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Flying into Cairns, I was instantly struck by the epic coastline…white sandy tropical beaches, mountains plunging into the ocean and lush green rainforest as far as the eye could see. If I wasn’t excited already, I was now! But the truth is, I’d looked forward to this moment for years. I was finally going to see the Great Barrier Reef; the natural wonder that draws millions of visitors to Cairns each year. But with four days in Cairns before we embarked on our road trip to Sydney, we were keen to see what else the area has to offer and quite rightly too. As the home of the Daintree Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tropical Northern Queensland has a lot going for it. Read on for the best things to do in Cairns, Australia.
Snorkel or Dive on the Great Barrier Reef
If you’re visiting Cairns, chances are you won’t miss the opportunity to see the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef. Spending a day snorkeling on the reef is easily one of the best things I have ever done. The variety of marine life on the reef is staggering and the reef and animals that call it home are beautiful. I came out of the sea that day with a renewed zeal for our planet and the beautiful things that have been created for our enjoyment.
We chose a budget tour with Compass Cruises and loved every second. The crew were professional, friendly, approachable and they really made our day. The tour costs $115 for a full-day including snacks, tea, coffee and a BBQ lunch, with several hours snorkelling in two different reef locations (you can pay more to scuba-dive but honestly we found snorkelling was more than good enough). I would definitely recommend this tour if you’re looking for a budget Great Barrier Reef tour.
Tip: I invested in a GoPro for this trip, anticipating that we would want to capture footage of the Great Barrier Reef. All the images in this post have either been taken with my GoPro Hero4 or my Nikon D70 with the Nikon 35mm F1.8G prime lens.
Visit Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation is the only place in the world where two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. The beach itself is beautiful, with white sand, clear azure seas and tropical palm trees at every turn. You will need to hire a car to reach Cape Tribulation from Cairns, unless you join one of the tours from Cairns or Port Douglas; although I think hiring a car would be cheaper and more flexible.
Unfortunately, it’s not advisable to swim in the sea on any of the beaches in Queensland, especially during summertime, due to the box jellyfish and crocodiles! Yikes!!
Go Crocodile Spotting on a Daintree River Cruise
I find crocodiles to be awe-inspiring creatures; they fascinate and terrify me in equal measures! Having never seen one in the wild, I was super keen to try and fit in a boat trip or river cruise, as much for the crocs as for the beautiful rainforest scenery. But unfortunately, due to a tight time schedule and bad planning on our part, we didn’t make this happen. There are dozens of companies offering boat trips specifically to spot saltwater crocodiles in their natural habitat (always the best way to see them), so I will definitely make this a key part of my next trip to Cairns.
Shop for Arts and Crafts in Kuranda
A picturesque village tucked away in the Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda is a haven for all things arts and crafts. You can easily wile away a couple of hours in this pretty little village, wandering around the market/shops with a pit stop at a cafe. Just a short distance from Cairns, it is easily driveable, but if you don’t have access to a car you can take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Although fairly pricey at $88 return or $109 including the Kuranda Scenic Railway, I have heard nothing but great things about the Skyrail, offering breathtaking views as it glides above the rainforest canopy. The stunning Barron Falls are also located near to Kuranda so pay these a visit too.
Visit Mossman Gorge
This is where hiring a car really comes in handy. 77km (approx. 1 hr 13 mins) north of Cairns, lies Mossman Gorge, a beautiful attraction in the Daintree Rainforest. Guided tours provide an insight into the lives and culture of the indigenous people of Australia. The gorge consists of walking tracks through the rainforest, rivers, streams and a visitor centre complete with shop and cafe for a bite to eat. There is a shuttle bus which leaves every 15 minutes from the centre to take visitors to the gorge. The staff at the centre will strongly recommend that you take the bus, however, it is quite costly and I’m confident that it’s not that far to walk. We paid the $9.50 each for the bus but I wish I had just gone with my gut and walked it as it wasn’t far at all.
Explore the Cairns Night Markets
Whether you just fancy a bite to eat or want to do a bit of shopping, Cairns’ night markets are an interesting way to spend an evening. The markets are the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs, indigenous arts and crafts, jewellery and clothing and most stalls are very reasonably priced.