Things to do in Cairns

Any time of year is a good time to visit Cairns due to its tropical climate and the splendid variety of natural attractions and outdoor activities on the city's doorstep. A stay in Cairns is a dream come true for nature lovers, particularly scuba divers.

Meet some of Australia's indigenous animals such as crocodiles, red pandas and koalas at Wildlife Zone or the Cairns Tropical Zoo; ride the gondolas above a canopy of the rainforest, over magnificent waterfalls and gorges, to the village of Kuranda on the Skyrail, one of Cairns' most popular attractions; or pick out some stunning opal jewellery at Quilpie Opals.

Visitors keen on venturing out of the city should head straight for the coast where the Great Barrier Reef awaits avid snorkelers and scuba divers, while the verdant Daintree Rainforest, part of the oldest tropical rainforest still surviving on earth, is best explored on horseback or from the treetops. Nearby Cape Tribulation is also an outdoor enthusiasts paradise, with activities like kayaking, snorkelling, jungle surfing and river cruising on offer. The Whitsunday Islands, of which 70 percent has been declared a national or marine park, boast the resort village of Airlie Beach and are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the picturesque surroundings.

Bowling Green Bay National Park photo

Bowling Green Bay National Park

About a six-hour drive south of Cairns lies Bowling Green Bay National Park. Covering 55,300 hectares, this is the largest National Park in the region, an area once home to the Wul…

Bowling Green Bay National Park

About a six-hour drive south of Cairns lies Bowling Green Bay National Park. Covering 55,300 hectares, this is the largest National Park in the region, an area once home to the Wulgurukaba Aboriginal people who have left their mark with beautiful rock paintings. Bowling Green Bay National Park is situated between Townsville and Bowen and includes the Mount Elliot area and adjacent coastal wetlands, saltpans and mangrove swamps. Alligator Creek meanders through the park, with beautiful waterfalls and cascades crashing into deep pools, surrounded by tropical rainforest. Bowling Green Bay is a glorious place to enjoy hiking and camping and is a popular weekend excursion from Cairns.

Website www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/bowling-green-bay

The Esplanade photo

The Esplanade

The recently renovated Cairns Esplanade is the entertainment hub for visitors to the city, providing numerous recreational opportunities, and lined with a host of good restaurants,…

The Esplanade

The recently renovated Cairns Esplanade is the entertainment hub for visitors to the city, providing numerous recreational opportunities, and lined with a host of good restaurants, bars and cafes. Apart from a safe, sandy swimming lagoon and vast lawns used for all sorts of purposes from picnics and barbecues to kite flying, the Esplanade features wonderful Saturday arts and crafts markets, spiced up by buskers and colourful street characters. The Cairns Esplanade is also a great place to get some exercise in the city, popular with joggers and the site of a free fitness programme with classes four days a week that anybody can join. There is never a dull moment on this lively foreshore.

Website www.cairnsesplanade.com

Skyrail photo

Skyrail

The most popular tourist attraction in Cairns is the Skyrail rainforest cableway, which travels nearly five miles (7.5km) from the Caravonica Terminal, the gondolas gliding above t…

Skyrail

The most popular tourist attraction in Cairns is the Skyrail rainforest cableway, which travels nearly five miles (7.5km) from the Caravonica Terminal, the gondolas gliding above the canopy of the rainforest over magnificent waterfalls and lush gorges, to the village of Kuranda. En route passengers can alight temporarily at two stations to explore the boardwalks that have been constructed in the heart of the forest. Interpretative centres have been set up so visitors can learn about the ecology, fauna and flora of the fascinating ancient rainforest. The return journey takes about two and a half hours, and the gondolas seat up to six people. Booking in advance is advisable.

Website www.skyrail.com.au

Paronella Park photo

Paronella Park

Magical Paronella Park was the imaginative brainchild of a young entrepreneur, Jose Paronella, who built his dream castle on this site near Mena Creek, about 75 miles (120km) south…

Paronella Park

Magical Paronella Park was the imaginative brainchild of a young entrepreneur, Jose Paronella, who built his dream castle on this site near Mena Creek, about 75 miles (120km) south of Cairns, in 1929. Since then the castle has come to be regarded as an architectural marvel, and a top tourist attraction, which has been used as a set for several movies. The picturesque grounds, overlooking Mena Creek Falls, feature interesting forest walks, bamboo gardens, a secret garden and a 'tunnel of love'. Cultural performances and guided walks are offered to visitors as part of the admission price. In 1997, Paronella Park was recognised as a historical treasure and listed by the National Trust. It is a popular venue for romantic events such as weddings and consistently delights visitors.

