Ironman Cairns has the 'wow' factor
SHADOWED by the Great Dividing Range overlooking endless blue ocean, it's difficult to find a more enduring stretch of bitumen in Australia.
The journey from Cairns to Port Douglas is spectacular by car, but come June, long-distance triathletes will have it to themselves.
The Captain Cook Highway will be confined to those on two wheels generating their own wattage, and competitors can look forward to a spectacular view throughout their journey.
Launched last year, the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival has received a massive injection of interest for 2012.
Eight events will be staged over 10 days across Tropical North Queensland, including a swim over the Great Barrier Reef, fun run, mountain bike challenge, outrigging and ski paddle. But the centrepiece is the Cairns Ironman triathlon.
Athletes from around Australia and an international contingent will tackle the gruelling 3.8km swim in front of Sailfish Quay, a 180km ride along the highway, and then run a marathon from Yorkeys Knob and through Cairns to call themselves an "ironman".
Conditions don't come much better than Cairns in June. The wet season has passed, along with the stifling humidity, leaving dry and sunny days.
Following the successful debut, organiser USM Events has captured the attention of locals with the festival set to exceed the $7.5 million it injected into the local economy last year.
This year's course improvements will see bigger crowds and greater local business involvement, with the ironman cyclists looping through Port Douglas twice, while the marathon competitors will run back along the highway before completing two 8km laps of the waterfront and marina in Cairns including the esplanade's "beer mile".
Even for those not competing, ironman racing is an uplifting experience. The finish area has a carnival-like atmosphere and while the professionals take just over eight hours to complete the distance, the amateurs can take up to 17.
Seeing the finishers and their celebrations is inspiring as they complete the journey they set out on earlier that morning.
For those who like an action-packed getaway, the Tropical North offers plenty to get your heart racing.
Just outside Cairns is the Barron River which is perfect for white-water rafting. For $133, you can join the team from Raging Thunder to hit the water and have a brilliant afternoon.
For great post-race recovery, try the Reef Sprinter snorkelling experience.
It takes just 15 minutes to reach the Low Isles and see the underwater wonders that the reef has to offer.
Cost is $110 (adult) or $90 (kids).
For those tired of pedal power, head for Daintree Station for the Jungle Rumble Quad Adventure.
For $125, you quickly find that the quad bikes are truly go-anywhere machines.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.
Where to stay
Mantra has some impressive deals as part of the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival. Start the festival in Port Douglas at the Mantra Aqueous on Port for $160 in a spa room. It's positioned close to the main street, and has a brilliant set-up with pools at your doorstep from every room. There are also other options in Port Douglas, including Mantra on the Inlet from $126 per night, or Mantra PortSea from $153. Visit Mantra or phone 13 15 17.
Looking for something special? About 25 minutes from Cairns is Sea Temple Palm Cove. The rooms and setting are majestic - a wonderful location to wind down after the festival or prepare for the race. Choose from 126 studio rooms, one, two, three and four-bedroom apartments and penthouses. And the restaurant is brilliant. For rates and details, visit Palm Cove Sea Temple.