When it comes to Australia's top tourism destinations, it's almost universally agreed that nothing comes close to the Great Barrier Reef. This awesome expanse of coral and marine life consists of more than 3,000 reef systems and covers some 2,300 km, making it the largest of its kind on the planet. Ranked as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and holding the prestigious distinction of being the only living object visible from space, it's no surprise that the Great Barrier Reef is a must-see for many travellers to Queensland. 

There is however, a lot more to be discovered along the eastern coast of Australia, especially if you're looking for destinations that are a little less crowded than the famous Reef. One of the beauties of this region is that there are so many quiet cities and towns where you can stop for a bite to eat, or to explore a heritage site.

One of the closest companions of the Great Barrier Reef on land is the so-called 'Great Green Way', which stretches from Cairns in the north to Townsville in the south. This route boasts some of the best scenery and most interesting destinations in the country, so what are you waiting for? Hire a car in Cairns and hit the Great Green Way.

A photo posted by Sera (@sera_loves_crocs) on

Jul 13, 2014 at 7:24am PDT

Driving the Great Green Way

At a little over 450 km, the Great Green Way certainly isn't the longest drive in Australia, but it more than makes up for that with the striking scenery that gives the journey its name. The asphalt will take you through the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics region which, as the road's name suggests, is quite green. The Wet Tropics consist almost entirely of tropical rainforests, which unfold over an area of approximately 900,000 hectares. 

The area is also known for its biodiversity – ranking amongst the most varied on the continent. To put this in context, the Wet Tropics cover about 0.2 per cent of Australia, but contain 60 percent of the nation's butterfly and bat species, 40 per cent of its bird species and 30 per cent of marsupial species. Be sure to bring the road trip essentials, especially your camera as you won't want to leave without a few images. 

In addition, the region showcases an outstanding living record of what Australia might have looked like 50 million years ago. This is because the area is descended from the great Gondwana forest that once covered the whole continent – and even parts of Antarctica. Driving through the Wet Tropics therefore provides an insight into the evolution of Australia, as well as the origins of many indigenous flora and fauna.

A place to stop and stretch

If you're driving the whole Great Green Way in one day, the journey will take you a little over four hours, but everyone who's been on a road trip before knows that it's far better to break that into two or three smaller chunks – providing time to stretch your legs and have a bite to eat. Even if you've hired a large vehicle for extra room, you'll want to stop to pick up some snacks. Fortunately, there are plenty of great spots along the way for a pit stop, but if we had to choose one, it would be Cardwell. 

Located almost exactly in-between Cairns and Townsville, Cardwell provides a wealth of different activities, whether you're staying the night or simply filling up your car and stomach. Speaking of filling stomachs, the Cardwell region produces plenty of delicious treats that you'll want to sample while you're here, including tropical fruits, sugar cane and the area's most well-known delicacy – prawns.

Once you've sated your hunger, don't leave without taking a look around. After all, Cardwell is the only town in the world that is situated where two World Heritage sites converge – in this case the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. Another unique feature of the town is Hinchinbrook Island, the world's largest island national park. With all of this natural beauty around, you may want to park the car and give your legs a proper stretch with a scenic walk before getting back on the road.

A man-made attraction

So far, we've focused mainly on the scenery and wildlife that can be found along the Great Green Way, but there are also plenty of unique locations where the hand of humanity can be more keenly observed. The highlight of these along the route, and indeed one of Queensland's most acclaimed sites, is Paronella Park. 

This land was purchased by Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella in 1929, and over the next few years it was turned into his residence and 'pleasure garden', open to all for public enjoyment. Paronella Park featured the first hydroelectric plant in Queensland, which supported thousands of trees as well as the castle's theatre and great hall, both of which proved very popular with the locals. Restored in the early 2000s, that same system is still running today, providing the site's electricity. 

Paronella Park is located about an hour south of Cairns, making it a perfect place to visit when you're returning to the city at the end of your journey. For more information about the Great Green Way and the many attractions found around it, get in touch with East Coast Car Rentals today.