12 things to do in Cairns

12 things to do in Cairns

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cairns things to do
Photos: Carmen Jenner

Escape to Cairns and Tropical North Queensland this winter. Here are 12 things to do in Cairns and places to visit in the tropical north.


Free things to do in Cairns

Cool of in the Cairns lagoon

The Cairns lagoon is an impressive landmark on the waterfront and a popular spot to cool down on a hot and humid day. 

Swim or sunbake around this massive outdoor pool on The Esplanade or join in the fun at a Cairns pool party on Sundays. 

The live music on a pop-up stage attracts both locals and visitors for poolside fun. 

Swim and sunbake on Cairns beaches

Although Cairns itself may not have the best beaches in the region (fortunately, Cairns has one of the most impressive lagoons in Australia!), there are some amazing beaches that aren’t too far away. 

Holloways Beach is a 10-minute drive from the city centre. 

But if you’re after the best beaches in Cairns, head north to lovely Palm Cove for a palm-fringed beach within walking distance of cafes, bars and luxury resorts. 

12 Things to do in Cairns

Take a tour to the Great Barrier Reef

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef mightn’t be one of the most original travel experiences; it’s how you do it that makes it special.

Join one of the many tour companies from Port Douglas’s Reef Marina.

Quiksilver is one of the longest-running outfits and has had plenty of time to perfect a smooth glide on their Wavepiercer to the pontoon.

Go ocean walking at Agincourt Reef

You don’t even need to get your feet wet from the semi-submersible submarine, however, snorkelling, scuba diving or ocean walking with a helmet along the Agincourt Reef on the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef is what it’s really all about.

Take a scenic helicopter flight over the reef

Return to the mainland in style aboard a scenic helicopter flight and views to adorn your Instagram feed.

Swim with turtles around the Low Isles

Alternatively, Reef Sprinter gets you to the Low Isles in 15 minutes or if you’re in no rush, luxury yacht Sailaway Reef and Island Tours allows you to savour all that turquoise for an entire day or at sunset.

Indulge in a decadent overnight stay with Phantom Charters with your own private chef and slip into the big blue at your every whim.

See the crocodiles in the Daintree Rainforest

Join one of the crocodile cruises, like Daintree River Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruise on a quiet solar electric boat armed with a croc cam to seek out crocodiles, birds and snakes in their natural habitat.

If you had a day in the region (heaven forbid) the Daintree Rainforest should be at the top of the list.

Between 110 to 200 million years old, its primitive characteristics make it one of the most complex rainforest systems on earth.

The Daintree Discovery Centre gives a comprehensive overview with its aerial walkways, cassowary circuit, bush-tucker trail and canopy tower.

The Daintree Forest offers hiking trails, scenic vantage points like Alexandra Lookout, camping sites, picnic spots and swimming holes, including the clear mountain stream at Hutchinson Creek.

Ride the Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway 

Just a few minutes out of Cairns, cable cars snake their way up the rainforest clad mountains to Kuranda, the village in the rainforest.

Board a gondola from Smithfield Terminal stopping at Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station for plenty of rainforest and waterfall photo opportunities.

Once at Kuranda, leave plenty of time to explore the galleries, markets, cafes, walking tours, wildlife sanctuaries and a cruise aboard the Kuranda Riverboat before returning by steam train to the flatlands.

Visit the Port Douglas markets

By now you’ve probably noticed those swaying sugar cane fields and you can sample some energy inducing sugar cane juice at the heaving Sunday morning markets in Port Douglas.

Teeming with hand-made products and local produce, the markets have been operational for 20 years and by the time they pack-up at 1.30pm, it’s surely beer o’clock?

There’s plenty of eating options within strolling distance including light snacks and coffee at the Whileaway Bookshop; one of those storybook shops they just don’t make anymore.

Meet the animals at Wildlife Habitat

Just out of Port Douglas at Wildlife Habitat, get cosy with some of the natives in the grassland, wetland and rainforest habitats.

