Cairns is famous for being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef (but not the only one!). And for when you’re not out exploring the Reef, I’ve put together suggestions of other fun things to do in Cairns and its region that nature lovers will enjoy:
- day trips (or longer!)
- half-day activities
- things to do in Cairns city
There’s a map at the end of the article with all the places I mention.
Things to do in Cairns region: day trips (or longer) from Cairns city
Port Douglas and the Daintree
The road from Cairns to Port Douglas is one of the most stunning drives in Australia.
If you’re staying in the Tropical North Queensland region, you may want to consider staying in Port Douglas rather than in Cairns.
But even just for a day trip from Cairns, Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge and the Daintree region are worth visiting. The rainforest is stunning and the pristine beaches are dreamy. It’s easy to hire a car and create your own itinerary, but you will maximise your time if you join a guided tour. Check these ones leaving from Cairns:
A day trip to Cape Tribulation from Cairns is exhausting, but it will take you to lovely places. If you can do it over two days or with a tour (so that you don’t have to drive), it’s a lot less tiring. When we went up there, we decided to drive a bit in the evening after coming back from our diving cruise and spent the night in Port Douglas. It’s one hour closer to Cape Tribulation.
It’s easy to hire a car and drive all the way from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. But it’s a long drive. Check this if you don’t want to take it easy:
Waterfall lovers won’t want to miss a trip to Atherton Tablelands. They will find there the Millaa Millaa Falls, “one of the most photographed in all Australia,” according to Queensland’s tourism website. Plus, a trip to the Atherton Tablelands can be a refreshing destination to escape from the heat in Cairns and the coastal towns.
There are many other waterfalls to see in this region. If you’re looking for tips for creating your own Cairns waterfall circuit, check out this article. And if you don’t want to spend time planning the itinerary and get tired with the drive, check out these tours in Cairns:
It takes about two hours to drive from Cairns to Mission Beach. A trip to Mission Beach will give you high chances to spot a wild cassowary and see some stunning beaches.
If you don’t have a car, regular buses are joining the two coastal towns. Once in Mission Beach, you can rent a bike to explore the region or wander on the walks in the rainforest along the stunning beaches. Check out this article with ideas of things to do in Mission Beach when you don’t have a car.
Things to do in Cairns: half-day activities close to the city
A trip to Skyrail is a perfect choice if you feel a bit tired after your trip to the Reef. The cable-car trip offers a rare opportunity to view the forest from above and will take you with no efforts to a fantastic lookout on the Barron Falls.
You will find many tours from Cairns to visit Skyrail. You can maximise your time by booking a combo with other attractions in Cairns, like the Kuranda Railway or the Rainforestation park. Check out these tours for example:
There’s nothing better than a dip in a cool river in the rainforest on a hot day in Tropical North Queensland. But tubing is not as relaxing as you may imagine it: you’ll still go down a few small rapids! We had fun and it was a great introduction before doing more adventurous white water rafting in the afternoon.
If you just want to float and relax, then the river drift near Port Douglas may be a better choice for you (but they won’t pick you up in Cairns, and it becomes a day trip).
White water rafting
An afternoon on the Barron River is a fun way to experience white water rafting. A trip to white water rafting on the Tully River will require a car and it will become a day trip from Cairns.
The two experiences are quite different. I prefer being in a small group and controlling my boat. But the sensations on a big boat controlled by a professional guide are thrilling. If you’re hesitating between whitewater rafting or river tubing while you’re looking for things to do in Cairns, this article should help you pick the best activity for you!
Check out these tours:
A jump you won’t forget
If you’re up for an adrenaline rush, you can sign up for skydiving, bungy jumping or a swing in Cairns. The price is quite attractive compared to where I did my bungy jump in New Zealand. And yes, you can bungy jump even if you’re scared of heights; I did it!
Ready for the thrill? Check it out:
Canyoning in Cairns is special, you can read more about our experience here. It’s one of the rare opportunity to go down a canyon safely without being cold! As long as you are ready for an adventure and to push your limits, there’s no previous experience needed to join a canyoning tour.
The Behana Canyon is a half-day tour and the most popular one for canyoning in Cairns:
Things to do in Cairns City
Esplanade and lagoons
It’s not the most exciting thing to do in Cairns, but it’s always nice to walk near the water. Having lagoons in the heart of a town is always something special. On a hot day, if your accommodation doesn’t have a swimming pool, Cairns lagoons are a perfect spot for a refreshing dip.
Also, they regularly organise free activities on the Esplanade, such as beach volleyball, Zumba classes or aqua aerobics. Check out their Facebook page to see what’s on!
A visit to the Botanical Garden isn’t a must-do while you’re in Cairns, but it is a nice way to spend time between more exciting activities. It’s one of the rare free things to do in Cairns that don’t require renting a car.
Bars and restaurants with a view
You will find many restaurants along the Esplanade. However, I prefer going towards the marina; I find the views are better down there.
If you’re after an original experience, the Prawn Star will serve you seafood on a boat. Wharf ONE is my #1 choice for the views, but the Salt House also had a lovely outdoor area with views. We found a very good deal for lunch at the Boatshed. But you won’t beat the views from a boat, check this out:
I admit that I am not a fan of aquariums. I am lucky enough to often see fish and marine animals in the wild, while snorkelling and scuba diving. I don’t like the idea of keeping them in captivity. But some find aquariums are a great opportunity for teaching about conservation and challenges. I haven’t been to Cairns Aquarium to comment on its value.
Where to stay in Cairns?
Where are these things to do in Cairns and its region?
This map shows all the activities in Cairns and its region that I mentioned in the article, divided into three categories: things to do in Cairns city, half-day activities a bit further away and day trips or longer.
What are your favourite things to do in Cairns? Share your experience in the comments below!
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