Cairns: Essential Information
When is the best time to visit Cairns?
Cairns is situated in Queensland's Tropical North, which means it has wet, tropical weather all year. The weather in Cairns, however, becomes extremely hot, humid, and rainy during the Australian summer from December to February, average temperatures are between 75-89°F (25-31°C).
As a result, if you're planning on doing a lot of day trips from Cairns, we'd suggest skipping these months. During these months, for example, visibility on the Great Barrier Reef can be severely diminished, and box jellyfish can be found in the waters. These jellyfish inflict painful stings that can often be fatal during stinger season. Only swim where there is a beach stinger net otherwise you risk getting stung by jellyfish.
Daily torrential rain may also make some areas inaccessible. For example, along the tracks within the Daintree Rainforest, or in some areas such as the Atherton Tablelands. Heavy rain can also make the flow of water at some of the beautiful waterfalls near Cairns too dangerous to swim in.
The best time of year to go to Cairns is between May to August. These months cover the Australian winter. The temperatures are slightly cooler, averaging 63-78°F (17-26°C), and there is low rainfall.
How many days in Cairns is enough?
You can easily spend two weeks in and near Cairns as there is so much more to see & do in this wonderful tropical region of Australia. If you don’t plan on doing many day tours, then around four days would be enough time to discover the main attractions.
Where to stay in Cairns?
Accommodation in the Cairns and Port Douglas regions are divided into three major hubs: Central Cairns, which is convenient for tours and has a city vibe; Palm Cove Village, around a 20-minute drive north, which is more like a resort; and Port Douglas, an hour north, which has a strong selection of upmarket accommodation and facilities.
If you are looking to treat yourself and seeking a little extra, you can stay at some of these hotels and resorts.
On the other hand, if you are a budget backpacker or on a working holiday visa and looking for a wallet-friendly place to meet other travelers and find work, then you can stay at the following hostels. These are some of the best hostels in Cairns for backpackers & budget travelers.
Also make sure to check out our complete guide for the best hostels in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth for more information if hostels and camping are essential on your Australia tour.
Hiring a Car
If you find like-minded travel mates in Cairns or make some friends in your hostel, you can hire a car and split the rental and fuel costs on your day trips around Cairns.
Day Trips from Cairns: Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing on earth visible from space.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living organism, with a 2,300-kilometer habitat made up of thousands of barrier reefs and hundreds of islands.
The reefs are home to over 600 different types of hard and soft coral, as well as numerous fish, mollusks, turtles, dolphins, and sharks.
Joining a boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef is a very popular day trip. These normally last a full day, and you sail out to the reef to snorkel, swim, or learn to dive with professional instructors.
You have the option of turning your day trip into a special overnight stay. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend the night at the Sunlover Coral pontoon, which offers the rare experience of sleeping and floating on the reef. You can also book a scenic flight or a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef, all of which are truly awe-inspiring experiences.
Falla Reef Cruises is great for beginner snorkelers and first-time divers. It costs around AUD$85.
Cairns Dive Centre is a more commercial trip than Falla, but it specializes in first-time diving and basically guarantees scuba diving with Nemo. Costs around AUD$170.
If you have been snorkeling or diving before and are looking to enjoy some of the best reefs and marine life that Australia has to offer, you will want to visit Milln Reef. Coral Sea Dreaming is one of the most popular operators out of Cairns and offers one of the most interactive and incredible expeditions to this beautiful part of the world. The Reef quality here will blow your mind, no matter your experience level! Costs around $460 per person for a 2 Day/1 Night trip.
If you don’t have a lot of time or budget, you can choose Passions of Paradise. They offer a similar day trip, while the sites are the same, you will miss out on the morning, afternoon, and night dive. It costs around $200 AUD.
Day Trips from Cairns: Green Island
Green Island, only 27 kilometers east of Cairns, is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns. Despite its size, it is also very accessible: walking across the entire island takes just 45 minutes. It takes less than 5 minutes to walk from the jetty to either of the island's most popular beaches.
The beaches are ideal for relaxing. Alternatively, go swimming, snorkeling, or kayaking in the crystal clear reef waters! There is a variety of snorkeling and scuba diving trips available for the curious, as well as a glass-bottom boat trip to take in the vivid coral sights.
Green Island National Park is a designated wilderness area. Take nature walks in the rainforest, listen to the birds, and read about the island's past. There's also the Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Habitat, which is a wonderful place to see crocodiles and hear about them!
The crocodile park entry fee is around $20 AUD.
Day Trips from Cairns: Fitzroy Island
A spectacular island often compared to paradise thanks to its white-sand beaches, turtle sanctuary, and snorkeling opportunities. Journeying to Fitzroy Island is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns.
The high-speed ferry takes 45 minutes to arrive at Fitzroy Island. Swimming and snorkeling in the crystal blue waters of Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach (a 20-minute walk from the main jetty); jumping on the giant ocean trampoline; watching the coral and exotic sea life from a glass-bottom boat; stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking are only a few of the activities available on the island.
The Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is another must-see Fitzroy Island destination. Tours of the turtle sanctuary are available to give you an idea of the wonderful work they do to care for sick and wounded turtles, who are one of the reef's endangered species.