Website www.paronellapark.com.au

The Wet Tropics of Queensland photo

The Wet Tropics of Queensland

The Wet Tropics of Queensland is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest still surviving on earth, and is a UNESCO-listed site containing the highest number of rare or threatened…

The Wet Tropics of Queensland

The Wet Tropics of Queensland is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest still surviving on earth, and is a UNESCO-listed site containing the highest number of rare or threatened plant and animal species on the planet. It also has 13 different types of rainforest and 29 species of mangrove. Among the national parks included in the Wet Tropics are Barron Gorge National Park, Black Mountain National Park, Cedar Bay National Park, Daintree National Park, Girringun National Park and Wooroonooran National Park.

This unique area covers around 745 miles (1,200km) of northern Queensland, and is visited by droves of tourists, who access it usually from Cairns, via Daintree Village. Visitors will enjoy an unrivalled natural experience, from the beautiful golden beaches to hiking through ancient forest ecosystems full of gorgeous birds, primitive flowering plants, and fascinating animals such as the estuarine crocodile. Daintree is about two hours north of Cairns, on the Captain Cook Highway, making it easily accessible for excursions and weekend getaways.

Website www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/wet-tropics-rainforest/

Great Barrier Reef photo

Great Barrier Reef

One of the great natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is as big as the total combined area of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and contains more than 1,000 islands t…

Great Barrier Reef

One of the great natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is as big as the total combined area of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and contains more than 1,000 islands that range from sandy mounds to rainforest isles. Divers, snorkellers and nature lovers can reach specific sites by air or by water taxi. Non-divers can view this underwater world from a glass-bottomed boat.

The Reef ecosystem has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to give life to almost 7,000 species of plants and animals. It is home to some endangered species such as the green loggerhead turtle, and is a breeding site for humpback whales. Visitors can either cruise the islands or make a base in Cairns or one of the many seaside towns along the Queensland coast. Visitors can access the Great Barrier Reef from numerous regions in Queensland, from the southern gateway of Bundaberg, Coral Coast and Country to Gladstone, Capricorn, the Whitsundays, Mackay, Townsville and Tropical North Queensland, including Cairns.

Website www.gbrmpa.gov.au

Cape Tribulation photo

Cape Tribulation

Located within the Daintree National Park and the Wet Tropics area of Queensland, the pristine and picturesque destination of Cape Tribulation is well worth a visit while travellin…

Cape Tribulation

Located within the Daintree National Park and the Wet Tropics area of Queensland, the pristine and picturesque destination of Cape Tribulation is well worth a visit while travelling through Queensland. Visitors can explore the oldest rainforest on earth from the treetops or on horesback, relax on a river cruise and spot Australia's famous crocodiles, or simply take in the marvellous scenery that abounds. The iconic Great Barrier Reef is just a short boat ride away for adventurers who desire world-class snorkelling; beach lovers will welcome strolls or horseback rides along the spectacular coast. Accommodation such as luxury resorts, self-catering cabins, bed and breakfasts and camping facilities are available.

Riversleigh photo

Riversleigh

Australia's most famous fossil site, Riversleigh, in northwest Queensland, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an extension of the Lawn Hill National Park. It contains the fossil r…

Riversleigh

Australia's most famous fossil site, Riversleigh, in northwest Queensland, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an extension of the Lawn Hill National Park. It contains the fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles of Oligocene and Miocene age, which were found in limestone by freshwater pools, and in caves during the period when the surrounding ecosystem was evolving from rainforest to semi-arid grassland. Most of what is known about the evolution of Australian mammals in the last 30-million years comes from bones found at a single site in the Riversleigh fossil beds, half of which were unearthed in one hour. Species such as primitive koalas and wombats, huge crocodile and large, flightless birds, as well as a range of ancestral thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) were discovered in Riversleigh.

Website www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/boodjamulla-riversleigh/about.html

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome photo

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

This spectacular attraction is enclosed by a 65-foot (20m) high glass dome on top of Cairns' iconic Reef Hotel Casino and offers exhibits and shows featuring of some of Australia's…

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

This spectacular attraction is enclosed by a 65-foot (20m) high glass dome on top of Cairns' iconic Reef Hotel Casino and offers exhibits and shows featuring of some of Australia's most exotic and fascinating animals. Here visitors can learn more about these unique creatures and get a fabulous introduction to the Wet Tropics Rainforest area around Cairns, preparing them for all the close-up encounters they may have with the indigenous wildlife. In this rainforest environment visitors can experience the thrill of birds such as parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, doves and rosellas swooping freely overhead and come face-to-face with the adorable rainforest wallabies. Of course, the fact that the wildlife experience is housed in a giant dome makes this attraction wonderful no matter what the weather.

Website www.cairnsdome.com.au