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5 Things to Do in Cairns

Published 25 November 2016

Alexandra Gregg

With better-known destinations like Brisbane and Sydney to choose from, Cairns is easily one of the most overlooked cities along Australia's east coast. But this lively metropolis in Far North Queensland is one not to be missed. Not only does it boast a blissful tropical climate, a laid-back vibe, and heaps of quintessential Queensland style, but it is also the gateway to some of the land Down Under’s most beloved natural and cultural attractions. So book your trip today and, when you arrive, make sure you tick off these things to do in Cairns:

Cairns Esplanade

Stroll the Esplanade

This is Cairns’ focal point, where locals and tourists alike come to experience the region's recreational offering. Sandwiched between the buzz of the city and the calm of the water, here the world is your oyster. Go for a jog, enjoy a picnic on the grass, take your kids to the skateboard ramp and indulge in an early evening dinner while admiring a picturesque sunset.

Fitzroy Island (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)

Image credit: Tourism Events Queensland

Meet turtles on Fitzroy Island

There are a few island resorts off the coast of Cairns, but we love Fitzroy most. All you need do is take a short 45-minute ferry ride to enjoy this paradise isle atop the reef. You can hike to the lighthouse at the peak of Fitzroy; chow down on delicious fish and chips and glug Somersby cider at Foxy’s Bar and Grill; take a glass bottom boat tour of the vibrant corals; or simply chill out by the pool with a cocktail. But if that’s not enough to convince you, maybe this will: the island is also home to the Cairns Rehabilitation Centre.

Ella the green sea turtle (Image: Alexandra Gregg)

Image credit: Alexandra Gregg

Established in 2000, today around 50-60 volunteers care for sick and injured turtles here. And you can see how much their work is making a difference first-hand by taking a tour of the centre and learning all about how it has one of the highest turtle rehabilitation success rates in the country. It’s pretty humbling stuff, especially when you get to meet some of these majestic creatures up-close.

Eat local seafood

Cairns boasts dozens of seafood restaurants and, to be honest, it’s hard to pick a bad one. Wherever your stomach takes you, be sure to try barramundi and melt-in-your-mouth deep-fried calamari – I’ve never tasted it better anywhere else.

Deep fried calamari

Discover the rainforest

We already mentioned that Cairns is a multi-gateway city, and one of our favourite doors opens up into Daintree Rainforest. Touted as the world’s oldest, here you can see towering king ferns that date back a staggering 300 million years. And that’s just on the surface; nestled within the ancient flora and fauna is a wealth of wonders, namely Mossman Gorge, Cape Tribulation and Kuranda.

Mossman River

Image credit: Alexandra Gregg

Voyage through the lush, story-laden surrounds of the Gorge, strolling by the river banks on a choice of tracks which range from easy to moderate difficulty. To stand on the spot where the rainforest meets the reef, head for Cape Trib next. Emerald spills onto untouched, golden sand here, offering up a postcard-perfect picture of Queensland and its nature offering.

And then there’s Kuranda. On the rooftop of the rainforest and just a stone’s throw from the Tjapukai Aboriginal Centre sits a quaint village where you can meet Aussie wildlife, ride one of the most scenic railways in the world and marvel at spectacular cascades like Barron Falls.


Image credit: Alexandra Gregg

Explore the Reef

Cairns is the ultimate jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef – the largest continuous coral system on the planet. From here you access the outer reef, as well as all the offshore islands skirted by this underwater wonder. Even if you don’t want to snorkel or dive, there are plenty of other ways to experience the Reef: take a semi-submersible boat tour; stroll through an underwater walkway (like the one at Agincourt Reef); see it from above in a helicopter; and even embark on a walk beneath the waves with a helmet dive. If you’d like the reef and its plethora of fish species to yourself, opt for an overnight ReefSleep, where you’ll rest your swag on a swaying pontoon to ensure you’re one of the first and last people to greet the marine life each day.

Discover the best of Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and the north on our tailor-made Tropical North Queensland Journey.

You might also like:

9 Things to Do in Queensland

Learning about Aboriginal Culture at Tjapukai

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