A Travel Price Comparison for Australia Rockhampton vs. Cairns for Nightlife, Beaches, Hiking, and Families

Should you visit Rockhampton or Cairns?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Should I visit Rockhampton or Cairns? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city has activities that align with your interests along with knowing which is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the details and the data, which all comes from actual travelers.

Rockhampton

Rockhampton is a charming, cultural, and natural town. This is a charming small with plenty of activities, too. It's also popular because of the museums, nightlife, and food.

Cairns

Cairns is a idyllic, outdoorsy, and adventure-filled city. It's also popular because of the shopping, nightlife, and food.

Rockhampton and Cairns: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for students
Things to Consider
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Less attractive beach
  • Less popular with backpackers
Pros
  • Active nightlife
  • Nice resorts
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Home to the Great Barrier Reef
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights


Is there more to do in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Tourists will generally find more to do in Cairns than Rockhampton. It is bigger and it has more sights, attractions, and activities for travelers. Cairns is very popular for its nightlife, resorts, scuba diving & snorkeling, beaches, hiking, and shopping, while Rockhampton attracts visitors for its museums and small town charm. Cairns is more touristy than Rockhampton and is known for its stunning beaches, nearby rainforests, and easy access to the world's largest reef system. It is also well known for the Great Barrier Reef. Rockhampton is famous for its cultural centers and surrounding national parks.

How is Rockhampton different from Cairns?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Cairns and Rockhampton. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Rockhampton is an excellent place to visit for its museums and history. However, Cairns is lacking in options for its museums and landmarks.

Rockhampton offers many unique museums, sights, and landmarks that will make for a memorable trip. While many people come for the area's natural beauty, there are also educational centers where you can learn about the indigenous culture. Make sure you visit the Dreamtime Cultural Centre as well as the Rockhampton Museum of Art. Also of interest are the Rockhampton Heritage Village and the Mount Morgan Historical Railway Museum.

Cairns offers a handful of options for museums and historical sights. Most visitors spend their time exploring nature and the outdoors, but there are some interesting cultural sights around town as well. Make sure you check out the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park as well as the Cairns Aquarium.


Is the Food Better in Rockhampton or Cairns? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Foodies will find both Rockhampton and Cairns both to be high quality destinations.

Rockhampton has a number of nationally recognized food spots and restaurants. Despite its small size, the food scene is surprisingly diverse. There are local cafes that offer local produce, waterfront restaurants that have great views, and casual international eateries, as well as low key pubs.

With its innovative style combined with traditional elements, Cairns makes for a great culinary experience. Waterfront dining with a view is what makes the restaurant scene special. Seafood is everywhere and you can enjoy the catch of the day while you relax on a beachfront terrace. There are also international restaurants that have everything from Spanish tapas to Japanese noodle bowls.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Nightlife?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for its evening party scene. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for nightlife.

People head to Cairns just to party. For such as small city, the nightlife scene is incredibly vibrant, particularly during the peak tourist months. Backpackers are at the heart of the action, with many bars and clubs filling up each night with a young crowd. There are dance clubs, all night parties, cocktail bars, and beach side venues that are sure to offer a good time.

Rockhampton has an active nightlife scene for those who seek it out. It's a small place, but there are still a number of pubs and bars around town. Many visitors enjoy going to a coastal beach bar for the evening.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Resorts?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is an excellent place to visit for its luxury resorts. However, Rockhampton is not a resort destination.

Cairns is known as a popular and fun resort destination. There are many beautiful resorts that offer access to the beach and have impressive pools. There are family-friendly resorts, romantic resorts, and even some budget-friendly options.

Rockhampton is not a resort destination.


Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. However, Rockhampton is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

The clear water and abundant marine life make Cairns a world-class scuba diving and snorkeling destination. It's access to the Great Barrier Reef make this one of the world's top scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. The undersea world is filled with colorful coral, diverse tropical fish, graceful sea turtles, and a truly magical setting.

