It was on a midday walk along the palm-tree fringed beach that the thought hit me, ‘what if we never find a place more beautiful than this?’.
Apart from being filled with awe at just how magnificent life is here in Mission Beach, I’m also scared that we have peaked too early. I know that everyone thinks that when they are travelling, that the place you are in is the most beautiful in the world… until you land in the next town, then that is the most beautiful place in the world. But this is different… this is paradise. It’s just like living on a tropical island, but with the convenience of being on mainland Australia.
Mission Beach has it all; heritage listed rainforest, the closest access to the Great Barrier Reef, almost extinct wildlife, mile upon miles of quiet, golden beaches where sea turtles slash about in the clear turquoise water. It is one of the only beaches in Tropical North Queensland that I personally feel safe swimming in (in winter, in summer all ocean swimming up here is off limits). Contrary to what the locals will tell you, rent is reasonably cheap, jobs are easy to get and life is sweet. To be honest, my biggest concern living up here is that I will be killed by a falling coconut one day on my way to the beach.
Despite all this, we hear backpackers and travellers constantly complaining that there is ‘nothing to do’ in town. That they are bored here in Mission Beach – well as we used to get told when we wee kids, only boring people get bored. That is especially true in Mission Beach. Lets take a virtual wander around the town and see how you can easily spend 3-4 active and cheap days in Mission Beach, add to that 3-4 days of relaxation and you have yourself a pretty amazing holiday.
The layout of Mission Beach
The most confusing part about Mission Beach is the layout of the town. Mission Beach is actually made up of four seperate beaches and townships, being (from north to south) Bingil Bay, Mission Beach (also called North Mission by the locals to avoid confusion), Wongaling Beach and South Mission Beach. You can see good maps of the layout of the town here, just be aware that there are about 6kms between each section of the town, so you will need either a car to move around or be sure to book a hostel/hotel with a free shuttle bus.
Now that you have your head around the layout of the town, lets dive into how to send you time here!
After arriving at Mission Beach you will want to get to know your surrounding. Take a walk around the main part of town (North Mission), and enjoy some window shopping and a coffee/juice at a cafe. There is a fabulous tourist information centre in Mission Beach that is well worth stopping in for a chat too. The volunteers there can always tell you where recent animal sightings (cassowaries, turtles etc) have been as well as give you a map of all of the walking paths and activities that I’m going to be talking about below.
After leaving the information centre you can continue north along the Ulysses Trail, a 1.5km long walking track that leads you from the southern end of North Mission township and links at the north with the Cullen Brothers Walking Track. Both walking trails are well worth taking. I especially love the Cullen Brothers Track as you really feel like you have the place all to yourself. You are covered by the rainforest canopy, shading you from the sun, and ocean views are incredible.
The Cullen Brothers Trail will lead you to the local jetty, from which you have a view out to the island on one side and a view back towards the and of Bicton Hill. It’s a very beautiful place to just sit and contemplate the world. From here you can either push on walking north along the beach and roadside until you reach Bicton Hill, or if you choose you can turn around and walk back into town, pick up your car and drive to Bicton Hill.
Bicton Hill is part of the Clump Mountain National Park and hosts a 4km circuit walking trail with spectacular views from the summit! It is an easy walk but you should be alert when taking it. This is a National Park in the tropics and wild animals do call this place home. If you come across a monitor lizard, snake, wallaby, cassowary or any other animal, just be respectful and let them go on about with their business. The whole walk up and down Bicton Hill is covered by rainforest so while it maybe hot under the North Queensland sun on the beach, you’re well protected on this walk. Also take a water bottle with you as there are no taps along the way.
After that big day of walking you will want to relax in the eventing with a few drinks at Castways Resort overlooking the ocean, or at the Shrub where the local skydivers and whitewater rafters hang out.
Fancy freefalling out of a plan at 14000ft, with views over North Queensland’s magical islands and crystal clear water? Well this is the place to do it. Mission Beach is home to Australia’s highest freefall skydive centre where the jump is do high that you freefall for 60 seconds at over 200km/hr. It is one of the main reasons many people come to Mission Beach, as well as to try and find the illusive cassowary and enjoy the stunning beaches! Mission Beach enjoys the afternoon trade winds, which can make the ocean not as transparent as it is in the morning, so if you want those million dollar views, be sure to jump in the morning.
One you have found your land-legs again and enjoyed a nice lunch at one the local cafes, we suggest you take a leisurely afternoon stroll around the Licuala Fan Palm Walking track. This is where you will likely see a cassowary also! The walking track is only 1.2kms long, however if you’re like us and exciting to see a cassowary, the track can take you more than an hour to walk if you freeze every-time you head a noise in the thick greenery surrounding you! Even if you don’t see one of the pre-historic looking birds o this walk, the scenery itself is spectacular. Mission Beach has approximately 50% of the remaining Fan Palm Forest in Australia and the Licuala Fan Palm Walking track gives a great example of these spectacular tree and how they assist in the rainforest eco-system.
For those who are keen for more walking, you can head out along the Licuala Rainforest Walk. This is a much longer walk at 4.6kms in length one-way. Many people will arrange for someone to pick them up at the other end in a car, or you can hire a mountain bike and ride the entire length, then back into town. It’s not a steep track and very well suited to both walking and mountian bikes.
Pack a picnic breakfast and head to the Clump Point Jetty early to see the sea turtles enjoying their morning grazing around the jetty. There is something magnificent about these creatures, they are so dignified, slow and old. I adore them!
