Visit Cairns without missing out on the top sights, experiences and attractions. At the top of everyone’s list is the reef and rainforest, but delve a little further to discover bustling markets, food and wine and active adventures! Check out our Top 10 list of things to do while in Cairns.
1. The Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest coral reef system made up of nearly 3,000 individual reefs over an area of 133,000 square miles. There are multiple options to visit the reef on a day trip, where you can snorkel or dive among the vivid coral gardens or stay dry and view them from a semi-submersible. Choose a boat based option, or a pontoon experience. Another option is a helmet dive which allows guests to walk on an underwater platform while fresh air pumped into the helmet’s dome. Alternatively, try the Scuba-Doo option, which is a unique underwater scooter where you simply sit down, slip your head into the dome and zoom away for the ride of a lifetime.
For those short on time, head out on a helicopter ride or board a seaplane for a bird’s-eye perspective over the reef. Combinations including cruise and fly are also available.
2. The Daintree Rainforest. The oldest lowland rainforest on Earth, over 135 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest offers a diverse range of lush vegetation and a habitat for rare creatures, including the tree-dwelling kangaroo or the endangered cassowary. The Daintree River is home to a diverse range of life-forms including 150 fish species, 100 crustaceans and home to over 38 mangrove species. You can also board a short cruise along the river for a spot of crocodile watching.
Continue north to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier reef, and stroll along the white-sand beach of perhaps dip you toes in to the clear turquoise ocean.
3. Kuranda, by Rail or Skyrail. Located 15 miles northwest of Cairns is the picturesque mountain retreat of Kuranda. The village is home to the local markets, Birdworld, The Butterfly Sanctuary, the Kuranda Koala Gardens and the Rainforestation, however, it is the journey to the village that is the highlight.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway was constructed between 1828 and 1891 and is considered an engineering feat of tremendous magnitude. The scenic journey travels through 15 hand-made tunnels and 37 bridges and offers stunning views of the Barron Falls as it winds its way through the tropical rainforest to travel 1,076 above sea level.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway spans 4.66 miles over pristine rainforest, allowing travelers the opportunity to stop en route and explore the wonders of the ancient tropical rainforest at two rainforest states: Red Peak and Barron Falls. Relax and enjoy the stunning rainforest scenery, panoramic views from high above the rainforest canopy. Guest can upgrade to the Diamond View Gondola which has a glass floor, offering a unique perspective of looking straight down to the treetops and forest floor below.
4. Authentic Cultural Experiences. Whilst many assume that Australian indigenous experiences are limited to the Outback, there any many authentic cultural experiences available in the region.
The Tjapukai cultural center is located 15-minutes north of Cairns. Guests can watch indigenous performers bring the world’s oldest living culture to life through traditional dance, art and interactive demonstrations. Further north in Mossman, explore the gorge while learning about the local Kuku Yalanji culture. Join a coastal and mangrove walk and learn to identify and catch land and sea bush tucker with Adventure North on a half-day tour or travel further north to see the Nugal rock art sites, set in stunning countryside high in the hills above Hope Vale.
5. The Great Outdoors. Cairns offers a myriad of outdoor experiences for travelers seeking an active adventure. Go white-water rafting on the Tully River or the Barron River or perhaps try tubing on the Mulgrave River. Try bungy jumping in the rainforest or perhaps enjoy a tandem skydive – with amazing aerial views of the Great Barrier Reef below. Go jungle-surfing through the rainforest or jet boat riding on Trinity Inlet.
6. Shopping. Who doesn’t love to go shopping while on vacation. Stroll by the Friday Night Market at Palm Cove or mingle with the locals at Rusty’s markets, where you can try some of the best regional produce. For jewelry, clothing and locally made skincare, explore the Saturday Esplanade markets. The Cairns Night Markets offers food stalls, clothing, arts, crafts, accessories and jewelry. The Sunday Port Douglas Markets offer fresh produce, art, crafts, fashion and jewelry and if you are in Cairns the last Sunday of each month (Apr-Nov), the Tanks Arts Centre Markets feature arts, crafts, coffee and cake in one of Cairns prettiest tree-lined streets in the Botanic Gardens precinct.
7. Island Hopping. From Cairns, board the Fast Cat for a 45-minute journey to Fitzroy Island where you can explore the bush walking tracks and learn about the dedicated work of the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre – helping sick and injured turtles recover enough to be released back into the wild. Only 18.5 miles off-shore from Cairns, is Green Island, a coral cay ideal for snorkeling and year-round diving.
Accessible by air, the luxurious and all-inclusive resort at Lizard Island is located on a National Park and covers 1,013 hectares with 24 sandy beaches.
8. Native Wildlife. Visitors can get up close with native wildlife at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. On display are snakes, quolls, cassowaries, koalas and crocodiles. Enjoy breakfast with koalas or breakfast with the crocodiles.
The Wildlife Habitat near Port Douglas is a sanctuary for birds, reptiles, mammals, fish and amphibians. Enjoy breakfast with the birds, a picnic with the parrots or lunch with the lorikeets. Hand-feed kangaroos and have your photo taken with a koala.
9. Fishing. Located on the edge of the world’s largest reef system, Cairns is the ideal base to go fishing. You can go for the grander of the black marlin or fish for barramundi up a creek or on Lake Tinarro. Seek out Mud Crabs on Trinity Inlet or go reef fishing to source Coral Trout and Red Emperor or Spanish Mackerel. Day tours or extended tours are available, and of course, are all seasonal.
10. Food – Delectable Food! After exploring all of the attractions it is quite easy to build up an appetite and Cairns offers a great selection of cuisines to suit all tastes and budgets. Feast on incredible fish, crayfish and prawns harvested from the sea and an array of tropical produce grown on the land. Try the local delicacies including wild-caught Barramundi, Moreton Bay Bugs, Red Emperor and Endeavour Prawns. The regions multi-cultural population is reflected on the amazing selection of cuisines available; French, Italian, Chinese, Greek, Thai and Japanese to name a few! Bush tucker flavors are reflected on the menu at Red Ochre and savor aged organic beef from the Atherton Tableland’s at the Waterbar & Grill.
For more information about Cairns, check out Down Under Answers.
A picnic on Sand Cay
Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.