The 6 Things You Must Do in Cairns

When people think about Cairns they picture the amazing tropical weather, sugar farms and the Great Barrier Reef. But, if you look a little further you will find that there is more than meets the eye and being well informed when planning a trip to this city will result in memories that last a life time.


There are many fun and exciting activities to discover on a trip to Cairns. Things like:

  1. Diving and Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef
  2. Bushwalking Through the Many Wonderful Rainforests
  3. Adventure Tours
  4. Wining and Dining
  5. Experiencing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Culture
  6. Shopping For That Special Someone

Getting to Cairns

There are many ways to reach the city of Cairns. Depending on where you are travelling from you can chose to go by air, sea, road or rail.

By Air

The Cairns airport accommodates for both national and international flights receiving passengers from New Zealand, China, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Guam, Japan and all around Australia.

The airport operates 24hours a day with shops and cafés that service all departures and arrivals.

By Sea

The Cairns marina welcomes over 200 international and international cruise ships each year as well as providing passage to The Great Barrier Reef.

By Road

Driving may be the better option for visitors living in Queensland, or interstate, who enjoy the serenity of the open road.

This distance to Cairns from the closest major cities is roughly as follows:

  • Brisbane = 1700km
  • Sydney = 2700km
  • Melbourne = 3100km
  • Darwin = 2800km

If you don’t want to be burdened with the task of driving, but enjoy road trips in large luxury vehicles, there are buses and coaches departing the surrounding areas and major cities en route to Cairns daily.

By Rail

Travelling by train allows you to see all the wonderful sights of the east coast from the comfort of the train’s carriage.

There are two trains running from Brisbane to Cairns:

  • The Sunlander
  • The Spirit of Queensland

The Sunlander

The Sunlander travels from Brisbane to Cairns and back three times per week and the journey takes approximately 31 hours.

The Spirit of Queensland

The Spirit of Queensland is Australia’s fastest train and makes the same journey as the Sunlander in under 24 hours. This more modern train stops at many other tourist destinations along the way and is perfect for scheduling day trips.

1 – Diving and Snorkelling

If you were to ask 100 people to name their number one destination for diving, 99 of them would say the Great Barrier Reef, while the remaining person might reply with Bathurst – but that’s only because they thought you said driving.

About the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef attracts aqua loving tourists in droves each year and It’s no surprise that visiting this beautiful place ranks highly on the bucket lists of many people all over the world.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral system, spanning over 2500 kilometres along the Queensland coastline. It is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and in 1981 was labelled by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

What you can expect to see diving at the Reef

The eco system of the Great Barrier Reef contains the Earth’s largest concentration of life.

Venturing beneath the water’s surface, you can expect to see a wide variety of:

  • Fish
  • Sharks
  • Whales
  • Dolphins
  • Turtles
  • Plant life
  • Coral
  • Sea sponges
  • Molluscs

Diving packages and tours

Cairns boasts a number of companies that provide high quality dive and snorkelling packages.

For an affordable snorkelling and diving tour check out Quicksilver Cruises as they offer packages for beginner, intermediate and advanced skill levels. Learn about the Reef from the marine biologists on board who will provide you with an enjoyable educational experience.

Video courtesy of Undersea Productions
The Silver Series, one the highest rated tour companies on Trip Advisor, offers its customers the opportunity to dive at 3 sites along the Reef in one day. This is one of the better long trip packages you will find, as you will receive:

  • A return cruise trip departing from the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal
  • Morning and afternoon tea
  • A tropical buffet lunch
  • Snorkelling equipment for the trip
  • Guided snorkelling tour and basic lessons
  • Diving equipment for the trip
  • Hot showers
  • Free Wi-Fi (on a boat? That’s incredible!)

If you want to stretch your time out on the Reef, take advantage of the two or three day package deals to get the most out of your trip.

Be kind to the Reef

Although divers and snorkelers cause a relatively low proportion of the damage the Reef suffers each year, it is advised that you consider these basic guidelines before entering the water:

  • Take the time to learn how to dive and snorkel properly
  • Make sure all of your diving equipment is fastened so it does not dangle from your body and damage the reef
  • Be conscious of the speed of your movements as frantic actions may cause unnecessary stress to marine life
  • Avoid making loud noises or shouting underwater
  • Do not feed the marine life
  • Do not touch marine animals or plants
  • Do not chase fish, turtles or whales
  • Do not touch or remove any marine life or coral from the reef

Following these rules will help to preserve the Great Barrier Reef for the generations to come.

2 – Experience the Wonder of the Rainforests

There is no way better to find yourself than by getting back to nature. Cairns has some of Australia’s most amazing rainforests and bushwalking tracks making for an amazing day of fun for the whole family.

