Destination Guide: Cairns

As the gateway to tropical north Queensland, Cairns is a popular tourist destination for holidaymakers from Australia and overseas. Book yourself some holiday accommodation in the area and discover for yourself what this vibrant region has to offer.

The facts

Located on Queensland's north east coast, Cairns is Tropical North Queensland's hub, spanning 400,000 square kilometres. It's in close proximity to the largest reef in the world - the Great Barrier, which is also the largest World Heritage Area in existence.

Around 150,000 people reside within the Cairns Regional Council area, but this swells seasonally as tourists flock to the sunny city each year. It's fairly warm all year round, with average summer temperatures hitting 31 degrees during the day, and winter sitting at a toasty 28 degrees. This helps to keep the seawater at a comfortable 26 degrees.

While the city's early days relied on gold, sugar cane, fishing and pearling as its major industries, the opening of the international airport in 1984 saw tourism become the region's dominant force.

Activities

With the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep, a trip to Cairns provides the perfect opportunity to snorkel, kayak, swim or cruise through these stunning waters. There are an estimated 1,500 species of fish, plus 300 coral, 400 sponge and more than 4,000 mollusc species that share this reef, so take your time to explore it thoroughly.

Try a cruise around Green Island, located off the Cairns coastline. Once you're on the island you can explore it at your leisure, lounging on the pristine white sand beaches or taking to the water to explore what lies beneath. Snorkel, scuba dive or swim no matter the time of year, or board a glass bottom boat or semi-submarine for views of the coral and sea life. Watch out for turtles, starfish, giant clams, eels, sea urchins and anemones. You may also encounter a live fish feeding displaying with commentary from a knowledgeable on-board host. Alternatively, hire a canoe or stand-up paddle board to better get to grips with the island.

Thrillseekers will enjoy AJ Hackett Cairns, where you can satisfy your adventure cravings amongst World Heritage-listed rainforest. Try out Cairns Bungy Tower, Australia's only bungy, which offers 16 different jump styles including the classic swan drive through to riding a BMX off a roof. Alternatively, buddy up with friends and take on the Minjim Jungle Swing, which lifts you up 45 metres and then sends you across the rainforest at speeds up up to 120 kilometres per hour.

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome provides a challenging and adventurous day out for families, couples and groups alike. It's the world's first ever challenge ropes course that exists in a wildlife immersion exhibit, consisting of 65 elements of ziplines and crossings. There are several difficulty levels to choose from, including Mid-ZOOm for beginners and young people, Hi-ZOOm for those who are ready for more complex crossings and thrilling ziplines. Try the PowerJump, a freefall device where you jump off a 13-metre high tower to descend rapidly with a fan device ensuring a smooth landing. Those who want to take things easy can try the DomeClimb, which takes you on internal walkways for a bird's eye view of the wildlife surrounds, city and landscapes.

Water lovers will be hard to go past a dive in the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Deep Sea Divers Den operates from Cairns and is one of the largest and longest running diving and snorkelling companies in the region. All Cairns diving training facilities are located under one roof, and Deep Sea Divers Den has earned a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre status and PADI Career Development status, which is one of the best ratings possible.

Even if you've never dived before, this facility can cater to you with a 'try a dive' day trip to see if it's your cup of tea. You could also take a lean to dive course to become certified as a PADI Open Water Diver.

Dining

Start your morning off in Cairns with a world-class coffee from Caffiend. The cafe is highly rated for its exquisite coffee and varied menu, which includes Reuben sandwiches, baby fried potatoes and French toast. For a meal with a view, try Cafe Botanic, located within the Cairns Botanic Gardens and famous for its eggs benedict and fresh Belgian waffles. Sweet treats include a decadent Death by Chocolate and rocky road, while there are also plenty of savoury toast, croissants, scones and egg meals to suit savoury fans. The lunch menu boasts toasted focaccia sandwiches and pasta of the day, all at affordable prices.

When it comes to dinner time, check out one of Cairns' most special eateries. Try the Raw Prawn, located on the Cairns esplanade overlooking the Trinity Inlet. Enjoy contemporary Australian meals with an Asian twist, such as the banana prawn salad with crab, avocado, pearls and tropical mango dressing. Experience a romantic dinner for two overlooking the glittering waters, or snag a deal at lunchtime with two courses for under $25.00.

Fans of fine dining may wish to visit Tamarind, which is highly regarded by diners from around the world. The downtown Cairns restaurant offers Asian fusion dishes that don't skimp on portion size, complemented by a wine list of over 100 old and new world varietals. Dine on the daily degustation menu with or without wine pairings tailored to suit your meals.

Tamarind has been awarded One Chefs Hat by the the Brisbane and Australian Good Food Guides, and features dishes such as pan seared scallops with caramelised fennel, heirloom tomatoes, crisp prosciutto and basil, along with hearty mains like the Moroccan chicken with pickled cauliflower, chevre mousse, almonds and cinnamon jus.

Read what one of our travellers has to say about Cairns!

Going out to experience the actual Great Barrier Reef off Cairns in Far North Queensland is the most awesome thing to do on your travels. We went on a boat called Seastar to tiny little sand cay called Michaelmas Cay where there is nothing but sand, the ocean, beautiful coral gardens, and heaps of birds! It was truly magical.

The boats leave to take you out to the reef from a marina right by the heart of the city, where there are heaps of eating places from cheap takeaways, to superb coffee shops, to fine dining restaurants, many of which look over the marina or the gorgeous esplanade.

Our next best experience in Cairns was a day trip up to the Daintree to see the famous wet tropics rainforest - a glorious outing made even better by our expert driver/guide who was very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the rainforest. The most beautiful place to eat was the Daintree Tea House, off the beaten path, but well worth it - the owners came out with a basket of unusual tropical fruit and explained what they were and we each had some of them all on out plates to eat. Fabulous!

See what another one of our travellers thought about Cairns!

We went to Cairns in June. The weather was perfect for winter at 25 degrees celcius, and there was so much to do.

We soared on the Ming-Jing swing with a view out over the ocean, and went to the Cairns Dome Zoo with it's amazing high ropes courses. We were elevated on a Cable car hanging over breathtaking, rain-forest covered mountains and the Barron River to Kuranda. We meandered back down to Cairns on an antique train.

We fast tracked out to the Great Barrier Reef on a large modern catamaran and saw a vista of sea plants and animals. The tropical fruits and seafood was awesome and the accommodation was luxurious and relaxing. The sun's risings and settings were brilliant and colourful. We were fortunate to see nocturnal as well as other local wildlife birds and animals.

We were blown away by seeing 40 crocodiles in the wild on a tour which included a delicious buffet lunch and informative tour guides.

What a terrific placeto go to for family holiday. You can do as much or as little as you want and it won't cost you an arm or a leg to do it. It was affordable and value for money considering some of our experiences were once in a lifetime events, like snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef and seeing crocodiles up close and personal.

Cairns is ‘Fair Dinkum’ amazing. We'd go there again!

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