Cairns Harbour, Cairns, Qld. Photo credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
Cairns didn’t use to do tourism. Instead the port town busied itself exporting cane, minerals and gold around the world. Then someone hit on the idea of making the Great Barrier Reef a must-see for tourists. And Cairns changed.
Coming to Cairns and not seeing the Great Barrier Reef is a crime. Not literally, of course, but we’d be tempted to make it one. The Reef is why most come to Cairns, yet despite being the major attraction, there’s more to do in and around Cairns than snorkel.
Daintree National Park
It’s not every day you visit the planet’s oldest surviving tropical rainforest. Tours pick you up from your hostel/hotel and usually head straight for Mossman Gorge. Here you can take a guided walk to learn more about the rainforest and go for a dip in the gorge’s swimming holes.
Take a cruise on the Daintree River and keep your camera at the ready for crocodiles and tree snakes. Then end the day at Cape Tribulation for the sort of stunning sunsets you normally only get in Hollywood movies. Some tours include a stopover in Cape Tribulation.
There’s always been a bit of a battle for supremacy between Cairns and Port Douglas, 70km to the north. Cairns won the popularity contest, but Port Douglas has more class, with a village feel that adds to its charm.
Base yourself in Port Douglas and you’ll still have access to similar (if not the same) tours as Cairns. In fact, the majority of Cairns tours to the Reef or rainforest go through Port Douglas anyway.
Port Douglas also has some lovely boutiques, fine dining and chic accommodation, and make sure you spend some time on the wonderfully relaxing Four Mile Beach.
For a different way to see the rainforest (and an amazing day trip) take the Sky Rail journey from Cairns to Kuranda.
The scenic railway to Kuranda makes its way up the Macalister Range. From there take the Sky Rail Cableway over the canopy of the rainforest.
With Cairns in the distance and waterfalls and forest below it’s an awe-inspiring journey. We’d recommend finishing your trip at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park next to the cableway. It offers a fascinating and well-told introduction to Aboriginal life and culture.
Take a break from the humidity of the coast in favour of the (slightly) cooler climes of Atherton Tablelands, Queensland’s wettest region. It’s roughly the size of Ireland and yet, Kuranda aside, it’s almost completely overlooked.
That’s a shame because there’s a powerful yet understated beauty about this place. There are tours available, but we’d recommend hiring a car and taking your time to explore. Spend a few days hiking in the rainforest and discover waterfalls and crater lakes.
Try to spot the ridiculously cute tree kangaroos and, at night, lie under the stars, soak up the peace and relax.
Cairns In A Nutshell
Want to relax? Head to Palm Cove. It’s a touch pricey but has a gorgeous, man-made beach and spa resorts to help you de-stress.
Swim without leaving the city? Try the swimming lagoon at Fogarty Park.
Go extreme: White-water rafting, bungee jumping and skydiving are just some of the ways you can scare yourself silly.
Party: Cairns has one of the liveliest nightlifes of any Australian city. It caters for the backpacker market, meaning you won’t have to sell your shirt for a drink.
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