Winter is fast approaching and many of us will find ourselves wishing that we can escape the chilly weather and instead immerse ourselves in tropical warmth.
This is what I had done last winter when I decided to make the trip up to far North Queensland and visit Cairns. I stayed for only four days (including two full days) and intended to mainly see the Great Barrier Reef so that I could tick it off my bucket list.
By the end of my stay, however, I realised that I could have stayed in Cairns for a week at least (5 full days) and I still would not have had enough time to appreciate the diverse range of activities that the city and region has to offer.
This article will serve as a guide to the activities that you can do if you choose to escape the cold and holiday in Cairns;
Green Island and Great Barrier Reef Tours
The Great Barrier Reef is a major tourist attraction near Cairns that attracts thousands of visitors each year. And this may be something that you wish to tick off your own travel bucket list. But why not visit a tropical island while you are touring the reefs?
Green Island is situated just off the coast of the Australian Mainland and it takes 45 minutes to travel to the island from Cairns by a fast boat.
You can book various boat tour packages to Green Island. For example, you may book a boat trip that also includes a Glass-Bottom Boat Tour of the local reefs on top of the trip to Green Island. This means that once you arrive on Green Island, you board a smaller boat that takes you out to the coral reefs around the island and you can see the aquatic wildlife that live below the ocean surface.
Exploring the aquatic wildlife of the Green Island reefs.
If you do choose this package, I would recommend that you visit the information desk right after the mainland boat docks on the island so that you can book the best available time (for the glass-bottom boat tour) that suits you.
Other boat tour packages include scuba-diving and snorkelling activities around the island and you will be provided with snorkelling equipment. For more information on the various snorkelling tours, you may visit the Cairns Visitors Centre's website.
The Daintree Rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world with a current life-span of 135 million years. There are various ways that you can tour this tropical rainforest.
You may tour the rainforest in a small personal group and go for a drive along some of Australia's most scenic beaches along with a personalised tour of the rainforest by a group tour guide. Or you may do the Cape Tribulation Day tour which includes guided rainforest walks, scenic lookouts and opportunities for spotting crocodiles along the Daintree River . You can even stop at the local Daintree Ice Cream Company for a sweet and cool reprieve from your walk (at your own expense).
A Zipline tour is also a fun way to explore what the Daintree has to offer. You can glide through the trees as you experience an aerial view of the rainforest. There is even a Human Hamster Wheel cable lift that lifts you up onto the cable as seen in this video;
You may check out the Daintree Rainforest website for more information on the various tours of the Daintree Rainforest which also includes overnight and 3 day tours. It is a 2 hour trip to the Daintree Rainforest from Cairns so make sure to plan at least a one-day trip for it on your itinerary. Transport by coach must be booked.
Skyfall Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway
This is an adventure for those who aren't afraid of scenic heights, those who love to explore markets, and those who enjoy train rides.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (Image courtesy of Amayagan/Wikimedia Commons)
Tour buses operate from various hotels and accommodation bases in and around Cairns which will take you to the base of the Skyfall Cableway. Bookings for both transport and the experience are essential.
From the base begins a 90-minute ascent up into the mountains between Cairns and the town of Kuranda. The cable car will take you over and into the trees of the rainforest as you look back on the coastal scenery of North Queensland. There are two stops along the way including Red Peak and Barron Falls.
At Red Peak, you will find luscious trees and plants around the station and boardwalks taking you through the trees and in amongst the local wildlife.
Boardwalk near Red Peak station (Image courtesy of Jerrye & Roy Klotz MD/Wikimedia Commons)
Barron Gorge is located right near the doorstep of the Barron Falls station. There are three separate lookouts around the Gorge which provide scenic views of a waterfall and the gorge itself.
It is recommended by staff at the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway that you allow for 20-30 minutes to explore the forests and areas around each station.
Once you board back onto the cable car, you will travel over the waters of the Barron River and into the town of Kuranda for the last stop. Before you enter the terminal, 'Flash' the Frog will take your picture and you will find the photo displayed in the terminal once you exit the cable car.
After a short walk from the terminal, you will enter the town of Kuranda.
Image of butterfly at the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary (Image courtesy of Lepidlizard/Wikimedia Commons)
Here you can walk through the largest butterfly sanctuary in the Southern Hemisphere and see over 1,500 tropical butterflies. Here's a handy tip if you choose to go: Make sure that you wear something Red or White so that the butterflies will land on you.
Explore Birdworld and interact with various species of birds including Amazonian Macaws, Lorikeets and Cockatoos. And if you're lucky, you might find that one may land on your shoulder during the tour. You can also interact with Koalas at the Kuranda Koala Gardens where you will see freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos and snakes.
There are also various markets in the town that showcases souvenirs, crafts, locally designed garments and jewellery, stalls that showcase the best honey and tropical fruits that North Queensland has to offer, and much more! There are also cafes and food stalls if you need to grab a bite to eat.
The following video (provided by John Boom) presents a pictorial slideshow of what you can expect to see in the town of Kuranda;
To end the day, you may take a scenic railway journey from Kuranda back to Cairns. The train crosses over scenic bridges and the Barron Gorge passing breathtaking waterfalls. The journey takes you through the tropical trees and down the mountain back to Cairns station.
Kuranda Scenic Railway (Image courtesy of HannahChen/Wikimedia Commons)
The trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway takes just under 2 hours and the latest train leaves Kuranda at 3:30 pm. So make sure that you do not miss the last train if you book the railway journey home (you will need to book a package that covers the entry into Kuranda via the Skyfall Rainforest Cableway and the return to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway).