Now get ready to get moving again, it’s time to use some pedal power today. Head to either the info centre or Tuskers cafe and hire yourself a bike to ride to South Mission Beach on. The ride is an easy one and takes you through prime cassowary-spotting areas. So keep an eye out for them! Once you are in South Mission Beach jus sit back and admire the view. You can grab a drink at the caravan park cafe or just loll around in the pristine water. If you still have energy, you can set out along the Edmund Kennedy Walking Track which give you incredible views out over Dunk Island, Bedarra Island and the surround Family Islands. If not, then save this walk for another day when you can drive to Mission Beach or take the bus (Fri and Sat only) to the starting point of the walking trail.
Pedal yourself back to North Mission, via Wongaling and enjoy the beach views, rainforest canopy sights and of course, keep an eye out for wallabies coming through Wongaling, you’re sure to see a few.
Take it easy after that mammoth day and enjoy a well deserved drink. Depending on the day you can catch some live music at the Garage Bar, take part in the Pool competition at the Tavern or enjoy a round of Trivia at Bingil Bay Cafe.
Set your alarm early for a sunrise walk on the beach. Most mornings the water is flat it looks like you could walk out along it. It’s juts magical watching the sunrise next to Dunk Island, and if you’re in season you might get to do a spot of whale watching also.
Today we’re leaving the mainland and heading off to the islands that we have been watching for the past few days! From Wongaling Beach, take the Water Taxi to Dunk Island and enjoy the snorkeling and bushwalking on offer. Be sure to pack a picnic lunch as there are no shops on the island, as well as plenty of water and sunscreen! If you time your Dunk Island day for a Sunday, you can enjoy live music at the bar at sunset on Dunk Island and watch the sun set behind Mission Beach.
Alternatively, for those who prefer to spend their day dry and with not so much walking, you can hire a dingy and drive yourself around Dunk Island and Bedarra Island. Dingies can be hired from South Mission Beach for a full or half day. No license if required.
*This is by no way an exhaustive list of all the things there are to do in Mission Beach, just my personal highlights really.
Budget camping for tents and campervans:
- If you want to be close to the supermarket and the beach then this is not a bad place to stay, if you have the option get to Mission Beach early and try to get a beachfront site at the Council run camping grounds. You cannot pre-book these sites and there are only about 8 beach-front sites, all other sites are concrete slabs.
- A great option is the Bali Hai camping grounds in Wongaling Beach. It is cheap, the cheapest in town for what we can see, and well worth checking out. No need to make a booking here (unless you’re after a powered site or a cabin) just rock up and talk to reception.
- If you do not mind being a little further out of the Mission Beach ‘commercial’ township and are after a magical rainforest experience, then head to Jackaroo Hostel which has tent-only camp sites for $15 per night. It is cheaper and better value for money for campers as breakfast is included in the fee and the kitchen is bigger and cleaner. They run activities at night and you get access to computers with free internet also. Jackaroo is not on the beach, but only a short drive or 15-20 minute walk from Bingil Bay beach.
- If you’re super lucky you might be able to get a spot in at the Bingil Bay Council Camp Ground. This place is simply but the most stunning campsite in Mission Beach. There are only 7 unpowered sites so you need to get up early in the morning to get one and most people who get a site stay for weeks!
- Note – there are a few other commercially operated caravan parks in Mission Beach however they all quite expensive and can be found and booked online via a simple google search.
- In Mission Beach township is the Mission Beach Retreat, mostly used as a working hostel for those getting their second year VISA sign off at the local and surrounding banana farms, it is also a great place to crash the night and be close to all the action. No other hostel is in walking distance to the main shops and bars, however the hostels that are further away all run free shuttle busses and are a LOT nicer than this one. So just pick what is most important to you, if it’s location, then this is your guy. If it’s a nice place to stay with a big pool, green grass and an incredible view, then read on.
- Jackaroo Hostel is our pick for Mission Beach. It is a treehouse in the jungle – say no more right. We have already written a bit about Jackaroo after we lived there for free (interested?!) for three weeks in 2016. Read all about it here. Since we stayed the hostel has added in a bar is running live music nights also. Well worth checking out.
- Scottys Beach House is located in Wongaling Beach. It has only just been refurbished and is looking flash! Another popular choice with long-term guests who are working towards their 2nd year VISA sign off o the local farms, it is close to the supermarket and far away from the bars, making it a cheap place to stay
- Absolute Backpackers used to be a resort and has been converted into a backpackers. It has a great pool and outside chillout area. There is a lot of grass or lounging about it and it is very close to the Greyhound Bus station for early departures. Absolute runs frequent busses to and from town, as does Jackaroo Hostel, so you never feel far away from the action – but can easily get a quiet night’s sleep!
Self-contained units and apartments:
The biggest resorts in town are
- Castways Resort and Spa, great for the mainstream public and those who like to be pampered
- Eco Village, for those who like to be to close to town but surrounded by nature
- Sanctuary Retreat, perfect for romantic getaways and self-discovery journeys. This place is stuning and so secluded.
- Mission Beach Resort, really more of a glorified motel with a big sports bar/ TAB attached
How much can you expend to spend in Mission Beach?
The four day itinerary above will cost you $400, namely the costs are:
- $350 skydive (you can often get this on sale for $299)
- $15 all day bike hire
- $35 p/p water taxi to Dunk Island (or $135 to hire a boat and skipper yourself around the islands for 4 hours)
Add in money for food, drinks each day also. There is a supermarket in town so you can either choose to dine out ever night or to cook your own meals and make the trip as cheap as chips! Also, the drinks prices in the bars at Mission Beach are super cheap! The Garage Bar has happy hours most days they are open, The Shrub sells all beers and basics for $5 and $4 at happy hour. Some of the resort bars are more expensive, however as a broke backpacker you’re not likely to be too interested in those places anyway (unless it’s a special occasion of course!)