Amazing Things to Do in Cairns: Great Barrier Reef, Rainforests, and More!

If you’re looking for an amazing tropical vacation spot, look no further than Cairns, Australia. This beautiful city is located in the state of Queensland and is a major tourist destination for both international and local tourists. Cairns is known for its tropical climate, beautiful rainforests, and of course, The Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and a large part of it is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The City of Cairns

Cairns was founded in 1875 and later developed a major railhead and port. It has a tropical climate and provides access to amazing tropical rainforests and The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The population of Cairns grows every year and it is now around 155,000 people as tourism increases, and more work becomes available. In Cairns, there is now accommodation for all budgets available from 5-star hotels to camping and caravan parks to suit the whole family. The best months to visit are really anytime. However, Cairns does have a wet season from December to May with a dry season from June to November. During the wet season, rainfall is about 79 inches. Winter in Cairns is very warm with a minimum of 26 degrees centigrade, encouraging many people from colder climates to head north for holidays.

What to Pack

Most international tourists head for Cairns, and it has now been discovered by the Chinese leisure market with regular flights arriving from major cities. Cairns is a great destination for tourists as all you really need to pack are bikinis, shorts. T-shirts and a couple of casual evening outfits. Take your bug repellent and your sunscreen and shades. Maybe boots for hiking in the rain forest and you are perfectly equipped for a two-week stay.

Cairns does have all the major stores found in other cities in case you have forgotten anything.


The road system around Cairns is good and you can hire a car to take you to see all the local attractions. A bus network exists within the city, and a Railway runs up to Palm Cove, a recently established resort to the North of the city. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a tourist railway that was once used by Cane Cutters and ascends the Macalister Range, past quaint towns on the way to the oldest tropical rainforest in the world It operates between Kuranda and Cairns making the 23 miles of scenery highly popular with tourists. The Cane Cutters have their own cane train to transport the harvested cane to the sugar mills and the port of Cairns. When you get to Kuranda it is an attractive town with galleries, cafes, churches, and shady trees. In the tropical undergrowth is the wreck of a Japanese plane from WW2, that tourists visit to take photos. The trip to Kuranda makes a great day out, giving the tourists an overview of the area and how it would have been in the old days.

Beach Cairns Australia

The Great Barrier Reef

When you arrive in Cairns the International Airport is only 7k or 4 miles north of the city, and you can take a bus or a taxi into the city, and while you are in Cairns you will want to plan a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system in the world and a large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. ( this protects the reef from too many tourists and from fishing). If you are flying above the reef in an aircraft it is clearly visible from the sky. From 20,000 years ago until 6,000 years ago sea levels rose steadily across the world. This enabled the corals to grow higher. By about 13,000 years later the coral was beginning to proliferate. Some of the corals are brightly coloured and there is a variety of fish and other marine life to be seen on and around the reef.

For less than $200 you can take a day trip to the reef from Cairns. Including lunch, snorkelling, diving, and spending about six hours hearing about the reef. For those not into snorkelling, a glass-bottom boat tour is perfect where you can see the marine life swimming around below you, and take photos of the amazing biodiversity.

Green Island Day trip is perfect for the family, to get off the boat in Green Island and swim in the warm waters of this tropical paradise at the end of the reef about 1 hour off Cairns, Walk around Green Island and then go snorkelling. Departs Cairns 9. 11 and 1 pm.

Six different species of sea turtles return to the reef to breed, and 215 species of seabirds visit the reef and nest and breed on the islands. 100s of fish species are on and around the reef, so you will see things you have never seen before, and will probably take some unique photographs.

Climate change is always a threat to the barrier reef, and recently coral bleaching has occurred, leading to disease susceptibility to marine life and a decline in the water quality.

Camping and Caravanning in Cairns

There are 10 major holiday parks in and around the area, most with amazing outdoor swimming pools and water features. Bookings can be made online, and they are the perfect place for the kids to hang out and enjoy the extensive play areas provided. They all supply onsite barbecue facilities and indoor cooking facilities. Cabins are located less than 5 k from the city with flat-screen TV and Wifi. Golf courses can be found at several of the holiday parks and the ocean is nearby. There is plenty to do for the whole family.

If you are on a fishing holiday, the charters leave from Cairns Seaport, located on Trinity Inlet. Many fishermen travel to the area every year.

Big Game Fishing

The waters around the Barrier Reef are amongst the best places in the world for Game Fishing, and the best time to go fishing is from May to September when you will catch Black Marlin, Sailfish, and Spanish Mackerel. However, if you want to catch Tuna, Wahoo, or giant Trevally October to March are better months. So there is fishing all year round, and the best way to experience it is to take a Day Charter. The boats are equipped with quality fishing tackle and jigging outfits. So, if you are in a group of 8 or more this is a quality day fishing for you and your friends leaving at 8 am and returning at 530pm. Lunch is provided on board, for a great day on the water.

Hotels and Accommodation

From about $190 a night you can have excellent accommodation in central Cairns. There are also several Youth Hostels in Cairns.

There is a choice of multicultural restaurants to visit, and fast food outlets to appeal to the children. The old RSL down near the waterfront always provides a quality family meal, and you can sit and watch the world go by. Located on the Esplanade it first opened in 1965 and has remained a reliable place to eat ever since, and once it was the only place in town where you could eat!

Daintree Rainforest World Heritage Site

rainforest Cairns Australia

Drive north to Port Douglas, and take the full-day Rainforest Tour where the great barrier reef meets the sea. Wear your walking shoes to go deep into the forest with your guide and learn about the unusual creatures that inhabit this region. It is cool in the rainforest as you are spending the day under the ancient canopy and it makes a nice change from the heat. There are some boardwalks over mangrove swamps and some amazing waterfalls. The park closes at 5 pm. About 70 crocodiles live in the area, and the largest is about 5 meters, so it is safer to stay with the guide as he/she knows where they hang out.

Mossman Gorge Tour

Mossman Gorge is a day trip about 77 km north of Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway. Like many places, it began with the discovery of gold that bought the Europeans to the area in 1872. Vast amounts of cedars were harvested along the Mossman River.

The area had a sad history as the Europeans moved in causing Aboriginals to be displaced. In 1916 an Aboriginal reserve was gazetted, and a mission was established to protect the surviving Aboriginal people. The whole area is both historical and interesting and worth a visit, The town of Mossman is home to nearly 2000 people and is an administrative centre for the area of the Douglas Shire.

The Mossman Gorge has waterfalls, rainforests, and unique fauna, and you can spend the day walking the trails, preferably with a guide.

Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk

Right near Cairns Airport is the Mangrove Boardwalk. This is a relatively short two-hour walk through the Mangroves. Because it is short, it is an interesting walk to take the family on, and you will learn all about the ecology of the Mangroves.

Our upcoming Cairns experience

So much to do when you visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef that you can easily spend 2 weeks there and not see everything. When Cairns was first settled back in late 1800, no one had tourism in mind, In our lifetime it has grown into one of the most popular destinations in the southern hemisphere. I can think of nothing nicer than holidaying in this idyllic part of the world.

Adventurerz will be heading to Cairns this year during the dry season. At this stage with shortened holiday periods for some Queensland universities, we will likely only have 1 week for our trip to Cairns. This means is will be a flight rather than a road trip. We will be trying to squeeze everything into the week. We will update this article as we have more planning organised and we confirm which local designations and adventures we will be booking.

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    We absolutely love adventuring, camping and travelling! This Blog is for anyone who shares the same passion as us. We regularly upload pics and reviews of our new finds and adventurez, so come back regularly to see what is new!

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