G’day and welcome to fabulous Cairns in tropical North Queensland, a relaxed and laid-back city that has long reigned as one of Australia’s most popular travel destinations.
Cairns has something to offer everyone. The CBD is packed with attractions, while epic landscapes like the Wet Tropics rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef are within easy reach.
So lets start expolring Best Things to Do in Cairns in 2024
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
It may be hot, but Cairns is seriously chilled out, and nowhere is that more obvious than at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, which overlooks the shimmering Coral Sea. The lagoon offers safe year-round swimming and comes complete with its own palm-fringed beach and shaded parklands. It’s open daily.
Heritage Walking Tour in Cairns
Cairns is a modern, bustling city, but what may surprise you is the wealth of period architecture where tropical meets classical. Download a self-guided heritage walking tour map from the City of Cairns website and head off to explore. There are more than 20 sites to tick off, and each one has its own unique story. Wrap up your walking tour with a visit to the gorgeous Cairns Art Gallery, which hosts local and touring exhibitions. It’s open Monday to Saturday.
Cairns Discovery Tours
For those looking to beat the heat and explore in air-conditioned comfort, Cairns Discovery Tours offers an afternoon city tour that takes in all the highlights. One of the great things about this experience is that it includes a guided tour of the fascinating Cairns Museum, and tour guests can return to the museum at no charge later in their stay. The museum follows a chronological path: you’ll learn about the interwar building boom and the role the city played in World War II and finally the rise of Cairns as a tourist mecca in the second half of the 20th century.
The city tour is also a convenient way to see the stunning Cairns Botanic Gardens, also known as the Flecker Gardens, which are located about four kilometers north of the city center. Meander along shaded pathways and boardwalks framed by lush foliage. The Watkins & Monroe Martin Conservatory houses a range of rare tropical plants and a dazzling array of butterflies.
There’s even more in store for you with Cairns Discovery Tours, including a visit to Campbell’s Lookout for sweeping views of the city and out towards the Coral Sea. From the lookout, it’s a 15-minute drive to beautiful Barron Gorge, and the views from the bridge that crosses the Barron River are epic. We’ll be seeing more of the gorge from a different angle shortly.
Roughly 25 kilometers northwest of Cairns, a visit to the village of Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands is an absolute must-do. Surrounded by Wet Tropics rainforest, one of the easiest ways to reach the village is on board the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, which departs from Cairns Railway Station twice daily.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Construction of the Kuranda Scenic Railway began in 1886, and it proved to be an engineering feat that is still admired today. The winding line rises from sea level to around 330 meters, passing through dense rainforest and past serene waterfalls. The onboard commentary shares the story of the construction of the line, and there’s a brief stop at Barron Falls Station for passengers to hop off and admire the beauty of Barron Gorge.
Kuranda Village 2
On arrival in Kuranda, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the town, which is packed with stores selling indigenous art, crafts, jewelry, and knickknacks. Drop by the tourist information center and take a wander through the rabbit warren of stalls at the original Kuranda Rainforest Market.
Kuranda Wildlife Parks
Kuranda also has a number of wildlife parks. The Kuranda Koala Gardens is home to a wide variety of furry and scaly native critters, some of which you can hand-feed and some of which you can’t. Head next door to Fabulous Bird World, which houses a colorful array of birdlife.
All too soon, it’s time to return to Cairns, and the included drinks and nibbles in Gold Class are an absolute treat. Cairns has no shortage of amazing natural landscapes within close proximity, but Fitzroy Island has to be one of the most beautiful and one of the easiest to access, thanks to the Fitzroy Flyer, which departs from the Cairns Marlin Marina.
Fitzroy Island Activities
The crossing to the island takes just 45 minutes, and before you know it, you’ll be relaxing in a stunning island paradise of pristine coral beaches, crystal clear water, and verdant rainforest. If you’re staying at the Fitzroy Island Resort, lucky you—it’s beautifully integrated into the natural surroundings. If you’re visiting the island on a day trip like we are, there are amenities to use and plenty to see and do. We’re keen to visit the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on the island, but more on that shortly.
Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre
The Fitzroy Island Dive Centre hires out kayaks, snorkels, and fins and stand-up paddleboards. You can book a scuba diving trip or a glass-bottom boat adventure. For those who just want to soak up the natural splendor, there are some stunning walks to do and secluded beaches to relax on, including iconic Nudie Beach, which is a 20 or so minute walk from the main jetty.
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Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre : Foxy’s Bar
Lunch and drinks can be purchased from Foxy’s Bar or the general store. If you haven’t pre-booked your turtle centre tour, you can do it there. A we caught up with resident marine biologist Rowena Johnson to find out more about the centre and its vital work.
Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre 2
So in Cairns, we have a couple of locations, and what the committee will do is once the title comes in and has been assessed and we have a treatment plan, they will decide which location to send it to based on what level of care it needs.
So if that turtle needs a higher level of care, it will stay on the mainland and one of the mainland locations closer to the veterinary practice that we use, and then they bring them out to us here once they reach the stage of needing no more than one treatment a week. We can’t necessarily provide that high dependency level of care, but then we can do emergency treatment if we need to.
Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre 3
Tell me what guests can expect when they come to do a turtle tour here on Fitzroy. Okay, it’s a half an hour talk. They get to see whichever turtle is in our front display tank at the time.
At the moment, we have Layla. You get to learn a little bit about what’s going on at the center, the other turtles that we have there, the common issues that turtles come in with, the challenges that they’re facing, and what the process is for getting them released at the other end of the journey.
And what does the future hold for Layla? The plan is for her to get released towards the end of this month before cyclone season. We don’t release during cyclone season for obvious reasons. So if all goes according to plan, she’ll be the last release for the year. If not, be the first release in the spring.