10 Things You Must Eat, See & Do in Cairns

Jessica Peterson

10-things-cairns

There is no shortage of adventures to be had in Cairns, Australia on land or sea. Pack it in or take it slow, Tropical North Queensland caters to both the adrenaline junky and the lazy sunbather. After one leisurely trip and one whirlwind weekend, these are my recommendations of top 10 things you must eat, see and do in Cairns.

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White Water Rafting in Barron Gorge

Raging Thunder white water rafting in Barron Gorge, Cairns, Australia

If you have no aversion to looking like a deranged Teletubby for an adventure sport, then don a GoPro-mounted helmet and go white water rafting. What’s that you say? The water is brown? No worries. It’s clean. This is Australia—the place where you can be fined hundreds of dollars for leaving a stray piece of fruit in your carry-on. Don’t worry about water-born illness; worry about keeping your slippery backside on the raft because your guide at Raging Thunder has other plans.

Discover Michaelmas Cay at the Great Barrier Reef

Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Of course, you knew that and though there is really no wrong way to see the Great Barrier Reef, if you’re a nature lover, you’ll also want to see Michaelmas Cay, famous for its migratory birds. Thousands of terns raise their young on this tiny sand dune accessible on the Passions of Paradise excursion.

Step Back in Time in Kuranda Village

kuranda train station, cairns, australia

Take the quaint Kuranda Scenic Railway back down the mountain and step back in time via a 120-year-old train line. Stops along the way reveal precipitous waterfalls and grand rain forests.

Kuranda Skyrail, Cairns, Australia

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway allows you to soar over lush forest tops with ocean views to a serene town called Kuranda. It is home to hippie bead shops, scrumptious crumpets, and wildlife exploration of butterflies, birds, and bats.

Feed Bats at Kuranda

bat-wing-web

Batreach Kuranda allows you to get up close and personal with rescued bats. It is tucked away in the hiking trails of Kuranda, which is a small enough town that you will probably stumble upon Batreach. The public education facility is open five days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. so take your tea and crumpets then mosey over to this worthy and educational site.

Cairns Nightlife: Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Cairns, Australia nightlife musician drums

Cairns nightlife invites pub crawling, bar hopping, or whatever you call having a good time. Live music, friendly locals, and fried food are plentiful in the Cairns strip. If you find yourself teetering on oblivion, pop into the Night Market for a $15 massage. Just don’t fall asleep on the table.

cairns night market, australia

Become a Pescetarian

octopus salad at Dundee's, CAirns, Australia

I’m a pescetarian, so I was right at home eating seared octopus from Dundee’s, with its picture-perfect waterfront location.

Cairns-Raw-Prawn-shrimp-H

Then there was the perfectly battered salt and pepper calamari and these jumbo shrimp from The Raw Prawn. The wild Barramundi also comes highly recommended and is served with roasted dutch cream potatoes, asparagus, avocado salsa & lemon butter. You will not have a better dessert than the glutenous banana cake with a pitch perfect caramel glaze. The Raw Prawn is the place to go with your new Aussie friends and learn phrases such as “Good as…” Just be careful when you get back to the States because it might sound like you’re complimenting someone’s back side.

The Raw Prawn, Cairns, Australia

Chillax at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Cairns Esplanade, Australia

At the center of town is a public lagoon, which is magically clean and safe, day or night. Walk, run, sleep, swim, picnic, play, or simply watch the bats come in. You might even catch a didgeridoo performance at the Esplanade.

Cairns Esplanade, Australia

Die & Go to Tchotchke Heaven at Cairns Night Market

cairns night market, australia

I mock the serious business of souvenir shopping, yet I scored a classy straw hat at the Night Market. The highly pedestrian-friendly city of Cairns is a great place to unwind after any adventures had on land or sea. And in this place… you will have many.

The Night Market offers cheap massage, fried food, and all the tchotchkes you could ever want.

cairns night market, australia cairns night market, australia cairns night market, australia cairns night market, australia

Get High with Cairns Zoom

Cairns Zoom, Australia

If you want to work off the excess of the last night’s feeding and drinking frenzy in Cairns, here’s a chance for some good old fashioned cardio. Cairns Zoom is a zip line that could double as the set of America Ninja Warrior. Don’t even try to not look like an ape on this 65-foot vertical obstacle course. Even if you’re wearing chic ballet slippers, you’ll be hard pressed to preserve your dignity when you’re squeezing your posterior through a barrel. Does my butt look big in this harness?

Cuddle a Koala at Cairns Zoo

Cuddle a koala at Cairns Zoo, Australia

The Cairns Tropical Zoo offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the cutest and cuddliest of Australia’s wild life. You can hold a koala, feed kangaroos and wallabies, or meet some of the most infamous crocodiles that now call the zoo home. Be prepared for heart-racing feeding sessions. The zoo contains only tropical animals, so while you won’t see big cats, you’ll see wombats, cassowary, lizards, and some very entertaining lemurs.

Travel and accommodations provided by United Airlines. All opinions my own.

#UnitedWeCairns



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Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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Latest posts by Jessica Peterson (see all)

  • Oh dear, Cairns got everything I wanna have and do in one place! No wonder my friends never stop raving about it! Did you go diving at the Great Barrier reef?? It’s on my list of 1000+ things to do before I die. Haha!

    • Hi Sarah. I went snorkeling and took a glass bottom boat, but no diving as I don’t have my certification.

  • MelBTravel

    I am originally from Australia and I have never had the chance to visit Cain. It is weird what we don’t do right on own front doorstep. Your post definitely makes me miss Australia loads and it makes me appreciate it even more. I love seafood and that octopus from Dundee’s, looks so yummy. I loved your pictures and your tips.

    • I have so much more of Australia to explore, but Cairns was a good introduction.

  • Natalie Tanner

    What a wonderful place to visit! I love all the colorful doodads to buy. We always bring an extra bag to fill along the way. 🙂

  • Raghav

    Lovely post and Cairns comes across as a place that has something for everyone. The seared octopus look delicious by the way. Love how you can enjoy the old world charm along with it being a perfect beach-y destination with typical beach side arty shopping and of course an abundance of nature all around.

  • Footloose Dev

    such a great post Jessica. I think great barrier reef is in every traveller’s wishlist. it’s in my wish list too. and i read a story recently on global warming, which said: if global warming keeps happening at a rate it is happening right now, the coral reef in australia ( and in many other parts of the world ) with turn black and simply die. That would be so sad!

  • Promise Chika Maxwell

    Interesting article on Cairns. Batreach sounds like much fun tho these bats looks massive in the picture haha! I love Koala, never had the chance to be that close to one not to dream of cuddling, I guess it would be the first thing to do. For sea foods I think I can count on the Australian cuisine.

  • Allison Green

    Oh wow I wish I had read this guide when I was in Cairns many years ago. I went to see the Great Barrier Reef, which was amazing. I hope to go back again one day, using this post as a guide 🙂

    • I’m so glad you got to see the Great Barrier Reef! Thanks for reading, Allison.

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I want to be there right now! A lagoon in the city and a funky night market sound like a perfect way to spend the weekend. I’m also pescetarian so I wouldn’t have any problems stuffing my face with seafood. 🙂

  • Kathy James

    What a great list of recommendations. I would love to feed the rescue bat and then see them flying around in their normal environment at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. Thanks for your advice.