The best things to do in Mission Beach?
There’s a lot to do in a place where two World Heritage listed sites meet. That’s right. Mission Beach is one of those rare places on the planet, where the reef and the rainforest meet. It’s so rare, they put a sign up to make sure you don’t miss it!
So where to start? Let the weather and Travelpilz be your guide. In Mission Beach most locals are newbies, or seachangers, like me. Many of us came for a holiday, fell in love and stayed. We might get ruffled by a cyclone, or driven to distraction by weeks of endless tropical rain, but we continue to stay, because when it’s beautiful, it’s really as good as it gets. Many of us ‘newbie’ locals have visited the far flung corners of the world and we know a good place when we find it! Stick around and find out over the coming weeks what makes Mission Beach so special.
Here’s the first installment of my top things to do in Mission Beach. And since I had a gentleman point out to me recently that he could only find tips on ocean based activities for Mission Beach, I’ll start with the things you can do when the ocean is a little less than perfect.
1. Start with the obvious. Go and stretch your legs on the the longest, emptiest palm-fringed beach you could have imagined. You’ll be surprised how liberating it feels to have 14 km of beach all to yourself. Especially after that long drive down from Cairns or up from Townsville. You’ll be grateful for the odd grey nomad power-walking towards you at sunset. I still pinch myself every once in a while for thinking that I live inside a postcard. You could be very lucky and spot this cassowary making his way along the foreshore in North Mission Beach. I spilled my morning coffee the other day, when he suddenly appeared very quietly along the new Ulysses link walking track.
Make sure you start your days with a sunrise. They are spectacular and every day brings a different one. Even when I am really tired, I drag myself out of bed. It’s worth it. Trust me!
2. Discover the rainforest. It’s a great thing to do on any day. On a sunny day, you’ll enjoy the cool shade. If you are like me and don’t enjoy waking along a wind blown beach, then take shelter in the rainforest on days when it’s blowy. And let’s be honest, there are a few of those days in the year. But I actually love walking through the rainforest on a rainy day, when my glasses fog up and the forest around me comes alive like a breathing, steaming organism. Don’t worry. There is nothing to harm you here, no matter what they tell you back home. Just make sure you protect yourself from those pesky mozzies and, occasionally, during the height of the wet season, when you most likely won’t be visiting, you might come across, dare I say it, a tiny, bloodsucking leech. Trust me, it’ll make for a great story back home and the gain is bigger than the pain!
Hire a bike and ride along the old logging road, the Musgrave Trail, through rainforest so pretty it looks like a landscaped garden. You can start at the Licuala Day area just off the Tully-Mission Beach road or near the Dreamtime track on the El Arish-Mission Beach Road. Watch out for the resident cassowary who patrols the rainforest highway here. Make sure you always give way to the big birds.
Or strap on your hiking shoes and walk up Bicton Hill. It’s an energetic 45 minute round trip with stunning views over the islands from the top. If you feel a little less energetic, explore the Ulysses Walking Trail along the foreshore through remnant rainforest. Or the Kennedy Track in South Mission Beach. You can go for a leisurely stroll to Lovers Beach or the whole hike past Tom O’Shanter Point to the Hull River. You might even see a Cassowary on the beach! But be aware that crocodiles live in the Hull. Don’t swim there.
Pick up a map of Mission Beach and the local hiking trails at Jenny’s, the small IGA supermarket in the village of North Mission Beach or further along at the Mission Beach Visitor Centre.
Make sure you visit C4 right next door. C4 is short for Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation Cassowary and it’s open every day until 1 pm. Here you’ll be able to find out everything about the endangered Cassowary and what makes the rainforest of the Wet Tropics so special.
3. Discover tropical fruits, buy red paw paws, bags of avocados for a couple of bucks, trays of bright orange mangoes or mangoes cooked into spicy chutney at the Mission Beach Markets (on the 1st and 3rd Sunday morning of every month). Wander amongst stalls along the foreshore under the shade of native Beach Almond and Calophyllum trees. You’ll find everything from local arts and crafts, to home made soaps, tropical plants and the best Thai food around. The Monster Markets are held on the last Sunday of every month next to the Mission Beach Arts Centre.
If you aren’t in town when the farmers are, not to worry, you can go out to the Fruit Forest Farm and have third generation local farmers Allison and Peter Salleras show you the most incredible tropical fruits. Buying fruit at a supermarket will never be the same again once you see, taste and touch what they grow. Between April and the end of September you can also taste their produce at the highly recommended Tropical Fruit Safari held every Monday and Tuesday at 1pm at the Mission Beach Information Centre. Make sure you try black sapote. It tastes like chocolate, minus the calories.
