Jewel of the North: Your Ultimate Cairns Guide
Welcome to Cairns, a treasure trove of natural wonders. The gateway to a collection of the country’s most popular sites, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Wet Tropics Rainforest, the city’s ample offerings have proved it worthy of far more than just a stopover in recent years. New to town? Help is on hand, with our Cairns holiday guide.
With a specialty in natural beauty, Cairns is a must-visit for nature-lovers. Conveniently located within arm’s reach of some of the country’s more astounding natural wonders, Cairns provides easy access iconic sites like Cape Tribulation and the Daintree. Those who like their days punctuated by activity will find an ally here – more adventurous offerings are famously abundant from bungy jumping in the rainforest to mountain biking galore.
Though, the beautiful landscape also provides an ideal backdrop for those who prefer their holidays to be leisurely. Pack a good book and seek shade under the palm trees on one of the district’s many sandy beaches, or rest and recharge at one of the bounty of resorts (complete with spas) that can be found here.
When to go
This tropical town only boasts two seasons; the wet and the dry. The former runs from November through March, and comes accompanied by high temperatures and lingering humidity. The afternoon storms at this time of year are often a welcome respite from the heat, and won’t put a damper on what you can do while in Cairns – there’s plenty to do up north while it rains.
It’s also the best time to catch any of the resident waterfalls at their peak. But be warned that if you visit during this time you’ll be unable to reach the tip of Cape York, as roads don’t tend to open till June each year. Regardless of which time you choose to visit, you won’t need to pack a jumper, and the temperatures rarely fall below a warm 20°C.
What to do
Let’s face it, you’re likely here to see the bevy of World Heritage-listed sites in the region, and who can blame you when so many reside nearby. The easiest way to tackle the top sites can often be by organised tour – thankfully there are a number of tour companies specialising in showcasing the best that Cairns has to offer, from splashing about in the Great Barrier Reef, or exploring the ancient jungle of the Wet Tropics Rainforest.
You can choose instead to explore solo, jumping aboard the historic train which will take you straight to the rainforest village of Kuranda for a day’s venture. Or take to the wheel, enjoying the scenic drive north along the Great Barrier Reef drive to greet Cape Tribulation, where rainforest and reef collide.
But Cairns isn’t just aesthetically appealing. Get better acquainted with Indigenous culture with one of the array of experiences available up north; meander the rainforest and learn the knowledge of elders at the Daintree Discovery Centre, immerse yourself in traditional aboriginal culture with a small group of friends courtesy of Culture Connect, or be guided by Kuku Yalanji country locals with Walkabout Cultural Adventures, through the likes of bush food and medicine.
Night owls will be pleased to note that Cairns is still well and truly awake after dusk. After a day’s adventure, shopaholics can enjoy an evening’s browse courtesy of the extended retail hours here. Or instead, enjoy a nightcap at one of the many bars and pubs that line the main drag.
Where to eat and drink
Like any cosmopolitan city, Cairns isn’t limited in terms of eateries – cafes, restaurants, and bars continue to boom with the city’s population. Finding a decent feed and quality coffee is easy here, even for the health-inclined, who will be delighted by the sheer number of cafes designed with wellbeing in mind, like Greenfields and 27 Degrees.
Producers are also abundant; this is the tropics after all, so exotic fruit is in ample supply. So too is locally-made booze, with Cairns now home to award-winning gin courtesy of the Mount Uncle Distillery, which boasts its own tasting room and welcomes guests to stroll its grounds. That’s not mentioning local craft brewers Hemingway’s Brewery and Barrier Reef Brewing Co.
Where to stay
Welcoming two million visitors each year to Cairns, the city has no shortage when it comes to accommodation options. You’ll find something for every budget here, from backpacker lodgings to luxury abodes more appropriate for honeymooners.
If convenience is key, stick to a hotel in the city centre. The latest addition to central offerings is the sleekly styled five-star Riley, where the city’s highest rooftop bar resides. If serenity is what you crave, head for Palm Cove instead. A little further afield, the idyllic beach is refreshingly quiet but home to a collection of stylish resorts and some of the district’s best restaurants.
Neighbouring Port Douglas sits just an hour’s drive to the north and boasts an equal bounty of tempting hotel offerings. Or there’s the chance to truly indulge with a stay on one of Tropical North Queensland’s more exclusive resorts; Bedarra Island Resort and Lizard Island Resort included.
Best day trips
Considering the ample World Heritage-listed landmarks scattered throughout the region, time in Cairns is best spent in the great outdoors. While the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics Rainforest and Cape Tribulation are must-visits, the trio aren’t the extent of the region’s natural assets.
Grab the car and drive west of the Great Dividing Range and you’ll greet the idyllic Atherton Tablelands. Pretty as a picture, this district is home to farmland, tropical rainforest, petite villages and producers begging to be explored. Cairns is also home to an impressively large population of waterfalls. Spend the day jumping between them, cooling off in one of the many accompanying freshwater swimming holes along the way.