a vehicle. This is because a lot of the waterfalls and beaches are quite secluded and involve going down narrow paths and dirt roads so there isn’t really any public transport in operation. Depending on how much time you have you could rent a car and do a day trip or get a camper van and do a road trip for a few days, parking up in camp sites over night: we ended up doing both. As most of you probably know, I can’t drive but luckily the people I am with could which made it a lot more fun. If you’re not able to drive then there are plenty of waterfall tours such as Uncle Brian’s waterfall tour or you could stay in a hostel in Cape Tribulation so don’t worry.
Before you go
Just bear in mind before you go that some of the roads can be quite challenging so it’s best to do if you’re a more confident driver. The Captain cook highway leading up to Port Douglas is really twisty and narrow so just take it slowly if you’re in a bigger vehicle. The same goes for the Gillies highway heading south from Cairns.
Watch out for the crocs!
Queensland is home to saltwater crocodiles which are a real concern if you’re planning on swimming in the area. The places I am suggesting in this blog are generally safe although you should always exercise caution and it’s generally not advisable to swim in the sea at beaches. Any lake, waterfalls or beaches that are generally inhabited by crocs will have notices up telling you. It’s not a huge worry and I spent six days in total travelling around this area and didn’t see any wild crocs until I went on a croc cruise (and even then we only saw a couple) however it’s important to just be aware of the risks.
There are loads of areas to go wild swimming around Cairns and I definitely haven’t been to even half of them but these are my favourites out of the ones that we visited.
For our first trip out of Cairns, we rented a car for the day and drove south via the gillie’s highway, route 25 and then back on the A1 to Cairns. There is so much to see on this driving loop including waterfalls, lakes and wildlife stops such as wild platypus but my favourite place we visited was Josephine Falls.
This waterfall is absolutely stunning, right in the heart of the forest with crystal clear (but ice cold) water and lots of rocks to sit and chill on. There’s even a natural water slide here on the rocks so you can climb up out of the water and slide back down.
It was getting on for 4:30 when we got there so we were pretty much the only people there but I can imagine it gets quite busy midday.
For our biggest adventure, we decided to rent a cheap three-person camper van from a company called Wicked and to a four-day road trip north to Cape Tribulation, a beautiful area where the Daintree rainforest meets the coastline.
On our second day of driving we stopped at Mossman Gorge, an absolutely stunning waterfall which was by far my favourite place to chill and swim, I honestly could have spent all day there. There is a visitor centre when you first enter the site and you can either walk the 3k to get to the lake or pay $10 AUD for the shuttle bus.
I loved swimming in this place because it’s quite large and the water is so clear so you can swim with all of the fish. There are loads of rocks and a little bank area to sunbathe after, just keep your bags on a ledge away from the wild turkeys: one stole my rice cakes.
Millaa Millaa Falls
Not my favourite for swimming as the water was quite murky but the bank by this waterfall is a really nice place to relax for a bit and take some photos. If you’re lucky you might even spot wild terrapins like we did. We visited this first on our day road trip before going to Josephine Falls.
This natural swimming hole was the least on the grid wild swimming spot that we went to. It’s located right at the end of the main road heading north from cape tribulation which is as far as you can go without four-wheel drive and although it was written on the map, there was no signage when we got there.
You access the pool from the main road following little walking paths for around 10 minutes through the rainforest. I was a bit apprehensive because there weren’t any signs so I wasn’t sure if we were going the right away, however, we passed quite a few people coming from the other direction so that reassured me. Sure enough, if you follow this track to the end it opens out into a beautiful natural pool.
The water was a really nice temperature here and it’s absolutely stunning as you are right in the heart of the rainforest. There’s even a little rope swing here that you can jump off of into the water.
These are my favourite swimming spots in Cairns but there are plenty more. Let me know if you’ve been and have any other wild swimming spots that you love.