Toad racing to night diving: 8 ways to experience Cairns’ nightlife
By day, Cairns is an tropical mecca teeming with activities for all ages, those who are water babies and those who aren’t so keen, and wildlife explorers. But when dusk rolls around, Cairns nightlife springs alive while the crickets and cicadas provide a background hum.
Look further than backpacker bars and you’ll find incredible Indigenous experiences, boutique watering holes, enchanting rainforest dining, and ways to connect with nature and wildlife after dark.
Tropical North Queensland has a lot to offer, and it’s time Cairns got its recognition as a nighttime hub of the north.
Dine in style at Flames of the Forest
Nestled deep within the heart of the tropics, Flames of the Forest is Australia’s only rainforest dining experience; a miniature world hidden from daily life and an opportunity to be spiritually uplifted. Flames of the Forest sees you dining under the stars, with your ambience provided entirely by candlelight.
You’ve got two options: a Rainforest Dining Experience that will take you through a six-course tropical tasting menu with live acoustic tunes, or Aboriginal Cultural Experience, with a didgeridoo performance and storytelling by local Indigenous tribes.
Less than a hour from Cairns, extend your experience with an overnight stay in the local area and continue on your spiritual discovery.
Discover an ancient culture by firelight
Tjapukai by day is a great event for all ages, but there’s a certain magic that comes alive during the Tjapukai by night experience.
You’ll be fully immersed into the Aboriginal culture through dance, storytelling and music, gaining powerful insight into the ancient traditions and legends of the Dreamtime. Continue the conversation over dinner and have your face painted with traditional Aboriginal markings; you’ll come away with a new sense of awe and appreciation for how long this culture has existed.
Try cane toad racing
The idea of watching what appear to be unsightly, oversized toads for entertainment might make some squeamish, but cane toad races are a longstanding tradition at the IronBar in Port Douglas.
The pesky critters that typically run loose across Queensland are lined up every evening to the cheers of punters, who cajole their favourite toad along with party blowers. The cane toad racing is a family-friendly affair, while the debauchery at this bar tends to continue long into the night with live bands, karaoke and dancing.
Kick up your heels in the city
Let’s start with The Pier Bar – with local live sessions and a thumping scene, it’s hard to resist a dance. A spot firmly in Cairns’ hall of nightlife fame is Gilligan’s. An institution for revelling locals and the holiday crowd, Gilligan’s welcomes a constant stream of performances and events.
Moving onto The Woolshed close by, your night isn’t complete without a dance on the tables, so this one is best left until you’ve got a bit of courage in you. For the best G&Ts in town, head to The Cotton Club and try their signature Hendricks Iced Tea; and while you’re sipping fancy cocktails, check out Salt House or Three Wolves.
Take a Hummer on a night tour
Strap yourselves in, because on this tour you’re going to careen through Australia’s rugged bushland in an American military H1 Hummer with International Coaches & Tours.
Get a feel for life in the Aussie Outback with kangaroo sausages cooked over the fire, flaming marshmallows for dessert and a cup of steaming billy tea.
The clear night skies make for some amazing stargazing before you’ll twist and turn four-wheel-drive style to Granite Gorge, where a welcome party of adorable rock wallabies greet you. Although wild, these furry locals are easily lured with the promise of dinner and will eat from your hand and enjoy a pat.
Explore the Great Barrier Reef on a night dive
Discover the creatures of the Great Barrier Reef that only come out after dark, like slipper lobsters and reef sharks. Dive between October and December for the best chance at witnessing an extra treat – coral spawning.
Stroll the Cairns night markets
Open until late so you can play all day and then hit the shops hard, the Cairns Night Market has more than 100 stallholders.
On offer are artisan-made wares, from jewellery and handicrafts to clothing and art. Indulge in a massage after a day of exploring, and match a glass of wine to your dinner selections at the food and beverage trucks.
Join a nocturnal tour at the Wildlife Habitat
Like the Great Barrier Reef tour but on land, nocturnal tours like the Wildlife Habitat‘s Night Walk provide a glimpse into the night-time behaviour of some of Australia’s native wildlife.
Get a chance to see kangaroos and wallabies grazing at dusk, and gliders and striped possums venturing out to feed – you might even spot a wide-eyed sooty owl if you’re lucky.