- Discover Cairns
Pubs | Restaurants | Diving and Snorkelling | Skydive | Bungee | White Water Rafting | Beach | Kuranda | Atherton Tablelands | Mareeba | The Waterfalls | Crater Lakes National Park | Port Douglas | Mossman Gorge | Daintree and Cape Tribulation | Cooktown | Crystal Cascades | Cairns Tropical Zoo | Hartleys' Crocodile Farm |
The capital of Far North Queensland. Cairns has it all in a small area. It is a tourist Mecca, with the Great Barrier Reef, The Atherton Tablelands, Cape Tribulation, The Daintree and Port Douglas on the doorstep. It also has all the adventure sports you could wish for. It's alive all year round, but especially in the dry season, between May and November.
The city centre of Cairns is quite small. At the section of Shields Street and Lake Street you have city place, the centre. On the shore, you have the lovely artificial lagoon. This was needed as the one thing Cairns is missing is a beach close to the city. The shore is just mudflats, plus there is the danger of crocodiles and stingers. The lagoon is on the esplanade, which is a great place to go for a stroll, or check out the many shops, cafés, or restaurants.
Not only are there plenty of bars in Cairns, a lot of them are near each other which makes for great bar crawls. There's a fantastic backpacker scene, it is truly party central.
PJ O' Briens (Shields Street) has the coyote ugly girls, The Woolshed (Shields Street) is a wild late bar, Shennanigans (Spence Street) has a great beer garden, Gilligans (Grafton Street), Johnos Blues Bar (Aplin Street) is great for live music. They have a mix of experienced blues players playing there as well as up and coming bands and basically anyone who wants to have a go. You will probably meet Johno as he goes around to hostels to drum up some custom.
Head to the esplanade and take a walk along the strip. There's cheap eats and expensive dining, ie the night markets, La Pizza etc. The best places for backpacker meals are the Rhinobar (Lake Street), The Woolshed, Shennanigans. The Cock and Bull has large meals for a decent price. Hogs' Breath is the same.
There is a myriad of things to see and do around Cairns. Below we have put together a list of some of the best:
Cairns is a great place to try your hand at snorkelling or diving as the Great Barrier Reef comes quite close to the surface. Do a live aboard to see more unspoilt reef. Make sure to rent an underwater camera if you don't already have one. It might seem expensive as first (up to $45) but you will get hundreds of photos for that price rather than a few poor quality ones with a disposable. You can keep the memory card for free.
There are lots of companies offering skydiving here; one of the best places to do it is over Mission Beach, just south of Cairns. They will bring you down there from Cairns.
AJ Hackett have a 43m high tower at their bungee site. There's also a jungle swing. They have a great offer of unlimited bungees for a certain price. It works out very cheap even if you only do two.
Some of the best rafting in Oz is in this area. The easiest is the Barron River, the Tully River is more exciting, and the North Johnstone River is for serious rafters, you will get airlifted in to start the raft through rainforest.
Head North on the Captain Cook Highway if you want to go to the beach. These are known as the Northern Beaches and they include Ellis Beach, Palm Cove, Yorkeys' Knob, and Clifton Beach. They are really fabulous beaches and well worth the short drive.
Kuranda is the arrival and departure point for the scenic railway and the Skyrail, but has its own charms. The railway leaves Cairns Central each morning at around 8.30 and returns around 3.30pm. Make sure to take your camera as the scenery is fantastic. The Skyrail, a gondola ride, goes up and down to Kuranda over the rainforest. It's recommended that you take the train up and the gondola down or vice versa.
If you hang around after the crowds have gone back on the train or skyrail you will be able to see the real Kuranda. The Kuranda Markets and the Kuranda Heritage Markets are enjoyable. Take a drive down to Barron Falls near Kuranda.
The highlands are a great place for a drive around; there are lakes, waterfalls, forests, gorges and national parks.
Where the rainforest meets the outback. Take a canoe tour on the wetlands to see the wildlife. Feed rock wallabies or have a swim at Granite Gorge. You can feed Rock Wallabies here as well. For some old fashioned good outback times go to the Mareeba Rodeo in July.