Rockhampton is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Beaches?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for the beach. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its beaches.

Travelers come from around the world to visit the beaches in Cairns. Near town you'll find stunningly beautiful beaches that range from hubs of activity to quiet coves. Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is the closest beach to the city center and it has a sandy beach and plenty of amenities. For a quieter setting, head north to Holloways Beach or to the family-friendly Yorkeys Knob Beach. Do take note that if the beach doesn't have a stinger net, then it's recommended you wear a stinger suit (to avoid jellyfish stings).

Many people head to Rockhampton to enjoy the beach. The town is about 40 kilometers inland from the Capricorn Coast beaches.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Hiking?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for its hiking trails. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its hiking experiences.

People visit Cairns specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. Near town you'll find wonderful national parks, lush rainforest, and beautiful mountain ranges. There are countless bush walks and hiking trails in the area. Head into the countryside and you'll get lost in nature and breathtaking views.

You'll find a nice variety of hiking trails around Rockhampton. The area has several national parks that are perfect for an avid bush walker or anyone looking for an afternoon in nature. Whether you're interested in a day trip or overnight camping trip, there are many natural scenic areas nearby.


Is the Shopping Better in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is an excellent place to visit for its shopping areas. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for shopping.

Many visitors explore the shopping areas in Cairns. There's plenty of shopping around town in the form of shopping centers, markets, and boutique shops. Whether you're looking for trendy fashion or a fun souvenir, there are many places to explore.

Rockhampton is a great destination for shopping. There are several shopping centers in town where you can pick up anything you might need.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Families?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for its kid-friendly activities. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for its family-friendly activities.

As it has a large number of activities for kids, Cairns is a very family-friendly destination. With the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest nearby, this is a playground for kids and adults alike. There are sandy beaches, rainforest walks, turtle rehabilitation centers, scenic railways, adventure sports, and so much more.

Rockhampton is a very family-friendly place to visit. Kids will enjoy a visit to the Rockhampton Heritage Village. You can also picnic and walk around the nearby Mount Etna Caves National Park or explore the Capricorn Caves which is about half an hour outside of town. Other kid-friendly places include Kershaw Gardens and Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Couples?

Rockhampton
Cairns

With fun activities for couples, both Rockhampton and Cairns make for a high quality place to visit.

Rockhampton makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Near several great national parks and interesting outdoor settings, this is a wonderful couple's destination. There are sunset cruises and beautiful gardens as well as wellness spas and great food and wine.

Couples visit Cairns frequently as it offers plenty of romantic activities. It's a beautiful tropical setting with world class beaches and diverse marine life. Couples who enjoy the outdoors and adventure will love this amazing destination. You can experience the area's wildlife, relax on sandy beaches, or pamper yourself with a spa treatment. There is plenty of luxury, but also adventure-filled activities to choose from.


Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a world-class destination for backpackers and budget travelers. Also, Rockhampton is not quite as popular, but is fairly good for backpackers.

A large number of backpackers visit Cairns, as it is a very popular city for budget travelers. Backpackers flock to this coastal town for its easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and its many activities and vibrant energy. There are adventure sports, wild nightclubs, and no shortage of places to hang out with other backpackers.

Rockhampton is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. There are a couple of hostels in the area as well as a low key backpacker scene.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Students?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Rockhampton is a popular place for its student-friendly activities. However, Cairns is not popular with students.

Plenty of students visit Rockhampton. The city has universities that attract an international crowd. It's a friendly setting that welcomes cultural diversity.

Cairns is not popular with students.

Is Rockhampton or Cairns Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Cairns is a popular place for times when you don't have a car. However, Rockhampton is lacking in options for its public transit.

Cairns has some public transit options. Sunbus operates a public bus service that travels through the city center and to many beaches. Most routes start at Cairns City Mall.

Public transit is generally limited in Rockhampton. There are regional buses operated by Sunbus.


