Guide to Cairns

Cairns, Queensland 4870

Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but with such a distinct claim to fame people often forget.

Guide to CairnsCredit: Tourism Australia

Things to see & do in Cairns

  • Mangrove Boardwalk

    Mangrove Boardwalk

    There’s something special about the way mangroves grow. They provide a unique bridge between the land and the water. The mangroves in Cairns are no different, and they’re an important part of the tropical ecosystem. Queensland has the largest population of mangroves in Australia, with over 34 species of the tree sprinkled through the state.

    These awesome trees can survive under incredible conditions. They thrive in hot, muddy conditions and can hydrate in both fresh and saltwater. While most plants would simply die from the extreme conditions the mangroves have continued to grow for decades, providing a safe habitat for hundreds of species.

    In their underwater roots fish and marine life thrive, while insects’ nest in their muggy branches. And when there are bugs to eat, there’s predators to eat them. The mangroves alone are the cornerstone of entire miniature tropical ecosystems. High above the water birds find refuge in their branches and snack on the fish living below. In total there are over 70 types of crustaceans, 70 types of fish and 230 types of birds that rely on the mangroves to survive.

    See these incredible trees for yourself on the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk. Along the walk, you’ll see 11 species of mangrove and learn about this delicate ecosystem on interpretive signage.

  • Lake Tinaroo

    Lake Tinaroo

    Just a short drive from Cairns you can find Lake Tinaroo. The picturesque lake is popular for swimmers, skiers, walkers, and beachgoers. Enjoy a picnic along the banks of the lake or stay for a while at the nearby camping areas. For those who enjoy fishing, permits are available to fish on the lake, plus the area is famous for its great crabbing opportunities.

  • Malanda Falls

    Malanda Falls

    The Malanda Falls are the adventurer’s triple threat! Stunning falls cascade into a natural swimming pool, rainforest walks circle the area and the picnic area means you can set up for the day.

    The falls are part of the stunning waterfall and volcanic craters circuit in the Atherton Tablelands. Though many falls are located off the beaten track, the Malanda Falls are easily accessible from main roads and are the perfect place for a relaxing day out. Enjoy a swim in the wide, cool pool as the water falls over the hardened lava flows. The pool is safe for swimmers and even has a beach with shallow areas perfect for kids to play in.

    Lush greenery surrounds the area providing plenty of shade to cool down in during hot summer days. The nearby visitor centre has a small café and toilet facilities you can use, meaning you can set up for a lovely long day at the falls.

  • Babinda Boulders

    Babinda Boulders

    Witness the power of flowing water at the Babinda Boulders. Years of water flowing over the pool’s boulders has carved them out to beautiful smooth surfaces. Take a cooling dip in the water, you may be surprised by how cool it is. Feel the water washing past you as the fast-current weaves through the creek and towards open water.

    The creek at the Babinda Boulders is freshwater, so no need to worry about dehydrating your skin or getting crusty, salty hair. It’s the perfect place to cool down in the harsh tropical summer. Just behind the creek, you can see the tallest mountain in Queensland. The water you see here flows down from Mt Bartle Frere.

  • Cairns Harbour /Cairns Marlin Marina

    Cairns Harbour

    Cairns is a bustling, modern tropical city. With plenty of great shopping opportunities, delicious food and spectacular views it’s unlikely you’ll not find yourself here. The Cairns Marlin Marina is a state-of-the-art floating marina on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Each day hundreds of boats leave on reef and island tours leave from the marina. Watch as they all leave and admire the superyachts that are docked here.

    A short walk from here is a beautiful esplanade with delightful cafes and restaurants for you to sit down at. If you’ve got some time to spare why not enjoy a little shopping spree or stop for a game at the casino. Plus, when you return from your day on the reef, the marina is home to some of Cairns’ best nightlife!

    Here you will also find the Reef Fleet Terminal. This is where all of our island and Great Barrier Reef tours depart from. The stunning terminal was built in 2004 however its modern architecture makes it look barely a year old. Around the marina, you’ll find regular night markets, where local crafts and wares are sold. Pick yourself up a souvenir or enjoy a delicious meal of street food and market sweets.

    On the surface, the Marlin Marina seems to be nothing more than a starting point for getting from A to B. Look a little further however and you’ll realise that the marina is the heart of Cairns life.

  • Green Island

    Green Island

    Just 45-minutes off the coast of Cairns sits Green Island. This spectacular island is covered in lush rainforest and is home to a plethora of bird and animal life. Head out to the island for a day and explore everything it has to offer.

    One of the most popular activities on the island is snorkelling. There is such an abundance of marine life living around the island that a simple beach snorkel is all you need to see awesome coral and fish! The area is known for being frequented by sea turtles, so keep an eye out for any visiting and remember to keep a safe distance from any animals you find. If you’re after a deeper experience, book in for a beginner scuba dive. Or, if you’re not a fan of the water, a glass-bottom boat tour is a great way to see under the sea without getting wet.

    The island is also home to the Marineland Melanesia, home to the largest croc in captivity. The facility rescues animals that are injured in the wild and participates in important breeding programs. The facility first opened in the 1960s and is the best place to see marine life up close and safe.

