Considered to be Australia’s gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the world heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, it is no wonder that Cairns is a tourist hotspot. With a modest population of just over 150,000, it is Queensland’s 5th most populated city.
Cairns is popular as it lies in a stunning location with picturesque beaches, surrounded by a spectacular hinterland and renowned rainforests that help set the scene for what is quite a remarkable spot on the Australian map!
Cairns is not so much about the city itself, although we will give some top tips for things you can do in the city, but its treasures lie in its surroundings and its people. The best time to visit Cairns is during the winter months.
If you are planning a trip to Cairns and are looking at a motorhome holiday, check out our vehicle options here and also our Travel Routes as we cover the Cairns region and have more travel tips on places to visit in the surrounding area.
1. Cairns Esplanade
Cairns Esplanade with a scenic backdrop of Cairn’s waterfront, its lined with bars and restaurants and makes for a beautiful stroll while looking out over the Coral Sea. Sit back, relax and soak up the amazing atmosphere over a coffee at one of the many stunning cafes.
To escape the heat while you’re here, cool off in one of Cairns best known landmarks, ‘The Lagoon’. This saltwater swimming lagoon overlooks the Trinity Inlet and is ideally set up with a large timber deck, shady trees, landscaped gardens and open spaces so that you can enjoy the leisurely atmosphere. Be warned though, it can get somewhat busy at times, especially during the hot months!
If you happen to be in Cairns on a Saturday, be sure not to miss the Esplanade Markets (08:00 – 16:00) where you’ll find jewellery, clothing, homewares, pottery and locally made products and locally sourced produce.
2. Tanks Art Centre
This innovative and iconic centre is situated in the Cairns Botanical Garden precinct and is a multi-arts facility creatively housed in three converted WWII naval oil storage tanks. Considered to be one of the most highly distinctive and dynamic spaces in the country, it offers a myriad of exhibitions, events and programs in contemporary, performing and visual arts. Located at 46 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill, Cairns. Tel: +61 7 4032 6600 to find out what’s on or visit their website http://www.tanksartscentre.com/home
If you are in Cairns on the last Sunday of the month from April to November, you will be lucky enough to see the Tanks Markets. At the Tanks Markets you’ll find a unique slice of cultural life with offerings such as quality local art, craft, produce, vintage clothing, music food and refreshments.
It’s free to roam around and runs from 09:00 to 14:00 at the Tanks Art Centre and Cairns Botanic Gardens, 46 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill, Cairns.
3. Flecker Botanical Gardens
If you do find yourself at the Tanks Art Centre, then you’ll most likely realise that you are also within the grounds of the Flecker Botanical Gardens. Sitting in 38 hectares of native Australian gardens it’s a worth visit and you will see plants that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.
The gardens are broken up into four distinct areas: Flecker Gardens, Centenary Lakes, Mt Whitfield Conservation Park and Tanks Art Centre and were founded in 1886.
Spend a relaxing afternoon in the shade under the tree canopy soaking up the relaxing atmosphere. With its babbling brooks and waterways, tropical flora, and pathways surrounded by fluttering exotic butterflies and birds, you can’t help think of this as a picture perfect place!
There is an eatery on site here, the Botanic Garden Restaurant, and it serves up sumptuous foods as well as a champagne breakfast if you’re really feeling the desire to splurge! Admission into the gardens are free, however you will find donation boxes situated throughout the gardens.
Location: Collins Avenue, Edge Hill, Cairns. Tel: +61 7 4059 5959
4. Skyrail Experience – Scenic Railway and Rainforest Cableway
Embark on a fascinating journey of discovery with Skyrail experience and its unique perspective of one of Australia’s World Heritage listed tropical rainforests. Hopping onto the Rainforest Cableway you’ll be able to glide just meters above the rainforest canopy before you descend to explore the forest floor at various rainforest stations along the way.
Starting or concluding at either Smithfield or Kuranda (depending on your direction of travel), the Skyrail experience takes approximately 1½ hours one way or 2-2½ hours return including time spent at the rainforest stations.
In addition to this, you can also combine the experience with other leading attractions such as the Kuranda Scenic Railway, another engineering feat with its 15 tunnels, 93 curves and dozens of bridges opened in 1891, all of which were built using hand tools, dynamite and pioneering camaraderie.
Combine the above to create an unforgettable full day tour. You can find out more details on the Skyrail website https://www.skyrail.com.au or contact Tel: +61 7 4038 5555.
Check them out online if you do fancy going as we know that you can probably bag yourself a bargain and save some money by booking online.
This picturesque mountain village is situated just 25 km north-west of Cairns and getting there is all part of the magical charm of this unique place. You can drive to Kuranda through the rainforest, float to it above the trees aboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or catch the world famous Kuranda Scenic Railway (see No.4 above). Regardless of how you arrive there, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to explore this lovely village situated in the heart of a rainforest.
Whilst in the village be sure to browse the hand-crafted cotton and silk clothing, exclusive jewellery, gifts and locally made Aboriginal artwork. Then rest your legs at one of the many restaurants and cafes on offer. In addition to the local shops, there are two markets: the ‘Original Markets’ open daily 09:30 to 15:00 situated on the corner of Therwine & Thoree St, Kuranda and the ‘Heritage Markets’ open daily 09:30 to 15:50 located 2/4 Rob Veivers Drive, Kuranda.
