Canyoning is a fantastic way to experience nature with plenty of thrills and spills in wild, remote and spectacular locations. And canyoning in Cairns felt very special.
It’s unusual to be able to do canyoning in a warm environment, without a thick wetsuit limiting your movements. After a road trip to check out waterfalls in Cairns hinterland, canyoning was a great next step to see them from up close… or even merge with them!
Can anyone go canyoning in Cairns?
Almost. Extreme sports and activities offered in Cairns – whether it’s canyoning, white water rafting or bungy jumping – are targeting tourists, not just the fit adventurer niche. Hence, most people can give it a go.
Canyoning does require you to use your body strength so, of course, a minimum level of fitness is needed. You’ll have to walk on slippery rocks, jump in the river, abseil down waterfalls and swim in rapids. But don’t get too worried just yet.
You don’t need to be extra fit or love extreme sports to sign up for a guided canyoning adventure in Cairns.
Canyoning in Cairns can even be organised as a family activity as they have options available for kids from 8 years old.
The warm river really helps to make it an easier trip. You have a few opportunities to drift with the current and relax between efforts. If you trust your gear and the guides, you will have to work a lot less. But it’s easier said than done when you’re next to a cliff!
If you are uncomfortable with height or water, you can still join one of the guided trips… as long as you are willing to fight your fears.
Getting out of your comfort zone is part of the activity when you go canyoning with a guided tour. The guides know it’s not easy for everyone to jump off a cliff and they will do their best to make you feel more comfortable and confident.
Learn from our experience canyoning in Cairns:
1. Choose the right canyoning experience
There are three canyons to choose from for a guided tour and they all offer a different experience. Keep in mind that once you start going down in the canyon, you cannot stop and turn back.
Behana Canyon* is the most popular canyon and the best choice for those who are not used to adventurous activities and wonder if they’d like canyoning. It is suitable for families with younger kids (from 8 years old). Crystal Canyon is the other half-day option and the zip line looked really fun.
We chose the Spillway Canyon as we always prefer the longer and more adventurous options. It’s often the best way to access less-visited spots. Spillway Canyon is a full-day trip for adventurers and those wanting to push their limits. You don’t need experience or to be super fit and agile to do it. But you need to be in the right mindset! Although I’m scared of heights and don’t like jumping in the water, I’ve fought my fears before so I knew I wouldn’t get stuck.
Check out the tours:
2. Don’t risk losing all your travel pics
The canyons have claimed many cameras. Cairns Canyoning guides will take photos during your adventure and you can purchase them at the end of your trip at an attractive price. It may be the best option for you if you don’t want to risk damaging or even losing your camera.
If you prefer to take your own shots, you should:
- save everything from your SD card before you start the adventure, or use a new one;
- find a way to attach and store your camera (we used the strap on our life jacket, but fixing an old GoPro in a case on your helmet is one of the best options too);
- have a shockproof camera that can take a few scratches.
We took our Nikon AW-300* and, as always in extreme activities like canyoning, it was a great choice.
3. Go canyoning at the end of your holidays
If you’re travelling to Cairns, it is likely that you have planned a trip to the Great Barrier Reef or maybe some whitewater rafting. You may want to tick these ones off the list before your canyoning experience. At least, I recommend not planning anything too physical for the next day.
We picked the full-day adventure in Spillway Canyon, which is the hardest of the three tours offered by Cairns Canyoning. Everyone in the group ended up with at least a few bruises and a couple of us had small injuries. Nothing too bad, but enough to be annoying for the other activities you may have planned in Cairns.
4. Be ready to help each other
Helping each other was a big part of the adventure when canyoning the Spillway in Cairns. If you don’t feel like being part of a team and supporting people in your group, this experience with Cairns Canyoning is not for you.
5. Pick the right equipment
You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone, so you don’t want to feel uncomfortable in your equipment. Cairns Canyoning provided all the necessary equipment for the tour, but I’d recommend bringing your own shoes if you can.
More importantly, you want to be very careful with the helmet you choose.
They’re probably all good for safety, so that’s not why picking the right one is important. If you don’t want to have “Mum” or “Old Mate” written on your head on all the pics, make sure you double-check your helmet. Most helmets have a nickname written on them.
