Considered to be the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is a city in tropical North Queensland. At one time this was a sleepy sugar-milling town and is now the destination for people who want to go sailing, diving and snorkeling. There are many fascinating things to see and adventures to be had.
To begin exploring the Great Barrier Reef stop-off at the Cairns Visitor Center from there you can sign up for scuba diving lessons, head-off for a cruise or wind up snorkeling with sea turtles. If you prefer you can even sign up for a scenic helicopter flight and see the great reef from a bird’s eye view.
Off Port Douglas you can swim with dwarf minke whales, snorkel with turtles, dive among the most colorful coral gardens on the outer reef or even camp on a desert island. You can join a live-aboard dive boat and spend days and nights exploring underwater, take a helmet dive or zoom along on an underwater scooter.
In the middle of the Great Barrier Reef you can dine right by the Coral Sea, discover marine bird life or gaze at the ocean while relaxing at a spa. Tropical North Queensland is the closest destination to the Great Barrier Reef where there are about 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of mollusks and 400 kinds of coral all living in this diverse ecosystem.
Visitors can find cooler temperatures in the amazing Cairns highlands, the Atherton Tableland. Here 1000 meters above sea level, there are quaint townships. Among the products you’ll find here are coffee, honey, fruit, artisan dairy products and macadamia nuts.
Explore the Platypus Park and get a look at the 800-year-old Curtain Fig Tree. The 16-kilometer Waterfall Circuit will take you to the Milla Milla, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls.
For a real adventure head to the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest which is the oldest lowland rainforest on Earth. It is 135 million year old and you can see rare animals such as tree-living kangaroos, rainforest dragons, colorful butterflies and pre-historic birds. The choice is yours whether you take a two-hour trip north by car, make a day trip or stay overnight at an eco-lodge you’ll have a fantastic time.
Take the time to visit the Daintree Ice Cream Company right in the rainforest. This ice cream company is known for its delicious desserts made from tropical fruits like Black Sapote, Soursop, Wattle see and Jackfruit, all grown in the company’s own orchard. All of their ice cream is made on the premises and flavored depending on what fruit is in season. They serve it from a small building set among fruit trees and the ice cream is mostly sold in a fixed sample pack – four flavors in a large cup.
In the Daintree Rainforest you can swim or paddle on crystal-clear rivers, volcanic lakes and explore waterfalls. If you head towards Mission Beach you might come upon the endangered Southern Cassowary, whose existence is vital to more than 120 different species of plants and wildlife. To the north is the Daintree and Cape Tribulation where the oldest tropical rainforest meets up with the Great Barrier Reef.
To really experience the rainforest you can glide over it or sit in a gondola on a 7.5 km cableway taking in a bird’s eye view of nature. There are more than 6000 species of wild animals, endangered animals, rainforest animals and birds making their home here. With an experienced guide you can take a nocturnal tour and see the animals that come out only in the dark.
Bird watching is a great way to see such amazing birds as Macleay’s Honeyeater, Pied Monarch, Great-Billed Herons, Double-eyed Fig Parrots and many more.
Another fantastic way to see the rainforest is to take the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway for an exciting two-hour journey that will take you through Barron Gorge National Park’s rugged mountains, past lovely waterfalls, over 40 bridges spanning sheer drops and through 15 tunnels.
The region’s largest animals are the whales. Minke whales frequent the ribbon reefs off Cairns and Port Douglas from May to August. The majestic humpback whales from July to September.
A highlight for divers is the giant potato cod at the Cod Hole near Lizard Island. It is a spectacular underwater world with clown fish, parrot fish, schools of giant trevally, sea cucumbers, manta rays and trigger fish.
Michaelmas Cay is home to five turtle species with green and hawksbill turtles. On dry land you can see wallabies grazing at the norther beaches and the Cairns Esplanade is home to various birds and freshwater turtles at Centenary Lakes. You can have breakfast with tropical birds, dinner with a pride of lions, hand-feed tame kangaroos, hug a koala or even old a baby crocodile at one of the wildlife parks.
Fifteen minutes outside of Cairns built on traditional land in a beautiful rainforest setting is Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Here visitors can learn about traditional Tjapukai culture with authentic music, dance and storytelling. Taking The Bama Way experience you can learn to throw a spear, hunt and gather bush tucker in the mangroves and shallows at lovely Kooya Beach.
At Tjapukai’s Cultural Village you can see and touch traditional weapons and utensils. Villagers will let you try Aboriginal hunting methods, discover the ancient medicinal and food uses of bush plants and learn about the didgeridoo. You can join the world-famous Tjapukai Aboriginal dancers, attempt to learn the Dijabugay language with a song and see the fire-making ceremony.
To add to your experience you can join Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and paint a boomerang, weave with plants and create rainforest jewelry.
Take a day trip to Fitzroy Island National Park, 29 kilometers south-east of Cairns. Visitors can hop aboard the ferry and spend the day there. You can hike or kayak and see wildlife in mangroves, woodland, pristine rainforest and coral beaches. The island and its surrounding waters form part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. Fitzroy Island got its name from Lieutenant James Cook. It has an interesting history as a quarantine station for the Palmer River Goldfields in the late 1800s and later as part of an Aboriginal mission that grew fruit and vegetables.
Explore the Secret Garden track or walk to Nudey Beach just to relax, swim and snorkel. Take the 3.6 kilometer Lighthouse Track to the lighthouse for fantastic views of the ocean and in the winter see migrating humpback whales. Keep a look-out for birds like rose-crowned fruit doves, metallic starlings and large goannas. You can also take the challenge of the Summit Track which will have you climbing through woodlands to the island’s summit at 269 meters for fantastic views.
There is great shopping to be had at the Saturday Esplanade Market in Cairns. You can shop for jewelry, clothing and locally made skin care products.
At Cairn’s Esplanade you can have fun in the sun and swim in the amazing swimming lagoon. The artificial, sandy-edged, chlorinated salt-water pool is patrolled by lifeguard and illuminated at night. Adjacent to it is a 3 km foreshore boardwalk with picnic areas, free barbecues and fitness equipment. Families can head for Muddy’s playground.
At Flecker Botanic Gardens you can get free guided walks around these beautiful tropical gardens. For bird watching follow the Rainforest Boardwalk to Saltwater Creek and Centenary Lakes. Mt. Whitfield Conservation Parks has walking trails through rainforest up to viewpoints over the city.
Around 14 km from Cairns you’ll come upon the Crystal Cascades. These are a spectacular series of waterfalls and idyllic, croc-free swimming holes. The area is accessed by a 1.2 km pathway. Crystal Cascades is linked to Lake Morris (the city’s reservoir) by a steep rainforest walking trail which starts from the picnic area.