Home Queensland Cairns Top things to do around Cairns

Top things to do around Cairns

Top things to do around Cairns

Cairns and its surroundings are a beautiful part of Australia. With tropical forests and endless beaches, the city is also the ideal base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Take a look at the best spots not to be missed in the Cairns region.

The Great Barrier Reef

The largest coral reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches from Bundaberg to the tip of Cape York, over more than 2000km. Observation of the seabed is possible along the entire coast. In Cairns and Port Douglas, you will find lots of different types of excursions to the reef, depending on your budget and what you’re looking for.

Scuba diving enthusiasts, you will not be disappointed! This is the best way to immerse yourself and get up close to the reef. If you have the time and the motivation, you can get your open water diving diploma, which will allow you dive everywhere without paying for an introductory course. This course takes minimum three days and is definitely a financial investment, but worth it if you’re passionate about scuba.

You can choose between a full day or a half day trip.

The main activities at the Great Barrier Reef

The trips to the Great Barrier Reef offered by tour operators are often quite similar to each other. Prices usually include everything you will need for the day: food, hot and cold drinks, toilets, showers and diving equipment (mask, snorkel, wetsuits, etc.).

Some of the most popular things to do in Cairns include:

Cook Highway & Palm Cove

Start by taking the Cook Highway north of Cairns. This road, although touristy, offers superb views the ocean. Many beaches renowned for their beauty stretch north from Cairns to Port Douglas. Among them, stop at Trinity beach (popular and family-friendly), Kewarra beach (very popular with locals) or Ellis Beach (one of the wildest).

30 minutes north of Cairns, you will reach Palm Cove, which is a lovely little seaside resort. It has many shops, bars and resorts, but also a campsite and a pretty beach supervised by lifeguards.

For those looking for work in hospitality, Palm Cove is home to many bars and restaurants facing the sea. Why not try your luck?

Kuranda and the rainforest

Kuranda is a tourist village located high in the Atherton Tablelands. It is 25km northwest of Cairns and offers a different day out from the other destinations on this list. We recommend not driving there, because there are two much more spectacular options available!

  • The Kuranda Scenic Railway: a 34km tourist train from Cairns that will take you through the rainforest, the Barron Falls and other magnificent waterfall views. You’ll get the opportunity to learn more about the history of the region, while crisscrossing the mountains like in the old days. There are also several stops, so you can take pictures!
  • The Sky Rail: This is the longest and most ecological funicular in the world. It flies over the rainforest for more than 7.5km, making two stops at Red Peak and Barron Falls. The treetop views of the Daintree Forest are breathtaking!

To make the most of your trip to Kuranda, you can combine these two attractions. Make the outward journey by funicular, and the return by train, for example. Both of these means of transport depart from the tourist centre of Cairns.

Once you arrive in Kuranda itself, there are lots of different activities to choose form. Divide your time between the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the zoo, market stalls, butterfly sanctuary, art galleries, eateries and many other local sights. Give yourself a whole day for your visit, factoring in the travel time.

Kuranda is also well known for its animals! This is the perfect place to cuddle a koala, to hang out with butterflies or even encounter birds. The tourist information centre offers discounted rates if you plan to visit more than one place. We are talking about three reserves: Birdworld, Butterfly Sanctuary and Kuranda Koala Garden.

Port Douglas

The small coastal town of Port Douglas (3,500 inhabitants) is a spot not to be missed. Located 70 kilometers north of Cairns, it has the reputation of being much nicer, quieter and more charming than Cairns. The town’s beach, Four Mile Beach, is perfect for swimming and sunset strolls. For kitesurfing enthusiasts, the weather conditions are perfect.

For a great view of the city and the ocean, Flagstaff Hill lookout is THE place to go. Port Douglas is also one of the closest towns to the Great Barrier Reef, so it’s a good point of access to it. Several cruises to the reef depart from the Marina each day.

Daintree National Park & ​​Cape Tribulation

The Daintree National Park is just a few kilometers from Port Douglas. The park covers 56,000 hectares and has about 3,000 kinds of plants, some of which are very old and very rare. To get there, you have to cross the Daintree River on a small ferry (tickets are $30 with a car). Ferry departures are every 10 minutes and the crossing only takes two minutes. A unique 34 km road will take you through this magnificent park to Cape Tribulation – a huge beach bordered by huge palm trees, the only place where the forest meets the sea.

For more excitement, take a cruise on the Daintree River to watch the crocodiles. A guide will explain all the intricacies of the rainforest and the animals that live there. If you are lucky you will see some crocs!

You can also find day tours to Daintree, departing from Cairns for about $170/ pers.

Mossman Gorge

77km north of Cairns and 20km north of Port Douglas, stop at Mossman and set off on a gorge walk with a suspension bridge at the end. You can also swim, so don’t forget your bathing suit! The Mossman Gorge Centre houses an Aboriginal art gallery, a restaurant and a souvenir shop. It is also possible to participate in “Dreamtime walks” to get a better understanding of Aboriginal culture.

For magnificent views of the rainforest and the Barrier Reef, head to the Alexandra Range lookout. (Preferably in good weather!)

Atherton Tablelands

On this plateau at an average altitude of 700m inland, and to the west of Cairns, you will once again be amazed. Admire stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, including the rare Tree Kangaroo. The artificial lake Tinaroo is one of the most visited attractions in the area. Water sports, hiking and fishing are the most popular activities.

If you go deeper inland, head to Undara Volcanic Park. Located 3 hours by road from Atherton and 4h15 from Cairns, discover some of the longest lava tubes in the world. You can also admire ancient volcanoes such as the Seven Sisters.

Located near the plateau, Yungaburra is a pretty little town with a very nice historic pub. It is located just 13km east of Atherton. On the road from Atherton don’t miss the Curtain Fig Tree, which is one of the largest trees in the area: a huge fig tree with drooping roots of 15 meters, which form a funny curtain.

25km south of Atherton, you will find the Dinner Falls, accessible via a boardwalk. On the last Saturday of every month, the city comes to life with an art and food market. Don’t miss it if you are around. Knowing that the area is full of walks, activities and visits, we recommend two or three days in the area to make the most of it, especially because it’s a reasonably long trip.

There are three beautiful waterfalls hidden through Millaa Millaa. To get there, you must go to Millaa Millaa Falls and follow the circuit to discover the other falls. It’s also the perfect place for a swim!

How do I book a day tour from Cairns?

Do you want to take the stress out of your visit by letting yourself be guided? There are numerous organised day tours departing from Cairns. You will be accompanied by a local guide and about twenty other tourists in a mini van. This has one advantage: you don’t have to prepare anything! Everything is organised for you, to give you a great overview of the whole region. The disadvantage: you will have little freedom to explore places and points of interest at your own pace.

There are different ways to book tours in Australia:

  • You can book with tour operators in person, but tours are often booked out a few days before departure.
  • You can go to a tourist information centre or a major city travel agency. They will offer you many options, for all tastes and budgets!
  • You can do your own research online and book via a tour group’s website.

Best time to visit Cairns region

Cairns has a hot and humid tropical climate, with a rainy season from January to March. June to August is the best time of year to visit as the temperatures are a little bit cooler. November to April is stinger season, so you should avoid swimming in the sea during this time. The sea temperature is pleasant all year round and varies from 23 to 30°C.

If you have your own vehicle and more time, we advise you to stay at least a week, or even ten days, to take advantage of all the riches that the Cairns region has to offer.

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