Fully embodying the depiction of a tropical destination, Cairns is one of the ultimate must do stopovers when exploring the land down under. It is most popularly known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but there is so much more to this tropical destination than meets the eye. Cuddle with koalas, discover the Torres Strait Island and Aboriginal culture, the sky cable gondolas or go on an adventure to an ancient rainforest. The list of things to do is never-ending. From cheap massages in the Night Markets to swimming in freshwater cascades or going on an epic bar crawl with fellow backpackers there is something for everyone here in Cairns.
MUST SEE CAIRNS
The Esplanade & The Night Markets
“The lagoon” is the centrepiece on the Esplanade, and a replacement for the ocean. As you cannot swim in the Northern Queensland waters because of the danger of crocs and jellyfish, you will find large lagoons like this one in most major towns. Here you can swim and splash around to your heart’s content without worrying about those nasty jellyfish, crocs or sharks nibbling at your toes! Also to be found on the Esplanade are some great weekend markets, as well as free yoga in the mornings, zumba in the afternoons, and other free activities run by the Cairns city council. Across the street from the Esplanade are café’s and restaurants galore, as well as art galleries and the famous Night Markets that are open seven days a week. Here you can get the most amazing massages for only $15!
Great Barrier Reef
It will take you approximately 60-90 minutes travel time from the coast to the reef, and depending on your preference there are a variety of ways to experience the majestic reef –you can experience it in a submarine or a glass floor boat, or even on a vintage sail boat such as the Falla… high recommended! Once you arrive at your destination you will have the choice to snorkel or scuba dive, both are pretty impressive.
Right in the heart of a world-heritage rainforest, you will find the enchanting little village of Kuranda, known as The Village in the Rainforest. With the most spectacular lush rainforest surrounding, fresh flowing rivers and waterfalls, native animals and plants, this is a little piece of hidden Australiana just waiting to be explored. The town is located 25km from Cairns and is an easy and pleasant drive. A great way to get there is with the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which will give you a memorable and nostalgic journey high in the rainforest on an old vintage train. Kuranda is recognized for its growing arts and crafts community, as well as a blossoming indigenous Aboriginal art scene. The town most certainly has a hippie vibe, and with the markets perched among the trees, it certainly resembles a fairy tale or something from out of Robin Hood.
A short drive from the main drag, Crystal Cascades takes you away from the city buzz and into an enchanted world of waterfalls, (real) lagoons, Australian bush, streams and swimming holes. This is a magical place to refresh your body and mind after the heat and humidity of a week of adventuring. Bring a picnic basket and blanket, some wine, some nice tunes… find a spot, and you are set! The water is really cold, but once you get in, you won’t want to get out! Also, check out the natural rockslide, a real slide made by mother nature herself.
This is a quaint little beach town near Cairns, about a 15-minute drive from the main strip. The beach is a tropical paradise, and swimming is sometimes possible here at certain times throughout the year. There are some great rocks to climb on and watch the sunset from at the southern end of the beach, and some incredible little cafes to eat in while looking over the truly tropical setting. Tip of the day… Try the Italian pizzeria Chiantti’s Trattoria, at the end of the strip. It has the most delicious and authentic tasting pizzas around, and a really cosy location with great tropical views. The pizzas alone are worth the trip!
COOLEST ACTIVITIES CAIRNS
Cairns Flames of the Forest Dining
Couple fine dining with the natural beauty of the rainforest and you will have one of the most unique experiences out there. No wonder a lot of bachelors decide to tie the knot here! Put on your Sunday best and walk your way towards the dining area through a pathway lit by flame torches. This definitely succeeds in setting the right mood in preparation for an exquisite experience of fine dining lit by hundreds of small lights, lost in the middle of a rainforest. The delicious food and royal treatment are definitely a cherry on top!
Hot Air Balloon Scenic Flights
Cairns is one of the few places in the world offering daily hot air balloon tours. Book an early morning tour and be ready for a thrilling experience –see the sun rising over the Australian horizon and see those majestic Australian views from a different perspective.
Cairns Music Scene
Cairns actually has a great little music scene. If you are into clubbing, dancing the night away, and maybe even having a dirty little pash on the dance floor, then head to backpacker central at Gilligan’s or Irish Murphy’s. Both these places have ridiculously cheap meals and beer, and a great nightlife if you love drinking, partying and meeting fellow travellers. For a more local scene you can head to Bernie’s Jazz Café for some great jazz, played by some of Queensland’s infamous jazz greats, or 12 Bar Blue for some more local performances. Both these locations are small and dingy, in a good way! If you are looking for something a little more upscale, then you can head to the Tanks Arts Centre for performances by both well known Australian performers in all styles of music, from jazz and country to hip hop, drum n bass and classical.
Cheap meals and bar crawls
If you are looking to save a buck, most of the hostels (and there are MANY) offer cheap meals (with vegetarian options) and cheap drinks. They also offer the cheap and quintessential backpacker’s “bar crawl”. The bar crawl adventures take you all around Cairns to the best bars and clubs, with drinks and food included for a VERY reasonable price. The hostels also offer other cheap tours to backpackers. You don’t necessarily need to be staying at the hostels for these great deals.
WHERE TO STAY CAIRNS
Cairns Holiday Park is located in the centre of Cairns, this is a great destination to start your journey towards the Great Barrier Reef. With a wide range of amenities –from Wi-Fi, to a fruit and tropical herb garden and a camp kitchen, you will be free to cook and save some money instead of eating out.
Big4 Cairns Crystal Cascades Holiday Park is a great option if you want to be out of town. Plus, you will be able to roll out of the campervan and straight into the beautiful and refreshing Crystal Cascades first thing in the morning. What a great way to start the day!
Cool Waters Holiday Park is another great option, only a short walk to the Esplanade and in a more residential area.
WHEN TO COME CAIRNS
Cairns has a typical tropical climate, staying consistent with its wet and dry seasons. Typically, people prefer Cairns during the dry season in winter (April to November) as the weather is perfect! The waves are calmer, which makes it perfect for diving and snorkelling, there are less creepy crawlies to scream at, and there is less humidity and rain as well. It is the perfect place to head during the Australian winter, as it offers the “perfect summer”. During the rainy season, you can expect humidity and lots of rain, however as the reef is spectacular any time of year, it is a popular destination all year round.
Written for Share A Camper.