Coral Reefs and Beyond: Your Guide to Cairns

Sunshine, beautiful corals and fish, learning how to throw a boomerang and spear, and walking amongst castle ruins– this is what I think of when I think of Cairns!

To be honest, though it may seem touristy, Cairns is such a fun little place in northern Australia that boasts subtropical weather year-round and is filled with tons of cultural activities! A perfect destination to catch some vitamin D (especially during the winter months (June-August)!), here are some quick stats before we get to the recommends!

  • It is only a two-hour plane ride from the Gold Coast Airport (I must mention that we flew JetStar and, though it was the first time I used them, it was quite possibly the nicest budget airline I have ever been on; so, if you find a sale with them down around here, go on and grab that fare!)
  • Cairns is part of the The Tropical North in Northern Queensland, which boasts subtropical weather year-round (with an average temperature of 84°F/29°C)– yes, please! (I learn more and more each day that I am so much more of a warm-weather kind of gal).

We spent about a week taking in the sun’s rays, fulfilling our need of relaxation, while injecting some fun activities, too. I’ve listed out our little excursions and what I would totally recommend; take a gander and let your travels lead way to memorable treasures! :).

Cairns City Center & Surroundings:

The Esplanade: is great if you’re looking for a nice walk/run early in the morning as the sun rises (or sets, but remember: the sun sets in the west). You’re right on the coast and the length is 2.5km. They also offer free fitness classes daily (check here for what’s happening today!)

The Night Market: if you’re looking for some good ol’ Australian souvenirs, unique gifts for yourself or someone you know, a bite to eat, affordable massages, fish doctors (you know, the ones that are in little aquariums that help get your feet supple and soft), and other things, then this is the place for you to be. It’s open seven days a week between the hours of 4:30PM and 10:30PM. I recommend, if you have the time, going in to check it out and then coming back another day after letting it all soak in! (It also helps with impulsive shopping— that’s my trick!)

Dundees: as in, Crocodile Dundee. Now, I’m not too sure if they sell crocodile or not, but what I *do* one is that food at this restaurant is certainly delicious. Grab a seat right on the boardwalk by the water for a cool little seabreeze to help cool you off, or sit inside for a little cozier option (though this place is pretty big, it still gives you the feeling of cozy).

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: this was an absolutely amazing experience and I highly recommend it when in Cairns! I believe in getting a country’s cultural experience whenever possible, and understanding the Aboriginal culture is very important. The center does a beautiful job of explaining the story of creation, taking you to a music performance, teaching of medicinal and poisonous plants, and learning how to throw spears and boomerangs! For an additional cost, you can either paint your own boomerang and make your own jewelry or go on a private bush walk to learn how to identify plants for medicinal and culinary purposes, ending with a little traditional tea party. The family that works here are very proud, knowledgeable and excited to share their culture with the world. If you’re feeling curious, may we suggest the chef’s tasting platter at the café that allows you to try: crocodile, ham, emu and kangaroo.

The Great Barrier Reef: an absolute must do when you’re up here! As you may have heard, the reef is dying (GOSH!), so catch it in all its beauty while you still can (I remain hopeful that we can reverse this). There are many operators that can take you out to different reefs, but we went with SilverSwift after a high recommendation from a pro diver and photographer. I think SilverSwift is the most expensive ones out there, but they are so worth it. What we loved was that the ship was newer and smaller, compared to others, fitting only about 85 people; as uncrowded we could be at the reefs was very important to us. The price includes morning tea, a hot & cold buffet lunch, afternoon tea, sailing to three different reefs for exploring, snorkeling at all the reefs visited (gear (even prescription goggles!) included!) and educational talks while you travel from one reef to another that explains to you the different fish you may see while you’re out exploring. You can add diving to your excursion for an additional cost. Not sure if you want to do it in the first place? No worries, while on-board you can select to dive then (or, if you already dove, to add another dive into the mix!). It was one of the best things I have done in my life and highly recommend it! (ps: they have gopros for hire/ a scubadiving photographer to capture some photos of you under the water, too!)

Take a trip south of Cairns and you’ll find…

Paronella Park: José Paronella came to Australia from Spain with a dream and, after recalling the countless stories about castles that his mother used to tell him when he was young, Mr. Paronella decided to build some castles of his own. Not only did he raise his kids on this beautiful property, but he built little movie theatre pavilions, ice cream shops, diving grounds and many more things, all for the community to come in and, for a simple, low cost, have somewhere that brought them to another place. Unfortunately, it has suffered natural disasters such as floods. In turn, the place turned into ruins and the walk into the park is still beautiful. Your admission lets you in for two years (yes, two years) and gives you access to both the day-time tours, as well as the night time tour; we did both!

Treetop Walk: we didn’t quite make it here, but heard great reviews of the walk. You climb stairs and walk on suspended bridges through the treetops, sighting birds and getting a great view of the lush, green mountains and forests around! If you’re looking to get an eagle-eye’s view, this is your place to go and get it.

Central Cairns doesn’t have a real “beach” per se…

it’s more like a wonderful Esplanade with a lagoon that provides a free swimming pool for you during its opening hours. But, head up north and you will find:

Palm Cove: I really enjoyed this little beachside town that we visited it twice. Grab your beach towel and nestle yourself under a palm tree, soaking in the suns rays (remember your sunscreen!) and taking a dip into the cool waters (remember to swim between the flags!). You can rent/hire bicycles and go for a stroll or, as we always do, rely on your own two feel to walk along the many restaurants and shops. We are at Ocean Palms*** and had a delightful lunch. Walk it off with a walk to the pier for some great post-food scenic views.

Port Douglas: About an hour and a half up north you will find this charming little nautical town. If you love to shop, Macrossan Street will be your new best friend. While you’re there, stop at Wicked Ice Cream Co. for some amazing ice cream. Take it with you as you walk down to Four Mile Beach. You can also bring a book and/or your togs (bathing suit) and enjoy a beach loved by many Australians. Make sure to make your way to one of the most beautiful harbours I’ve seen, filled with shops, dinging options and, of course, sailing: The Reef Marina.

We didn’t get to make it all the way up due to scheduling, but do check out…

The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation: It’s a bit further up, but if you have the time, do go! Regular, private cars won’t be able to access much of the rainforest, so it’s best to book a tour and make the most of your day! My friend Kadi mentioned that she did a waterfall tour where they took her all around the rainforest, stopping at different swimming holes– sounds so cool!! I’ve also seen ziplining available. Overall, check out the site and do let me know if you make it— I’ll add your recommendations to my list for when we make it back there! :).


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