The Ultimate Guide to Cairns


The Ultimate Guide to Cairns

Cairns is a travel triple threat. Where else can you find reef, rainforest and rich culture all within striking distance? With the Kuranda State Forest and Barron Gorge National Park to the west, the Great Barrier Reef to the east, and wildlife and Indigenous culture in between, you won’t be bored on your Tropical North Queensland getaway.

Whether you’re looking for nonstop adventure or tropical rejuvenation, the area’s diverse landscape has it covered. From riding a train through the rainforest to flying in a helicopter over coral reefs and sand cays, a trip to Cairns is nothing if not colourful. We’ve put together our ideal week in Cairns as a jumping-off point to inspire your next trip. Expedia’s Aussie travellers usually spend 2-3 days in Cairns so you’ll be busy but use this guide, and you’ll have seen and done the best of everything!

Get in the water

Green Island is the perfect place to cover all your aquatic bases. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, this 6,000-year-old cay is home to the reef’s only rainforest. Less than an hour’s sail from Cairns, Green Island is well-maintained, easily accessible and ideal for families and those looking for an introduction to snorkelling. A Green Island Reef Cruise takes you to an exclusive mooring on a glass-bottom catamaran, where you can snorkel and swim to your heart’s content.

See a rainforest

Kuranda is known as the Village in the Rainforest. It lives up to its name, tucked high into the trees 25km north of Cairns, but a trip to Kuranda is not so much about the destination as it is the journey. First, take the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This early 20th-century train has been renovated as needed, but it retains an old-time charm impossible to duplicate. It chugs through the Kuranda National Park, passing waterfalls and immeasurable greenery, all the way to the foothills of town. Spend some time exploring the famous markets (don’t go past the fudge!) before heading back down to Cairns via an entirely different perspective. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway takes you high above and through the lush canopy.

Listen and learn

Taking some time to soak in Cairns’ historical and cultural past only enriches the rest of your experience. Make time for a visit to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where you can learn about the customs and heritage of the nomadic Tjapukai people – and gain insight into 40,000 years of Indigenous history. You’ll also get the chance to play a didgeridoo, throw a spear, and participate in a corroboree full of song and dance.

Go on an adventure

Cairns is particularly inviting to adrenaline-seekers. You can jump out of a plane, dive into the ocean’s depths, even zipline through a rainforest canopy. Our vote goes to whitewater rafting on the Tully River. With an expert guide and your fellow rafters, hurtle down the renowned river’s Grade 3 and 4 rapids. If that’s not enough of a rush, jump off a cliff on your lunch break.

See the wildlife

Cairns is one easy spot to get up close with some of Australia’s most iconic animals – cuddle a koala, ogle at a crocodile, or feed a kangaroo. A favourite with families (but delightful for all ages) is a combo pass to the Cairns Tropical Zoo and Hartley’s Crocodile Farm. Hear cassowaries call, see boas constrict, and witness all sorts of squawks, chomps and slithers in these beautiful sanctuaries for the area’s most venerable creatures.

Treat yourself

If you’re heading to Cairns to see the reef, splurge on a reef cruise and helicopter flight. First, sail to the outer reef for a snorkel and then board a helicopter for an unforgettable return flight to Cairns. It’s this quick transition from up close and personal to high above and panoramic that sets the excursion apart.

That’s not enough? Find more Cairns activities here.

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Lisa Perkovic

About the Author Lisa Perkovic

Lisa is the Expedia Blog Editor and has spent the past eight years travelling the world writing for Australia’s leading newspapers, magazines and blogs. She makes sure the Expedia Blog is always stocked with the best stories, travel tips and destination news from our bloggers and Expedia’s experts. Sydney is her base to drop off souvenirs before heading off on the next adventure. Lisa writes about everything from the world’s weirdest dim sum to cruising aboard monster ships. 3 travel must-haves? A hat, hand sanitiser and underwater camera What's on your travel bucket list? An over water bure in Tahiti, an African safari and snorkeling in Oman    

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