Once a muddy swamp, Cairns is a modern city in a tropical landscape, surrounded by dense rainforest, golden sand beaches and of course the Great Barrier Reef. Here are 7 things to do in Cairns.
1 – CHILL OUT ALONG THE ESPLANADE , BOARDWALK & LAGOON
This is where you’ll quickly understand why Australian cities routinely feature in “the world’s most liveable cities” list. More like Miami than Melbourne, Cairn’s urban coastline is beautiful and the city have done a great job of making the most of it, with a well maintained walkway that is perfect for a sunset walk or jog, and a popular (and free) swimming pool (AKA lagoon) which is great considering swimming in the ocean here could well result in an encounter with a croc or deadly jellyfish.
2 – SNORKEL OR DIVE THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Cairns is the base from which to fly or sail to the region’s natural crown jewel. The world’s largest reef is over 2300km long and can be seen from outer space. But thanks to warming sea temperatures, the reef might not be around for much longer, with large-scale bleaching and rapidly decreasing coral numbers giving conservationists and the local tourism industry (the reef accounts for $3 billion AUD per year in tourism alone) cause for concern. You’ll find plenty of tourism agencies flogging tours by sea and by air. As depressing as it sounds, you never know; by the time you make it back, it might be there any more.
3 – TAKE A DAY TRIP TO KURANDA
A cute little village up in the hills, surrounded by lush rainforest, Kuranda is accessible from Cairns by one of the best train rides in the region, or a similarly excellent cable car. Once you’re up there, there is plenty to do, from river cruises and waterfalls hikes to a butterfly sanctuary, some cute shops and a lot of restaurants.
4 – SWIM IN A RIVER AT CRYSTAL CASCADES
Crystal Cascades is a super accessible waterfall just 20 minutes from Cairns. It’s a waterfall surrounded by rainforest, with many parts of the river perfect for swimming. The water is clear, clean and not even that cold, and if you are really brave (not that I do not recommend this), there are boulders surrounding some of the deeper bits where some people were jumping in. For me it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Cairns.
5 – SEE CAIRNS BEST BEACHES – PALM COVE & TRINITY BEACH
Cairns beach ain’t bad but just up the road are two beaches that’ll put it to shame. Around 30 minutes drive up the coast, Palm Cove is a swanky second-home kinda town, with a small row of bars and restaurants next to a stunning palm-tree-fringed golden-sand beach.
10 minutes down the road is another great beach. Trinity Beach is a locals favourite, and although it’s more chilled and less developed than it’s more upmarket cousin up the coast, there is a lot of beachfront accommodation here making it a solid option to stay for a night or two.
6 – TAKE A FERRY TO FITZROY ISLAND
45 minutes on a ferry from Cairns, Fitzroy Island is an unspoiled (but for one resort) island on the Great Barrier Reef. As well as a stunning beach, there are short hiking trails, snorkelling and plenty of water sports to keep you entertained for a day. Ferries leave three times a day (8am, 11am and 1.30pm and return at 9.30am, 12.15pm and 5pm. Find more details about the ferry times here.
7 – SPLURGE AT CAIRNS NIGHT MARKET & RUSTY’S MARKETS
Cairns Night Markets is a small cluster of independent stores selling (for the most part) locally made clothes, jewelry and other local nick-nacks. It’s just off the beach and a couple of minutes walk from the lagoon. Open every night from 4.30pm, it’s a good place to pick up a souvenir or gift. And if you’re in Cairns on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, check out Rusty’s Markets. It’s much bigger than Cairns Night Markets, is a less touristy affair, and has a bit of a street-carnival vibe, especially on a Sunday. It’s as much aimed at locals at tourists and you’ll find fresh fruit and veg, bread, meats and so on, as well as locally made jewelry, clothes and so on.
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