It was my first time trying a whitewater rafting adventure when we signed up for a tour on the Barron River in Cairns. We love active outdoor activities and are always keen on new experiences, so I was pretty excited. But for a half-day activity, it is quite expensive. So it’s fair to wonder if whitewater rafting on the Barron River is worth it.

Whitewater rafting on the Barron River is worth it if you have the right expectations.

Group of six people on an inflatable raft going down the Barron River near Cairns


We had a lot of fun going down the Barron River. But I would not recommend it wholeheartedly. At that price, it may not be my first choice of activities around Cairns. So here’s a list of things I wish I knew before joining the whitewater rafting tour on the Barron River to help you decide if it’s the best activity for you. If you’re hesitating between whitewater rafting or tubing while in Cairns, check out this post.

Whitewater rafting on the Barron River is fun, but it is not an adventure

We all have our own definition of what an adventure is or is not. The rafting tour on the Barron River was great to have a thrill and a good laugh. But I wouldn’t call it an adventure.

I loved that everyone had to participate to manoeuvre the boat.

It was impressive that despite every move being well-calculated by the guide, some boats would get stuck and/or turn upside down. As our guide pointed, it’s about aiming well but also recovering well. While we were waiting for our turn and watching the other boats struggling, the adrenaline built up.

But a few things were missing to add an adventurous touch.

Group of boats going down the Barron River - Cairns whitewater rafting

I believe the number of people on tour – close to 40 people on maybe six or seven rafts – sometimes made it feel like we were in a theme park with one raft following the other. We had to wait for other boats to catch up or to queue before taking rapids.

The guide would control everything, and tour participants follow orders. There was no opportunity for us to read the river and find our own way. I understand this is needed for safety reasons, but it really takes away the adventurous part.

Although the rapids on the Millstream River weren’t as impressive, I loved being in charge of my own boat. I learnt along the way how to take the rapids, got stuck a few times and had to work a lot harder. We were a small group, and the connection with nature was immediate. We could hear birds on the Millstream River rather than screams from excited tourists on the Barron River.

Choosing your group at the start is very strategic

Group of people on an inflatable boat raising their paddles to do a check

Whitewater rafting on the Barron River is a team effort. You need to work together. If, like us, you like to perform and don’t like being surrounded by screaming people, choosing your teammates will be strategic. Of course, it’s not a race, and there’s no point in finishing as quickly as possible. But in these kinds of activities, I’m always worried the guide may go easy if the group isn’t at ease and limit the experience. I don’t know if it’s the case when you go whitewater rafting on the Barron River; it seemed every group had a pretty intense trip down the river.

We were lucky to spot a family who was with us on our morning tubing experience and had done rafting before.

How do you identify the best group to join?

It’s impossible to answer this question! First, it depends on what you’re looking for. We wanted the most intense adventure, whereas you may feel more comfortable with a group of beginners!

If the group selection happens after the paddle demonstration, you have the opportunity to spot a few participants that are better at paddling than others. I stayed away from those with fancy clothes or a phone in a waterproof cover around their neck as they may be surprised by what’s coming – from my experience, they can scream really loudly which makes me laugh… but only for the first few minutes!

Whitewater rafting in Cairns

You should bring your own shoes when going whitewater rafting on the Barron River

We had a bad surprise when asked to pay $10 to hire shoes for the activity. You cannot go barefoot and/or with loose shoes. The shoes we could hire were of bad quality, and we’d have preferred bringing our diving boots or old running shoes instead of paying for uncomfortable shoes.

You may want to read a few things about the Barron River

The tour is highly focused on the rafting experience. If you want to learn more about the environment you’re visiting, I highly recommend looking for information before the tour. Our guide answered most questions but rarely shared information about the place without us asking. It’s a shame because he was a local so he had a lot of knowledge about the place.

Group of people on a boat listening to a guide giving instructions on how what to do during their whitewater rafting tour in Cairns

You will need an accessory to fix your camera

A photographer will be ready at key spots, and you will get notice to show your best smile. However, you’ll need to pay extra to get the souvenir pics at the end.

If you have the accessory to fix your action camera on your helmet, you’ll be able to capture the reality of the experience with a few screams and laughs. I only had a wrist strap* with a frame mount* for my GoPro Session*. It’s not ideal as we had to paddle a lot, but I still could take a few souvenir shots.

You won’t be able to take photos with a usual point and shoot camera. The boat moves a lot so you need to always be aware of what’s happening and cannot let your paddle go to take a photo.

How about canyoning in Cairns rather than rafting?

When I was looking for things to do in Cairns (besides snorkelling and scuba diving), I didn’t realise canyoning in Cairns was an option. It’s only available during the wet season. Hence, you may prefer to seize the opportunity to go canyoning rather than whitewater rafting on the Barron River, as you can do the latter all year round.



The Barron River flows all year, but it may not last

The water is released from the dam upstream at a specific time every day so that there is enough water in the Barron River for the whitewater rafting activity all year round.

However, the same deal on the Tully River was stopped. Tourism activities were not as profitable as releasing water at peak hour for the energy provider. Rafting on the Tully River was described as one of the best experiences for beginners. Now, only the smaller rapids are practicable on the Tully River and we’re sad we didn’t get to experience the big ones.

So even if you feel like you will be able to go whitewater rafting on Barron River later, you may not want to wait for too long… just in case.

Have you tried whitewater rafting on the Barron River? Share your experience in the comments below!

Where is the Barron River?

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