A Guide to Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Why Travel to Cairns, Australia ?
Who doesn’t want to see the Great Barrier Reef, one of the greatest Natural Wonders of the World? Cairns is one of the main gateways to the Great Barrier Reef and is also home to the most tremendous rainforests and waterfalls in Northern Australia. In fact, you can visit the world’s oldest rainforest, The Daintree Rainforest, which is two hours north of Cairns and is estimated to be 180 millions years old. In comparison, the Amazon rainforest – heard of it? – is only tens of millions of years old.
How Long to Stay in Cairns, Australia ?
Count the number of days you want to visit the great barrier reef. Then add a day to enjoy the town or enjoy it on the day(s) after returning from your snorkel/scuba adventure. We really enjoyed our full day trip of Atherton Tableland with Waterfall Wanders so would recommend a day for that. There are also many beaches nearby to enjoy and fun day trips to add if you want to treat Cairns as a base.
Top Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
1) See the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef….they don’t call it great for nothing. It is highly considered one of the top Natural Wonders of the World. Diving or snorkeling the Reef is not a recommendation, it is a MUST-DO. The Great Barrier Reef is home to the most vibrant reefs and abundant marine life.
You will see heaps of marine wildlife, from colorful schools of fish, to turtles, and if you’re lucky a shark.
These pictures and videos do not do the reef justice. They were taken by a phone in a plastic bag so don’t clearly show the vibrant colors.
2) Take a Day Tour to Discover Atherton Tableland
Explore the tropical rainforests and cascading waterfalls of Northern Australia’s jaw-dropping landscapes.
We went on a thoroughly involved day-tour with Waterfall Wanderers. Our tour guide was entertaining and knowledgeable which made the entire experience that much better. We highly recommend this tour company as these experiences are a do-not-miss. This a full-day tour as the driving alone took at least 4.5 hours as shown in the route map below:
Here are some highlights from the trip:
Visit the infamous Devil’s Pool, a natural pool that has carved unique formations and patterns in the large surrounding boulders.
Many have died here due to the vortexes that are created underneath the pool that will suck you in.
Glide down a natural rock slide into a clear pool of water. If you can’t swim, make sure the guide is aware. The currents will try and take you further down the Falls, which happened to one of our fellow waterfall wanderers who wasn’t a strong swimmer. One of the guides had to jump in and swoop her up before she was taken too far. This caused our guides to cut the tour of Josephine Falls short. Please be mindful of your abilities so not to cut short the fun for your fellow travelers.
These Falls are located along the The Devil’s Pool Walk within Babinda Boulders.
Waterfalls 101: It is highly encouraged that you be a strong(ish) swimmer if you are to swim the Josephine Falls, as the currents tend to pull you.
A clearing through the trees provided us with this gorgeous view over the North Johnstone river gorge.
Millaa Millaa Falls
Take a brisk dip in the 18-meter (59-foot) single drop waterfall in one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Atherton Tableland.
This waterfall is known for the “hair flip”made famous in an Herbal Essences commercial.
Mount Hypipamee National Park
Gaze from a platform at the volcanic cylindrical 82-meter (269-foot) deep crater surrounded by sheer granite walls.
The Park is also home to Dinner Falls, a three-tier waterfall, the second tie being a swimmable waterfall located along the Upper Barron River.
The route we took to get to this waterfall was via a well-marked and paved circuit track.
The Curtain Fig National Park
The Curtain Fig National Park contains one of Australia’s largest trees, the Curtain Fig Tree. Walk around the boardwalk and observe the hundreds of year old roots as they drape over this magnificent landmark.
Enjoy a swim in the 65-meter (213 foot) deep volcanic crater lake enclosed by a lush rainforest. The lake was created around 12,000 years ago.
3) Explore the Cairns Esplanade
We biked right in the heart of CBD, specifically the Cairns Esplanade, and enjoyed our ride in this lovely coastal town.
We also were able to squeeze in some volleyball games. Great views of the coast from the courts.
This is also an ideal spot for a picnic in the park. Nearby there is also the Esplanade Lagoon where there is a (free) public swimming pool. Although there were too many kids for us to enjoy ourselves (this is an ideal place for families with children).
4) Walk around Town
Cairns is a nice town to walk up and down the streets. You can walk the Cairns Esplanade and boardwalk, swing by the swimming lagoon, or stroll through the Cairns Botanical Gardens which are free to enter.
There are several bars and restaurants lining the Esplanade and the lights are really nice at night.
Where to Stay in Cairns, Australia
Mad Monkey Backpackers
Located in a central location of Cairns, this is a backpackers haven, equipped with a pool, gym access pass, free breakfast, etc…you get the idea.
Where to Eat in Cairns, Australia
Your go-to vibrant cafe located in the heart of Cairns. They offer delicious food that cater to all diets, ranging from gluten-free to vegan.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Visit the Daintree Rainforest (2 hours-drive)- Explore the World’s oldest rainforest. The Daintree has been for almost three times as long as dinosaurs, which went extinct 65 million years ago.
- Helicopter Ride – Another way to see the Great Barrier Reef is from a heli.
- White Water Rafting – Experience the thrill of grade 3 rafting along the Barron River in the Barron Gorge National Park.
- Fitzroy Islands – An unspoiled island located just 45-minutes from Cairns (via ferry). Fitzroy Islands is a National Park where you can dive the surrounding the Great Barrier Reef or take on the many walking trails, and check out the local wildlife.
- Go Mountain Biking – Smithfield Mountain Bike Park in Cairns is home to world-class trails, from day trips to multi-day bike-packing journeys. From casual to extreme mountain biking, there are trails suitable for everyone.
- Head to one or more of the many beaches – Whether you drive 10 minutes North along the coast or an hour (Trinity Beach, Ellis Beach, Palm Cove), you are sure to be more than satisfied with the long stretches of golden sand and turquoise waters along the region’s most picturesque beaches.
Questions For You
- Have you snorkeled/scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef?
- Did you know Australia is home to the World’s oldest rainforest?