Top 10 locals' guide to Tropical North Queensland

Local knowledge is a wonderful thing when you're travelling, because it steers you towards authentic experiences that never fail to surprise and delight.

It also reveals secret spots that don't make it into the brochure racks at the airport.

 

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While you could get chatting with the first locals you meet in Cairns or Port Douglas, we've made the task of acquiring local knowledge easier with our top 10 locals' guide. The ideas you'll find here are 100% genuine, sourced from residents of Queensland's Tropical North Queensland. Air New Zealand operates a non-stop seasonal service from Auckland to Cairns between March and October.

1. Escape to Vlassof Cay

A pristine desert island paradise on the Outer Barrier Reef, Vlassof Cay is made of the purest white sand and framed by a clear turquoise lagoon. A little further out there are areas of coral for snorkelling. You can reach this exquisite sandbar by helicopter.

2. Find an island

Just off the Cairns coast, Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two of the best islands to visit in Queensland. Both of them have resorts for accommodation, or you can catch a day trip cruise. Don’t forget your snorkel - these islands are in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef!

3. Explore Paronella Park

Created in 1935 and listed as a National Trust treasure, Paronella Park is a place to let your imagination run wild. Staged within 13 acres of lush rainforest, it has meandering walkways that lead to bridges and mossy staircases, ponds and secret gardens, rustic structures, waterfalls and the ruins of a Spanish castle.

4. Peel a prawn at the marina

For a Cairns seafood restaurant with a difference, leave dry land and get on board Prawn Star at the marina. Open every day of the week, this re-purposed fishing trawler is an inspired spot for a seafood platter. Prawn Star's reviews are reliably five star.

5. Take a road trip to the Tablelands

Inland from Cairns is an area called the Atherton Tablelands, where the locals go to picnic, camp, swim and bushwalk. You'll find waterfalls, rock wallabies, wetlands, historic villages and maybe even a platypus or two. Plan your day around a tasty lunch at Lake Barrine, Mareeba or Yungaburra.

6. Get fruity at Cape Tribulation

North of Port Douglas is Cape Trib Farm, where you can take a tasting tour of weird and wonderful fruit. This farm has more than 2,500 rare tropical fruit trees, including grumichama, durian, ice cream bean, salak and the amazing 'miracle fruit' berries, which tricks the senses into believing sour tastes are sweet.

7. Shop at Rusty's Markets

Visiting Rusty's Markets is one of the best things to do in Cairns. Born in the flower power days of 1975, Rusty's is open Friday to Sunday with close to 200 stalls. You can pick up essential provisions for your Cairns holiday - tropical fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, seafood and chocolate. You'll also find tasty street food, including steaming dim sum, Vietnamese iced coffee and fresh drinking coconuts.

8. Nibble Daintree chocolate

Every holiday needs chocolate, and in Queensland's Tropical North Queensland that means chocolate from Daintree Estates. Produced with locally-grown cocoa and sugar from Mossman sugar mill in Mackay, it's so good that even the Belgians want to take some home.

9. Surf the jungle

Make like a flying squirrel on a jungle surfing adventure in the ancient World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. You'll zoom between platforms high up in the forest canopy, helped along by the world's first Human Hamster Wheel cable lift. After dark there's an eye-opening night walk experience.

10. Wet your whistle

Tropical holidays are thirsty work, so relax and renew at Barbados on the Port Douglas waterfront. You can sprawl on a day bed, sip a refreshing cocktail based on hand-made rum and order from a tasty menu of bar bites. The sashimi platter and tuna carpaccio come highly recommended. On the local Port Douglas things to do list, this experience is always near the top.

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