A freelance writer with an interest in just about everything.
Published September 24th 2014
Treat your family to a tropical getaway
Thanks to its great weather, relaxed vibe and its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is on the bucket list of travellers from all over the world. But just because it's an international tourist destination doesn't mean you can't have a fun and affordable family holiday there. From your accommodation to your entertainment and getting out to explore the reef, you can do Cairns with a couple of kids in tow and still have a whole lot of fun.
The kids will love Fitzroy Island. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
The number-one reason to visit the area is of course the famous Great Barrier Reef. This World Heritage listed marvel draws travellers from all over the world - after all, try and name an Australian tourism ad you've seen recently that hasn't featured it. The world's largest coral reef system is made up of more than 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays, 100 islands and more than 1500 species of tropical fish.
And it's just a short boat ride away from Cairns. Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two of the unspoilt islands you can boook a daytrip to from Cairns. Fitzroy Island National Park is home to mountainous rainforest and fringing reef, so you can spend your days snorkelling among the marine life or setting out on a beautiful tropical bushwalk. There's also a resort if you want to extend your stay, but the ferry ride back to the mainland only takes 45 minutes.
Green Island is a tropical cay that's also just a 45-minute boat ride away. It's home to white sandy beaches, sapphire waters and plenty of bird life. Kids and adults will love the snorkelling here, so it's definitely worth the trip out. Plenty of tourism operators run regular ferries out to the islands, but if you want to splash out even further you can book helicopter flights even further afield and to even more exotic locations.
The Cairns Lagoon. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
Back in Cairns, The Esplanade along the waterfront is the centre of activity. Many people who arrive in Cairns are surprised to find that the Great Barrier Reef and beautiful turquoise waters aren't right on their doorsteps - instead you're confronted with mudflats and slightly underwhelming murky water. But the kids won't mind too much because they can satisfy all their aquatic desires in the nearby Cairns Lagoon. This nearby massive pool is free, not to mention very inviting on a hot and humid day.
If you've hired a car, one local location definitely worth visiting is Crystal Cascades. It's a beautiful series of freshwater swimming pools and waterfalls that is quite popular with locals in the warmer months, but is somewhere very few tourists know about. Read a full review of Crystal Cascades here.
The drive north towards Port Douglas takes in some great coastal views.
I'd also recommend pointing the car north and checking out the Northern Beaches. Strung out along the coast heading up towards Port Douglas, towns like Trinity Beach, Clifton Beach and Kewarra Beach are all worth exploring. The resort town of Palm Cove is also a great spot to visit - or maybe stay a few nights - with soft sands, palm-fringed beaches and plenty of dining and accommodation options. The water's pretty warm all year round, but you'll have to take care during the stinger season (approx. November to May) and swim in the netted areas.
When heading north along the Captain Cook Highway, if you choose to turn west instead of east you can stop in at the town of Kuranda. This sleepy, pretty village on the Atherton Tablelands is home to a couple of great family attractions. The first is Kuranda Scenic Railway, which runs through World Heritage-listed rainforest and past spectacular waterfalls. The second is the Skyway Rainforest Cableway, which takes you above and into the depths of some 7.5km of pristine rainforest. The views are worth the price of admission, as is the stop at the lookouts over Barron Falls.
From there it's only a short (and quite pretty) drive further up the highway and then up the coast to Port Douglas. There you can treat your family to a true Daintree rainforest experience, marvel at breathtaking Mossman Gorge or just spend your time eating, drinking and relaxing.
Port Douglas is another town with plenty of places to stay, but Cairns is as good a place as any to base yourself. Being the tourist hotspot that it is, Cairns has no shortage of accommodation options to choose from. If you're looking for an affordable option, I'd recommend checking out the Southern Cross Atrium Apartments. Though they're a little back from all the restaurants and people watching of the Esplanade - about a 10- or 15-minute walk - you don't have to pay the same premium as you do if you want to stay on the water.
Explore some World Heritage-listed rainforest. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
Choose from studio, one-bedroom superior, one-bedroom deluxe and two-bedroom deluxe apartments, all of which are clean and modern. The flexibility of being able to cook your own meals can help you save money, while there are three pools within the complex to keep the kids entertained. The main shopping centre in town, Cairns Central, is also located right next door.
Plenty of airlines fly to Cairns from Australian capital cities, so shop around for a good deal. You may have to be a little flexible with your dates but it'll definitely be worth it in the long run - and saving money on flights will give you a little extra to spend on treating the family in this tropical tourist paradise.