Cairns makes a fantastic base, on the north coast of Australia, for exploring the diverse range of ecosystems and the adventures to be had within them. Regardless of your age or ability, experience or interests, there are options that will appeal to everyone within a day’s drive of Cairns.
- Take a Great Barrier Reef Trip
Perhaps the most common reason that people arrive in Cairns is to make a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s no surprise; the world’s largest coral reef, stretching over 2,200 km along the north east coast of Australia is the largest protected marine park in the world. You really can’t come to Cairns and not make a visit to the reef.
Not a SCUBA diver? Not a snorkeler either? No problem! There are a range of ways to see the reef, including glass bottom boat tours, half and whole day island tours, and of course a large number of snorkel and SCUBA options for those who’ve come a very long way to swim with the fish!
SCUBA trips, especially the mulit-day live-aboard experiences should be booked well in advance, especially during peak seasons. Some boats are sold out as much as a year ahead. If you’re just interested in a day trip, your hotel concierge will be able to connect you with a variety of options, even last minute!
Tip: Attend an evening class at Reef Teach. This two hour basic class is a crash course in the ecology and bio-diversity of the Great Barrier Reef and is taught by a marine biologist.
- Explore Daintree National Park
Hire a car in Cairns and head north about two hours to Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Park to see one of the oldest rain forests in the world. An estimated 135 million years old, it is home to the great majority of Australia’s wildlife and is the most bio-diverse corner of the entire country. It is also Australia’s largest rainforest, occupying 1200 square kilometers of the northern tropical region of Queensland.
If you’re driving yourself, there’s no need to worry, four wheel drive is not required and the journey is relatively short and on sealed roads. Drive north through Port Douglas. Just past Mossman pay attention for the sign indicating a right turn towards the ferry that will take you into the heart of the rain forest. With sweeping vistas, ancient trees, adventurous hikes and the cutest little town, there is something for every kind of traveler.
Tip: To take your rain forest education and adventure to the next level, take a canopy zipline tour!
- Kuranda Scenic Railway
Interested in seeing the rain forest and combining it with one of Australia’s classic train trips? The Kuranda Scenic Railway leaves from downtown Cairns and makes the trip to Kuranda Station in a little under two hours. With three classes of travel there is something for all budgets. The railway spans just over 75 kilometers, including 15 tunnels and 93 turns. If you’re a lover of train journeys, this one is not to be missed.
Tip: Kuranda Scenic Railway is fully handicap accessible, including wheelchair access, as are all three of it’s stations.
- Tully River Rafting
Finding adventure near Cairns is not a problem. From below the ocean to leaping out of airplanes, from hot air ballooning to on the ground adventures. Some of Australia’s most exciting white water rafting happens north of Cairns. The journey will take you 140 km north, through the rainforest to the rushing waters of the Tully River. There are several companies that offer tours of varying levels of adventure, up to Grade 4 rapids for the experienced and truly adventurous. These trips are limited to ages 13 and up. Don’t worry about crocs, they only like still water!
Tip: If you’re looking for a family style adventure try one of the tamer rapids on the Barron River where kids as young as six can come along for the ride.
- Fitzroy Island
It’s no big secret that the beaches around Cairns leave something to be desired and the few you’ll find are likely to have signs warning against swimming because of the presence of crocodiles. The perfect solution, if you’re looking for a “surf and turf” adventure is to take a day (or longer) trip out to Fitzroy Island.
A 45 minute fast cat trip will deliver you to the island where you can spend the day or stay at the resort. There are trails to hike, a turtle rehab site, and lovely white beaches. Snorkeling can be done from the beach. SCUBA can be easily arranged as well. Perhaps you’d rather rent a kayak or take a glass bottom boat tour and cruise above the coral looking down. Fitzroy Island is a great choice for families with a range of ages or interests. Some people can snorkel and SCUBA while others enjoy the beach or a boat trip!
Tip: Even people who are not normally sea sick can have trouble on a glass bottom boat. Before you leave shore stop into a chemist (pharmacy) and pick up a package of Travacalm, the Australian brand of anti-nausea medication!