A few days ago, the comedian Tom Gleeson has targeted Cairns in his show, saying “If you come to Cairns there are only two things to do, book a flight out as soon as possible and heading out to the Great Barrier Reef” (here you can find the video). Cairns might not be the most charming city, but it’s the closest to Cairns Airport and it’s a perfect point for exploring the North Queensland (here you can find other three good bases to explore the Great Barrier Reef). Its proximity to the airport is probably the reason most backpackers stop there, making Cairns the perfect place to meet likeminded people and make new friends. So, let’s see together what are the 5 best things to do around Cairns.
1. Explore the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is labelled as one of the Seven Natural Wonders, and it is the largest coral reef system in the world, stretching for 2,600km along the coast of Queensland. No wonder if the Great Barrier Reef exploration is the best activity which can be done around Cairns. The available tours are so many that picking the right one for you can be overwhelming. Before you start looking for tours you should know how you want to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Some companies offer just snorkelling experiences and some others just diving, but most of them offer both experiences. If you are not a certified diver, but you still want to try scuba diving, be sure that the company offers an introductory first-time scuba dive. You don’t need any experience, but you must be fit with no medical conditions.
Once you know the kind of activity you want to do, the other discriminatory factor which can affect your choice is the number of people you want to share the boat with. After comparing a few options, I personally opted for Tusa dive, a locally owned company which accepts just 90 people on board, so that there is plenty of space on the boat. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with my choice. The staff was very friendly and professional, and the boat was really spacious (I even managed to lie down and sleep on the way back to Cairns). I also tried the introductory diving which was an amazing experience that I strongly suggest trying! And what better place in the world to discover scuba diving, than on the Great Barrier Reef!?
2. Visit Cape Tribulation
From Cairns, there are multiple tours which will bring you to Cape Tribulation, in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, a world-heritage listed site. Most of the tours are similar and include a quick stop at Mossman Gorge, where you can even swim in the cold water of the river, and a cruise along the winding waterways of the Daintree River, looking for saltwater crocodiles. The highlight the tour, at least for me, is the stop at Cape Tribulation, a paradise between the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
The beach of Cape Tribulation can appear as a regular wild beach if you visit Cape Tribulation during a single-day tour. But, it’s when tourists from one-day tours leave, that the magic happens. At that moment you can realise you are in one of those places out of the civilised world, full of good vibes, which makes you realise how lucky we are to live in this amazing world. This is the place which made me fall for Australia! And I’m sure the same will happen to you if you stay there overnight. When I was there, I stayed at Cape Trib Beach House, within the heart of the rainforest and I cannot recommend this place highly enough. Houses are surrounded just by nature and the stuff is so friendly and helpful. Also, if you go there, you should try the night walk in the jungle. Looking for wild animals using flashlights under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen is an experience I won’t easily forget.
The only problem in this place is that it’s not really recommended to go into the water on the beach because crocodiles inhabit the area. However, if you want to swim, there are several swimming holes which can be reached by walking for a few minutes and I’m sure you will enjoy swimming in the jungle. The closest swimming hole is the one located by the Masons Café, where the entrance fee is 1 AUS.
3. Discover Kuranda
Kuranda is a colourful hippy village in the rainforest. You can reach this village from Cairns by train, using the Scenic Railway, or by bus, using the North Bus service (here you can find the timetable). The scenic railway is geared to attract tourists, and it’s much more expensive than the bus, so, when I was there, I decided to use the bus. I took the bus at 8.45 and I arrived in Kuranda at 9.25, where I found the village almost desert because the first train of the scenic railway arrives at 10.25 (it takes about 2 hours from Cairns).
Once there, I hiked from the bus stop to the Barron Falls lookout. This is the place where the scenic railway stops for about 10 minutes, and, once again, if you take the bus you can arrive there before of all the other tourists. The train arrived while I was there, and I was so glad I managed to arrive before of all the others and have this magic place just for me for a while. Also, hiking between tall trees of the rainforest gave me the opportunity to appreciate more the forest and to observe the colourful houses of locals.
If you hike to the Barron Falls lookout, you should continue for about 1km and arrive at Wrights lookout, which offers a beautiful view of the valley. Remember that you won’t have time to hike that much if you use the scenic railway. So, in my opinion, the best way to visit Kuranda is the bus.
4. Go to the surrounding beaches – Palm Cove
Cairns doesn’t have a beach, so, if you want to get into the ocean you must move to one of the several beaches around this city, which are easily reachable using public transport (here you can find all the info about prices and timetables).
I decided to go to Palm Cove, which is a lovely beachside suburb of Cairns. It’s not difficult to guess that it is called palm cove because of the several palm trees around the beach. If you go there, check with the lifeguards if it’s safe to go into the water, as there might be stingers or crocodiles around. This beach is also perfect for kitesurfing and the jetty at the end of the beach is one of the regions most popular fishing spots.
5. Esplanade and lagoon
It’s true that there is no beach in Cairns, but the esplanade by the ocean is gorgeous and you can refresh in the water of the lagoon, which is basically a really nice public swimming pool on the Esplanade. This is probably the least attractive thing to do in Cairns but it’s the easier, and probably most relaxing, option.