The Tablelands have some spectacular waterfalls, the best on what is known as the waterfall circuit which starts at Millaa Millaa Falls (below), which is probably the most dramatic. You also have Zillic Falls, Ellinjaa Falls and Mungalli Falls.
Eachem and Barrine Lakes are very good for swimming and a beautiful area to barbeque or picnic.
Home to the wealthy and the beautiful, Port Douglas is well worth the short drive up from Cairns, not only for the charming town itself, but also for the drive up there, which covers some spectacular sea views. Although it is quite a wealthy area it is very laid back and has a lovely town and fantastic beach.
Towards Cape Tribulation, great for swimming and a hike through the forest. Mossman Gorge contains the oldest rainforest on earth, 135 million years old. During the wet season of December to April the forest can become incredibly wet and humid, but it’s also a great time to witness the forest really come to life. If you’re into hiking and long walks come visit from May to November.
Continue after Mossman on the Captain Cook Highway and you will come to this area. Go for a cruise on the Daintree River to spot some big crocs. Across the river is Cape Tribulation. This area is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and has dense rainforest, mountains, and beautiful beaches, which is unusual for a rainforest area. Be aware of crocs as they are known to be in the beach area at times. You can do a daytrip up here or stay a couple of days in the small town of Cape Tribulation. There are accommodation and shops here.
Claiming to be Australias' first non - aboriginal settlement (Captain Cook landed here and set up camp), Cooktown is steeped in History. While not the bustling town it was during the gold rush, it is still worth a look. The locals are hard - drinking and friendly. There's pub, cafés, galleries, museums, and treks to do.
Rent a car and head 20km to the south where you can go for a swim in the swimming holes.
Near Clifton Beach on the Captain Cook Highway. There are all sorts of fascinating Australian animals to see here. You can also book in to their “Zootastic” experience which allows you to cuddle Koalas, hold an Alligator or even pole feed the Crocodiles.
There are massive crocs as well as other Aussie wildlife here. You can take a boat trip on their lagoon to witness the crocs in their natural habitat. There is also croc feeding and other activities. It’s a very educational day out.
Cairns Airport offers both domestic and international flights. There are two terminals. Flights from Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, China and more arrive into Cairns. Domestic flights come from Alice Springs, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Shuttle buses run every hour and cost around $15 one way and $25 return. Taxis cost around $30 to Cairns so if there are two or more of you, it's worth getting the taxi.
Flight times to Cairns
Dublin 18.5 hours | London 18 hours | Hong Kong 7 hours | New York 18.5 hours | San Diego 14.5 hours | Sydney 2.5 hours
If you fancy a scenic journey from Brisbane that takes 31 hours, you can get on the Sunlander. There are first class and economy class sleeping berths as well as seating.
There is also an alternative to the Sunlander. The Spirit of Queensland is a tilt train and covers the same journey in 24 hours. It has seats that convert to beds.
From Brisbane - 1700 kms
From Sydney - 2700 kms
From Darwin - 2800 kms
From Melbourne - 3100 kms
Sunbus services the suburbs, beaches and the city. The Cairns City Mall is where most of these services begin. Timetables can be found at hotels and bus stops or can be downloaded from Sunbus. Fares are calculated by zone and you can pay for a single journey, daily ticket or weekly ticket. A daily can cost from $4.60 to $16 depending on the amount of zones you cross.
Black and white taxis are the main company. You can flag one down on the street or go to a taxi rank.
Cairns is a nice city to walk around as it's compact but always carry some water with you and keep hydrated. It's hot here all year round, but especially in the summer. Summer is also the wet season so be prepared to get very wet.
Cairns is good for cycling as it's flat, not too big, and has plenty of cycle lanes. There are places that sell you bikes and will then buy it back off you when you are leaving, and there are other places that will rent you bikes.
It's important to use insect repellant here as dengue fever has been detected. Suncream is essential, especially while swimming. Drink lots of water. If you are bitten by sandflies or mosquitos, apply a topical cream, don't scratch the bite.
Walking around Cairns at night can sometimes be intimidating. There can be gangs of youths hanging around, and they will sometimes hassle people for money or cigarettes. Assaults have also know to occur so stay with your friends and try to stay away from any trouble.
Don't cycle alone at night. Cairns is generally very safe but it's people who think they are immune to attack that end up getting hurt.