Visitors Guide To Cairns

Nestled at the very top of Queensland is Cairns (pronounced ‘Caans’). A small town that serves as an access point to some of Australia’s most famous attractions. From Cairns you can book tours to go on hiking adventures in Daintree Rainforest or the Tablelands, dive into the Great Barrier Reef, daytrip to some of the nearby idyllic islands or have an extreme adventure like whitewater rafting, skydiving or bungee jumping. This is a town that lives on the tourist dollars and it shows by the number of activities and tours it has on offer.

North Australia is a tropical environment that can get intensely hot and is filled with all sorts of wildlife from the cute and harmless (wallabies, kangaroos and the like) to the dangerous (crocodiles, venomous snakes and the deadly jellyfish). The beaches in Cairns are closed to the public for half the year due to infestation of jellyfish or crocs. When you visit make sure you heed posted warnings.

The locals in Cairns are friendly and this town has an understated charm. Originally I only planned to stay for four days, but I liked this town so much it turned into a week and half.  I’ve met several people who came as tourists and ended up staying in Cairns because they loved its relaxed lifestyle and tropical weather. This town has all the amenities you’d want while exploring the wilds of Australia and it’s the perfect place to end your tour of the East Coast.


How To Get There

By Plane: Cairns has its own airport (Cairns Airport) that is serviced by Qantas, Virgin Australia and discount airliner Jetstar. There’s an airport shuttle that’ll transfer you to any hotel or hostel in town.

By Road: Cairns is the last stop on the popular East Coast tour that most backpackers do. You can drive this route with a car or camper. There’s also a hop-on / hop-off greyhound option that operates between major cities like Sydney and Brisbane to Cairns with stops at many popular destinations like Noosa, Byron Bay and others. Those tickets are valid for three months from purchase.

To view the map of the greyhound route click here. For more details on purchasing a greyhound ticket click here.


Where To Stay

Cairns has a selection of hotels and hostels to choose from. While I was there I stayed at three different hostels and the one that I’d recommend is Traveler’s Oasis. Their rates are competitive, they offer both single and dorm rooms, it’s clean, there’s unlimited WiFi (good enough for Netflix), their staff is excellent and ( best of all ) they have personal safes to store your valuables.


Best Time Of Year To Visit

Since Cairns is located close to the Equator, it has a tropical climate. Meaning it has generally good weather year round with periods of heavy rain. Officially Cairns has two distinct seasons: the wet season and the dry season. The wet season starts in late November/ December and lasts into March while the dry season runs from April till September / October.

On personal note, I visited Cairns in February, during the peak of the wet season, and didn’t encounter any rainy days. Unfortunately, I did encounter an extreme heat wave that gave the days and nights an unrelenting hot and humid feel. Luckily Cairns offers a lot of water activities (diving, snorkeling, water rafting, hiking around tablelands waterfalls and more) that paired nicely with the heat and humidity.


Top Attractions In Cairns

As mentioned in the introduction, Cairns is a small town whose primary attraction is as a gateway for popular daytrips. That said, Cairns has a pretty beachfront Esplanade you can walk on facing the calm waters of the bay, a public saltwater pool called “The Lagoon”, a casino in case you like to gamble and lots of restaurants, bars and coffee shops to choose from. If there’s one place I’d recommend it’s a coffee shop called Cruze. I was drawn in by the heavenly coffee smell wafting from their open door. Inside there’s a display of 40 beans you can choose from, and they grind by the order. Coffee heaven.

Below is map of Cairns Town:

Cairn City Map
Cairn City Map

Popular Day Trips

Great Barrier Reef: This is one of the wonders of the world. The Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth. It’s a 2,300 km long ecosystem that’s comprised of thousands of reefs, hundreds of islands and over 600 types of coral and an incredible assortment of marine animals. This is a bucket list item for most divers.

In Cairns there are three main operators that offer diving tours to the reef. Pro Dive, Deep Sea Divers Den and Tusa Dive. While I was in Cairns I did the 3 days / 2 nights liveaboard with Pro Dive. We got to do 11 dives (2 where night dives) in the outer barrier reef. It was amazing.

One thing that you should know about diving in Australia is they don’t do guided dives. You’re expected to navigate underwater with your diving buddy, for more information on what to expect from liveaboard, click on this link.

Cape Tribulation (Daintree National Forest): This is a popular tour that takes you to remote coastal areas within Daintree National Park. These tours tend to offer a combinations of short hikes through the rainforest at Marrdja and Jindalba and a visit  to the beautiful white beach of Cape Tribulation. No swimming is allowed at Cape Tribulation as it’s infested with crocs. Most tours will also visit Mossman Gorge where you’ll be able to dip in the waters safely.

Atherton Tableland (Waterfall Circuit): Looking for a way to escape the tropical heat? Then this is the trip for you. The Tablelands is a mix of rainforest, wetlands and savanna. More importantly it’ll run through the Waterfall Circuit, a 17KM loop that contains many waterfalls including the most famous Milaa Milaa Falls. You’ll get a chance to swim in several of these waterfalls and cool off as you enjoy the nature that surrounds you.

Kuranda: Kuranda can be reached through Skyrail or the Kuranda Scenic Train. The Skyrail, a 7.5 KM scenic cable car ride, that goes through Barron Gorge National Park and is a very popular attraction that’s won many awards. While the Kuranda Scenic Train ride, winds through thick rainforest and steep ravines, has open carriages with one-of-a-kind views of the tropical forests. Most tours packages to Kuranda Village let you experience both the Skyrail and the train by going on one and returning on the other.

Once at at Kuranda there are number of attractions you can see including: markets for arts and craft, the Butterfly Sanctuary, Koala Gardens, Birdworld and the Aviary.

Whitewater Rafting: This is a great day trip for people looking for an adrenaline rush. The Tully River offers some great rapids which are surrounded by lush green scenery. I booked a tour with Raging Thunder, the largest rafting operator in Cairns, and despite some issues with our guide I still had a great time and would recommend you try it.

Green Island: Just 45 minutes from Cairns, the beautiful Green Island is a popular tourist attraction. This island, a 6000 year old coral cay, and is the only cay on the Barrier Reef with a rainforest. It offers snorkeling directly off the beach and other aquatic adventures.

Fitzroy Island: Compared to the touristic Green Island, Fitzroy offers a calmer environment that’s favored by the locals. This is a newer tourist destination that’s focused more towards relaxation while still offering some activities. Fitzroy has a turtle rehabilitation center, with public educational tours.

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