For those of you who love adrenaline, a rapid river ride along the Barron River may be just your thing!. Ride the foamy waves as you bobble between the rocks and head through the valley in your rafting team. Just make sure that you keep a tight grip on the boat because the trip can be rocky. The Barron River is located just 20 minutes away from Cairns.
Children who are under the age of 13 are not permitted to participate and those who are under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
You can also opt to do a Combo package which includes skydiving near the Great Barrier Reef, doing a bungee jump, or riding ATV Quad Bikes through the Barron Wilderness. You may check out the various packages here.
Things to do around the Cairns CBD
There are also various fun activities that you can do right in the heart of the Cairns CBD.
Shopping- There are stores nestled all around the Cairns City CBD. In fact, there are so many shops that they are mostly lined along eight streets within the CBD (in a somewhat grid pattern). During my own trip to Cairns, I explored several stores in the Cairns CBD for 90 minutes and I probably covered half of the CBD so you will be spoiled for choice. There are also souvenir and gift stores all around the CBD with some very intriguing finds. And for those of you who enjoy shopping at some of the big chain stores, there is also a major shopping centre with an assortment of over 180 stores.
There are two main markets within the Cairns CBD which includes the Rusty Markets and the Cairns Night Markets.
From Fridays to Sundays, the Rusty Markets has various stalls set up within a warehouse in the heart of the CBD. Some of the various items that you will find inside these markets include local garments, tropical fruits and produce, and a whole assortment of hand-made goods from the locals
For those of you who enjoy shopping at night, Cairns also has you covered. There is a night market that trades right near the harbour with various stalls that sell a diverse range of goods. These include clothing, crafts, technology, self-care and beauty items, accessories, and souvenirs. The stalls are open from 5pm to 11pm for every day of the year.
Restaurants and Cafes- If you walk along the harbour or down one of the main streets in the Cairns CBD, you will find that there are plenty of dining venues to choose from with a range of cuisines. If you opt to eat at a place with a view of the harbour, I recommend that you ring ahead and make a booking because the restaurants can get quite busy during evenings. Click here to see a list of some of the restaurants that you may find along the harbour and around the CBD.
Cairns CBD (Image courtesy of Kotaro/Wikimedia Commons)
Foodies may also be delighted to learn that Cairns also has a vibrant Café scene. A simple stroll along Spence and Grafton Streets (located the middle of the Cairns CBD) will take you past some of the trendy cafes in the region. Make sure that you grab a bite to eat at one of these cafes during the day.
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome- Thrilling experiences await you within this dome and inside there are many activities for families and children. With numerous obstacle courses encompassing climbing walls, cargo nets and tunnels, it's an adventurous environment for the kids. There is an even more difficult course for those who are hungry for a challenge which involves ziplining over a crocodile and enduring more difficult crossings high in the air.
Other fun activities that you can do at the Dome includes;
• The Dome Climb where you walk on top of the dome's roof and are treated to 360-degree views of the Cairns CBD.
• The Power Jump will see you jump off a 13-metre-high platform attached by rope and there's no net to catch you. Instead, a fan positioned at the bottom will slow your descent and ensure that you make a safe landing.
• A slacklining activity where you walk a tightrope over the trees and wildlife. Participants are attached to a safety system during their walk so you won't have to worry about falling off the rope.
Crocodiles, turtles, pythons, frogs, koalas, parrots, cockatoos and barramundi fish are just some of the wildlife that you can encounter within the dome.
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon- Entry is free and the lagoon is situated right next to the harbour near the middle of the CBD.
The salt-water lagoon provides refuge from the dangerous crocodiles and stingrays that inhabit the Cairns coast and there are lifeguards on duty to patrol the 4,800 square-metre lagoon. Temperatures in Cairns average in the low to mid 20°C mark during the Winter months and in the mid-20s during the Spring months so it's the ideal temperature to take a quick dip.
Cairns Lagoon (Image courtesy of Bahnfrend/Wikimedia Commons)
Cairns Museum- History buffs will appreciate the collection of objects, photographs and archival records that the Cairns Museum has to offer. Learn about the rich history of the region and hear stories of the Great Barrier Reef, local Aborigine tribes, the tropical rainforests, and of the local produce of bananas and sugar cane.
The price of admission is $5 for Adults and $2.50 for Students so it's not an expensive activity and you will learn more about the region so it's a win-win activity. The museum is currently closed but it is expected to reopen in mid-2017.
image courtesy of Jerrye & Roy Klutz MD/Wikimedia Commons
Here are a list of some of the other activities that you may also find appealing;
• embarking on a Cairns Outback Tour and exploring the caves of Chillagoe.
• visiting The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum and exploring the various military exhibits. Joy rides are also offered in armoured vehicles during the middle of the day.
• spotting the tropical plants and wildlife inside the Cairns Botanical Gardens.
• experiencing Aboriginal culture by watching live dances, hearing the sounds of aboriginal music, and listening to indigenous stories at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. You can learn how to throw a spear or throw a boomerang that will return back to you. A 15-minute drive from Cairns will get you to the doorstep of the Tjapukai park.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg! There are dozens of activities that you can immerse yourself in if you choose to visit Cairns.
My stay of four days in Cairns was not merely long enough to appreciate what Cairns has to offer and I do plan on returning sometime in the near future to do some of these activities.
So if you do plan on travelling to Cairns to escape the chilly and crisp air of Winter, make sure you allow yourself a few extra days to check out some of the activities that I have outlined in this article.