Not many things are more inviting that the glistening turquoise waters that line of the coast of Tropical North Queensland.
Whether you’re a water baby at heart, or prefer to stay dry and observe from afar, it’s undeniable that there is something alluring about these calm waters.
Perhaps it’s that the waters can be enjoyed all year long or perhaps it’s because they are the home of the Great Barrier Reef. Whatever it is, when you visit Palm Cove, you’re at one of the gateways where you can easily experience the wonders of the waters at your doorstep.
Before we get into the amazing water-based experiences you can have when you visit Palm Cove, let us tell you a little bit about this almost unreal slice of tropical paradise.
Located on the coast of Tropical North Queensland, almost halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas, Palm Cove is a small seaside village that feels like you’ve stepped right into what you’ve always imagined a tropical paradise to look like. Idyllic and charming, it is the perfect place to escape from the ordinary day to day.
Palm Cove offers its visitors boutiques, spas, cafes, and world class accommodation that can and will keep you occupied for hours at a time. This welcoming and ambient village will leave you feeling like a local by the end of your time in Palm Cove.
However, while Palm Cove itself is an experience, its location is what makes it the perfect place to base yourself to take on a wide array of activities in Tropical North Queensland.
If you head any direction on land, you’re bound to hit one of the incredible precincts of the World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics Rainforest – the oldest rainforest in the world. Unique flora and fauna call this rainforest home, and the ways in which you can experience the Wet Tropics is truly unlimited.
Now, while a, adventure in the Wet Tropics is highly recommended in some capacity when you’re in this part of the world, today we want to tell you all about what you can experience when you head offshore from Palm Cove and discover the waters of the Coral Sea instead.
First, let’s talk about the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard of the Great Barrier Reef, it is the world’s largest reef system after all. Like the Wet Tropics, the Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Listed site. It’s also one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. And it’s not for any wonder.
The Reef is made up of more than 900 islands, over 3,000 individual reefs, and spans over 344,000 square kilometres. The diverse marine life that calls the reefs and coral gardens home includes over 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises; 6 of the 7 sea turtle species in the world; and more than 1500 different species of fish. The Great Barrier Reef is so great that it can even be seen from space.
So, the question that is begging is, how can you experience these waters and even see the Reef for yourself? We’ve put together a list of activities, tours, and experiences that you can try when you’re in this part of the world.
How you can experience the Coral Sea
Whether you’re looking to literally immerse yourself in the waters of the Coral Sea or you want to take in the total wonder of the Great Barrier Reef without getting a drop of water on you, there are many exploration options at your fingertips when you’re in Palm Cove.
Palm trees line the beach of Palm Cove and provide a paradisiac setting for you to ease into the exploration of the incredible waters of Tropical North Queensland. An almost immediate sense of relaxation washes over you the moment you step out onto the sandy shores of the Palm Cove beach.
Sunset strolls, morning yoga, reading under the shade of the palm trees, whatever your chosen beach activity is, the beaches that line Palm Cove are the perfect backdrop for you to enjoy these activities.
This is also the easiest way to start your venture into the exploration of the waters of the Coral Sea.
Water sports are a way of life in this part of the world, and with water at your doorstep, why wouldn’t they be?
You can try your hand at a variety of water sports – from scuba diving to sea kayaking, swimming to stand up paddle boarding, and anything and everything in between.
One of the most popular water sports in this part of the world is snorkelling. You can observe the incredible marine life in their natural habitat while you swim along the surface of the water. If you feel comfortable swimming in open waters, snorkelling will be a breeze.
You can hire snorkelling gear from a number of local businesses in Palm Cove, but if you really want to make the most of your time in the water, we recommend opting for a tour.
A favourite tour for many visitors to the area is with Paradise of Passion Cairns, where you will sail on a 25m high performance catamaran to two unique outer reef locations.
The crew is dedicated to making sure this once in a lifetime experience is truly memorable. You will be regaled with incredible information about the Reef by a marine naturalist, you’ll enjoy a chef prepared tropical buffet lunch, as well as partake in a guided snorkel tour of the Reef where you might even see a sea turtle or two. This full day tour is truly an unforgettable way to experience the magic of the Reef. Learn more about this tour here.
When you see a place like Palm Cove, it’s not much of a stretch to think of tropical islands. And when you’re in this part of the world, visiting a tropical island is definitely a possibility.
Visible from Palm Cove is Double Island, a tropical island that has mangroves, sandy shores and even a cave just waiting to be explored. Sea kayaking to Double Island is a popular activity for many visitors to the area. You get to glide over the coral reefs below while you paddle your way to Double Island. The crystal-clear waters mean that you have a great view of the marine life below. You may even spot a dolphin, stingray, or some of those sea turtles on your journey.
