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75 Best Things To Do In Cairns 2021 Guide

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Looking for things to do in Cairns? In this ultimate guide to Cairns Australia, you won’t find a more comprehensive article on the internet! We’re sharing all of the best places to visit in Cairns including hidden gems which will certainly blow your mind!

When we previously visited Cairns six years ago, we hardly did anything because we didn’t do much research. This time around we did our research and we were blown away by the absolute jaw-dropping places to visit in this incredible part of Australia. Luckily, you don’t need to spend much time trying to work out where to go in Cairns. We’re going to share all of the must-visit places in Cairns and the surrounding areas!

In our things to do in Cairns guide, we’re not going to just talk about the Tropical North Queensland city, we’re going to break it up into areas. We’re doing this because we want you to see how there are so many insanely amazing places to visit in TNQ.

Don’t do what we did the first time we visited and just stay in one area! Either jump on a tour or hire a car, go exploring and make the most of an epic holiday to Cairns.

We’re going to talk about as far down as Mission Beach, over to Atherton Tablelands and up to Cape Tribulation. We’ll also talk about some mind blowing places to visit a few hours out West of Cairns.


Table of Contents

What You Might Not Know

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Tropical North Queensland is home to many of the ‘best in Australia’ or ‘best in the world’ places. Here are some of these places we mention in this guide.

It’s no surprise Sir David Attenborough said one of his favourite places on the planet is Tropical North Queensland!

  • The world’s oldest rainforest at the Daintree Rainforest.
  • Snorkel, dive or fly over one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Cairns is the only place in the world you can swim with dwarf minke whales.
  • The Tully River is home to Australia’s best white water rafting.
  • Discover the most diverse geology in the world at Chillagoe Caves.
  • Explore the oldest lava tube systems in the world at the Undara Experience.
  • Have fun at the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course in a wildlife park at Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome.
  • Climb the highest free-standing pyramid in the world at Walsh’s Pyramid.
  • Australian Geographic named Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway as one of the top 10 skywalks in Australia!
  • Drive along one of THE best scenic drives in Queensland on the magical Bloomfield Track.
  • Photograph the widest waterfall in Australia at Millstream Falls.
  • Hike one of the best walks in Australia at Hinchinbrook Island.
  • Australia’s only multi-person jungle swing at AJ Hackett.
  • Go to the longest-running Aboriginal cultural festival in Australia in the town of Laura.

Our Highlights

If you just want a handful of places to visit on your Cairns holiday, we’re sharing some of the best things to do in Cairns in Australia in our highlights below.

CAIRNS

PALM COVE

  • Best Tours: Kayak to Double Island, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
  • Self Drive: Scenic coastal drive to Port Douglas, Wangetti Beach meditation rocks, Thala Beach Nature Reserve

PORT DOUGLAS & MOSSMAN GORGE

DAINTREE & CAPE TRIBULATION

ATHERTON TABLELANDS

CASSOWARY COAST & MISSION BEACH

  • Best Tour: Sky diving in Mission Beach, White water rafting in Tully River, Hinchinbrook Island, Orpheus Island
  • Self Drive: Climb Walsh’s Pyramid, Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, Alligators Nest swimming hole, Cardwell Spa Pool, cassowaries in Mission Beach

OUTBACK

  1. Best Tour: Savannahlander Railway
  2. Self Drive: Chillagoe Caves, Undara Experience

Need To Hire A Car?

Don’t Miss Out On This Hidden Gem!

If you don’t have a car, don’t worry you can still visit this hidden gem! Check our go to car hire company in Australia to get to discover this place.


Best Things To Do In Cairns

As we said, we’re going to break this article down into various areas so you can see that there are so many things to do in Cairns and in the surrounding towns. We’ve actually had to cut down this article so you can see our personal must visit places because there are so many things to do and places to visit.

Firstly, check out our Cairns map so you can see where the majority of the places we mention in this post are located!


CAIRNS

Cairns is the perfect place to base yourself if you want to go to Great Barrier Reef islands or go on tours from Cairns. There are loads of resorts and backpacker accommodation. to choose from, as well as plenty of restaurants to discover. Although the jewel to visiting Cairns isn’t in the city itself, what we love about this city are the places to visit nearby.

If you don’t want to do any tours, think about hiring a car and go exploring yourself! You might like to base yourself in either Palm Cove, Atherton Tablelands or Port Douglas.

1. Helicopter Ride Over Great Barrier Reef

We went on a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns when we first visited six years ago and it was honestly the best thing we did during that trip. For us, it was a much better experience than being on a boat snorkelling or diving because you get to see how beautiful the reef truly is from above. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this once in a lifetime experience.

There are quite a few options to choose from when booking a helicopter flight over Great Barrier Reef. Here are the most popular bookings below.


2. Cairns Skydiving

I remember when I was a backpacker in Australia, everyone told me how I had to go skydiving in Cairns. You know why? It’s because you’ll have epic views of the Great Barrier Reef to enjoy during the experience! Tick off one of the best Cairns attractions you need to do. Find out more about skydiving in Cairns and prebook to secure your spot.