The Fitzroy Island ferry departs Cairns 3 times per day and takes 45 minutes to get to Fitzroy Island. Fitzroy Flyer fares are around $82 AUD per Adult, $41 per child, and $215 per family.
Day Trips from Cairns: Kuranda
Driving from Cairns to Kuranda is the least popular way to get there. The Kuranda markets are more famously accessed by taking a scenic train ride or a cable car from Cairns.
The Scenic Railway, Kuranda
If you take the train from Cairns to Kuranda, the journey takes around 2 hours. This includes a 10 minute stop at Barron Falls for a bird’s eye view of the famous Barron Falls.
Tickets for the scenic railway from Cairns to Kuranda are AUD$50.00 one way or AUD$76.00 return. There are child tickets $25 for a single and $38 return. There are also options for family tickets ($190) as well as upgrade options to Gold Class ($98 for Adult, $98 for a child, and $392 for a family).
The Skyrail Cable Car, Kuranda
The cable car, known officially as the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway begins at Smithfield Terminal which is around 20 minutes North of Cairns. It makes two stops on route – at Red Peak station then again at Barron Falls before arriving at Kuranda station.
The cable car dangles over the breathtaking Barron Gorge National Park, allowing you to ride across the rainforest's treetops. The trip is 7.5 kilometers total in length. Upgrade to a glass-floor gondola for a much more terrifying view of the world's oldest tropical rainforest.
The cable cars depart every 15 minutes and take around 1.5 hours one way or 2.5 hours round trip (including a 20-minute stop at both stations.
A guided tour which will take you on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and bring you back on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, you will also get to explore the village located in the pristine rainforest and enjoy free time visiting markets, shops, and food stalls. All of this is priced at around $147 AUD.
The Kuranda markets are another great day trip to take from Cairns, whether you take the gondola or hire a car. The Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets and the Heritage Markets are the two markets.
Numerous stalls and shops sell everything from Aboriginal art to traditional instruments and opal jewelry.
You might hear some talk about the Kuranda markets but in general, Kuranda village itself is fairly small. You can also explore the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. It is Australia’s biggest butterfly aviary, with over 1500 butterflies!
Day Trips from Cairns: Daintree Crocodile Tour
The Daintree River flows through the Daintree Rainforest, north of Cairns, and all the way into the ocean.
A river cruise up the Daintree River is a fantastic way to see the rainforest and its biodiversity from a new angle. Several different tour operators offer one-hour river cruises from the car ferry boarding point. These tours take you across the mangrove estuary, which is home to a diverse range of species, including crocodiles! This is one of the best places to see estuarine crocodiles in the wild.
Heading to Daintree is one of the most renowned day trips that you can take from Cairns.
Approximate prices for Daintree Crocodile tours are $30 AUD per Adult, $14 per child, $75 per family, and $26 for students.
Day Trips from Cairns: Babinda Boulders & The Devil’s Pool
Approximately 1 hour from Cairns, Babinda Boulders are not only one of the best things to do in Cairns for free but one of the most epic natural wonders which hold great significance to Aboriginal people. The natural beauty and fascinating history made it one of the most popular day trips from Cairns.
The Babinda Boulders are surrounded by dense rainforest and the breathtaking backdrop of Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland's highest mountain. It takes about an hour to drive south on the Bruce Highway from Cairns to Babinda. And there are arrows pointing to you in the direction of Babinda Boulders.
After parking up, you'll soon see that the Babinda River has cut an impressive canyon riddled with massive granite boulders. They're known as the Devil's Pool because of an Aboriginal tale about a broken-hearted woman throwing herself into the water, her screams aggressively forming the Babinda Boulders that can still be seen today.
You can not only hike and explore in this fascinating place, but you can also swim in the refreshing pools that surround these dinosaur-egg-like rocks.
If you are keen on camping in Australia instead of finding a hostel in Cairns, camping in Babinda is very popular. There are numerous free campsites nearby Babinda Boulders if you fancy a sleepover in the rainforest.
Day Trips from Cairns: Atherton Tablelands
If you hire a car and drive to the Atherton Tablelands, might take approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, you'll find that there are so many waterfalls close by that you can actually see and swim in many on the same day. The Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Circuit is a 17-kilometer driving path that involves Millaa Millaa Falls and a few other hidden gems worth a detour.
Millaa Millaa Waterfalls Circuit
Zillie Falls is part of the Millaa Millaa waterfall tour Cairns route, which also includes Ellinjaa. You can drive to the falls, park on the side of the road, then walk across the street to the waterfall. You’ll be standing at the top of the waterfall, looking down on it. There is a path you can takedown but it is a bit tricky, so be careful and make sure you have proper footwear!
Curtain Fig Tree
On your Atherton Tablelands Cairns tours, you can visit the famous Curtain Fig Tree. This iconic 500-year-old strangler fig tree is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and can be found along the Curtain Fig Tree Road, around 1km north of Yungaburra in Curtain Fig National Park!
The vast aerial root system that cascades down to the forest floor, forming a 7m thick "curtain," is what makes this tree such a huge tourist attraction for those visiting Northern Queensland.
