Here’s our list for the 5 best Cairns day trips – from exploring the Great Barrier Reef to the Rainforests: here are some tips on things to do in Cairns!
Queensland is a wonderful place for travelers. While some travelers visit Australia to just visit the Sydney Opera house, some want to see the vivid underwater life of the great barrier reef, some want to visit the beaches and hike the rainforests and others have hugging a koala at the top of their to-do list. Whatever your goal is, make sure you do visit Queensland while you’re in Australia.
Cairns is not just the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, it is also a short drive away from a lot of other beautiful travel destinations like Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. While there are plenty of touristy things to do in and around Cairns, there is also a plethora of less explored options for the seasoned travelers and explorers.
Our list of the 5 best Cairns day trips have endless opportunities for every type of traveler to enjoy herself – deep sea diving, swimming, hiking, trains, scenic drives, cableways, reef snorkeling, sailing, helicopter views, shopping, you name it!! With all these options, it is like a real-life Legoland, where each day is a unique and mesmerizingly new experience.
If you haven’t watched my music video shot in Queensland featuring Cairns and rainforests, here’s the link to watch it!
Traveling in Cairns, Australia – On My Own | The Music Video
And to help you plan your personalized experience when you visit, I made a list of 5 best Cairns day trips that are a MUST for every first-time traveler:
1. The Great Barrier Reef
The north eastern coast of Queensland is home to the world’s largest coral reef system that has many different types of corals and fish of all colors, turtles, stingers, etc. Cairns has many day-tours that take you to the best destinations where one can do deep-sea diving and snorkeling to get the best views of the reef. Tours start from AUD 99 and can be 4-6 hours long with 2-ish hours of ferrying to and from the reef and 2-3 hours of viewing. Tours generally need to be booked in advance and you can even bargain an underwater camera with an extra charge.
For first-timers, some tours have diving lessons, and snorkelling guides. Can you go snorkelling if you don’t know how to swim? Of course you can, as long as you aren’t afraid of being in the water. Though the waters can get rough and choppy, so make sure you don’t get queasy or nervous about it. Try to relax, wear a life jacket and go with a guide, who’ll teach you to use the snorkel gear and breathe with your mouth. Just focus on enjoying the views of the corals and having a good time!
Do not want to go underwater? Some tours also have helicopter viewing of the reef and submarine or semi-submersed submarine views.
Note added on July 15, 2015: Watch our music video shot in and around the reef: Dive into the Water | The Great Barrier Reef, Australia – A Music Video
2. Kuranda Scenic Railway and Cableway
The small town of Kuranda is about an hour’s drive from Cairns and is at the edge of Kuranda State Forests or rainforests. Kuranda Scenic Railway is an award-winning train journey to Kuranda from Cairns that passes through tunnels and some great views of Barron waterfalls. Kuranda also has a couple of great lookouts by the river and uphill. Plus: some really cool finds at the local marketplace that has shops selling aboriginal art, hangings, jewelry and local apparel.
Don’t forget to take a cableway while returning from Kuranda. It is one of the most touristy things to do while in Cairns but also one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever experience there. The cable car passes over the rainforest and has the most amazing views where you can see the lush greenery and mesmerizing beauty of treetops and mountain range. It also has 3 stops with gorgeous lookouts and walks through the rainforests. You may even get to see a cassowary or two.
3. Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge
Port Douglas is a small but beautiful town about two hours drive from Cairns up north. It is famous for its resorts and laid-back-ness, and also has many snorkelling and diving tours to the Great Barrier Reef. Great place to spend the night in a nice resort if you want to drive to Daintree National Park or Cape Tribulation the next morning. Port Douglas has a nice lookout and a beach, but pricey restaurants.
Mossman Gorge is about ten minute drive from Port Douglas, and one of the most scenic places I have ever visited in my life. It has a bus tour to take visitors inside the rainforest where they can walk along trails connecting the gorge and rainforest and cascades. So, so gorgeous.
4. Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
Daintree is a tropical rainforest about an hour’s drive from Port Douglas. It is an ancient surviving rainforest and a part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage site. The drive up is really beautiful that has rainforest on either side of a narrow winding road. Plus a mandatory river-crossing on a ferry that takes cars. The rainforest has countless different species of plants and trees, some of which have survived or evolved for more than a hundred million years. It also has many species of the Australian fauna, such as insects, butterflies, cassowaries, crocodiles, etc. The tour through the rainforest features many beautiful lookouts and a high tower lookout too.
Cape Tribulation is a village about a half hour drive up north of Daintree Rainforest, features white sandy beaches and it is where the rainforest meets the reef. Choose a sunny spring or summer day when the waters are turquoise and pristine!
5. Cairns Tropical Zoo and Palm Cove
Cairns Tropical Zoo is about a twenty-minute drive from Cairns and is a pretty good way to spend a morning/afternoon. The zoo features a large variety of bird, reptile and animal species, most of which are native to tropical Australia. It has a bird house with parrots, cockatoos, and a reptile house with komodo dragons and many species of lizards. crocodiles and American alligators. It has a kangaroo feeding area, and a house of wombats, and also you can get close with and also hug koalas, and take a picture for an additional fee. The zoo also has lemurs and cassowaries, peacocks and many exotic tropical bird species. Don’t miss the shows, such as the bird show, reptile show and koala hugging sessions!!! (Experience of a lifetime!) 🙂
Palm Cove is the most beautiful quaint little town I visited in Australia. It’s picturesque streets make you seem like you are in a Hollywood movie. The boulevard shown below is sea-side and has a beach next to it, with restaurants and cafes at the other side. Great place to hang out for an evening after the zoo or have lunch. Also indulge in photography, driving or swimming (be careful of the crocs though).
Other places to visit:
Some other options for day trips from Cairns are:
1. Atherton Tablelands / Hot Air Balloon:
Take a pricey but memorable hot air balloon ride up see beautiful panoramic views of the Cairns suburbs and countrysides. Pretty romantic, but starts at 4 am.
The small town is located further up north from Cape Tribulation and has scenic beaches and unspoilt natural beauty and a historic countryside.
3. Fitzroy Island:
This island is located southeast of Cairns and has a rainforest and its own reef. Cairns has daily ferry tours to and from Fitzroy Island. It has a resort, private beeches and a national park.