Is Rockhampton or Cairns a more walkable city?

Rockhampton
Cairns

Rockhampton is a popular place for its ease of walking around. However, Cairns is lacking in options for its walkability.

Rockhampton is a somewhat walkable town. It's fun to explore the Riverside Precinct on foot.

Cairns is generally not very walkable. While you can walk around many parts of the city center, most visitors want to head into the rainforest or experience the nearby day trips, which require a vehicle.

For even more information, also check out Is Rockhampton Worth Visiting? and Is Cairns Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Cairns or Rockhampton?

How long in Rockhampton or Cairns?

In either Rockhampton or Cairns, you'll find plenty of activities to fill your time. Most visitors tend to spend more time in Cairns than Rockhampton because of the overall number of sights and activities. Usually, 2-4 days is a good amount of time for Rockhampton, and 3-5 days is enough time in Cairns.

Families should spend more time in Cairns than Rockhampton. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Cairns, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Cairns than Rockhampton. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Cairns that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Cairns than Rockhampton if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Cairns.


  • How many days in Rockhampton or Cairns? Ideal Length of Stay
    Rockhampton 2-4 
    Cairns 3-5

One day in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Many travelers enjoy the museums and nightlife when visiting the destination of Rockhampton. Hikers are also drawn to this area. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

Visitors enjoy the nightlife and food when visiting the tropical city of Cairns. You can also relax and pamper yourself at one of the resorts. One day is usually not enough time for a trip here as there is plenty to do. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

A weekend in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Rockhampton is a great place to explore. It is common to spend a weekend here. With all of its activities, you can easily fill a weekend here. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

Visitors enjoy the food and scuba diving and snorkeling when visiting the adventure-filled destination of Cairns. Many visitors also spend a good bit of time hiking. This city offers something for everyone. Since there is so much to do in the area, a weekend is probably not enough for all of it.


Five days in Rockhampton or Cairns?

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Rockhampton. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Five days may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.

Visitors enjoy the scuba diving and snorkeling and shopping when visiting the adventure-filled city of Cairns. People enjoy relaxing at one of the resorts. Many people spend five days here.If you enjoy all that's offered here, then five days is just the right amount of time to spend here. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel.

A week in Rockhampton or Cairns?

Travelers enjoy the shopping and museums when visiting the cultural destination of Rockhampton. This town offers a variety of activities to choose from. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. Most people find that one week is more than enough time to see everything.

Many people enjoy the shopping and nightlife when visiting Cairns. Anyone can find something fun to do here. Travelers enjoy the resorts in the area as well. Most people find that one week is more than enough time to see everything.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best 3-Week Tours in Australia, The Best Budget Tours to Australia, The Best Luxury Tours to Australia, and The Best Adventure Tours to Australia.


Which place is cheaper, Cairns or Rockhampton?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Rockhampton is $170, while the average daily cost in Cairns is $94. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Rockhampton and Cairns in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Rockhampton $101
    Cairns $43
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Rockhampton $202
    Cairns $86
Compare Hotels in Rockhampton and Cairns

Looking for a hotel in Rockhampton or Cairns? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Rockhampton


Hotels in Cairns


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Rockhampton Hotel Prices and Cairns Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Rockhampton $19
    Cairns $12

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Cairns

Also for Cairns, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Shuttle Bus Shared Transfer Cairns City to Port Douglas: $49
  • Shuttle Bus Shared Transfer Cairns Airport to Port Douglas: $49
  • Shared Shuttle Transfer - Cairns Airport to Port Douglas: $39
  • Private Transfers - Cairns Airport to Palm Cove: $77
  • Private Transfers - Cairns Airport to Cairns City: $55
  • Private Transfer from Cairns hotels to Port Douglas Cruise Port: $134
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Cruise Port to Port Douglas hotels: $143
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Cruise Port to Cairns Airport (CNS): $45
  • Private Transfer from Cairns City Hotels to Cairns Cruise Port: $21
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Airport to Port Douglas: $108
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Airport (CNS) to Port Douglas Port: $134
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Airport (CNS) to Cairns Cruise Port: $45

Is it cheaper to fly into Rockhampton or Cairns?