3. Great Barrier Reef Catarmaran Cruise Day Trip

See the Great Barrier Reef on a premium catamaran cruise! You’ll sail to two outer reef locations and have a chance to snorkel, swim or dive. In this all-day trip to Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, you’ll have lunch prepared by an onboard chef as well as morning tea and afternoon tea, and a snorkel tour led by a guide during the trip. Find out more about this really popular day trip from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef.


4. Visit Green Island Or Fitzroy Island

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Read our Green Island vs Fitzroy Island review.

With Green Island and Fitzroy Island being the most popular Great Barrier Reef Islands to visit from Cairns, make sure you check out our guide for which one to visit. While both Cairns islands offer up similar day tours, you’ll want to make sure you visit the best one to suit you. If you’re looking for things to do in Cairns, both islands are some of the most popular day trips.


5. Cairns Overnight Snorkel And Dive Trip

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There’s no better way to experience the Great Barrier Reef than to go on an overnight liveaboard boat trip! You’ll be taken to the Outer Great Barrier Reef which is the best spot for snorkelling! Enjoy between 2-5 drives or snorkel sessions EACH day and even do a night dive to hopefully see some of the sharks! Spend time relaxing on the sun decks or in the bar, expect to eat a lot and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. Find out more about the overnight Great Barrier Reef experience.


6. Swim With Dwarf Minke Whales

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Did you know the only place you can swim with dwarf minke whales in the world is from Cairns? You’ll only get a few months of the year to experience the opportunity to come close to such a rare animal. July to July is peak time to see them but they can be found from May to August. Find out more about swimming with dwarf minke whales here.


7. Bungy Like Zac Efron Did

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Zac Efron and his brother recently bungy jumping in Cairns.

I think Zac Efron literally put the AJ Hackett bungy jump on the global map recently when he took the plunge with his brother. To be honest, AJ Hackett has been in Cairns for a really long time, as I remember it being a Cairns institution when I was. abackpacker years ago! The 50m drop certainly isn’t one of the biggest Bungy jumps in the world, but it’s one of the most popular fun Cairns tourist attractions. Book your bungy tickets here to secure the experience.


8. Fly Through The Rainforest On A Giant Swing

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If the idea of bungy jumping in Cairns isn’t your thing but you’re looking for fun Cairns activities, you might like to try the AJ Hackett Giant Swing instead. Bring up to two friends as you drop 45 metres in 3.5 seconds through the rainforest and up to 120km/h. This is Australia’s only multi-person jungle swing! Find out more about the Giant Swing at Aj Hackett in Cairns here.


9. Enjoy The FREE Cairns Lagoon

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One of the best free things to do in Cairns is to chill out at the Cairns Lagoon. This is an awesome swimming pool in the heart of Cairns and makes a great day for anyone looking to laze around for the day in the sun.

There are FREE fitness classes here such as Aqua Fit, Zumba, Pilates and Yoga! Check the Government website here for more details. Visit Cairns Lagoon on a Saturday morning for the Esplanade Markets to pick up some gifts to take back home.


10. Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

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We’ve got another world’s first coming your way! Welcome to Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome which is the world’s first Challenge Ropes Course in a wildlife park. Located on the rooftop of The Reef Hotel Casino, expect a zip line right through the park. Home to koalas, cockatoos and snakes, learn about Aussie animals before jumping 13 metres free fall from a tower.


11. Jump Aboard The Savannahlander Train

The Savannahlander train has got to be one of the best rail journeys in Australia! The unique outback rail experience departs from Cairns on a weekly basis. The fantastically restored 1960s train climbs the Kuranda Range on a four day journey out to Chillagoe Caves, Undara Experience and Cobbold Gorge. We talk more about these unbelievable places further down in this post. This is one experience which is definitely on our bucket list!


12. One For The Adventurers

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If you’re looking for Cairns tours for adventurers, then a quad bike and white water rafting tour could be the best option for you! Spend the morning off roading on quad bikes and spend the afternoon white-water rafting in Barron Gorge National Park. Transfers from your Cairns accommodation and afternoon is included in this fun day trip from Cairns.


13. Explore Rainforestation Nature Park

We loved how there are many Aboriginal experiences in Cairns to choose from. When you visit Kuranda which is just a 25 minute drive from Cairns, you can join the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience and learn from the oldest living culture in the world! Learn bush remedies, have a go at spear throwing and learn how to use a boomerang.


15. Kuranda Scenic Railway

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One of the most popular things to do in Cairns is to go aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Opened in 1891, it’s a must-do Cairns attraction you need to put on your list. We would have done it if it wasn’t raining when we visited. The spectacular journey takes you through dense rainforest, steep ravines and some of the oldest rainforests in the world in The Wet Tropics.

You can jump on the train in the centre of Cairns and it will take you up through the Atherton Tablelands and to Kuranda Station, taking about 2 hours. Jump off at Barron Falls as you won’t want to miss it before continuing onto Kuranda Station. From here you can take the Skyrail which we’ll talk about below. Make sure you pre-book your Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Pass here before you go.


16. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

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Another one of the most popular things to do in Cairns is to experience the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. The 7.5km scenic Cairns tourist attractions takes you above Barron Gorge National Park and into the Wet Tropics. This multi-award winning touristy thing to do in Cairns is a fantastic opportunity to visit Kuranda and see the absolutely impressive Barron Falls from above. Don’t forget to pre-book your tickets to get onto the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway before you go.


