A list of a gazillion things to do in Cairns. OK, so maybe it’s just 8, but it’s still 8 fun things!
I headed up to Cairns earlier this year and spent a week in this adventure land, although at the time I had no idea how much adventure there was to be had. At the end of it, I really felt like one week was just not enough and I’m already planning my next visit.
Cairns is located in the north east coast of Queensland, and is a tourist hub thanks to it’s proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest.
When to visit Cairns
Cairns enjoys a tropical climate and has generally good weather all year, which is another reason it’s a popular destination for tourists. There are two seasons in Cairns – wet season and dry season. Wet season runs from December to March, and dry season from April through to September. October and November are in-between months and are considered the best months for diving and snorkelling because the lack of wind means high water visibility.
Wet or dry season, Cairns offers warm weather all year round!
A gazillion fun things to do in Cairns (or maybe my top 8)
There is plenty to do in Cairns, particularly for those who love the outdoors. And if you don’t, that’s OK too because there’s still a good deal here that will keep you entertained.
The best tips I can give you are:
Talk to the locals: Seriously, I have never before met such a bunch of friendlier people. They are open and warm so don’t be surprised if someone randomly initiates a conversation with at the mall, or the casino, or in a restaurant. They are always happy to share tips on the best places to visit so they will be your best resource!
Check with your hotel/resort/apartments for discounts: I received a 1o per cent discount every time I booked an activity at the apartment I stayed in. All those $10 and $20 savings add up!
Get up close and personal with the Great Barrier Reef (from $190 pp for a full day)
Snorkelling and diving in the Great Barrier Reef is an incredible experience, and Cairns is a great place to do this from. There are many tour operators offering tourists half day and full day tours of the reef. It’s important to remember that the reef is under enormous stress from man-made and natural threats, so responsible tourism makes a big difference.
With this in mind, I chose a tour operator with an eco-tourism certification. Seastar cruises is a small, family run business with a young and informative crew. Everything you will need for the day is provided: gear, food and good laughs. We visited two parts of the reef: Micaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef, and there were guided tours at each location. I don’t need to tell you that the reef was amazing – the colours, sea life, the coral – blew my mind! Hastings was my favourite. The colours of the coral were breathtaking. We also saw plenty of sea life – turtles, giant clams, sting ray and large schools of colouful fish of different sizes. We also found nemo. A glass bottom boat tour of the reef is also included. Overall, the day was fun, exciting, thrilling and highly interesting. I’m already planning my next trip to Cairns just to do this again. Maybe I’ll visit a different part of the reef for variety. Who knows, I’m sure it will be amazing anyways.
If you are looking for a shorter trip, visiting Green Island is another option. It’s a much shorter trip out to the island (45 minutes) and there are other activities to do on the island itself if getting in the water is not your thing.
Zip through the rainforests (from $90 pp)
Getting high up in the trees and zipping through the Daintree Rainforest with the wind in your hair (whatever you can get through your helmet, that is) is another incredible experience to enjoy while in Cairns. The Daintree rainforest is World Heritage listed and has some of the oldest preserved life on this planet.
Jungle Surfing is a tour operator with an eco-tourism certification that takes you zip lining through Cape Tribulation Daintree Rainforest. Fly from platform to platform, five platforms in all, of varying heights. At each platform, tour guides give you talk on your surroundings meaning you learn while you have fun. The full tour takes approx. two hours and is suitable for both adults and kids.
The company also offers a night tour of the rainforest for those lucky enough to be staying overnight at the Cape Tribulation Resort.
Wine and Dine
Cairns is not all about heart stopping adventure. The city centre and boardwalk have loads to offer those looking to have a relaxing time while enjoying the gorgeous weather. I experienced no difficulties in getting a cab so don’t limit yourself to only those places you can get to on foot. Do keep in mind though that Cairns is a tourist hub and quality does not always match the price you pay. But the relaxing atmosphere and gorgeous weather makes up for most shortcomings (except when your $100/kg crab contains very little crab meat)! Oh, and one thing to remember – don’t be too surprised if you find something in your meal that was not listed on the menu. Like bacon!
A view from above (from $107 pp)
If you’re not into extreme adventures but still like to get out and about, one way to get a different view of the city is to take the cable cars up to Kuranda. There are stops along the way that provide access to the rainforest, and if you are lucky you might spot some wildlife that live in the rainforest. Kuranda is a lovely little town situated at the top where you can spend the entire day shopping at the markets or feasting on yummy food. You can then take the scenic railway to the bottom (highly recommended). The train takes you along some beautiful scenery, including Barron Falls. You also get a history lesson on the construction of the railway line and learn about the difficult lives the workers and their families led while constructing the line. Many lives were lost due to hunger and disease.
The train itself is gorgeous with carriages that have been restored to look like the original. The woodwork in each carriage is elegant and makes you feel like you are being sent back in time. Overall, it’s all very impressive. The staff on board take excellent care of you, regularly asking if they can help with anything or take photos for you. You can choose to travel in economy or pay extra for a first class ticket that includes finger food and drinks.
Explore your surroundings
Hire a car, point to a direction and drive. OK, maybe a little bit of planning would go a long way. There are a multitude of waterfalls and sights to visit all within driving distance of Cairns. Plan you trip to include a little bit of everything. Make sure to include a GPS with your car hire. Some sights worth checking out are:
- Babina Boulders
- Etty Bay
- Milla Milla Falls
- Hypipamee Crater
- Nucifora tea plantation
- Coffee works coffee plantation (they also do amazing handmade chocolates)
- Lake Eacham
Of course you don’t want to pack too much into one day only to find yourself doing more driving than enjoying the places you are visiting. If you are lucky and have an extra couple of days dedicated to exploring, then you can cover off most of the places you might want to see.
Swim in the beaches and fresh water
As you can imagine, there’s plenty of coast of visit in Cairns. However, what may surprise you is that you cannot swim just anywhere in these beaches due to the threat of crocodiles and jelly fish. Most beaches have a safe area in which you can swim so you can still get some beach action. Beaches worth visiting:
- Palm cove
- Etty Bay
- Bramston beach
- Fitzroy Island
- Mission Beach
- Trinity Beach
- Ellis Beach
- Green Island (highly recommended)
- Holloways Beach
If you want to experience something different, consider a swim in one of these fresh water bodies:
- Crystal Cascades
- Lake Eacham
- Mossman Gorge
- Davies Creek
- Lake Barrine
- Lake Placid
- Murray Falls
This is just a short list of the many beaches you could possibly visit. Like always, talk to the locals and you might discover a secret swimming hole the other tourists know nothing about. Plan your day before heading out, this might be a good place to start.
Visit some of the best waterfalls in the country
Watching raging water cascade down stone walls is truly fascinating (and captivating). There are tours from Cairns that will take you to many of the beautiful sights, or you can simply hire a car and drive yourself around. This is a more cost effective option if travelling in a group. The roads around Cairns are not difficult to navigate, just make sure to check the weather before heading out so as not to get caught out by thunderstorms. Falls worth visiting:
- Barron Falls
- Milla Milla Falls
- Crystal Cascades
- Josephine Falls
- Malanda Falls
- Mossman Gorge
Relax in Palm Cove
Palm Cove is a colourful little town just 30 minute drive from Cairns city centre. It’s easy to have a laid back day here. There are plenty of cafe’s and coffee shops to while away the hours, and even a spa if you are looking for a bit of extra zen.
Port Douglas is just another 45 minute drive from the Palm Cove area, and is another place where you can just unwind and relax.
The drives are scenic with plenty of look out points to take in the scenery.