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Things to do in Cairns & the Tropical North

Things to do in  Cairns & the Tropical North

Welcome to Cairns & the Tropical North

Nestled on the Queensland coast, Cairns attracts visitors from around the world as the gateway to Australia’s Tropical North and the Great Barrier Reef. Set 1,499 miles (2,413 kilometers) north of Sydney, the city of Cairns is the perfect home base for adventure lovers, and boasts tropical climes, nearly endless diving possibilities, and a vibrant food and drink scene. Biking, Segway, and walking tours hit attractions such as the Cairns Historical Society Museum and Cairns Regional Gallery. Outside the city, popular day-trip destinations include the ecotourism destination Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park, the Cape York Peninsula, and Cooktown.

Top 10 attractions in Cairns & the Tropical North

#1

Great Barrier Reef

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The Great Barrier Reef is Australia's greatest natural treasure, and the world’s largest coral reef. This underwater wonderland stretches for 2,300 km (1,426 miles) from Bundaberg to Australia's northernmost tip. At its closest, it's only 30 km (18.5 miles) away from the Queensland coast. The Great Barrier Reef encompasses almost 3,000 individual reefs. Their multicoloured beauty is made up of 400 types of living and dead coral polyps, home to around 1,500 species of fish, 4,000 breeds of clams, 500 types of seaweed, 200 species of birds, 1,500 different sponges and half a dozen varieties of turtles. The Great Barrier Reef is also dotted with around 900 islands, including coral cays such as Green Island and Heron Island, along with the Whitsundays sand islands. Fringing reefs surround the islands, while the outer reef faces away from the mainland and islands and out to sea.More
#2

Kuranda Scenic Railway

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Opened in 1891, Kuranda’s Scenic Railway lies some 21 miles of picturesque landscape away from Cairns. This popular attraction passes by the breathtaking Barron Falls and equally impressive Stoney Creek Falls. While some travelers lament the dark tunnels and rocky crags, most agree that the incredible gorges, lush forests and roaring waterfalls make this experience worth the journey. Friendly staff members and expert guides help to complete the experience by snapping family photos for you and offering a bit of background information about the railway’s history and construction. Their attentive nature and hospitable vibe almost make up for the train’s lack of air-conditioning—particularly noticeable on hot Aussie days.More
#3

Green Island

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Lapped by the sea 27 km (16.5 miles) from the mainland, Green Island is one of the most popular island day-trip destinations from Cairns. A true coral cay, the island is covered in rainforest and surrounded by coral reefs for snorkeling adventures. The island's luxury resort has a swimming pool for day visitors' use, along with a restaurant, snack kiosk and several bars. While you're on Green Island you can visit the tropical aquarium, follow the self-guided island walking track, take a short stroll along nature boardwalks leading through the rainforest, and spot turtles swimming in the sea off the island's patrolled beach.More
#4

Barron Gorge National Park

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Whether it’s hiking, boating or tracking wildlife, the lush hills and scenic passes of Barron Gorge National Park make up the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to explore this natural Australian wonder, which lies just beyond Cairns city limits. Overnight travelers can set up camp at nearby Speewah Conservation Park before setting out on one of Barron Gorge’s popular hikes, which range from an easy 1.2 kilometers to more challenging excursions between the park’s three main trailheads. Commercial rafting trips along the Barron River let daredevil travelers explore less accessible parts of the lower gorge, while wildlife lovers can find tree-kangaroos, flying foxes, spotted-tail quolls and even the endangered southern cassowary along the river’s edge. Visitors often stroll along the banks of Lake Placid in the lower Barron Gorge, and the popular Skyrail Rainforest Cableway takes visitors high up into the park’s rainforest canopy.More
#5

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

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The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is one of the most scenic ways to travel from Cairns, climbing up above the rainforest canopy to the charming mountain town of Kuranda. Swinging out across the tree tops, the cableway runs for 7.5 km (4.7 miles) over pristine World Heritage-listed rain forest. Bring your camera for stunning panoramic views taking in coast, mountain and river landscapes, and look out for electric-blue Ulysses butterflies. You can stretch your legs at two mid-stations, where nature boardwalks and scenic lookouts reinforce the magic of the rain forest environment.More
#6

