Australia was the first country I traveled through solo, and it exceeded my expectations completely. I cuddled with a koala in Brisbane, watched my first rugby match, hiked up Ayer’s rock and enjoyed a steak dinner under a star spangled sky in the middle of the Outback.
But, there was one memorable city that captured my heart. Cairns quenched my thirst for adventure, offering exploration of some of the world’s most unique ecosystems, such as trekking through rainforest or diving the great barrier Reef. There are numerous fun things to do in Cairns on a budget, or if you prefer to indulge, the comforts of urban life awaits with open arms, laid back ambiance and scarlet sun sets.
Planning a trip and wondering what to do in Cairns, Australia? Get a taste of what this North Queensland coastal city has to offer. Here are my 10 top things to see.
Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Kicking the list off with an excursion to the Great Barrier Reef is a no brainer. Whether you wish to dive, snorkel or soar over the 344,400 square kilometres of this UNESCO World Heritage site by helicopter, no matter how you view it, your jaw will drop and your eyes glaze over as you realize just how breathtaking our planet is. There are nearly 3000 reefs, brimming with neon-colored corals, giant electric purple clams and hordes of tropical fish dashing about.
Spend a day island hopping
Besides diving the reef, there are a handful of untouched islands to get a healthy dose of marine wilderness in your system. Fitzroy Island lets you venture into the foliage by treading on old bush walking trails. Visit the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to see how sick and injured turtles are nursed back to health before being released back into the wild. Also be sure to check out Green Island, for snorkelling and diving and Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest national park island- perfect to find an isolated beach away from all the hubbub.
Trek through Daintree Rainforest
Cairns boasts not one, but two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the second being the 135 year old Daintree Rainforest. This tropical sanctuary is the oldest lowland rainforest on the planet. Walking through the thick, incredibly diverse fauna will make you feel like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie. If you’re lucky, you may spot an endangered cassowary or the rare, tree-dwelling kangaroo.
Face gravity with some bungee jumping
Scared of heights? I was too, until I took the leap at the AJ Hackett’s. Deep in the rainforest you’ll find Australia’s famed Bungy Tower and Giant Minjin Jungle Swing, where you can soar like an eagle over the pristine tree-top canopy, and just skirt the seemingly *gulp* distant lake down below. Bungee jumping was an experience that almost made me wet my pants, but once I tumbled (yes, tumbled) over the edge, I fell in love with that free-falling rush. It’s a feeling you can easily become addicted to and was easily one of the highlights of my trip.
Or get your blood pumping with your feet on the ground
If bungee jumping ain’t your pot of tea, don’t fret- there are plenty of other ways to get that adrenaline rush in Cairns. Hop in a raft and tackle some of Australia’s most challenging white water rapids on the Tully and Barron Rivers, explore Cairns on horseback or try some challenging quad biking.
Relax at one of Cairns cute and eclectic cafes
After all the adventure, it’s time to introduce the more chic and chilled side of lovely Cairns. Your inner hipster will be appeased by the vibrant coffee scene, where it’s easy to find a cuppa perfection. Enjoy stylish Grafton and Spence Streets while trying to decide where to unabashedly stuff yourself silly with the myriad of savory dining options. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a brunch extraordinaire, craving some Asian fusion or prefer some fresh and tasty mediterranean fare.
Socialize and shop at the markets
Cairns boasts exceptional markets that will have shopaholics drooling over one-of-a-kind souvenirs. The Saturday Esplanade market offers beautifully crafted jewelry, clothing and skin care products. If you’re feeling social, check out the Friday Night Market at Palm Cove or Tank’s Market. Rusty’s is a local favorite for regional produce, such as buttery macadamia nuts or juicy pineapples.
Learn about the earth’s oldest living culture
Traveling with kids? Cairns also has some wonderful things to do for families. Travel back in time- 40,000 years to be exact- and enlighten yourself with the history and culture of the indigenous people of Australia. Visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and leave with an enriched perspective after engaging in the History and Heros Walk. The Flame Tree restaurant offers a robust buffet, where visitors can indulge in authentic native dishes while enjoying the hypnotizing sounds of the didgeridoo and powerful live dance performances.
Look for platypus in the Atherton Tableland
The Atherton Tableland will take you out of the steamy rainforest and 1000 metres above sea level into the wondrous Cairns highlands, where temperatures are cooler and waterfalls are plentiful. Stroll through charming townships where visitors can indulge in local delicacies, such as honey, fruits and artisan dairy products. Take a break from sightseeing with a visit to the stunning 800-year-old Curtain Fig Tree. Don’t forget Tarzali Lakes platypus park, where you might catch a glimpse of Australia’s curious looking platypus!
Enjoy a trip to Kuranda
For more shopping related things to do around Cairns with a transportation twist, Kuranda is a must. Tucked within the lush rainforest lies a little bohemian town that you’ll never want to leave. Like something out of a fairytale book, with streets shaded by gnarled fig trees and colorful parrots and butterflies flitting among tropical blossoms. It’s easy to lose track of time as you saunter through numerous boutiques, galleries and cafes. My favorite part about visiting was the journey. On the way up, enjoy stunning 360 panoramic views from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and return back to Cairns by the century old Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Written by Courtney Lambert
I dislike bios. I get anxiety every time I try to write one. Starts with a sentence, three words in, no no….delete, and again. “I like cats”, yeaaa that’s cool, everyone will read my shit if they know I adore cats….no they won’t. Ok, lemme google some bio examples…so many formats for bio success, I haven’t followed any of the formats. Blank. Heart racing. Trembling fingers. Fuck it. I like to travel and write about it. And, I like cats.