17. Barron Falls

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Either jump off the Kuranda Scenic Railway at Barron Falls or drive there and witness one of the best waterfalls in Australia! We were blown away by this Cairns waterfall and couldn’t believe how impressive it really is. There’s quite a few viewing platforms to view the falls from, but I think it would be best seen from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.


18. Crystal Cascades & Fairy Falls

Two of the most popular waterfalls and swimming spots near Cairns are Crystal Cascades and Fairy Falls. Located just a 20-minute drive from Cairns along the Freshwater Creek, it’s a 3.1km return hike to reach both swimming spots. There are a few other pools along the way but I know Fairy Falls has become the hidden pool, although I’m not too sure how hidden it is due to Instagram.


19. Eat At Prawn Star For Fresh Seafood

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Looking for the best places to eat in Cairns? We have been told Prawn Star is one of the best Cairns restaurants! Located at Cairns Marlin Marina, expect super-fresh seafood onboard a quirky boat. Make sure you check it out when visiting Cairns.


Where To Stay In Cairns

  1. Luxury: You’ll get a private beach and Cairns highest bar at the popular Crystalbrook Riley
  2. Mid-Range: Book your own apartment at the beautiful Southern Cross Atrium Apartments
  3. Budget: Cairns Queenslander Hotel & Apartments is a favourite amongst tourists as a four star accommodation
  4. Backpackers: Party lovers will love Gillagan’s Backpackers (I stayed there years ago as a backpacker and it’s still the go to hostel!)

PALM COVE

Palm-Cove-or-port-douglas

Palm Cove is always our top pick for where to stay in Cairns. We love it because it feels like you’re in the middle of it all, with a holiday feel. There are not that many places we’ve been to around Australia which make us feel like we are actually on holiday but Palm Cove does it for us!

With fantastic restaurants to choose from and a beautiful beach, it feels like it’s more for the upmarket types. We checked out the nearby Trinity Beach and although there were definitely some cheaper places to eat there, it didn’t have the same vibe at all.


20. Scenic Coastal Drive From Cairns To Port Douglas

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Image via Thala Beach Nature Reserve

The Cairns coastal drive to Port Douglas is absolutely beautiful and something everyone needs to do when they visit TNQ. You’ll want to stop loads along the way to appreciate it and take photos of the beaches you’ll see.


21. Visit The Meditation Rocks At Wangetti Beach

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Just north of Palm Cove lies the beautiful Wangetti Beach which you’ll find on the coastal drive from Cairns to Port Douglas. At the southern end of the beach, you’ll find The Gatz Balancing Rocks. While the art of balancing stones can have many meanings, each stone tends to represent a prayer or thought of gratitude. You might like to stop by and add to this ever-evolving work of art.


22. Thala Beach Reserve

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About 30kms outside of Palm Cove lies the Insta famous Thala Beach Nature Reserve. When we went to search for the palm tree plantations, we actually drove right through it not realising that was it because it is a lot smaller in person. Just be careful when visiting of the falling coconuts!

There were a couple of people there to get some photos too, but if you continue on the road, you’ll come to the eco-award winning Thala Beach Nature Reserve, which has it’s own private beach and accommodation.


23. Kayak To Double Island

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Hire a kayak and paddle about 30 minutes over to Double Island! This is a fun activity for the whole family and anyone wanting to get up close to the Great Barrier Reef. You may find eagle rays, shovelnose sharks, mangrove rays, colourful fish and sea turtles on this popular tour.


24. Get Up Close To Crocodiles at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

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If you’re looking to visit crocodiles in Cairns, why not check out Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures? This eco-tourism park is situated in the World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics where you can go on self-guided walks and watch a crocodile show. You can also book a special breakfast with koalas as well. Get your entrance ticket to Hartleys Crocodile Adventures here.


25. 27 Degrees For Acai Bowls

We loved the acai bowls at 27 Degrees in Palm Cove. Make sure you swing by and pay them a visit. They also sell homemade peanut butter which is absolutely delicious!


26. Vivo For Dinner

vivo-palm-cove

You must go to Vivo for dinner in Palm Cove. We loved this restaurant which serves up excellent cocktails, and an all day menu. I remember Steve’s nasi goreng dish was particularly special and is one of their longest-serving options on the menu (over six years at the time of writing) which you could have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I had the ravioli which was also fantastic. We also would have gone to Nu Nu restaurant if we had time!


Palm Cove Accommodation

  1. Luxury: Alamanda Palm Cove By Lancemore offers superb five star accommodation, swimming pools and day spas opposite the famous Palm Cove beach and palm trees.
  2. Mid Range: Stay at the Insta famous Thala Beach Nature Reserve (the one with the palm trees plantation) which is an eco-friendly wildlife retreat with your own private beach!
  3. Budget: We found this gem right on a beautiful beach, Ellis Beach Oceanfront Bungalows!