Another favourite tropical island in the area is Fitzroy Island. Located a 45-minute boat ride from Cairns, Fitzroy Island is almost entirely a national park – it is actually 97% national park.
Visitors to Fitzroy Island can explore the many walking trails which offer incredible views of the waters that surround the island. There are also plenty of water-based activities to try while you’re on Fitzroy Island, including snorkelling, sea kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. And if you’re looking for a beautiful beach to pass an afternoon on, then Fitzroy Island might just be the right place for you because it’s home to Nudey Beach, which was named Australia’s best beach in 2018.
You can easily enjoy a day trip to Fitzroy Island as the ferry runs several times throughout the day.
Staying with the tropical island theme, another incredible water experience you can have in this part of Australia, is a trip to a sand cay.
If you’re not too sure what a sand cay is, chances are you’ve seen one before. Sand cays are the small slithers of sand you see poking out from the water in oceans. They are a small sandy island formed by sediment drifting along with the ocean’s current until it finds a place to rest, which is usually atop a coral reef. Somewhat slim and small, sand cays can make you feel as if you’re walking on water, and luckily, in this part of the world, there a lot of sand cays you venture to.
Now, instead of wading through the waters in hope of finding a sand cay to call your own, you can take a tour with Sailaway. You’ll be whisked away on a luxury catamaran to a sand cay situated in the outer reef area of the Great Barrier Reef. From the sand cay, you can swim, snorkel, and experience an unspoilt area of the Reef to your heart’s content. A tropical buffet lunch, guided snorkel tour and ride of a lifetime on the sailing catamaran are only some of the things included with this tour.
With small tour group sizes and Sailaway’s exclusive access to the coral cays of Mackay and Undine Reefs, this experience is unforgettable.
If you’re looking for a bit of action and adventure on the water, without having to get fully wet, a day spent fishing might be just what you’re after. Cairns Reef Fishing Charters offers a fully inclusive reef fishing experience, where the only thing you need to worry about is bringing your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
The team will take you out to a location within a 25 nautical mile radius from Cairns. The destination may differ from day to day, but you’re guaranteed to be taken to the place where the fish are biting, and the weather is perfect. You don’t need to worry about trying to get a group together either because it’s a shared tour experience, so you can go it alone.
This tour is perfect for all levels of fishing experience, so whether you’re a regular angler or you’ve never even held a rod before, the team is there to help you land your big fish. Renowned for being a prolific fishing area, some of the species you may come across in the Coral Sea include Red Emperors, Spanish Mackerels, Trevally, and Coral Trout.
If you do manage to catch anything, the crew will even help you clean and bag your catch!
Another way you can get close to the water without getting wet is onboard a boat tour. From glass bottomed boats, to luxury sailing catamarans, you can glide over the calm waters and take in the world around you.
With a plethora of boat tours and trips available, you’ll be able to fit at least one journey into your trip to Palm Cove.
An unforgettable sailing experience is the Sailaway Sunset Sail. You will set sail on the Coral Sea from Port Douglas – a 40-minute drive from Palm Cove – where you will soak in the tranquil atmosphere onboard a first class sailing catamaran. Enjoy the tropical breeze, mountain views, and the warmth of the setting sun’s glow as it sinks into the horizon. Each sailing experience runs for approximately 1.5-2 hours, making it a great adventure to start your evening with. Find out more here.
Of course, when we think of water activities, we think of being in, on, or close to the water, but another way you can experience the wonder of the water and the Great Barrier Reef is from above – very far above – from the seat of a Helicopter.
Nothing quite says once in a lifetime like a scenic helicopter flight over the Coral Sea. From your eagle eye perspective, you’ll be able to truly understand how the Great Barrier Reef got its name. You’ll gracefully soar above the waters and watch the light glimmer and shine off the coral reefs, islands, and crystal waters below. You’ll watch in awe from your seat in the sky as the Great Barrier Reef continues to unfold in all directions below. And you’ll discover colours that you never even knew existed from here.
A scenic helicopter flight is an incomparable experience that you can try for yourself with GBR Helicopters. Bookings are essential, with upgrade options available as well. You can learn more about scenic helicopter tours here.
Where to stay
Of course, if you’re going to take on any of these activities, you’re going to need somewhere to stay. And when you’re in Tropical North Queensland, there’s really only one place that you should consider staying at, and that is the Reef House in Palm Cove.
A leader in luxury, the Reef House is one of the most iconic destinations in this part of Australia. The colonial style property offers you a beachfront location, unique traditions that date back decades and exceptional and thoughtful customer service at every turn, making it an ideal place to call home for a while.
Discover more about the Reef House here.