4. Eat, drink, relax. Have cheerful Maria from Healthy Harvest share the love and serve you the best chocolate cake you have ever tasted. Spoiler alert: organic grated beetroot is one of its magical ingredients. The tropical deck is so relaxing, you’ll want to just hang, read a book, order a tropical fruit smoothy and continue chatting with Maria. She’ll soon make you feel like a local!
The best coffee can be had at Shanti Cafe on the main road (just north of the Village Green) and at The Garage Bar and Grill (check for opening times). Great coffee AND reliably awesome breakfasts, lunch and dinners, including signature dishes such as the German Sausage Fest, Fried Calamari with home made tzaziki and Greekish pizza, can be found at the Bingil Bay Cafe in, well, Bingil Bay. You can’t miss it, it’s a purple building on the main road. It’s quirky and it’s quintessentially Mission Beach. Every second Tuesday is trivia night. Try it! It’s so much fun and a great excuse to sample Norbert’s wide range of German beers. Look out for the dreadlocked German and let him explain to you why German beer is simply the best in the world.
If you want great views with your coffee, then try Castaways Resort and Spa. You won’t get tired of the palm-fringed ocean views and you probably will be tempted to come back for a sun-downer by the pool. Or check out the New Shrubbery right on the beach in North Mission Beach. For many years an institution with the locals, it’s only recently re-opened. I haven’t been there yet, but the lounge chairs amongst palm trees with views of the ocean look inviting for a pre-dinner drink!
5. Go native. Participate in one of the local community events. Catch an opening at the Mission Beach Arts Centre and have a wine or two with the locals or sign up for one of the weekend workshops. Check the website for details. If you don’t have enough time, visit the gallery and browse through the colourful exhibits by local artists and find out just how wonderfully varied and creative the Mission Beach locals are.
Shed your inhibitions and dance for your life on Monday nights with Dani at the Free to Move free style dancing at the Progress Hall from 5:45 pm. Or learn how to rock’n roll and sway to Latin tunes on Thursday nights from 7:45 with Sue and Harvey at the Progress Hall. Check out the program of the Mission Beach Film Club Cinema Paradiso and catch a movie at the C4 Theatrette, every second Saturday night. Or stretch your hamstrings and lumberspine in a yoga class in the old Progress Hall, a charming old Queenslander with timber shutters that let the seabreeze in. Holding a yoga pose is so much easier to the sounds of birds chirping in the native trees and glimpses of palm trees swaying over the ocean.
Buy yourself a caftan or a pair of harem pants. Of course you haven’t come to Mission Beach for retail therapy, but you’ll be surprised what you’ll find in the handful of small boutiques in the Village Green and in Wongaling near the Information Station. My favourite is Ibu and Bean. Try on one of Ibu’s colourful dresses, have a yarn to our local village saint and you’ll want to take off and go traveling somewhere even more exotic!
6. Unwind to some live music. The best place to catch live music is at the Sunset Bar on Dunk Island on Sundays from noon. It’s only just reopened after cyclone Yasi blew the Dunk Island Resort to pieces in February 2011. It’s been one long celebration to have the spit bar back! Come and join the party. Let Captain Fozzy take you across on the water taxi and stay for lunch and taste Linton’s awesome fish and chips. If you don’t have too many beers with lunch, go for a walk and explore the island. You can hike all the way up to Mt Kootaloo.
If you don’t have time to go across to Dunk Island, you can catch live music on Sunday afternoons at the Garage Bar and Grill. Try their home made sliders. The Bingil Bay Cafe and Healthy Harvest also occasionally have great intimate, one-off concerts by talented musos on their way through town. On Friday nights you can catch the locals going off to the tunes of the local ukulele band, Ukes on a Mission play at Fishbar in the Village Green every Friday from 6:30. Be surprised what 7 ukes can sound like! Nobody does Elvis like Barb strumming a uke! Insider tip: travelpilz is a member of the band. Can you find her in this pic?
And make sure you take lots of photos at sunset. Walk the beach, take your gin and tonic (travelpilz does not give any guarantees that that’s legal) and just sit on the beach, watch the moon rise, or feel the darkness and the canopy of the stars above. Go home feeling happy and in tune with the natural rhythm of things. And come back soon for the second installment of Great Things to do in Mission Beach. In the coming weeks Travelpilz will keep posting tips on what to do in and around Mission Beach, including day trips and stop off points on your way up or down.
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