PORT DOUGLAS & MOSSMAN GORGE

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Port Douglas is a beautiful small town which is loved by holiday makers all over Australia. We stayed here the first time we came to Tropical North Queensland and while it’s a gorgeous slice of paradise, it’s perfect for families (there’s loads of resorts to choose from) and anyone looking to be closer to the Daintree Rainforest. It takes an hour to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas along the beautiful coastal road, so if you’re not too fussed on doing any tours from Cairns, then Port Douglas could be the best place for you.

Expect beautiful beaches, loads of restaurants to choose from (they can be quite expensive) and a laid back vibe in a small town. With a few hidden swimming holes to discover, and given its proximity to Cape Tribulation (which is a must visit!), Port Douglas is a fantastic getaway for those looking for some winter sun. When we visited during the Christmas holidays, we noticed it felt hotter in Port Douglas than it did in Palm Cove.

27. Mossman Gorge

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Steve enjoying Mossman Gorge.

One of the best things to do in Port Douglas is to visit Mossman Gorge. This slice of paradise is home to a whopping 56,000 hectares within the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park. This is one of the best ways to visit the oldest rainforest in the world at 180 million years old! It’s also 10 million years older than The Amazon, just to put it into perspective.

If you’re wondering what is there to do at Mossman Gorge, here is the lowdown. If you’re driving, you’ll need to park up at the carpark, and pay at the visitor centre to get into the park. It doesn’t cost a lot being $30 for a family pass (2 kids) or $12.30 for adults. Make sure you book a Dreamtime Walk with a local indigenous person to learn about this special place.

You then need to jump on a five-minute bus journey which will take you up to the starting route for Mossman Gorge. From there, it’s only about a five-minute walk before you’ll see everyone swimming in Mossman Gorge.

As the Daintree is a sacred place for Indigenous people, there are some swimming holes you shouldn’t swim in. But, Mossman Gorge is one that is allowed and it’s known to be one of the best swimming holes in Tropical North Queensland. It gets really busy at Mossman Gorge but there’s something truly beautiful about this incredible place.


28. Find The Fresh Water Swimming Spot In Shannonvale

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We overheard someone in Port Douglas talking about a swimming spot in Shannonvale being better than Mossman Gorge, so we made a beeline right to it. Although there was hardly anyone there when we visited, it was raining so I think we couldn’t see it in all it’s glory. We would totally go back and check it out though. Type in AMG Fresh Water Swimming Spots in Shannonvale to find this spot, which comes complete with rope swings.


29. Go On A Low Isles Snorkel Tour

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Do a half-day snorkelling tour around some of the lesser-known islands of the Low Isles off Port Douglas. You can either snorkel in the lagoon, join a glass-bottom boat tour, or simply enjoy the secluded island. It takes just 30 minutes to get there, but you’ll feel like you’re a world away!


30. Outer Reef Snorkel Or Dive Tour

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Not all of the outer Great Barrier Reef snorkelling tours leave from Cairns! You can jump on a Port Douglas outer reef snorkel tour which takes you to the pristine and extra special Opal or Agincourt Reefs. On this tour you can opt to try scuba diving for the first time and certified divers are welcomed too.

Fun Fact! I did my first ever dive in the Great Barrier Reef when I first visited as a backpacker!


31. Trinity Bay Lookout

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One of the first things to do in Port Douglas is to make a beeline to Trinity Bay Lookout. This beautiful lookout has views stretching as far as the eye can see over Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas and right back down the coast towards Cairns. It’s a stunning first point of call when you come to Port Douglas! Good news is you can drive right up to it, so no walking is involved!


32. Ride A Bike On Four Mile Beach

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After you’ve been to the famous Trinity Bay Lookout in Port Douglas, we recommend heading straight to Four Mile Beach. Hire a bike a ride down the beautiful beach when you’re there! You can swim in this beach, just stay in between the flags when doing so. Just be warned there are stingers from October-May.


33. Hemingways Brewery

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Make sure you stop by Hemingways Brewery in Port Douglas on Reef Marina Boardwalk to do some craft beer tasting and grab a bite to eat. Serving up burgers, pizzas and salads, you could spend the whole day here. There’s also a Hemingways Brewery in Cairns as well to check out.


Where To Stay In Port Douglas

  1. Luxury: Niramaya Villas & Spa, home to beautiful luxury villas you won’t find anywhere else.
  2. Luxury Couples Only: Shantara Resort is a beautiful retreat across the road from the beach.
  3. Mid Range: Peppers Beach Club perfect for families with lagoon pool and gym.
  4. Budget: Paradise Links Resort with boutique accommodation over the road from the beach.

CAPE TRIBULATION

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Image via visitportdouglasdaintree.com

Cape Tribulation is a really special place to visit in Australia, but what is there to do? Although many people make the effort to visit Cape Tribulation, they tend to drive to the beach and a couple of lookouts before returning down the coast again. You’ll be pleased to learn there are loads of things to do in Cape Tribulation, and hopefully some of our top picks will inspire you.

34. The Ultimate Daintree & Cape Tribulation Tour

One of the best ways you can explore the Daintree and Cape Tribulation is by jumping on a full-day tour from Cairns, Palm Cove or Port Douglas. Not only will you tick off the bucket list experiences, but you’ll also be taken on the Bloomfield Track which is one of the best scenic drives in Queensland.

