No prizes for guessing where the Great Green Way gets its name.
This top tourist drive of the tropical north is studded with emerald cane-fields, lush rainforest mountains, banana plantations and cute farming towns.
The Great Green Way starts in Cairns, curling down the Cassowary Coast towards Townsville. It’s 400 kilometres or 4 hours’ all up. But on holidays, it’s easy to stretch the journey out to a leisurely four days.
Head down the highway and, just south of Innisfail, nudge the steering wheel slightly to the left. You’ll find yourself on the former main drag which is now called the Canecutter Way.
Pass through pretty rural towns like South Johnstone and take a pit-stop at “Off the Rails” Café. Owner Cathy Matthews whips up luscious organic juices using locally grown produce and herbs. The café doubles as a cool little art gallery with walls festooned in tropical colour.
A little further down the road is Paronella Park. This fairytale confection of concrete castles and bridges is set in cool rainforest. It was built in the 1930’s by Jose Paronella who emigrated from Barcelona at the tender age of 23.
For 21 years, Mark Evans and his family have welcomed tourists to the park. You can explore it by day – but turn on twilight and the enchantment goes off the scale. “The Darkness Falls” tour takes place after sundown with torch-lit waterfalls, fortress towers and an eerie Kauri Pine avenue among the highlights.
Continue on Canecutter Way and you’ll re-join the main tourist route. Paradise by the sea is an apt description for the resort town of Mission Beach, about halfway between Cairns and Townsville. This string of seaside villages is threaded together by 14 kilometres of palm-fringed beach. Sejala Beach Huts offer secluded luxury accommodation mere steps away from the sand and salt spray.
Mission Beach is also home to Charley’s Chocolate Factory where a guided tour takes you from cocoa tree all the way to delicious chocolate bar. Lyn and Chris Jahnke grow their crop on trellis – a world-first which helps to cyclone-proof the plantation.
Further south, the coastal town of Cardwell is no stranger to big storms. It took a pounding from Cyclone Yasi in 2011 but the town has bounced back with a 40 million dollar face-lift and fabulous new foreshore pathway. Head to Cardwell’s Rainforest & Reef Visitor Information Centre for ideas on what to do in the area – including trips to Hinchinbrook Island.
Ingham, north of Townsville, also lies along the Great Green Way. It’s a little community with a big heart, proud past and a distinctly Italian flavour. More than half the population has ties to the old country thanks to a big influx of immigrant cane-cutters and sugar farmers in the 1920’s.
Each year, Ingham hosts the Australian-Italian Festival – a big, brash event that’s all about Italian food, music and culture. The event’s famous spaghetti eating contest is one of many fun festival activities sure to put a smile – if not a smear of tomato sauce – on any face.