    While here, take the opportunity to go for a shop in the island boutique stores. Or, head for a bushwalk through the lush rainforest. Relax on the silky white sand and enjoy the sprawling views across the horizon that never seem to end.

  • Port Douglas

    Port Douglas

    Just down from Cairns, you’ll find the idyllic Port Douglas. Explore the perfect Four Mile Beach, walk through the golden sand and play in small rock pools. There’s plenty of marine life to find, so keep your eye out for little starfish and crab. If you’re visiting mid-week then add the Port Douglas Yacht Club to your list. Each Wednesday they offer free sunset sails through their Wednesday Afternoon Go Sailing program. Skippers choose their crews from willing volunteers and will take you out on the water for two hours of paradise bliss. Once the sun has set, you’ll head back to the club where they invite you to have a few drinks. It’s a great way to meet some locals and enjoy a unique experience.

    If your days don’t line up with Wednesday Afternoon Go Sailing, head to a weekend market instead. The Port Douglas Sunday Market is a ‘cotters market’ meaning that everything sold has to be made by the stallholder. It’s the perfect place to grab a souvenir for yourself and support local makers.

  • Atherton Tablelands 

    Atherton Tablelands

    The Atherton Tablelands are the tropical rainforest oasis of Tropical North Queensland. Rolling hills covered in gorgeous greenery. The tablelands encompass everything from rainforests to lakes to wetlands. There are plenty of galleries, craft stores, outdoor activities and food experiences for you to experience so don’t waste a minute, get to the Tablelands today!

  • Lake Eacham

    Lake Eacham

    Lake Eacham is a stunning crater lake just an hours’ drive from Cairns. The lake is unique to the region, having formed not through natural erosion or flowing water, but from a volcanic eruption. Unlike most other bodies of water, Lake Eacham has no flowing water source and is only filled by rain.

    Lake Eacham is the perfect place for a day escape. With lush green beaches for you to relax on and cool calm waters to swim in, you’ll never want to leave. Motorised vehicles aren’t allowed on the lake so no annoying boat motors are ruining the serenity and the abundance of marine life makes for great snorkelling.

    If you’re not much of a swimmer, a walk around the lake is just as beautiful. You’ll wind through lush landscapes and feel the sun raining down on your face. After a walk or a swim, enjoy a picnic with your friends. There are plenty of picnic facilities available for you, toilets, tables, barbecues. The lake is a great place to breathe in some fresh air and rejuvenate your soul.

  • Josephine Falls

    Josephine Falls

    The Josephine Falls flow lusciously from Bartle Frere, the highest peak in Queensland. Water travels over 7km to the smooth falls before cascading down a cliff face. It feels like every waterfall you read about is beautiful, and they are, but Josephine Falls are even more spectacular. They’re so beautiful that filmmakers and marketing teams regularly make the trek to film the falls for campaigns and advertisements.

    Crystal clear waters fill the pool and the sandy beach makes for the perfect place to lay in the sun. Listen to the sounds of the rainforest surrounding you and feel a cooling breeze dance across your skin. Swimming in the pool is allowed but be sure to adhere to the safety signage around the area.

  • Millaa Millaa Falls

    Millaa Millaa Falls

    The Millaa Millaa Falls are magnificent falls located on the Waterfalls Circuit. Found near the famous Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls, Millaa Milla are surrounded by a lush rainforest that seems to part just for them.

    Lay down and relax on the grassy picnic area and search the water surface for signs of platypus and other marine animals. The falls are known as some of the most photographed falls in Australia, so bring your camera and get in on the action. With such incredible views even, an inexperienced photographer will look like an expert!

    The waterfalls soar 18metres high, and the pool below is large and refreshing. Their location is secluded from the main roads and has been protected from urbanisation. These untouched waterfalls look the same as they have for hundreds of years, so remember to not leave anything behind to ensure they remain beautiful for years to come.

  • Tablelands Express

    Jump aboard this historic steam train as it winds its way through the wetlands. It slowly creeps further up the mountain on Queensland’s steepest tracks. The panoramic views along the track are unbelievable. The train will lead you to the Historic Village Herberton, an open-air pioneer museum. Explore the blacksmith’s workshop and the pioneer camp for authentic experiences of the 1880s. There are over 50 original buildings from the town’s foundation years and countless priceless antiques.

  • Rainforestation Nature Park

    Set within the stunning World Heritage Rainforest, Rainforestation Nature Park combines wildlife, authentic Aboriginal experiences and the tropics for the perfect day out. Learn about local Indigenous culture and take the opportunity to watch traditional dance. Follow the Rainbow Serpent walkway and read about traditional culture and ways of life.

    Enjoy a water cruise looking for unique wildlife and plant species along the water’s edge. You’ll also get the chance to explore the Tropical Fruit Orchard which has over 40 types of tropical fruit. Try some of the delicious fruits native to Australia as well as a selection from around the world.

    Finally, finish your day exploring the Koala and Wildlife Park. Here you can see koala, wombat, crocodiles and Tasmanian devils amongst others. Rainforestation Nature Park gives you a variety of experiences jam-packed into one awesome day!

Cairns is home to so many wonderful experiences. Don’t get caught in the trap of flying through simply to board your Great Barrier Reef tour. Make sure you take the time to really explore and enjoy the region, as well as explore further out on the path less travelled.