5 Things You Must Do in Cairns, Australia

Jessica Peterson

cairns boats

Cairns city center is a hip metropolis jam-packed with shops and cuisine of every kind. Walking around downtown Cairns affords opportunities to shop, dine, and even swim in the manmade lagoon (the surrounding ocean contains stinging jelly fish so heed warning signs). Pick up plump, red strawberries at Rusty’s Weekend Produce Market, then stop to hear a didgeridoo street performer or admire an original piece of stippled Aborigine art.

If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, be sure to add the following five activities to your agenda.

Enter to win a trip for two to Cairns, Australia below!

cairns australia esplanade

Cuddle a Koala at Cairns Tropical Zoo

Holding a koala in CAirns Tropical 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.

crocodile feeding at Cairns Tropical Zoo

Dive the Great Barrier Reef

turtle in ocean

Cairns is best known for is its pristine diving on the Great Barrier Reef. If you enjoy the water, this is a must! There are tons of tour boats that go out for day trips as well as overnight. We booked a day trip through a company called Silver Swift. Silver Swift has one of the smallest boats going out which means you have less people in your dive group and a more intimate experience at the reef. If you’re not a diver, no fear, they also have guided snorkel trips out to the reefs and dive certification classes where your check-out dive is the Great Barrier Reef!

It goes without saying that if you’re going to either dive or snorkel you’ll want a camera to take with you. If you are diving, you’ll need a camera that can go fairly deep. The boats offer onboard camera rents for around $85 (AUS) however, the shop next door to the Silver Swift offices is a camera rental store where you can rent the exact same camera for about $45! Pick up the camera the night before your scheduled dive and you’ll receive an operation class and suggestions on how to take the best underwater photos. Included in the rental price is a DVD of the pictures you take (they don’t print hard copies of your pictures).

Drive the Coast to Port Douglas

Cairns coast view

The iconic Captain Cook Highway is a smooth stretch of road between Cairns and its northern beach towns. Palm Cove and Port Douglas are both swanky and quaint (if that’s possible) must-see stops on this Route 66 of tropical Australia. Sit cafe-side and sip a cappuccino or pick up souvenirs in a one-of-a-kind bookstore (yes, they still have those). You can even take a spin around Port Douglas in a horse-drawn carriage.

port douglas coffee shop

Hike Mossman Gorge in the Daintree Rainforest

Mossman Gorge rainforest Cairns Australia

mossman gorgeo australiaHike across rushing streams, waterfalls, and lush rainforest at Mossman Gorge. Located in the World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest, Mossman Gorge  contains the oldest, continuously surviving rainforest on earth. Some 3,000 plant species from over 210 families are nestled within the Daintree Rainforest and wet tropics region. Hikes aren’t too difficult, but proper footwear and rain cover is a good idea as it is very wet!

Immerse yourself in local culture with Ngadiku (stories and legends) Dreamtime Walks, which are conducted by the local Indigenous people. This experience will set you back $50-70 per person but hiking the Gorge is free.

Feed Bats in Kuranda

Kuranda Australai Batreach

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.

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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.

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 train

Where to Stay

Cairns Colonial Club Australia

Cairns Colonial Club Resort is a beautifully landscaped stay in the tropical style of Far North Queensland. Guests can enjoy tropical birds all around (some quite noisy) and sitting by the pool at dusk to watch the bats fly over. The resort is clean and modern with motel-style accommodations. There are three lagoon-style pools and plenty of meandering paths and gazebo areas for guests to find a quiet spot for reading or entertaining the kids.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

In Australia, tipping is neither necessary nor expected. That goes for all hospitality and tours. There are certain things you will pay extra for such as Internet usage. Most places, including hotels that offer WiFi, charge between $1-4 for 15-30 minutes of Internet time. McDonald’s is free and has WiFi but it is slow and there are usually lots of users taking up broadband.

If you’re going to be flying in Australia or New Zealand, booking online can save you a big chunk of your budget. Budget airlines such as Jetstar or Blue Pacific charge fares based on the amount of baggage, so read the baggage allowances carefully. If you have a larger carry-on, it may be cheaper to book a ticket with a check bag since the airline standards differ. What may pass on one airline as carry-on may be too big on another and have to be checked, which can cost around $80 at the airport. Whereas, if you had booked the ticket as carry-on it would have only cost $10! If you’re traveling on to New Zealand, make sure you have an outbound flight. You can’t even check in for a flight headed to New Zealand without it.


Win a trip for two to Cairns, Australia!

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Win a trip for two to Cairns, Australia! It’s easy. Simply log in to Facebook or enter your email address on the entry form below to enter. Unlock even more ways to enter just by following Global Girl Travels. Earn up to 50 entries! Tweet this giveaway daily for extra entries.

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Open to all entrants 18 years of age and older, excluding United employees. Flight must originate from Guam or Tokyo. Multiple entries encouraged! Winner chosen at random. Entry period ends June 1, 2015 at 12:00 a.m.

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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 Peterson
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