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9 ecotourism attractions in Tropical North Queensland

Tropical North Queensland has the highest concentration of ecotourism experiences in Australia. This region is rich with Indigenous history, unique wildlife and wondrous environments. From the ancient World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics and the cerulean waters of the Great Barrier Reef to the islands dotted like freckles off its palm-fringed coast, Tropical North Queensland has stolen many a traveller’s heart.

Where is Tropical North Queensland?

Tropical North Queensland stretches from Cairns to Torres Strait on the northeast coast of Australia. In this region you’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, Magnetic Island, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays, just to name a few.

Ecotourism in Tropical North Queensland

The Port Douglas and Daintree region was the first in the country to be awarded Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Destination Certificate, but Tropical North Queensland’s environmental success isn’t restricted to one area. All across this picturesque paradise eco-warriors are committed to preserving the environment.

Sailaway Port Douglas

More than a decade ago, Sailaway bought a former cane paddock, and today, a portion of the cost of your tour goes directly into revegetation initiatives on the site. Sailaway Port Douglas is but one sustainability champion in the region with an Advanced Ecotourism accreditation, it’s also one of five marine tourism operators planting coral in the reef.

Daintree Discovery Centre

This facility introduces visitors to the world’s oldest rainforest and has certifications such as Advanced Ecotourism, Climate Action Business, ROC Certified, Green Travel Leader and is a member of the Ecotourism Australia Hall of Fame. Daintree Discovery Centre has an eco-friendly design that protects the forest’s root system, utilises carbon offsetting strategies and has one of the most beautiful 23-metre rainforest canopy towers and aerial walkways in tropical North Queensland.

Mandingalbay Ancient Aboriginal Tours

This Indigenous owned and operated enterprise hosts a Hands On Country Eco Tour to Mandingalbay Yidinji Country, which teaches guests about the Aboriginal custodians, artefacts, and ancient traditions of the land. This tour departs from Cairns and sails past mangroves into an Indigenous Protected Reserve and is Nature Tourism and ROC certified.

Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas

Certified as an Advanced Ecotourism operator and holding titles such as Green Travel Leader and Ecotourism Australia Hall of Fame member, Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is an open and interactive animal sanctuary that teaches guests about Australia’s native wildlife. This Tropical North Queensland attraction is also home to the Tropical Animal Rehabilitation Centre which provides care to rescued and orphaned wildlife.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Less than an hour south, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was the first tourism operator in the world to achieve EarthCheck Certification, and is one of only a handful of ‘EarthCheck Masters’ globally. Here, you can soar for 7.5 kilometres in a cableway over Barron Gorge National Park, an ancient landscape of rugged rainforest-clad mountains, gorges and tumbling waterfalls. Everything from its eco-design to its energy use is done with the environment in mind. The company operates electric car charge stations, features solar-powered charging stations made from recycled batteries and solar panels, and uses compost from its cafe across its gardens.

Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruise

For two decades, David White has been operating boat tours in the Daintree. Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruise is the only operator with zero-emission boats on the Daintree River. David has two electric solar boats which quietly glide through the glassy waters, providing a rare glimpse into the unique wildlife in these parts, and in the process, ensuring the wildlife isn’t disturbed.

Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruises are the only zero-emission boats on the Daintree River
Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruises are the only zero-emission boats on the Daintree River

Passions of Paradise 

Snorkel, dive or sail on the Great Barrier Reef with Passions of Paradise, whose 25-metre-high catamaran sails from Cairns daily. You can get up close and personal with turtles, fish and other marine animals on these excursions, however our top pick is the Marine Bio for a Day experience. This Tropical North Queensland tour takes confident snorkellers and divers out to assist conservationists and Master Reef Guides in assessing the health of the Great Barrier Reef in the Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef Rapid Monitoring. This company is a member of the Coral Nurture Program, holds an Advanced Ecotourism certification, and Climate Action Leader and Green Travel Leader titles.

Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre

The Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre is an award-winning ecotourism organisation at the entrance to the Daintree Rainforest. There are self-guided walks to be explored but the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk led by local Indigenous people provide a unique insight into the region. The workforce at Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre is 90% Indigenous and the centre is ecotourism and ROC certified, and holds a Green Travel Leader title.

Paronella Park

Paronella Park is an interesting little piece of history. Located on Mena Creek, this heritage-listed ecotourism attraction spans five hectares and is Advanced Ecotourism, Climate Action Business and Green Travel Leader certified. In 1929, a Spanish gentleman by the name of José Paronella purchased this plot of land for £120. Upon it, he built a petite castle-like structure which became one of Queensland’s earliest tourist attractions. The park is now powered by its waterfall and boasts a romantic landscape of bridges, tunnels, historic fairytale structures and the perfect lawns for a picnic accompanied by native wildlife.

What is ecotourism?

The Queensland Department of Environment and Science describes ecotourism as nature-based activities that increase appreciation and understanding of nature and culture. Ecotourism experiences are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, and contribute to the wellbeing and conservation of local ecosystems, wildlife, communities and traditions while ensuring low visitor impact.

Ecotourism in Australia

Australia is a country of diverse landscapes and environments. From ancient forests and vast deserts to rural fields, rugged bush and beautiful coastlines, this country is home to many unique, rare and endangered animals and plant life that must be preserved. Thankfully, Australia is one of the top destinations for ecotourism. We have an independent body, Ecotourism Australia, that specialises in the government of hospitality and tourism operators across the country.

Why is ecotourism important?

The preservation of natural environments, biodiversity and wildlife are at the forefront of ecotourism. Ensuring not only the survival, but the flourishment, of the natural world is integral to building a sustainable future for generations to come. Historically, while tourism has had positive economic impacts on local business owners and operators, it’s had a negative impact on natural environments. Therefore, ecotourism is important to ensuring the travel and tourism industry can exist harmoniously alongside nature. Ecotourism also facilitates education and appreciation of such elements among visitors, spreading awareness and encouraging ethical practices.