Activities - Explore
- Getting Around
- Cairns Esplanade
- Sky Dive
- Diving and Snorkelling
- Hang Gliding
- White Water Rafting
The location close to the ocean, the mountains, the rainforest and outback gives Cairns travellers many activity choices.
The center of Cairns is small enough to cover on foot. As Cairns is surrounded by rainforest clad mountains there are nearly 200 walking tracks in this World Heritage Area. Keen walkers should keep an eye out for the guide Tropical Walking Tracks, found at local bookshops and adventure shops. It lists all of the tracks around Cairns as well as those between Townsville and Cooktown with maps and directions as well.
Frequent Sunbus buses depart from Cairns Central (the city mall) to the suburbs and northern beaches. You can buy a bus ticket that lasts for 24 hours. The bus driver stamps the time of purchase and the ticket is valid to the same time the next day. For information on timetables and fares click the link above or call +61 7 4057 7411. A 25 minute bus ride from the CBD will also take you north to the beautiful little tropical village of Palm Cove or further to Port Douglas after an hour or so.
Apart from the town centre, a car is useful to see the surrounding attractions if you are not taking a tour. Numerous car rental agencies operate from the airport.
Where the city meets the shore, The Esplanade is a promenade of parklands on one side and the city street on the other. Many events and festivals are held here throughout the year, for more info see: www.cairnsesplanade.com.au.
On the promenade near the pier is the Cairns Lagoon, an artificial public swimming pool with some sand on one side. It is unfenced and free to use and its shallow depth makes it ideal for families with children. The lagoon is a good place to cool off, especially during "stinger season" (stingers are the infamous and deadly Box Jellyfish) between October and May when local beaches should be avoided. You can also sunbake and people watch on the grassy part of the promenade near the lagoon. On a sunny day, even in the middle of the tropical "winter", there will sometimes be more sun-bakers than there is visible grass.
Note that there are also no beaches in Cairns itself. You can catch a bus to the northern beaches but the sand there is rather rough, and during stinger season the area is protected by netting that is no bigger than the lagoon.
Dotted along the parkland are free barbecues scattered generously among the picnic tables on the grass.
- The Saturday Market (8am-4pm) is located at the lagoon on the Esplanade, has homemade products, rare stones, clothes, all types of art, massage, local music, local rainforest timbers and carvings, and you will be buying from the maker/artist of the products. There’s lots of budget wares, but some very refined high art and design pieces, a great place to find a special gift. And best of all it has a 'locals feel' about it. This is an outdoor market, so make sure to take a hat and sunscreen while you have fun and meet some true locals.
- The Night Market Operates every night of the week till late. They are a collection of stalls catering mainly to tourists: you can buy lots of clothes, games and Australiana souvenirs.
If you don’t have a car, many coach tours depart Cairns daily with plenty to choose from. There are rainforest tours to Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation in the Daintree National Park, and the Atherton Tablelands (Cairns highlands), specialised 4WD tours, city sights tours, tours to wildlife parks, outback tours, and much, much more. Some local providers are listed below:
- Tropic Wings Coach Tours One of the largest and longest established coach touring companies in Cairns. Operating full and half day tours to Kuranda including Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail, Rainforestation Nature Park and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary; Cape Tribulation and the Daintree; Port Douglas; Atherton Tablelands and the Outback.
- Cairns Discovery Tours Tours highlighting the rich history of the city and the spectacular tropical vegetation in the parks and gardens. Learn about the tropical climate and lifestyle, includes the Royal Flying Doctor Service and botanical gardens.
- Food Trail Tours This tour offers a chance to experience a food, wine and sightseeing extravaganza on the tropical food trail while meeting local people and tasting local produce. The tour includes a tropical fruit wine maker, coffee plantation, macadamia plantation, inclusive barramundi lunch, as well as a very unique wildlife feeding experience at Granite Gorge. This tour is a small locally owned company that takes you away from all the attractions, souvenir shops and other coaches. It costs $137 for adults, $65 for a child, and $395 for a family.
- Jungle Tours Day and extended small group bus tours to World Heritage areas; can include Port Douglas, the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, cruising on the Daintree River searching for crocodiles and wildlife, or swimming in the Mossman Gorge and exploring Cape Tribulation Beach. Activities vary from reef trips, to horse riding, jungle surfing and sea kayaking.