Hug a koala, slither with reptiles and join the flitting birds on the boardwalks including the flightless cassowary bird who may join you for a stroll.

It’s a slightly disconcerting experience considering they can grow up to two metres.

Discover Cape Tribulation

By the time you’ve crossed the Daintree River by car ferry, it’ll be as though you’ve entered another world.

Cape Tribulation is where the rainforest meets the reef and the only place where two World Heritage sites exist side by side.

Park in town and take either the Kulki or Dubuji Boardwalks through the prehistoric rainforest until the waters edges.

You’ll land on Myall Beach and its white sand all the way.

Join Tropical Sea Kayaks for a Robinson Crusoe experience or fly through the canopy with Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours.

Go horseback riding or join a night walking tour.

Explore Mossman Gorge

Just 20 minutes north of Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge is set within the Daintree National Park.

Take a dip in the river, follow the walking trails or join a guided indigenous rainforest tour with the native Kuku Yulanji people.

Enjoy the scenic drive through sugar cane farms and fruit plantations and stop by Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery.

It’s all set against a backdrop of rainforest and waterfalls the region is so famous for.

Drive to Cooktown and Cape York

For this leg of the journey, you’ll need a 4WD to traverse the unsealed coastal road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown.

Along this spectacular drive, you’ll pass by the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal community, Cedar Bay National Park, majestic Black Mountain and Keating’s Lagoon.

Named after Captain Cook’s arrival in 1770, acquaint yourself with the town’s colourful history at the James Cook Museum, Botanic Gardens and Nature’s Powerhouse.

Keep heading north through the remote landscape following self-drive trails for indigenous experiences, rock art galleries, fishing, bird watching, unspoiled beaches and pristine national parks all the way to the top of Australia.

Relax in a rainforest spa 

Succumb to some self-indulgence and lie back in the world’s oldest living rainforest as your Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa therapist uses ancient Aboriginal techniques on your travel weary body.

Peppers Beach Club Spa in both Port Douglas and Palm Cove are renowned for their Vichy massage tables, and hot and chilled Kodo Gubbera stone treatments using primordial rocks found in the Kimberley.

The Healing Waters Spa at Silky Oaks Lodge uses clays, herbal extracts and flower and plant essences set in the rainforest gardens inspired by the pure water from the Mossman River.

See the region by helicopter

Experience the wonder of Cairns and Tropical North Queensland from the sky.

If you’re the kind of traveller who loves seeing the world from a different perspective, or the type of person who loves flying above a landscape, one of the best places to take a helicopter tour is in Queensland.

Viewing the Great Barrier Reef from the seat of a helicopter is no longer the only helicopter trip available in Tropical North Queensland.

In recent times, flight-touring around Cairns has soared to new heights, with the region’s helicopter operators coming up with creative touring menus that show off the area’s other attributes.

From landing at a mountain retreat for a blissful hot stone massage to touching down for a romantic champagne breakfast on a secluded sand cay, helicopter flights are a great way to experience the area around Cairns.

You can fly to a remote part of the Outback and land near a waterhole, then jump out and spend the day cooling down in a billabong.

For remote wilderness adventures, there are helicopter tours that take you to remote outback pubs, wildlife-watching, sleeping under the stars and landings at remote sections of the Great Barrier Reef.

Of course, landing on a pontoon in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef has got to be a bucket list experience most people would love to do.

What’s on in Cairns

Getting to Cairns

Brisbane to Cairns train

Where to stay in Cairns

Thala Beach Nature Reserve

Located on a private peninsula between Cairns and Port Douglas, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is an ideal location from which to explore the hinterlands, Daintree Forest, Cape Tribulation and that infamous underwater world. Its accreditation of eco-tourism is very apparent on arrival.

Built out of sustainable materials the timber bungalows, lodge, restaurant, spa and Herbie’s beach shack almost disappear into the vegetation.

Activities include bird watching, nature and wildlife walks, stargazing tours, sea kayaking, swimming off the pristine coastline, working your way through Ospreys Restaurant and the spa menu, and of course, relishing in all that beauty from your private balcony.


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