Cairns is a lovely tropical city that sits in between the Great Barrier Reef and the world oldest Rainforest in north Queensland, Australia.
This is a great place to start out your travels whether it is to go North or South of Australia or in the Outback. Our original plan was to stay just a day to pick up our camper van, buy some groceries and be on our way. However as we were landing, the view of the rainforest so close to the beach took our breath away. We couldn’t miss the opportunity of spending some time here before leaving.
Stop at a tourist information office
We stopped at the tourist information office. This is a great place to get a better insight on the place you are visiting. Plus they have great tips on the best activities to do based on budget and whether you are alone, a couple or with kids. This will avoid you any waste of time and money! For example we were told that Green Island, which is close to Cairns, was a great place to see. However once we asked the lady at the office to book it, knowing that we had 3 kids, she directed our interest to Fitzroy Island instead. This island offered more activities and it wasn’t as crowded with tourist as the other! Our day trip was absolutely fantastic, the kids had fun and we did not have to battle with tons of foreign tourists for a spot on the beach! It was a great tip.
There is much more that you can do of course here in Cairns, this is our experience in a limited time and with a specific budget, plus a couple of things that we would have gladly done if we had more time!
1. Take a stroll along the Esplanade
The town of Cairns is not very big and most of the life is along the foreshore. There is a beautiful boardwalk, known as the Esplanade. It is about 2.5 km long and goes in the heart of Cairns. As you walk along it, there are many activities you can do. For example you can enjoy the ocean view. Or do some work out. If you have kids, you can set them free at the awesome playground, which offers different sections based on the age of the kids.
While our kids were getting their energy out, we were enjoying a great coffee at the cafe located next to the playground.
Lots of visitors enjoy this area daily. They might simply relax on the grass, or eat at the sidewalk cafes and watch the many bird species that come to feed.
You will also find a Lagoon, which is a 4800 sq m salt water swimming facility. It offers an all-year round safe swimming location without stingers and crocodiles.
2. Ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway
Luca has a true passion for trains now. Of course we could not miss out on the amazing experience of riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The train runs through the World Heritage listed Rainforest of the Barron Gorge National Park, up to the mountain village of Kuranda. Throughout the two-hour trip we learned the story of the railway line. We also enjoyed the amazing scenery, while passing through spectacular waterfalls and into the stunning Barron Gorge.
The line goes through 15 hand-made tunnels and over 37 bridges. This 37 km track way opened in 1891, thanks to the hard work of 1500 men armed only of hand picks, shovels and dynamite. Riding through this route while listening to the story about how it was built, made us really understand the sacrifice that these men and their families had gone through. The many difficulties they must have faced considering the toughness of the territory they were working on.
3. Ride over the rainforest on the Skyrail Gondola
Once you are done exploring the little mountain village of Kuranda, you can enjoy a ride back down with the Skyrail Gondola ride. This will give you the opportunity to glide just a few meters over the rainforest canopy. You will have a chance to have a panoramic view of the rainforest, Barron Gorge and the Coral Sea.
This is the first and only rainforest cableway in Australia (7.5 km long). It was opened in 1995 and it gives you an amazing opportunity to view the rainforest from up above. There are also two stops along the way. One at the Interpretative Center, where you can learn more about the rainforest and how it formed over million of years. The second is a ranger guided boardwalk tour. You can walk in it and admire the Kauri Pine which is 400 years old! The ranger we followed was so excited about all the plants he talked about, that our kids were completely fascinated by them as well!
Did you know that these rainforests used to cover all of Australia? Today it occupies only 900,000 hectare. This is just 0.12% of the total land mass. They are a living museum protecting special plants and animals. They are home to 2,260 vascular plant species. 348 are considered rare and 678 are found nowhere else in the world. It is also home to the primitive Musky Rat Kangaroo, 2 types of tree kangaroo, the Cairns Birdwing (biggest butterfly) and the Southern Cassowary.
Kauri Pine which is 400 years old
4. Spend a day on Fitzroy Island
While we were in Cairns we wanted to explore an island as well. We opted for Fitzroy island, which is one of the most unspoiled islands next to the Great Barrier Reef. Initially we wanted to visit Green island, which is probably as beautiful. However it is much more popular and smaller. It can get very busy and probably it wouldn’t be as appealing when traveling with kids.
Visiting this island was the best way to get a taste of the Great Barrier Reef, considering that we are still a bit limited because of our younger child.
It is just a 45 minute boat ride from Cairns to Fitzroy island. Once you arrive you will find a tropical paradise of rainforest and coral beaches. There are walking tracks through the rainforest, up to the summit and to the lighthouse, as well as a few shorter ones around the island.
We spent the morning on the beach and then ventured a bit in the rainforest, towards Nudey beach (1.2 km away). We would have loved to go all over the island, however our kids just wanted to enjoy the water. In fact our ticket included the use of snorkeling gear, kayaks and a ride on a glass bottom boat, so we had plenty to keep us busy!
One of my favorite moments was sitting on the shore listening to the waves hitting the beach, the coral sounded like a musical instrument playing a magical song.
5. Learn more about the Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park
The Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park is in Smithfield at the base of the Skyrail cableway. It showcases the 40,000-year-old Aboriginal culture through dance and song. Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park is both an entertaining spectacle as well as an educational experience for everyone. There are interactive tours and activities with Aboriginal people who teach authentic traditional culture and customs.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park seems to be the perfect way to gain a better understanding of Australia’s diverse Aboriginal heritage. Unfortunately we arrived when the night experience was starting and it was all sold out, so we were not able to experience it! You might want to book in advance!
6. Snorkel or dive in the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns and Port Douglas are the closest and easiest access points to the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is a great destination for diving, since there are lots of dive trips daily for all skill levels and budgets. There are many charter boat packages that will give you the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive in this marine wonderland.
Our 3 days in Cairns were absolutely fantastic, we enjoyed the ocean, the reef, the rainforest and the mountain. It is amazing to thing of what a variety of environments you can find in one city! Cairns is for sure a “must do” if you are traveling on the east coast of Australia!
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Check out the hotel we stayed at Tropical Queenslander!!!