Prices for flights to both Cairns and Rockhampton change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Rockhampton $49
    Cairns $28

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Cairns

For Cairns, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Cairns Luxury Catamaran Harbor and Dinner Cruise: $84
  • Night at the Aquarium Guided Tour & 2 Course Dinner: $89
  • Guided Twilight Tour with 3-Course Dinner: $115
  • City Sights Tour with Evening Dinner Cruise: $146
  • Small-Group Afternoon Cairns City Tour with Harbour Dinner Cruise: $154

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Rockhampton $40
    Cairns $37

Typical Entertainment Prices in Cairns

Below are a few sample prices from actual travelers for Cairns's activities, tours, and tickets:


  • Scuba Diving
    $36

Tours and Activities in Cairns

For Cairns, here are a few prices for actual activities, tours, and tickets provided by various companies:

  • 3B Daintree Rainforest, Mossman Gorge, Crocodile Wildlife Cruise: $186
  • Afternoon & Evening Tour of Paronella Park: $156
  • Atherton Tablelands, Waterfalls and Rainforest Tour from Cairns: $97
  • Atherton Tablelands: Lakes, Waterfalls, Rainforest Day Tour: $96
  • Atherton Tablelands; 'Behind the Scenes' Wildlife Tour: $295
  • Barron Gorge and Kuranda National Park Half Day Rainforest and Waterfall 4WD Tour from Cairns: $119
  • Cairns Aquarium General Admission Ticket: $33
  • Cairns Aquarium General Admission and Turtle Hospital Tour: $51
  • Cairns Aquarium Marine Life Encounter Ticket : $195
  • Cairns Aquarium Turtle Hospital and City Sightseeing Tour: $114
  • Cairns Botanic Gardens: Mushroom Photography Tour: $44
  • Cairns City Sights and Surrounds Tour: $71

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Rockhampton $13
    Cairns $13

Sample the Local Flavors in Cairns

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Cairns:

  • From Atherton Tablelands Food and Wine Tasting Tour: $157
  • Boutique Atherton Tablelands Small-Group Food and Wine Tasting Tour from Cairns: $160


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Rockhampton and Cairns, we can see that Rockhampton is more expensive. And not only is Cairns much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Cairns would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Cairns and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Rockhampton would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Rockhampton than you might in Cairns.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Rockhampton Expensive? and Is Cairns Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Rockhampton or Cairns?

Cairns has a larger population, and is about 2 times larger than the population of Rockhampton. When comparing the sizes of Rockhampton and Cairns, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.


When is the best time to visit Rockhampton or Cairns?

Both destinations experience a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. And since both cities are in the southern hemisphere, summer is in January and winter is in July.

Should I visit Rockhampton or Cairns in the Summer?

Both Cairns and Rockhampton are popular destinations to visit in the summer with plenty of activities. The summer months attract visitors to Rockhampton because of the beaches, the hiking, the small town charm, and the family-friendly experiences. Also, the beaches, snorkeling, the hiking, and the family-friendly experiences are the main draw to Cairns this time of year.

Rockhampton is around the same temperature as Cairns in the summer. The daily temperature in Rockhampton averages around 27°C (81°F) in January, and Cairns fluctuates around 29°C (84°F).

It rains a lot this time of the year in Cairns. It's quite rainy in Rockhampton. In January, Rockhampton usually receives less rain than Cairns. Rockhampton gets 124 mm (4.9 in) of rain, while Cairns receives 429 mm (16.9 in) of rain each month for the summer. The rainy season in Cairns is November to March.


  • Summer Average Temperatures January
    Rockhampton 27°C (81°F) 
    Cairns 29°C (84°F)

Should I visit Rockhampton or Cairns in the Autumn?