RainForeStation Nature Park

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The Rainforestation Nature Park is 100 acres of pristine World Heritage rainforest situated just half an hour’s drive from Cairns. Here, visitors can get involved with nature by taking a ride through the tropical rainforest on an Army Duck Rainforest Tour, where an experienced guide will explain about the tropical plants and wildlife in the park. Elsewhere, the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience will provide an insight into Aboriginal culture, with demonstrations in traditional-style dwellings. Visitors can also get up close to native Australian animals within the Koala and Wildlife Park, where trained and enthusiastic wildlife keepers will lead their guests along boardwalks that enable close-up encounters of crocodiles, dingoes, wombats, snakes, kangaroos, and wallabies.More
#7

Atherton Tablelands

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The sweltering heat of Cairns in northern Queensland is a sweating contradiction to the lush, fertile landscape of the Atherton Tablelands. An easy hour and a half drive inland, the towns of Mareeba and Atherton are an oasis from the heat and bustle of one of Australia’s larger tropical cities. The Atherton Tablelands cover an area of 32,000 square kilometres and their altitude ranges from 500 to 1280 metres above sea level. The distinctive climatic conditions lend themselves to a diverse and arrestingly photogenic range of natural phenomena. No less than 12 species of birdlife are unique to the tablelands, which encompasses pockets of the forest that once covered it, now protected as National Park. With a high yearly rainfall, waterfalls in the area are abundant and active. Local attractions include platypus watching, boat cruises and hot air ballooning, and the region is famous for its produce markets and wineries.More
#8

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

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More than 1,500 tropical butterflies—from the electric blue Ulysses to the green and yellow Cairns Birdwing—call this world-class aviary home. Stationed in the heart of the Kuranda rainforest, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary has been impressing visitors with both its whimsical nature and state-of-the-art laboratory since it first opened in 1987. Interested travelers can follow free 30-minute tours that include up-close looks at the caterpillar breeding nursery. Here, you can see newly born butterflies before they’re released into the aviary and learn about the stages of development that lead to the birth of these fanciful creatures. The sanctuary’s laboratory is another popular stop that showcases efforts to keep the aviary well stocked. While just two percent of eggs survive in the wild, more than 80 percent mature here thanks to lab experts. Catch a peek at the hard-working scientists who keep this facility thriving.More
#9

Kuranda Koala Gardens

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If part of your Australian dream vacation includes cuddling with a koala, Kuranda Koala Gardens is where your wish comes true. It’s one of only a few places in Australia where you can hold a koala, so if you have your photo taken, you’re assured bragging rights. Koalas aren’t the only cute and cuddly animals that call Australia home. At Kuranda Koala Gardens you can also hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies, or spend some time in Australia’s only walk-through snake house, home to pythons and an assortment of deadly snakes, along with dragon and monitor lizards. The resident freshwater crocodiles are also a hit with visitors.More
#10

Birdworld Kuranda

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Birdworld Kuranda is one of the largest free-flight aviaries in Australia. Built in 1995, Birdworld was designed to show visitors the beauty of birds in their natural environments. More than 500 birds are housed in the aviary, from all over the world. Cassowaries, parrots, lorikeets, Macaws from the Amazon, the Australian Black Swan, finches and more fly freely around the sanctuary. Of the 75 species that live in the aviary, 19 come from exotic locations, and many – including cassowaries and Macaws – are endangered. As the birds in Birdworld have are used to people, they’re quite tame, and can be hand-fed. The best time to see the birds is in the morning, or after lunch, when there are less people. The sanctuary is landscaped to look like a natural rainforest, with ponds, waterfalls, and both native and exotic plants.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Cairns & the Tropical North

