Destination guide: Cairns

Journey to the tourist hotspot of Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and a healthy dose of sun, sea and sand

Land in the city of Cairns and you will encounter a city characterised by its tourists and warm sunny climes. The lifestyle is laid back, the nightlife buzzes, the seafood is delicious and the coastline boasts one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems – the Great Barrier Reef. Unsurprisingly Cairns is a honeypot for holidaymakers and backpackers on the east coast trail and was featured in BBC2’s recent documentary Australia with Simon Reeve. Here’s why…


The Cairns Esplanade

A site for any time of day, the Cairns Esplanade running alongside the city’s mudflats allows resident and visitors a chance to catch the early morning rays or bask under the city’s starry sky with a casual stroll along the front. Its recent four-year redevelopment was completed in 2007 and includes a family-friendly swimming lagoon, beach volley ball courts, skate bowls, fitness equipment and barbeque areas. Whether you’re in the mood for some morning exercise or a family day in the sun, the esplanade caters for all.

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Cairns Beaches

If it’s swimming in the sea you’re after, head outside the city for a plethora of postcard-worthy sun spots. After a dose of white sands, palm trees and gentle lapping waves? (Of course you are…) Drive north out of Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway and pick from the likes of Trinity, Kewarra and Clifton Beach for all of the above – but before you head into the water, check out the presence of local nasties, the box jellyfish. Containing some of the most deadly venom in the world, these underwater predators inhabit Queensland’s shallow warm waters from November through to May/June.

Yorkeys Knob

If you’ve headed to Cairns with your surfboard, you’re in for bad news, but if you’re determined to hunt down a wave, head out to Buchan Point, Ellis Beach or Rocky Point. Alternatively, plan a trip to the unfortunately named Yorkeys Knob – in remembrance of a local fisherman called Yorkey – for some windsurfing and kitesurfing action, rated one of the top ten spots in the world for the sport.

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Cairns Tropical Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Australia is famed for its wildlife, and while you won’t find kangaroos and crocodiles roaming the streets of Cairns, you can get up close and personal with a host of native species at Cairns Tropical Zoo. Pet and cuddle koalas, hold snakes, alligators and lizards and, if you dare, feed crocodiles and the local predatorial cassowary.

Or if you prefer to steer clear of anything that moves, pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens. Pick from a selection of spaces, from the bamboo collection to the picturesque Fizalan and Flecker Gardens. Take a stroll along the rainforest boardwalk before enjoying a picnic at either the saltwater or freshwater lake. Perfect for an afternoon stroll or a family day out – there is something for everyone.

Port Douglas

If you fancy a couple of nights away from the hustle and bustle of the city, take the highway further north to the sleepy town of Port Douglas. This picturesque hideaway, home to under 5,000 residents, swells in numbers in the winter months with tourists seeking out its palm-lined Four Mile Beach or embarking upon a sunset cruise from its sleepy pier. Local restaurants specialise in fresh seafood, while the evenings belong to central Macrossan Street’s popular bars and karaoke machines.

If the Great Barrier Reef is on your to-do list, head out from Port Douglas marina on one of the area’s many cruises. For a high-end experience, sail with Quicksilver to the Agincourt Reef for an action-packed day of snorkelling, boat rides, diving and, for breath-taking views, a helicopter ride surveying the surrounding waters. With blooming corals and tropical fish of each and every colour, this is an unforgettable underwater experience.

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Daintree Rainforest

On one side of Cairns is the coast but on the other stretches out the Daintree Rainforest – the oldest surviving rainforest in the world. Get acquainted with the intricate ecosystem by heading for the Mossman Gorge and joining a Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Walk where a local guide will educate you on the different uses for various plantlife, transforming the forest floor into an outdoor pharmacy before your eyes.

If it’s an aerial view you’re after, take the Skyrail to the scenic hilltop village of Kuranda, skimming the canopy as you travel up by cable car. Once there, explore the local market stalls before paying a visit to the town’s Heritage Markets for the chance to hang out with some Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wombats, snakes and wallabies. A must-see is the Koala Gardens – one of the few places in the country where you can still cuddle one of Australia’s native tree-huggers.

Head back down to Cairns via the Kuranda Scenic Rail, winding through the rainforest and past the cascading Baron Falls for a unique view of the Daintree basin.

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Visit Australia hosted this trip.