You’ll go on a river cruise to spot crocodiles, spend time on the famous Cape Tribulation Beach and best of all swim at the hidden gem, Emmagen Creek on the Bloomfield Track which only be accessed by 4wd. Find out more about this epic day trip to the Daintree & Cape Tribulation.


35. Swim At The Beautiful Mason’s Store Swimming Hole

While the second section of Daintree National Park is up in Cape Tribulation, the crystal clear waters of the Mossman River provide exceptional swimming spots free from crocodiles! Although there are so many places to discover, we recommend sticking the following swimming spots which you are allowed to swim in. Please don’t go to any swimming spots which are sacred to the local Indigenous people.

Mason’s Store Swimming Hole is often regarded as the best swimming spot in Cape Tribulation. The turquoise water is enough for anyone looking to find a spectacular swimming hole near Cairns.


36. Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway

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Walk along one of the top 10 skywalks in Australia according to Australian Geographic at the Daintree Rainforest Aerial Walkway. It sits 11m high above the rainforest and is a spectacular way to take in the experience of standing in the world’s oldest rainforest!


37. Daintree Ice Cream

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No trip to Cape Tribulation is complete without a visit to award-winning Daintree Ice Cream. The seasonally made ice cream is made from the fruit grown on-site, but expect flavours like black sapote and coconut, goji berry, honey and yoghurt and so much more.


38. Check out Cape Trib Farm

Make sure you stop by Cape Trib Farm to try some of the 70 different tropical fruits such as durian, soursop, mamey sapote, black sapote, abiu, pitaya and so much more. You’ll learn loads about the different benefits of these fruits while supporting local farmers in the Cape Tribulation area.


39. Spot A Crocodile On The Marrdja Boardwalk

Marrdja-Boardwalk

Although the Marrdja Boardwalk is only 1.2km long, it’s a completely fascinating walk everyone should do when looking for things to do in Cape Tribulation (and it’s wheel chair accessible too!). There’s loads of educational signs along the way, teaching you about the 180 million year old rainforest. You’ll also walk across the Noah Creek Bridge and might be lucky to spot a crocodile in the water here.


40. Spot A Cassowary On The Jindalba Boardwalk

About 30 minutes south of Cape Tribulation is the Jindalba Boardwalk which has been known to be a good spot to see a rare cassowary. If you’re not going to Etty Bay or Mission Beach then make sure you go here and you might be lucky to see one.


41. Drive One Of The Best 4WD Roads In Queensland

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Emmagen Creek, image via tropicalnorthqueensland.com.au

If you’re heading up to Cooktown, the 4WD only Bloomfield Track is one of the most scenic drives in Queensland. Also known as the Coast Road or the Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield Road, the Bloomfield Track is 33km of incredible landscapes, swimming holes and much more.

Some of the highlights include Emmagen Creek, Woobadda Creek and Bloomfield Falls (also known as Wujal Wujal Falls). Visit the Aboriginal town of Wujal Wujal and check out the Banan Yirrijil Art and Cultural Centre. I have read that you should only attempt this drive in your own 4wd and not in a rental because the terrain changes a lot and you’ll most likely be driving through large sections of water. If you’d like to do a tour, check out this tour which will take you to the Daintree, Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track.


42. Laura Quinkan Dance Festival

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I thought it’s worth a mention because a lot of people I know have been talking a lot about the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival recently. Although it’s a three hour drive from Cape Tribulation, this festival in Queensland is supposed to be absolutely amazing.

It’s believed the Laura Quinkan Dance Festival to be the longest-running Aboriginal cultural festival in Australia which showcases 20 local communities coming together through song and dance, allowing the wider community to gain awareness of the ancient culture. Laura is also home to some of the most significant collection of rock art and the festival is set on a sacred site on the very old traditional Bora ground.


Where To Stay In Cape Tribulation

  1. Luxury: The exceptional Noah Creek Eco Huts have incredible views of the Daintree, your own kitchen, fireplace and balcony views and a bath outside amongst a sky full of stars.
  2. Mid Range: The popular Daintree Manor B&B is set in the heart of the Daintree with access to free bike hire, a shared lounge, gorgeous garden and terrace. Expect a full English breakfast and an a la carte menu.
  3. Budget: Stay on the beach at the beautiful Thornton Beach Bungalows with ocean views from your room.

ATHERTON TABLELANDS

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We absolutely love Atherton Tablelands for the amazing waterfalls, incredibly hikes, small towns full of character and beautiful rolling hills. We recommend staying at least two nights in the area so you can tick off a few of the amazing places to visit. Read our guide for the 28 best things to do in Atherton Tablelands to read more about this spectacular part of Tropical North Queensland.


43. Canyoning To Crystal Canyon Waterfalls

If you’re staying in Cairns, why not jump on a canyoning tour to Crystal Canyon Waterfalls? This six hour tour will seeing you abseiling into the fresh water, swimming, walking over rocky gorges and through the tropical rainforest. It’s one of the best things to do in Cairns for adventurers!


