Tropical Cairns, full of amazing attractions and tours highlight the extraordinary elements of Northern Queensland. The perfect beginning for travellers on their way to The Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a tropical hotspot. Tropical weather, palm fringed beaches, and culture collide in Cairns North Queensland.
Cairns: Tropical Escape
Cairns, in far-North Queensland, is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef favoured by international visitors, perhaps because the provincial city is the most easily accessible with direct flights from across Australasia. The biggest attraction may be off the coastline, but when you aren’t at the Reef, you can partake in a number of water sports, relax on the Foreshore in a lagoon-style saltwater pool or go on inland daytrips to waterfalls in the mountains. There are holiday rentals to suit every budget, from houses to share with friends to deluxe, private penthouses with expansive ocean views.
The Great Barrier Reef
Cairns, along with Port Douglas, are the main points of access to the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is a UNESCO heritage site and the planet’s largest coral system. There are many ways to enjoy the reef and take in the colourful coral and other forms of aquatic life. Snorkelling and diving are the most popular options and many tour companies organise day or overnight excursions. If you’re staying in Cairns for longer than a few days, you can take a diving course and get PADI certified. Another possibility is to walk on the ocean floor- yes, you read that correctly- with experienced instructors. Wearing a special suit and bubble-shaped helmet for oxygen, you can go for a walk on the sand for a better view of tropical fish, and maybe even some sea turtles. Cruises depart from the Marina, where you can get information on particular activities and types of excursions.
Water and Extreme Sports in Cairns
As Cairns is an oceanfront city, a plethora of water sports are practiced by locals and visitors. A popular option is sea kayaking, where you can head out into the water accompanied by an instructor to discover secluded beaches and parts of the reef only accessible in a small vessel. You’ll also be privy to prime views of Cairns’ tropical coastline. Other water sports that Cairns offers include water skiing and stand-up paddle boarding. To get your adrenaline pumping out of the water, go for a skydive. As you jump, you’ll take in not only the ocean and reef but also the inland rainforests.
Cairns Daytrips Beyond the Reef
Not only is Cairns the perfect base for exploring the Reef, the coastal city is also within easy reach of the Atherton Tablelands, a series of mountains home to the Milaa Milaa Falls (an 18m high waterfall), freshwater creeks and lakes teeming with local wildlife. Tour operators run day trips up to the mountains.
Another one of the Cairns area attractions is the Kuranda Railway, a scenic railway which abuts at an Aboriginal community in the rainforest. Here, visitors can learn about Aboriginal customs and lifestyle, hear traditional Dreamtime stories and buy locally-made souvenirs.
If you’d rather spend more time at sea, take a cruise or public ferry to Green Island, the only coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef with a fully-fledged rainforest ecosystem. A pathway around the island tells its story on informational. There’s also a zoo with the world’s largest crocodiles and the opportunity to snorkel off the beach (no crocodiles there!) but if you make your way to the less touristic side of the island, you’ll find peaceful, deserted stretches of sand with nobody else in sight.
Cairns: What to Do in Town?
After a day of being out and about, you may want to unwind in town. Cairns’ city centre is always hopping. Travellers can visit the Night Market, sprawled out over a city block and rife with local souvenirs, Aboriginal artefacts and food stalls for a cheap dinner. Alternately, take part in a free open air Zumba, Yoga or Tai Chi class run by the city council. These classes usually take place early in the morning or in the evening. If you’re taking a day off tours and organised activities, you can spend some time along the Cairns Esplanade, a tree-lined path leading from the edge of town to the Marina, complete with a lagoon-style pool. The pool overlooks the ocean and has a manmade beach, a children’s play area with sprinklers and a deep end for doing laps. After your swim, stop at one of the many Esplanade restaurants and cafes.
Cairns is a diverse holiday destination, with activities of all kinds a short distance away. Whether you’re here for the Reef, want to unwind in a laidback seaside city or prefer to explore the hinterland, you can do so year-round thanks to the warm climate. Make sure you put on plenty of sun screen because the UV light is fierce. Cairns’ city centre, marina and Esplanade are only 5km from the airport, ensuring easy transit to and from town.
For more travel information on Cairns, read our guide on Things to do in Cairns.