Both Cairns and Rockhampton during the autumn are popular places to visit. The hiking trails, the shopping scene, and the small town atmosphere are the main draw to Rockhampton this time of year. Also, many travelers come to Cairns for the hiking trails and the shopping scene.

In the autumn, Rockhampton is cooler than Cairns. Typically, the autumn temperatures in Rockhampton in April average around 23°C (74°F), and Cairns averages at about 27°C (80°F).

Cairns gets a good bit of rain this time of year. Rockhampton usually gets less rain in April than Cairns. Rockhampton gets 51 mm (2 in) of rain, while Cairns receives 273 mm (10.8 in) of rain this time of the year. April to October is the dry season in Cairns.


  • Autumn Average Temperatures April
    Rockhampton 23°C (74°F) 
    Cairns 27°C (80°F)

Should I visit Rockhampton or Cairns in the Winter?

The winter attracts plenty of travelers to both Rockhampton and Cairns. Many travelers come to Rockhampton for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine. Also, many visitors come to Cairns in the winter for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine.

In July, Rockhampton is generally cooler than Cairns. Daily temperatures in Rockhampton average around 16°C (61°F), and Cairns fluctuates around 23°C (73°F).

In July, Rockhampton usually receives less rain than Cairns. Rockhampton gets 29 mm (1.1 in) of rain, while Cairns receives 35 mm (1.4 in) of rain each month for the winter.


  • Winter Average Temperatures July
    Rockhampton 16°C (61°F) 
    Cairns 23°C (73°F)

Should I visit Rockhampton or Cairns in the Spring?

The spring brings many poeple to Rockhampton as well as Cairns. Many visitors come to Rockhampton in the spring for the beaches and the small town charm. Also, most visitors come to Cairns for the beaches during these months.

Rockhampton is cooler than Cairns in the spring. The daily temperature in Rockhampton averages around 23°C (74°F) in October, and Cairns fluctuates around 27°C (80°F).

Rockhampton usually gets around the same amount of rain in October as Cairns. Rockhampton gets 47 mm (1.9 in) of rain, while Cairns receives 44 mm (1.7 in) of rain this time of the year. Also, April to October in Cairns is the dry season. November to March in Cairns is the rainy season.


  • Spring Average Temperatures October
    Rockhampton 23°C (74°F) 
    Cairns 27°C (80°F)

Typical Weather for Cairns and Rockhampton

Rockhampton Cairns
Temp (°C) Rain (mm) Temp (°C) Rain (mm)
Jan 27°C (81°F) 124 mm (4.9 in) 29°C (84°F) 429 mm (16.9 in)
Feb 27°C (80°F) 120 mm (4.7 in) 29°C (83°F) 469 mm (18.5 in)
Mar 26°C (78°F) 109 mm (4.3 in) 28°C (82°F) 471 mm (18.5 in)
Apr 23°C (74°F) 51 mm (2 in) 27°C (80°F) 273 mm (10.8 in)
May 20°C (69°F) 59 mm (2.3 in) 25°C (78°F) 118 mm (4.6 in)
Jun 17°C (63°F) 35 mm (1.4 in) 23°C (74°F) 62 mm (2.5 in)
Jul 16°C (61°F) 29 mm (1.1 in) 23°C (73°F) 35 mm (1.4 in)
Aug 18°C (64°F) 30 mm (1.2 in) 24°C (75°F) 34 mm (1.3 in)
Sep 20°C (69°F) 27 mm (1.1 in) 25°C (77°F) 40 mm (1.6 in)
Oct 23°C (74°F) 47 mm (1.9 in) 27°C (80°F) 44 mm (1.7 in)
Nov 26°C (78°F) 78 mm (3.1 in) 28°C (82°F) 104 mm (4.1 in)
Dec 27°C (80°F) 125 mm (4.9 in) 29°C (83°F) 211 mm (8.3 in)