44. Sunrise Hot Air Balloon

One of the best things to do in Cairns and I must say most memorable would be to experience a hot air balloon flight over Atherton Tablelands. If you don’t have a car, that’s OK as you’ll be picked up from your Cairns accommodation and taken to this bucket list activity!


45. Paronella Park

paronella-park
Read our Paronella Park review.

If you’re driving up to Cairns on an East Coast Australia road trip, you’ll see the signs a good few hundred kilometres away about Paronella Park being the number 1 Cairns attraction. To be honest, it’s true! It has been on my bucket list for years and it totally blew us away when we visited recently.

This Spanish castle was once a tourist fun park for locals back in the 1930s. Having battled through annual cyclones, it’s been brought back to life as a place to wander around in complete awe. It’s easily one of the most fascinating places we’ve seen in Australia to date!


46. Mamu Tropical Skywalk

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An unexpected surprise for us was visiting the Mamu Tropical Skywalk just down the road from Paronella Park. It’s a truely beautiful walk above the trees and one you should make the effort to visit. When you get to the end, it’s a climb up a tower to see the spectacular views over the Wet Tropics.

If you’re visiting Paronella Park, you can get a combo ticket with Mamu Tropical Skywalk and save a few dollars. I highly recommend doing both if you can.


47. Crawfords Lookout

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Blink and you might miss Crawfords Lookout on the side of the road between Mamu Tropical Skywalk and the Waterfall Circuit. I saw this place on Instagram and couldn’t believe how incredible it looked. To me, it made me feel like it could have been in The Amazon so I was excited to hear how it’s actually in Australia! This is a great place to drone, but also if you have time, walk down the path to see the fantastic views.


48. Waterfall Circuit: Millaa Milla Falls

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You can’t visit Cairns and not make the effort to see Millaa Millaa Falls. It’s one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands and it’s no surprise that it’s super popular day trip from Cairns. It can get really busy but the tour buses don’t stay that long. Come early or late in the day and you might get it to yourself.

As part of the Waterfall Circuit, there are three major Cairns waterfalls all within a 10-20 minute drive of each other in a circuit. Millaa Millaa is the first waterfall in Atherton Tablelands you’ll come to on this circuit.


49. Waterfall Circuit: Elinjaa Falls

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The next waterfall you’ll come to on the Waterfall Circuit is Elinjaa Falls. It’s a stunning Atherton Tablelands waterfalls a must-visit when looking for things to do in Cairns. It takes about five minutes to walk down to this waterfall in Atherton Tablelands from the carpark.


50. Herberton Historic Village

herberton-historic-village

Although we didn’t really know what to expect, we made the effort to check out Herberton Historic Village and we were blown away by it. I think it’s something I wouldn’t have been interested in before, but since living in Australia, it really made me appreciate seeing some history of the country. The amount of detail that’s gone into this museum is exceptional and you really get a taste of what it was like in Australia between 1800s-1900s.

With an incredible collection of houses, buildings, shops, schools, pubs and so much more to walk into, this museum has to be one of the best museums in Australia. We thought we would just swing by and see it, and we ended up spending about three hours completely fascinated by this place.

It’s a great place to go when looking for things to do in Cairns with kids, but also for literally anyone. Book your entry ticket to Herberton Historic Village before you arrive to make sure you get in.


51. High Tea at Lake Barrine

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A visit to Atherton Tablelands is not complete without going for tea and scones at The Teahouse in Lake Barrine. The family-owned cafe has been serving the same scones recipe for over 80 years and continues to do so. The scones are fantastic but it comes with whipped cream (a no no if you’re a Brit reading this!). Regardless, we loved it here and I got over the whipped cream fiasco and really enjoyed it!


52. Curtain Fig Tree

curtain-fig-tree-yungaburra

I heard there’s a few fig trees around Atherton to check out, but when we went to see The Curtain Fig Tree, we couldn’t believe how incredible it really is. When you pull up on the side of the road and enter the short boardwalk, I don’t think anything will prepare you for the size of it. It looks ancient and it makes you feel like you’ve discovered a magical place. Go see it now!


53. Hike To Windin Falls

windin-falls-things-to-do-in-atherton-tablelands

As one of the most popular Atherton Tablelands walks and waterfalls due to the popularity on Instagram, Windin Falls is popular for a reason. It takes about 1h30m to hike to the top of the falls, but be careful as there’s literally nothing stopping you for sliding over the edge. You’ll need to go to Malanda and head into Wooroonooran National Park to reach this amazing Cairns hike.


54. Swim In Lake Eacham

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One of the most special places in Atherton Tablelands are the crater lakes. Lake Eacham in particular is absolutely stunning and it wasn’t until I actually got into the water did I realise how amazing this place truly is. There’s something really magical about it, even if it just drops down to 65m after you get in.

I was super impressed to watch the older locals swim from one side to the other, something they do every morning. I don’t think I’d have the courage to swim in the middle of it! We specifically came back to stay in Atherton Tablelands for another night on our trip so we could come back for a swim here because we loved it so much!

There’s a sign up saying to watch out for a crocodile but apparently, there’s never been a sighting when we spoke to the locals about it.