- Northern Experience Eco Tour Visits Lake Barrine, the Curtain Fig Tree, Millaa Millaa Falls, rainforest, the historic Spanish castle ruins and gardens of Paronella Park, sugar cane fields, Walsh's Pyramid and the beautiful Babinda Boulders for a swim in clear spring waters. Two course lunch provided, with cheese and yogurt tasting at the Mungalli Organic Bio-Dynamic Dairy. Small groups not above 20 passengers.
Check out these awesome online tour offers for all of Cairns attractions and beyond. They're easy to book, great value and everything will be organised with just a click of a button:
- Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkelling Cruise Enjoy five hours of snorkelling or diving at two outer Great Barrier Reef locations on a cruise from Cairns including lunch. It starts at $120 but is more if you's like to dive.
- Great Barrier Reef Scenic Helicopter Tour and Cruise You'll take a scenic helicopter tour over the stunning reef to land on a floating heli-pad and transfered to a boat for a cruise, snorkel and lunch. It starts at $300 per person.
- Hot Air Ballooning Tour from Cairns Fro $225 you can go on a relaxing balloon ride which includes hotel pick-up and drop-offs.
- Cairns Night Zoo Safari and Barbecue Dinner You'll feast on a typical Aussie barbie, spot wildlife by torchlight, do some stargazing under the southern skies, then enjoy live music and entertainment around the campfire. It's $99 per person.
- Cairns Flames of the Forest Dining Experience This tour picks you up and takes you into the rainforest near Port Douglas for an unforgettable candlelight dinner in the forest, as well as an Aboriginal cultural performance.
- Tully River Full-Day White Water Rafting Raft down North Queensland's ultimate white water stretch, with up to 5 hours of rafting grade 4 rapids through World Heritage Rainforest. It starts from $155 per person and includes lunch.
- Cairns Habitat Cruise and Crocodile Farm Tour A cruise on Trinity Inlet estuary and mangroves, then onto a working crocodile farm tour for $62 per person.
- Cairns Minjin Jungle Swing Fly through the rainforest near Cairns on an exciting and unique ride, the Minjin Jungle Swing. It starts at around $90 including hotel pick-up and drop-off.
- Reef and Rainforest Tandem Sky Dive See reef and rainforest on the long way down! It's around $275 per person and includes pick-up and drop-off from the city, but not the mandatory $35 Australian Parachuting Levy.
- Aboriginal Cultural Daintree Rainforest Tour An walking tour on Indigenous heritage and culture through the rainforest, learning hunting and craft techniques. Meals and hotel transfers are included, and you'll be lead by a local guide.
- Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary Day Tour This 10-11 hour day tour includes a visit to the wildlife sanctuary in Port Douglas, a cable ferry across the Daintree River then a guided rainforest walk at Cape Tribulation. It's around $160 per person.
- Green Island Day Trip Enjoy around 5 hours exploring this Great Barrier Reef island with time to snorkel and take a glass-bottom boat. It starts at $77 per person.
- Kuranda Scenic Railway Day Trip Ride the historic railway and choose from a variety of options including the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Tjupakai Aboriginal Cultural Park or the popular Rainforestation Nature Park. It's $96 per person but increased with how many activities you do.
Cairns Wildlife Dome
The Cairns Wildlife Dome is a spectacular all-weather wildlife exhibit enclosed by a 20 metre high glass dome on top of the iconic Reef Hotel and Casino, visitors walk through a replicated rainforest environment whilst birds such as parrots, cockatoos and lorikeets fly freely around. See other animals such as koalas, frogmouths, kookaburras, rainforest wallabies, crocodiles, turtles and pythons. Complimentary guided tours and animal presentations take place throughout the day.
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Visit this exciting crocodile park where you can take a cruise on a lagoon, visit a working croc farm, see daily croc and cassowary feedings, as well as snake and croc attack shows. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is a 40 minute drive north of Cairns, and costs $33 per adult and $16.50 per child.
Cairns is an adventure sports enthusiast's paradise: every second shop is a tourist information centre with signs blaring “sky dive" or "tandem skydiving". Standby rates are ubiquitous: many of the more expensive activities, including scuba diving and skydiving, are up to $150 cheaper if you are prepared to go on standby for a cancellation.
- Skydive Cairns Offers tandem, single jumps, and AFF courses so you can jump solo. Soar on one of the most beautiful plane rides up to 13,000 feet overlooking the reef just long enough before you lose your lunch on the way down.
- Tandem Cairns Offers tandem skydives for $270, both beach and park skydives available with free door to door return transfers.