Nerada Tea Plantation
The Nerada Tea Plantation is located on the road to Millaa Millaa Falls. What a lovely spot to spend an afternoon! The plantation grounds are breathtakingly beautiful, with rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see and abundant wildlife. There are plenty of photo opportunities for birdwatchers, and if you're lucky, you might even see a tree kangaroo!
Day Trips from Cairns: Port Douglas & Mossman Gorge
Cairns to Port Douglas
The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas, approximately 1 hour, is particularly scenic as you ride across extensive sugarcane plantations. (There are over 20 different types of cane in the area.) Port Douglas is a popular coastal town with a plethora of fashionable cafes, restaurants, and tour options. One of the most common activities to do in Port Douglas is to visit the Great Barrier Reef, as there are several boat tours or a cruise that departs from there, similar to Cairns.
One of the best things to do in Port Douglas is taking a walk down Four Mile Beach. With the reef on one side and dense rainforest on the other, you’re bound to enjoy the stroll.
Port Douglas to Mossman Gorge
30 minutes drive from Port Douglas, Mossman Gorge is the entrance to Daintree Rainforest and is part of the ancestral homeland of the Kuku Yalanji. There are two walking trails, both of which are relatively easy; however, before you can begin the Mossman Gorge walk, you have to first buy a bus ticket from the Mossman Gorge Centre.
The Mossman Gorge Centre provides tourists with information about the area's Indigenous importance as well as conservation tips and maps for the Mossman Gorge walk. There's also a souvenir shop and a café, as well as an art gallery featuring work by local Kuku Yalanji artists.
The Mossman Gorge walk is stunning, with elevated platforms, bridges, and walkways winding through the towering rainforest and the occasional swimming spot. Mossman Gorge is the ideal day trip from Cairns if you want to be surrounded by nature and thrilling wildlife.
You’re required to take a shuttle bus from the center to begin the Mossman gorge walks. It is $12.65 AUD for an adult return ticket, $ 30.90 for a family of four, and the bus leaves every 15 minutes to take you into the middle of the gorge.
Day Trips from Cairns: Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a popular destination for families who want a relaxing beach escape and backpackers who love outdoor activities. It is approximately 2 hours drive from Cairns.
The most obvious thing to do is to head to the beach and enjoy a relaxing few hours, but if you are up for a bit of a walk, make sure to go up to the summit of Bicton Hill. This 4km hike takes 2 hours to complete. Once you get to the top, you will discover stunning views of Mission Beach. Most travelers head straight to the beach and completely overlook this trek.
For many backpackers in Australia, Mission Beach is the ultimate day trip from Cairns as it is the most popular place in Australia to skydive. Thrill-seekers from all over the country and the world come here to skydive from heights of over 15,000 feet. It's one of the rare locations on the planet where you can land on the sand. You can also enjoy a breathtaking view of the Great Barrier Reef while jumping.
A Mission Beach skydive can costs around AUD$330.
Day Trips from Cairns: Tully
If you like to discover hidden gems, there are a lot of things to do in Tully, especially for outdoor lovers. It is approximately 2 hours drive from Cairns.
Tully Gorge National Park is the perfect spot to go to. You can see beautiful waterfalls, such as the Tully Falls and the Tully River, where you can go rafting.
You can find walking trails in the Tully Valley. Make sure to check out Mount Tyson. The panoramic views from the lookout are stunning!
Make a plan to stop at the Tully Golden Gumboot! The Golden Gumboot is in competition with other North Queensland towns of Tully, Innisfail, and Babinda for the wettest town in Australia. These towns are located in the Wet Tropics and on land that was previously covered by rainforest. These areas experience some of the highest levels of rainfall in Australia through monsoonal rain and cyclones.
Day Trips from Cairns: Cape Tribulation & Daintree Rainforest
Cape Tribulation has so much to offer that one day clearly isn't long enough as it involves at least 6 hours of driving. If you just have one day, depart as early as possible to see as much as possible.
The road north from Cairns to Cape Tribulation quite literally ends at the Daintree River where you need to take the car ferry across in order to continue northwards to Cape Tribulation. Known by Aussies as “Cape Trib,” this is an exploration into the deep jungles of Australia.
Exploring the unusual phenomena of two UNESCO world heritage sites existing side by side, since this is where the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef collide, is one of the best things to do in Cape Tribulation.
Exploring Bloomfield Track, the elevated boardwalk, and relaxing on the beach of Cape Tribulation are some popular things to do here. Unfortunately one of the most dangerous things to do in Cape Tribulation is go swimming due to the risk of sharks, jellyfish, and crocodiles.
The Daintree River ferry runs non-stop from 6 AM till midnight every day and the current price is $25.- for the return trip, bring cash as EFTPOS is not always available.
Daintree Rainforest entry fees are $37 AUD per Adult, $18 per child, and $90 per family. The Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre is open every day except for Christmas Day (25th December). Hours of operation are from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm daily.
With something for everyone – from active tours to exploring nature and learning about wildlife to relaxing on the beach – there are enough day trips from Cairns to set you up for a week of visits.
Looking to learn more about Australian travel? Here are some of our guides worth checking!