55. Hypapmime Crater

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We had a bit of a wow moment when visiting Hypapmime Crater in Atherton Tablelands because we had no idea how incredible it really is. It’s about a five minute walk from the carpark and the green water is about 72m deep! We literally just swung by there after we saw a sign for it and thought it was so good, we flew our drone over to get a better perspective.


56. Millstream Falls

millstream-falls-things-to-do-in-atherton-tablelands

Welcome to the widest single-drop waterfall in Australia! Millstream Falls in Atherton Tablelands is an impressive sight and somewhere you need to put on your list for things to do in Cairns. Not much walking is required from the carpark and you’ll find Big Millstream Falls and Little Millstream Falls together to explore.


57. Tully Gorge Lookout

tully-falls-lookout
via @_aswewander Instagram page.

About an hour’s drive from Atherton will bring you to Tully Gorge Lookout. Although it’s kinda similar to Windin Falls, this place is extra special because it only takes about 10 minutes to walk to, rather than 1h30m to Windin Falls. It’s just a 35 minute drive to from Millstream Falls.


58. Crystal Caves

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One of the most unexpected and fun things to do in Cairns is to visit the Crystal Caves in Atherton. We didn’t have high hopes but we actually had a right laugh here. Although it looks kinda confusing when you get there because it’s essentially a shop, you can go downstairs to an impressive man made cave which is home to the owners personal crystal collection.

You’ll be given hard hats and torches to navigate your way through the cave and we absolutely loved it! The crystals are completely and utterly impressive and we even bought some at the end of the experience as people who generally aren’t into crystals! This is an excellent activity when looking for Cairns kids activities and we highly recommend it!


59. Innot Hot Springs

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Image via myrigadventures.com

I really wanted to visit Innot Hot Springs but we just ran out of time. The rejuvenating minerals were apparently even shipped to Europe 100 years ago because of their capabilities! Be warned though, some of the sections of the creek itself can get up to 90C so just check before going there and be very careful if taking kids.


Where To Stay In Atherton Tablelands

  1. FamiliesThe Lake House in Yungaburra is a gorgeous holiday home for up to six people. Expect views of the sun setting over the lake in the backyard. Doesn’t get more beautiful than this! Ninium of two night stay.
  2. Luxury couples only retreat: Mt Quincan Crater Retreat has exceptional views, spa bath, a fire place and jaw dropping views over Atherton Tablelands.
  3. Affordable resort: Tinaroo Lake Resort is a popular option and offers 1, 2 or 3 bed apartments complete with a swimming pool and all resort mod cons.
  4. Unique stay: We love The Canopy Rainforest Treehouses & Wildlife Sanctuary. Rooms can accommodate up to 8 people and all have hot tubs in them. Expect to see loads of wildlife in this very popular accommodation option.

CASSOWARY COAST & MISSION BEACH

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When heading South of Cairns you’ll come to the Cassowary Coast which takes you down through Innisfail, Mission Beach and onto Cardwell and Hinchinbrook Island. This is a spectacular part of the coast, home to some excellent swimming holes, hikes, waterfalls and much more. Here’s what you need to discover! You can check out our full guide for the 28 Best Things To Do In Mission Beach here.


60. Walshs Pyramid

walshs-pyramid-cairns

The insta famous Walsh’s Pyramid is something you need to put on your list to visit when looking for things to do in Cairns. The reason why it’s so popular is that it’s the highest free-standing pyramid in the world (apparently). To us, it looked like a hill, but it’s a nice drive out there, especially if you’re heading to Behana Gorge which we mention below.

Please respect the private land on this road as we saw many signs up warning you to stay off the land. If you’re looking for this Insta famous shot pictured, it’s on the main road to Behana Gorge. We wondered which road it was and didn’t realise until we were coming back from Behana Gorge that it was the same road we drove on to get there.


61. Clamshell Falls at Behana Gorge

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It’s a 45-minute walk out to Clamshell Falls from the car park at Behana Gorge but it does look spectacular. Just be careful as when we went to do this hike, we met a couple returning from it who couldn’t jump into the water because the currents were too strong. We did visit during cyclone season in Cairns but just be careful.

There is a popular Cairns tour to Behana Gorge you should check out, which includes canyoning, swimming and walking through the rainforest which would be much safer and more fun!


62. Babinda Boulders

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For us, we felt like Babinda Boulders had a nearly as special feel as Mossman Gorge does. There’s something so magical about this spot, we absolutely loved it here. To be honest, we could have stayed here the whole day. There’s a playground, toilet facilities, and picnic benches so you could easily just chill out in this pristine swimming spot. It does get very busy though!


63. Josephine falls

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We nearly didn’t go to Jospephine Falls in the rain but I’m so glad we did because it really is amazing! Bring a pair of swimming shoes so you can easily climb up on the boulders and slide down them! It’s an amazing waterfall with three viewing platforms and just a seven minute walk from the carpark through the rainforest.


64. Mission Beach For Cassowaries

cassowarries-mission-beach

Mission Beach kinda reminds us a little of our current home in Agnes Water. It’s a small town with beautiful beaches and somewhere you could spend a few days. You’ll see signs along the road to be careful of the rare cassowaries in town. Low and behold, we found a dad and his babies crossing the road in front of us. It was a fun moment and we’re glad we found them!


