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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


Great Barrier Reef

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

Green Island

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

Kuranda Scenic Railway

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

Barron Gorge National Park

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

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

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

RainForeStation Nature Park

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

Atherton Tablelands

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

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

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

Kuranda Koala Gardens

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

Cairns Night Markets & Food Court

On a trip to Cairns, chances are your days will be filled with adventures outside the city, from diving on the Great Barrier Reef to hiking in the Daintree Rainforest. If that sounds like you, the Cairns Night Markets and Food Court provide the perfect place to shop, eat and even get a massage after a full day of exploring. The Cairns Night Markets has 130 stalls selling everything from touristy souvenirs and T-shirts to blown glass, local honey and classic Aussie leather hats. An entire aisle of the market is devoted to massage parlors with reasonable prices, which could be a welcome relief after an arduous day adventuring. In front of the night markets is the 200-seat food court—think fresh seafood and a variety of Asian options, everything from sushi and kebabs to Malaysian soups and curries.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Cairns & the Tropical North

Green Island Day Trip from Cairns

Green Island Day Trip from Cairns

Fitzroy Island Day Trip from Cairns

Fitzroy Island Day Trip from Cairns


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