There are two ways you can explore the rainforests of Cairns.

  • Venturing down the walking tracks
  • Relaxing on a rainforest river cruise

Walking tracks

Get up close and personal with Mother Nature. Chose from the many bush walks available and understand why they call Australia the lucky country:

  • Bartle-Frere Trails
  • Goldfield Track
  • Douglas and Smith Tracks
  • Fitzroy Island Summit Circuit
  • Kauri Creek Rainforest Walk
  • Rainforest Circuit Track

If waterfalls are more your thing, be sure to check out the:

  • Baron Falls Lookout Track
  • Josephine Falls

Baron Falls Lookout Track will take you all the way to Baron Falls through the National park. There are plenty of nice places to stop on the way to take photographs or simply to rest.

The Josephine Falls bush walk follows Josephine Creek as it passes through the tropical rainforest. There are looking platforms along the way that are perfect for taking photos or simply gazing out at the falls.

If you travel roughly ninety minutes out of Cairns towards Innisfail, you’ll find the amazing Mamu Tropical Skywalk. This walking track is a 2.5km return journey where you can chose to either inspect the inhabitants and plant life of the rainforest floor, or the venture up through the canopy to the skywalk above for the amazing view of the river valley.

To make sure you and your family have a safe day out:

  • Bring water and food
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Wear appropriate walking shoes
  • Let someone know where your plans for the day

Rainforest River cruise

Take a trip on the Daintree Rainforest River Cruise guided by their professional staff of biologists and nature experts.

These cruises range from one hour to one and a half hours, though you are able to contact the company to arrange a longer and more private charter.

Prices for the Daintree River Cruise:

  • Adults – $28
  • Children (4-14) $14
  • Seniors/Pensioners – $24
  • Family of two adults and two children – $70

See the beautiful flora and fauna from the comfort and safety of their purpose built vessels that are perfect for cruising the waters.

Keep your eyes peeled, as these waters are ideal for crocodile spotting.

3 – Fuel Your Inner Adrenaline Junkie

If you are looking to add a little excitement to your trip, Cairns provides a number of adrenaline fuelled adventure activities.

Raging Thunder Adventure Tours offers you the nail-biting thrill of white-water rafting. You can see the beautiful sights of the rainforest as you navigate the Tully River or Barron River. If you have little experience, you can rest assured as an expert guide, who will teach you everything you need to know, pilots each of the rafts. Each rafting trip provides you with an educational experience at a white knuckle pace.

To take it up a notch, Raging Thunder also offers a more extreme adventure down the Tully River with their senior rafting experts. This option involves activities such as:

  • Raft surfing
  • Cliff jumping
  • Swimming through the rapids
white-water rafting in Cairns
Photo courtesy of Raging Thunder Adventure Tours

Blazing Saddles Adventures located ten minutes from the CBD offers an adventure experience suitable for most families. Group sizings are limited to small numbers so that each trip can be a personalised experience.

Check out AJ Hackett Cairns, an adventure company founded by AJ Hackett, the man famous for jumping off the Eiffel Tower and for opening the world’s first permanent commercial bungee jumping site. They offer adventure package combos that include activities like:

  • Bungee Jumping
  • The Minjin Jungle Swing
  • BMXtreme
The Minjin Jungle Swing
Photo courtesy of AJ Hackett

The Minjin Jungle Swing

The Minjin Jungle Swing is the only one of its kind in Australia. It stands at 45 Meters and will see you go from 0-120km an hour in just over three seconds.

You share control with gravity on this ride, as the swing is operated by a self activated release mechanism to initiate the action.

Share in the fun, as the swing allows for one, two or three people to enjoy the experience at the same time.


Don’t think bungee jumping is extreme enough? Try BMXtreme and find out what it’s like to ride a bike off the ledge of the bungee tower.

This is the worlds first and only site that offers a BMX jump off the roof. AJ Hackett offers photo, video and wrist strapped Go Pro options for their clients to make sure that this 50 meter drop is something never to be forgotten.

If you are looking to jump from greater heights check out what the team at Skydive Cairns has to offer. Nowhere else can provide you with an all in one view of the Great Barrier Reef, Trinity Inlet and Rainforests. You don’t need to be an expert to skydive, as you will be paired with a tandem skydive specialist; all you need to do is enjoy the view. Photo and video package options are also available making each 14,000ft jump last forever.

4 – Dining Out

You will discover that it is easy to find a delicious meal at any of the many cafés and restaurants. Serving a range of tasty delights at affordable prices daily, listed below are just some of the stand out spots Cairns has to offer.