There are also a range of walking tracks that are suitable for all ages and fitness levels – there’s something for everyone here!
6. The Great Barrier Reef
No trip to Cairns is complete without spending some time at the Great Barrier Reef. The only problem is deciding which activity/ trip or experience to do!
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and is visible from space as it covers an area of 344,400 km2 and is possibly one of the most spectacular things you’ll see in your lifetime. It’s certainly one of our favourites to visit!
There are many options available to explore the Great Barrier Reef so we’ll list some of the main attractions to get you started:
- Take a boat tour – there are numerous boat tours available such as day cruises, ocean rafting, Red Cat Adventures and sail boats – all offering similar activities such as snorkelling, scuba diving and cruising around the reef.
- Go on a coral reef walkabout underwater without getting your hair wet! Tours available from Moor Reef and Green Island, it’s an amazing way to see coral creatures and marine life up close. This is a particularly good way to see the reef if you suffer from blood pressure problems and/or find that you aren’t able to scuba dive.
- Get a magical birds eye view of the reef and take a chopper ride. During a chopper ride, you will not only skim above the Great Barrier Reef but you can even soar above the Daintree Forest which is a great way to put this region into perspective. Some of the helicopter companies also offer the opportunity of touching down on your very own sand cay on the outer reef for a picnic lunch!
Top Tip: check out the Reef Teach at 85 Lake Street, Second floor Mainstreet Arcade, Cairns Tel. +61 7 4031 7794. A visit here will greatly enhance your Great Barrier Reef visit! This place is a privately-run education company on the Great Barrier Reef and provides a lot of interesting information, facts and helpful tips about the reef with its main focus on helping you get the best experience during your time here.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 17:30 – 20:30. Cost $23 per adult, $14 children or a family pass $60. They also have free Wi-Fi.
7. Island Exploring
Jump on board the Fitzroy Fast Cat in Cairns and discover some of the reef’s unspoilt islands. Within 45 minutes you can reach Fitzroy Island and you’ll soon be exploring the bush along its walking tracks and learning about the dedicated work being carried out at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre there.
You could even make the crossing over to Green Island which is a coral cay just under 30 km offshore. Here you can snorkel and dive there all year round.
If you are looking for more of an off-grid adventure then check out Hinchinbrook Island, which is Australia’s largest national park island. Mostly uninhabited, you’ll cruise through mangrove everglades or find yourself upon one of the eleven isolated beaches on the island.
8. Experience Aboriginal Culture
During your stay in the Cairns area, if you are looking to experience authentic Aboriginal culture, then Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park could be just the place for you. Located just 15 minutes outside of Cairns, this authentic Australian Indigenous experience combines live performances of music, dance and storytelling. They have several packages available with varying prices ranging from general admission to exclusive experience and even a combination ticket to include the Skyrail. Check out their website http://www.tjapukai.com.au for more information and booking details.
Location: 4 Skyrail Drive, Smithfield, QLD (corner of Captain Cook Hwy and the Cairns Western Arterial Road). Tel: +61 7 4042 9999. Open: daily 09:00 – 21:30.
9. Port Douglas
The official Port Douglas website sums it up beautifully by saying “where the rainforest meets the reef”. This little slice of paradise deserves its own “Top 10 things to do” but that is for another blog. Port Douglas is around 70 km (1 ½ hr drive) from Cairns and has everything you could ever want. On the door step of the world heritage listed Daintree National Park (see 10 below) and the Great Barrier Reef you are spoilt for options. But that is only the start of it. Well renowned for its mix of adventure, stunning scenery and amazing food, it should be on your must do list. Maybe a day of white water rafting, or zip lining over the forests, or take one of the many walks that are close by. Regardless of the activity that you choose, be sure to treat yourself at one of the many amazing restaurants that Port Douglas has become known for.
10. Daintree National Park
The world heritage listed Daintree National Park and the stunning Daintree River is approximately 2 hrs drive from Cairns. Rainforests, rivers, beaches and wildlife that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world – this is what you can expect in the Daintree National Park.
The Daintree Rainforest is over 100 million years old and is home to the largest range of rare or threatened plant and animal species in the world. The Daintree River is teeming with life, with over 150 fish species, all but a few of the 38 species of mangroves in Australia, bird life everywhere and of course- the salt water croc. If that is not enough, the beaches in this area, are picture postcard perfect and it is likely that you will be the only person on them – giving you that real deserted beach feel.
There are a number of tour operators, either from Cairns, Port Douglas or Daintree itself who will be able to arrange a trip to suit whatever your interests and budgets are.
During your stay in Cairns, if you have already picked up your motorhome, then you might be looking for an ideal spot to park up during the day while you explore the city. The council offers designated short-term, day-parking bays for RVs in Gordonvale and the Cairns city centre. Both parking sites are identified by RV Parking signs and are easily accessed from major arterial roads.
Give the Tourist Information Centre a call on +61 (07) 4047 9125 or visit their website https://www.cairnstouristinformation.com.au/ if you want to check ahead of time and find the best parking spots for your motorhome but also to get the latest on ‘What’s On’ in Cairns for the dates you plan on visiting.
If you are planning a trip to Cairns get in touch with us to find our latest deals on motorhomes and let us help you get the best deal for you.
Some images are accredited to Tourism Australia.