Recent reviews from experiences in Cairns & the Tropical North

star-5
Wonderful Cairns Hinterland Experience.
Ken_S, Oct 2020
The Original Day Tour to Paronella Park, Lake Barrine and Millaa Millaa Falls
To combine that with a stop at Milla Milla Falls, a beautiful lunch at Innisfail and scones at Lake Barrine was a magical way to spend a day sightseeing around the Cairns hinterland.
star-4
Comfortable boat, relaxed crew, beautiful snorkelling
Alison_P, Feb 2021
Outer Reef Pontoon Experience from Cairns
It was also good not to have staff constantly upwelling activities.
star-5
A day of Australiana - Kuranda
manny011, Dec 2020
Best of Kuranda Including Skyrail, Kuranda Scenic Railway and Rainforestation
Once in Kuranda there were so many great activities to choose from we were spoilt for choice - Butterflies, markets filled with local arts, crafts and produce, wild life, army ducks tours into the rain forest.
star-5
I rate this tour a really pleasant way to spend a day away from Cairns in the peace and tranquility of the island.
Bruce_B, Nov 2020
Green Island Day Trip from Cairns
We were fortunate enough to see a reef shark and a very large sea turtle and many other fish species teeming below, especially the Giant Trevally and Sergeant Fish ( Collingwood Fish).
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Unforgettable Atherton Tablelands Eating and Drinking Experience.
Ken_S, Oct 2020
Boutique Atherton Tablelands Small-Group Food and Wine Tasting Tour from Cairns
It was nice to see that everyone felt included as a group BUT THEN felt the tour had been designed exclusively for them.
star-5
Paradise!
Neringa M, Aug 2019
Fitzroy Island Day Trip from Cairns
If you visit Cairns, make sure to visit Fitzroy Island.
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Nice trip, well organized with the...
kincaid42, Sep 2017
Fitzroy Island Day Trip from Cairns
Nice trip, well organized with the purchased included lunch and activities.
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Excellent tour. Anna was quite...
Andrew H, Mar 2018
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures Wildlife Encounter Day Trip from Cairns
Anna was quite informative about both this tour as well as other activities to be found in Cairns.
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This is absolutely excellent value...
Dauphin, Jul 2016
Classic Kuranda by Skyrail and Scenic Railway Including Rainforestation, Koala and Wildlife Park and Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience
This is absolutely excellent value for money, it had breathtaking views and is a very fun filled packed day with lots of activities, the Duck Tour was very interesting and we fell in love with the Koalas, the Skyrail is unique....
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This was one of my highlights in...
Stefan M, May 2017
Atherton Tablelands Rain Forest by Night from Cairns
Even the sounds in the night are worth to visit the jungle after sunset.
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I was grateful that the tour company...
kedwards01, May 2016
Skip the Line Kuranda Scenic Railway Gold Class and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
I was grateful that the tour company contacted us in advance enough so that we could rearrange our tours to make sure that we were able to visit Kuranda.
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It was a fantastic day for the...
Shelley W, Sep 2015
Green Island Day Trip from Cairns
Children loved snorkeling and the island is a fantastic place to visit.
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Excellent day out, great places to...
LEE H, Aug 2015
Daintree and Cape Tribulation Tour from Cairns
Excellent day out, great places to visit , good time levels out of the bus.
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i prefer skyrail to train.But by...
Mya A, Dec 2011
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Day Trip from Cairns
But by train , could see Baron fall better.
star-5
Hartley's is a nice place to see...
Jeff S, Mar 2010
Hartley's Crocodile Adventure Half-Day Tour
Hartley's is a nice place to see Australian wildlife.
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A very scenic train trip, well worth...
Kathryn F, Mar 2010
Kuranda Scenic Railway Day Trip from Cairns
Very beautiful train back to Cairns, and Barron Falls in full fall was a treat.
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By far the best way to see the Great...
John S, Feb 2008
Great Barrier Reef Scenic Helicopter Tour and Cruise from Cairns
By far the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef.
star-5
Definitely must do while in Cairns! You...
MIRAN S, Nov 2008
Great Barrier Reef Scenic Helicopter Tour and Cruise from Cairns
You get to see the Great Barrier Reef from the water and from the air.
star-5
Excellent Day Trip to the Great Barrier Reef!
chilowinter22, Feb 2020
Great Barrier Reef Luxury Snorkel and Dive Cruise from Cairns
We even got to see a turtle and a giant clam!
star-5
Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!
mauriciamartinez, Dec 2019
Seastar Luxury Outer Great Barrier Reef Island and Reef Tour from Cairns
The experience with a smaller group is priceless; we took three different trips to visit multiple reefs, and this one was BY FAR the best experience!

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