6. Sign up for travel insurance before going canyoning
I’m not saying that canyoning in Cairns is a dangerous activity. Cairns Canyoning follows strict safety rules. Their expert guides will give you tips to guide you through the canyon and keep you safe.
However, it is not rare to have shocks and small falls when canyoning, so it does come with risks. You could be unlucky with an injury that disturbs your travel plans. That’s why I recommend purchasing travel insurance: I always enjoy a lot more these risky activities when I know I am covered if something happens. Luckily, I’ve never had to use it!
Do you have travel insurance? It’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance so that you can better enjoy risky activities and don’t worry so much about money if an emergency happens. If you pay for your holidays with your credit card, you may have travel assurance included. If you don’t have travel insurance yet, read this!
7. Be honest and ready to let go
Even for the hardest canyon, our guides took people who had never been canyoning before and even one person who wasn’t a good swimmer. So don’t hesitate to be honest about your skills, they won’t write you off and will help you make the most of your experience. I felt it was important to communicate well with them so that they would adapt their tips, and sometimes even the path, according to your abilities.
If you’re scared, they will push you to go out of your comfort zone; it’s almost the point of signing up for the adventure. They won’t show you the easy way when you first hesitate. For some people, it may feel like mental torture to jump off a cliff or push your body over the edge only relying on a rope. You may have to learn to let go.
But if you actually have pain (e.g in your ear after jumping or a sore limb after a fall), they have techniques to help you make the most of the adventure despite the unfortunate event. They won’t force you to do unnecessary efforts as long as they understand your situation.
When is the best season for canyoning in Cairns?
You can go canyoning in Cairns all year round.
We went canyoning in Cairns in summer. It felt like a good activity to plan during the rainy season as we’d get wet anyway. Many will find it too hot to be pleasant, but the warm temperature outside made it easy to jump in and out of the river. However, if the water level rises too much because of the rain, tours may get cancelled.
Late spring, winter or early autumn (June to October) are often mentioned as the best seasons to visit Cairns. Many locals escape winter in the south of Australia by flying up to North Queensland.
During winter, you’ll have to wear a thicker wetsuit to avoid being cold outside the water when canyoning in Cairns. However, it will still be warmer than most canyoning destinations.
Responsible travel tip: Travelling off-season has many advantages. Travellers have access to more options and better deals. And it is a good opportunity to support the local economy.
How hard is the Spillway canyon?
I had only done canyoning a couple of times in the Blue Mountains and in Vanuatu before doing it again in Cairns. Most people in our group had never done canyoning before and had no issue going down the canyon.
It’s always complicated to describe how hard this kind of activity is because everyone’s level of fitness, experience and fears are different and impact the difficulty. But here’s how I felt about the experience:
It was nowhere as hard physically as canyoning in the Blue Mountains.
Although we were always moving while going down Spillway Canyon, we had a few relaxing sections floating down the 20° river and the rapids. The guides would carry the bag of ropes leaving only one lunch bag to carry among all participants. The bus dropped us at the top of the canyon and picked us up at the end of the adventure.
In the Blue Mountains, we all had to carry a 20kg backpack and going down the canyon was only half of the adventure; we then had to climb back up!
We had more bruises after canyoning in Cairns.
I found it really fun to just slide down rapids. But the shocks on the body were a lot harder than I expected and the wetsuit didn’t provide enough padding to prevent them. Hitting the rocks didn’t really hurt but it was impressive and it often felt like injuries could happen quickly. I was glad not to be the first one to show the way and got a few tips from the mistakes my teammates made!
Cairns canyoning is a lot about being in the water.
I always picture canyoning as cold water activity. You’d sometimes get in the water of course, but also walk a lot next to it to avoid the cold. It’s a different story when you do canyoning in Cairns as the water isn’t cold.
We probably spent more time in the water than out. I found it made it easier to go down. But those that are not at ease in water would find it more challenging. I don’t like jumping in the water from the edge of a cliff (even a small one) and we had to do it a few times, so that was the challenging part for me!
Did you go canyoning in Cairns? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is the Spillway Canyon in Cairns?
The Spillway Canyon starts at Lake Morris and finishes just before Crystal Cascades. It’s a short drive from Cairns on a winding road.
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