65. Sky Diving In Mission Beach

Sky Diving in Mission beach is one of the most popular Cairns activities. To be honest, it wouldn’t get much better than jumping out of a plane over the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll have views overlooking the beautiful Dunk Island and neighbouring islands from Mission Beach. Plus! You’ll actually land right on Mission Beach – what an experience!! Find out more about sky diving in Mission Beach here.


66. Kennedy Walking Track

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We were told by all of the locals that if there’s one thing you should do in Mission Beach, it’s to walk along the Kennedy Walking Track. We checked it out early in the morning and it’s beautiful. Bring mossie spray with you if visiting in the summer months as we got a bit smashed by them!


67. Kayak Over To Dunk Island

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Spend the day exploring Dunk Island which offers a walking track plus camping options. You can jump on an affordable water taxi (approx. $40) or a tour of the island. Or you could rent kayaks and go on your own adventure from Mission Beach.


68. Go White Water Rafting In The Tully River

Go white water rafting in Tully River which is home to the best white water rafting in Australia. You can bring the whole family (kids from 6+ years) on the grade 2 and grade 3 rapids as you meander through the famous river. It’s one of those experiences you need to do when looking for the best things to do in Cairns.


69. Our Favourite Swimming Hole At Alligators Nest

alligators-nest-cardwell-queensland

It’s a big call, but Alligators Nest near Mission Beach and the town of Tully is our favourite swimming hole in Tropical North Queensland! It’s an absolutely amazing place and felt so magical when we visited, especially as there was not another person in sight. The water is so green, you’ll wonder whether you’ve literally stumbled upon paradise. You just wouldn’t have any idea it’s there when you drive past the few houses on the way there as it’s at the end of the road.


70. Cardwell Spa Pools

cardwell-spa-pools-day-trips-from-townsville

We tried to visit Cardwell Spa Pools twice but the cyclone season got in the way and the road over to there was flooded. None the less, it does look incredible and a spot you should totally check out. It’s more popular than Alligators Nest but it’s a beautiful place you need to see.


71. Hinchinbrook Island

One place we will 100% be visiting next time we visit Cairns is the incredible Hinchinbrook Island. You can do a day trip with Absolute North Charters who will take you to the Insta famous Zoe Falls pool. You can drive over if you have a 4×4 but you need to make sure you book a pass to get over to the island.

Take on the famous Thornsbury Trail which is one of the best hikes in Australia and take 3-4 days of carrying your own camping equipment. Be prepared, it’s not for the faint-hearted.


72. Do A Day Trip To Orpheus Island

day-trips-from-townsville-orpheus-island

Orpheus Island is one of those hidden gems in the Great Barrier Reef. While there is a beautiful luxurious Orpheus Island Resort on the island, you can in fact do a day a trip with Sea Link! You’ll have three hours to relax on the stunning beaches and enjoy the beautiful island without having to pay for the five-star accommodation!


Where To Stay In Mission Beach

  1. Mid Range: Stay at the number 1 place to stay, Castaways Resort & Spa located right on the beach.
  2. Couples Apartment: Stay at Rainforest Hideaway complete with your own pool and garden.
  3. Family Apartment: Book the exceptional Nautilus Apartments, perfect for 4 people.
  4. Backpackers: We actually considered staying at Jackaroo Treehouse because it looks so amazing!

THE OUTBACK

There are a couple of places in the outback near Cairns which are totally worth a mention! If you don’t want to drive here, you can jump aboard the Savannah Lander Train from Cairns for a fun 4 day tour which will take you straight to both.

73. Chillagoe Caves

Head 2h30m out west from Cairns and you’ll come to the incredible Chillagoe Caves. Apparently, there are between 600 to 1000 caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana area. It’s been known that Chillagoe Caves has the most diverse geology in the world and is one of the best day trips from Cairns. Luckily you can jump on a day trip from Cairns to Cillagoe Caves and learn from the locals!


74. Undara Experience

undara-experience-cairns

Located a 3h30m South West drive from Cairns will bring you to the Undara Volcanic National Park. As one of Australia’s most fascinating geological wonders, it’s home to the best-preserved and oldest lava tubes in the world. Book a night’s stay in one of the beautifully renovated train carriages and spend the day on a tour through the incredible lava tube systems. Time it right and visit when the annual Undara Outback Rock and Blues Festival is on.


75. One For The Bucket List

If you’re heading off on an Australian road trip, you totally need to put down Lawn Hill Gorge which is also known as Boodjamulla National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Listed National Park has been called one of the top four most important fossil deposits in the world by none over than Sir David Attenborough. Although it’s a 12hr drive from Cairns or a 4hr drive from Mount Isa, you’ll need a 4wd to get here. Hire a canoe and float down the river before jumping in to cool off, it looks amazing!


Thanks for making it this far! We hope we’ve inspired you to visit Tropical North Queensland with our epic things to do in Cairns guide! While this is a big list, there are so many more places to visit than the highlights we’ve picked out. This part of Australia is all about getting out and exploring as much as possible, so we hope you’ll be inspired to use this Cairns guide to see more than you thought you would on your next holiday!

Things To Do In Cairns

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