Cairns is a popular destination for sunny and warm weather, most of the year. Cairns does have a rainy season. Does it mean you shouldn’t travel to Cairns when there’s a risk of rain! I don’t think so. There are many things to do in Cairns on a rainy day. We loved our trip there even if the weather wasn’t always perfect.
When is the rainy season in Cairns?
Cairns wet season is in the warmer months, from November to March. There are fewer tourists in Cairns during this period. However, the Christmas break can still be busy as most Australians are on holiday.
Some people don’t want to visit Cairns from December to April as it’s the cyclone season in North Queensland. Most tropical cyclones occur in February and March. It’s a risk I am willing to take as cyclones don’t affect North Queensland every year and when they do, it’s usually only for a short period of time. I’ve lived in Australia for over a decade and only know a couple of people who got stuck in Cairns because of bad weather. Travel insurance is recommended for peace of mind.
Of course, if there’s a cyclone coming, this list of things to do in Cairns when it rains is not appropriate. Please always follow the information given by local authorities.
But if there’s no cyclone – which is more often the case, a rainy day in Cairns doesn’t mean it’s a boring day. It can actually be as fun as a sunny day!
Outdoor activities to do in Cairns on a rainy day
If you pick an activity where you’ll get wet, it doesn’t really matter if it rains, right?
Go scuba diving or snorkelling on the Outer Great Barrier Reef
We spent a few days scuba diving on the Outer Great Barrier Reef and it was a great way to escape from Cairns when it was raining. There were dark clouds and lighting on the mainland while we had a sunny day on the Outer Reef. We had a fantastic time underwater and even if it had rained, as long as it’s not too heavy, it usually doesn’t scare the fish!
If you don’t want to get wet, you can also choose tours with glass-bottom or semi-submersible boats*.
Do you find scuba diving scary? I know the feeling. I have now done more than 200 dives, so I’ve shared my experience about overcoming my fear of scuba diving in this article; I hope it can help!
Go river tubing
The good thing about the rainy season in Cairns is that the air temperature is warm. So you don’t get too cold with water-based activities. River tubing is a good activity to both relax and have a thrill going down the river.
Go whitewater rafting
If you’re ready to take it to the next level after river tubing, whitewater rafting is another great water-based activity to do in Cairns where you’ll get wet! The landscape is lovely and would be better with the sun. But it’s really not the main reason why you choose to go whitewater rafting in Cairns on the Barron River. It’s mostly about the thrills of taking the rapids.
Check out waterfalls
There are many waterfalls near Cairns (have you heard of the Waterfall Circuit?) and the wet season is the best time to visit them. They are more likely to be flowing and powerful. A few day tours like this one* will take you to the waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands.
Indoor/protected things to do in Cairns when it rains
One of the great things about Cairns is that there are a few nature-focused activities that you can enjoy without being too wet!
Skyrail over the rainforest
Skyrail is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the rainforest and stay dry even when it’s raining in Cairns. The rain may even make the waterfall more impressive. However, you don’t want to do it if the rain is heavy as it’s all about enjoying the views. You may want to bring an umbrella to go from the first line to the second one.
Train ride from Kuranda
This scenic train ride is often included in the list of the best things to do in Cairns. It’s a good combo with Skyrail as they start/finish in the same area. From the train, you’ll get great views of the rainforest and Barron Falls.
Visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
In Kuranda near Cairns, you will find the largest butterfly flight aviary in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a good opportunity to see beautiful local butterflies (more than 1,500) but also to learn more about them. If you want to increase your chances of butterflies landing on you, make sure you wear bright colours. As you’ll be in a greenhouse, the rain won’t affect your visit.
You won’t get rained on if you go underground!
It takes about three hours to drive to the Chillagoe Caves, a 400-million-year old cave system west of Cairns. A ranger will take you on a tour down to two beautiful limestone caves. You can also visit other caves by yourself if you’re adventurous and well-prepared. It’s also the opportunity to visit small galleries of Aboriginal rock art and an old mining town and learn more about the Queensland Outback.
Part of the drive is on an unsealed road so make sure you check with your car rental company that you’re allowed to drive there. It’s also a lot of driving for one day so you may want to join a tour from Cairns* for a more relaxing day.
Visit an Aboriginal Art Gallery
A visit to Far North Queensland is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Aboriginal culture. We found two galleries in Cairns: Munganbana Aboriginal Art Gallery and Doongal Aboriginal Art & Artefacts.
For a hands-on experience, you can go to Janbal Gallery in Mossman (1hr10 by car) and attend one of their workshops.
Other things to do in Cairns when it’s raining
I usually focus on nature-focused outdoor activities while in Cairns and haven’t tried many of the indoor activities below. But if you’re running out of things to do on a rainy day or if the rain is too strong for the activities suggested above, here are a few more ideas that I noted as alternatives.
Zipline and high ropes at Cairns Dome
I’m not a big fan of animals in captivity so I don’t really want to visit Cairns Dome*. But their zipline and high rope challenges are great indoor activities for those looking for adventures in Cairns.
Cairns Aquarium and the Turtle Hospital
As I’ve just noted for the Dome, I don’t like animals in captivity. But aquariums, like zoos, are sometimes a good opportunity to raise awareness about conservation issues and an opportunity to create change. I haven’t visited the Cairns Aquarium and the Turtle Hospital, but it could be a good opportunity to learn more about the reef while visiting Cairns on a rainy day.
Food and wine tasting
Cairns may not be the first destination that comes to mind for a foodie experience in Australia. But if it’s raining, why not stay indoors and enjoy their local products? You could join a Rusty’s Market Foodlovers Tour* or a tour to discover the micro breweries and distilleries of Cairns*.
Not far from Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands are home to a large selection of boutique wineries and artisan producers. It’s better to join a tour to fully enjoy your time. There are private tours* or small group tours* available.
The Cairns Museum is the best place to learn more about Cairns’ culture and history. You can book your ticket in advance to skip the queue*.
A spa treatment or a massage can be a lovely thing to do in Cairns when it’s raining, especially if you’ve participated in one of the many adventurous activities the day before. There are a few spa and wellness centres in Cairns to relax.
With so many activities to do in Cairns when it’s raining, I wouldn’t pick something you can do in any other town. But if you haven’t found something to do, here are a few other ideas. In Cairns, you can go bowling, get a thrill with a laser tag game, solve an escape room, have fun trampoline, go climbing, try roller skating, and of course watch a movie at the cinema.
Cairns Night Markets are the most popular place in Cairns for tourists to buy souvenirs. It is fully covered so the rain won’t be a problem for your visit. The Night Markets, with about 130 stalls, open from 4:30 pm to 11 pm. You’ll also find in Cairns the main shopping centres to buy all types of products from international brands.
What are your favourite things to do in Cairns on a rainy day? Share your experience in the comments below!
Best accommodations in Cairns when it rains
You may spend more time in your room if you’re visiting Cairns when it rains, so I recommend choosing a nice, spacious accommodation. I like having sea views to still feel like I’m enjoying the outdoors and the destination without going out. I noted Piermonde Apartments* (ideal for groups) and Crystalbrook Riley* (ideal for couples) have lovely views.
If you can stay a bit outside Cairns, you could treat yourself to a beachfront room with a spa and a couple swing* or a room with a large covered balcony with sea views*.