Blackbird Espresso is a favourite for coffee lovers in Northern Queensland. Their expert baristas are meticulous in their work and produce a range of single origins and blends to your liking. Not many cafés offer their customers the selection that Blackbird is famous for.

You can chose to have your made via:

  • Espresso machine (White or Black coffee)
  • Cold brew (White or Black coffee)
  • Filter (Black coffee)

Lunch and Dinner

If you’re looking for a steak house, perfect for lunch and dinner, you can’t go past the family favourite Hog’s Breath Café.

Hog’s Breath is known Australia-wide for great meals at affordable prices – and the Cairns store is no different – offering specials like:

  • Lunches from $9.90
  • Kids eat free ALL day Monday and Tuesday

Hog’s Breath Cairn’s is open 7 days a week:

  • Lunch – 11:30 to 2:30
  • Dinner – 5:00 till late

Check out their delicious Garlic Prawn Prime Rib, Seasonal Salads or one of their famous Boss Hog Burgers.


Gelocchio is one of Australia’s most loved gelato stores. It has been included in MTV Australia’s top 19 places to visit for those with a passion for ice creamery.

They offer 100% natural Italian style ice cream and sorbet. Each flavour is customisable as you can choose to dip your dessert in melted chocolate and crushed toasted nuts.

Gelocchio also freshly makes 25 of their own flavour creations that can be eaten either in a cup or cone.

Gelocchio is open from 10 am to 11pm so that you will never have to spend a day without treating yourself to something sweet – just like you deserve.

The Nightlife

After all the coffee has been sipped and all the food has been eaten you may want to visit the Reef Casino or the Conservatory Bar for a nice wine to finish off the evening.

For the younger crowd, who are looking to experience the more active side of the Cairns nightlife, check out the Ultimate Party Bus Tour. Ranked second on Trip Advisor’s list of best nightlife activities, this tour is your ticket to finding the best that the Cairns has to offer at an affordable price.

5 – Experience Aboriginal History

Don’t leave Cairns without taking the chance to gain an insight to the heart of Australia and the spirit of the Indigenous people.

Cairns and Northern Queensland has a rich history and there’s no better way to learn than from the Torres Strait and Aboriginal people themselves.

Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk

This guided walk takes you through the Mossman Gorge as you visit significant sites for the Aboriginal people.

Each walking tour takes roughly one and a half hours and you can chose to take part in any of the five sessions on offer each day.

Included on this tour:

  • Traditional smoking ceremony – to ward off bad spirits
  • A guided journey filled with stories, tradition and education
  • Exclusive access to the Kuku Yalanji land
  • Bush tea and damper bread
  • Traditional soap and paint making
  • Access to the site dedicated for sacred ceremonies


If you want to learn more about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture, be sure to take a trip to the Tjapukai Cairns Cultural Centre. You will be able to learn about the Djabuay people and their Dreamtime Creation story, experience traditional meals cooked in an underground oven and sample other bush tucker items.

The Cultural Centre also has a gift store where you can purchase traditional Aboriginal artefacts like paintings, didgeridoos and boomerangs.

When the sun goes down Tjapukai offers you Night Fire, an intimate interaction with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture.

Night Fire includes:

  • Traditional Face Painting
  • Didgeridoo Music
  • Night Fire Dance
  • Fire-making Ceremony
  • Buffet Dinner
  • Fireside Farewell
Night Fire at Tjapukai
Image courtesy of Tjapukai

6 – Shopping at the Beach Markets

What holiday would be complete without a little retail therapy.

Cairns Central

Cairns Central has everything you need in a shopping centre. With over 180 stores it is Far North Queensland’s largest shopping centre. Stop by to do a little fashion shopping, pick up some groceries or catch the latest movie at Event Cinemas on their larger than life Vmax screens.

Holloways Beach Market

For a more local shopping feel, head down to the Holloways Beach Market. Held from 8am to 1pm every second Sunday of the month. Located roughly 12 minutes north of the Cairns CBD on Casuarina Street.

The market plays host to a variety of stalls that feature local products like:

  • Pots and Plants
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Preloved Second-hand Items
  • Food and Drink
  • Fresh Produce

The Pier Cairns

The Pier offers a waterfront shopping experience you won’t want to miss. This shopping centre provides a marina view with a touch of class. Boasting a number of high end fashion stores, health and beauty services, and its very own art gallery showcasing the best from local artists.

Visiting Cairns, equipped with this information, can turn your relaxing getaway into a holiday to remember. Experiencing all that Far North Queensland has to offer ensures you will be getting the biggest bang for your buck and time. Taking part in adventures on land and underwater, capped off with wonderful food and entertainment, will soon see you visiting Cairns time and time again.

But don’t take our word for it – experience the magic for yourself.