Diving and Snorkelling
The world renowned Australian treasure, the Great Barrier Reef, is available to snorkel or scuba dive just a short sail away from Cairns. A number of operators run day snorkel/dive trips from the marina, many providing ‘live-aboard’ multi-day diving trips also.
For seeing the Reef, the smaller boats provide the best experience. The larger operations, however, have more amenities, like a wider range of food and more activities, but sometimes provide a poorer underwater experience by using overused sites somewhat barren of coral and fish.
If you've never dived but always wanted to try, with the greatest reef and so many experienced operators on your doorstep, now is a good time! A couple of trips underwater and you'll discover why it's such a passion for so many people.
- Passions of Paradise A large catamaran travelling daily to two destinations on the Great Barrier Reef. The first is Michaelmas Cay; host to over 20,000 sea birds, brilliant white sand, warm shallow water and an abundance of marine life making it perfect for snorkelling, scuba diving, glass bottom boat tours. The second is the Outer Barrier Reef, where you will find the beautiful hard coral gardens it’s famous for. The day includes lunch and all snorkelling equipment.
- Tusa Dive Australia A particularly good small operator. They offer two dive day trips to the Outer Reef for $160 ($190 with equipment hire).
- Pro Dive Cairns Specialises in 11 dive live-aboard trips to the Outer Reef taking three days and two nights for $580. Their dive sites are suitable for inexperienced divers and they offer the usual dive courses including Open Water, Advanced and Rescue Divers.
- New Horizon Sail and Dive Operates two classic sailing boats, Santa Maria and Coral Sea Dreaming, to the outer Great Barrier Reef. They allow you to experience the reef in a smaller more intimate affair with a maximum of ten passengers on each trip. The trip is from $380 per person for a two day liveaboard and from $540 for a three day liveaboard, all equipment included.
- Taka Dive Adventures Offers two live-aboard trips: a 5 day/4 night tour of Cod Hole and the Coral Sea (from $1050 for a four share cabin and $1175 for a twin cabin) and a 4 day/3 night tour of Cod Hole and the northern part of the reef (from $900 for a four share cabin and $1000 for a twin cabin). The two trips can be combined into one from $1,850.
- Cairns Dive Centre Offers both live-aboard and day trips out to the Great Barrier Reef to dive and snorkel.
- Spirit of Freedom A fancy live-aboard dive ship where you get your own cabin with ensuite (if you pay for it), nice meals, large boat etc. A three day/three night trip starts from $1,350.
- Mike Ball Dive Expeditions Dive sites suited to serious divers. Allows solo diving and re-breather diving if you provide appropriate equipment. Cabins with private bathrooms are available. Three night trip from $1480, four night trip from $1678 and seven night trip from $2938, rental equipment and courses extra.
Hang GlidingHang gliders fly off Rex Point Lookout, halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas on the Captain Cook highway. On weekends it's common to see multiple gliders soaring the sky above the scenic lookout, and the winter season provides consistent flight conditions.
- Airplay Hang Gliding Airplay offers tandem hang gliding flights and a free outbound shuttle service. Lessons and full instruction are also available to those wishing to learn to fly. Tandem instructional flight for 45 minutes are $200.
The Cairns region has some of the best weather for ballooning in the world and so trips go year-round and are rarely cancelled. It's also one of the cheapest places to go flying, anywhere. The balloons fly inland to the Atherton Tablelands and take off at first light at Mareeba, finishing around 10am and can connect directly to a Great Barrier Reef tour or drop you in Kuranda.
- Ballooning with Hot Air Includes a hot breakfast, champagne & transfers from $225.
- Champagne Balloon Flights Rides from $195.
White Water Rafting
Rafting in North Queensland has the advantage of departures all year round, tropical water temperatures and easy access to breath-taking scenery and rapids. The region's white water rafting adventures are suitable for all levels of fitness. Ride through the planet's oldest continuously growing tropical rainforests on rivers that still run totally wild.
- RnR White Water Rafting You have the option of rafting down the Tully River, Australia's best and most famous one-day white water rafting experience, with up to five hours of rafting over more than 45 Grade Four rapids through World Heritage rainforest; or the Barron River, a great half-day tour with up to two hours of rafting on Grade Three rapids. For something longer, the North Johnstone Four Day Expedition is a once in a lifetime experience; helicopter in, four days of Grade Five rapids and camping three nights under the stars in riverside rainforest clearings.