The most famous city in Australia for access to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is situated on the tropical coast of Far North Queensland, and has a population of over 150,000 people.
The land on which Cairns is situated in the traditional home of the Yidinjdji people, and many of the tours and visits that we offer to the north of Cairns venture into the lands of the Djabuganjdji (Tjapukai) and Kuku-Yalanji.
Cairns has its own International Airport, and so is a transport hub for surrounding areas and for international visitors. Tourism forms a large part of Cairns’ industry but there is also the fishing and agricultural industries. The region produces Sugar, Coffee and a great variety of exotic tropical fruits. If you love tropical fruits, make sure you’re there in december.
The city itself sits on the opening of the Trinity Inlet and beaches are only found north of the airport, so the local council has built a magnificent beach/lagoon right on the foreshore of Central Cairns for your enjoyment, complete with lifeguards!
The city is not only the gateway to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but also to the UNESCO listed World Heritage Rainforests of the Daintree National Park. Unesco recognises them as among the oldest continuously existing tropical rainforests in the world, having their origins when Australia was still part of the Gondwanian landmass.
The area is rich in cultural and natural heritage, both on land and sea, and we believe it is an important part of any visit to Australia.
We recommend the following itinerary in the area:
Day 1 – Arrival, check in to your hotel, perhaps this evening enjoy a dinner in one of the many restaurants in the Cairns foreshore and then venture to the famous Night Markets precinct for a little fun shopping. The Night Markets also has an excellent casual food area if you want a simple and quick dinner.
Day 2 – A day out on the Great Barrier Reef – Here we have different products depending on your swimming ability. Some cruises are better for divers, others for swimmers and some for people who don’t swim very much. We can find the right one for you! If you have your PADI or SSI license make sure to mention this at the time of booking.
Some cruises go to Thetford, Milne or Saxon Reefs (there are many more) for day trips, and some do liveaboard 2 to 3 day trips or longer and visit such iconic sites as the famous Cod Hole. These tours are for people who principally want to just scuba dive, and it doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or a novice, the professionals will get you doing what you want at a level you are comfortable with.
Some cruises go to fixed pontoons on the Reef such as Arlington or Hastings. The vessel from Cairns attaches itself to the pontoon and you can then enjoy the day swimming, snorkelling, sunbaking or taking advantage of the semi-submersible or glass-bottom boat rides that are available. This type of cruise is suitable for people who definitely want to go for a swim of some kind, perhaps where one wants to snorkel and another to take an introductory style scuba dive.
Then there are cruises that go to Islands for the day, could be Low Isles off Port Douglas, Green Island or Michaelmas Cay off Cairns or even the Frankland Islands. These cruises, by going to an Island, cater mostly for people who want to snorkel or just swim off a beach to see the coral, and venture as far as they wish. All of these sites offer wonderful coral viewing.
Day 3 – The counterpoint to the Reef are the tropical forests, the village of Kuranda, and the wonderful Aboriginal Cultural Attractions of the area. There is also the wonderful Skyrail, where you take a gondola ride on a 7.5km cableway skimming over one of the world’s oldest rainforests. There are two stops en route between Smithfield and Kuranda (you can go either way of course) that allow you to penetrate into locations you could not do otherwise – Truly spectacular. To this end we suggest:
Aboriginal Option – In this area of Australia, Aboriginal groups have incorporated themselves into existing tours, so the Kuranda tour below includes a visit to the Tjapukai Centre, while there is an opportunity to interact with the Kuku-Yalanji on one of the tours into Daintree.
Option 1 – Tjapukai, Skyrail and Kuranda Tour – This tour begins with a visit to the Tjapukai cultural centre where you will learn about local Aboriginal culture, song, dance, food, medicine and weapons. You even get a chance to throw spears and boomerangs (at straw targets, not each other). This is followed by a ride on the spectacular Skyrail, as a gondola takes over the breathtaking sights of the Macalister Range into the village of Kuranda. Here you will have time to explore this tropical village with its shopping, markets, food, great coffee, a butterfly sanctuary (extra cost), Koala Gardens (extra cost), or even a delightful tropical ice cream. Then take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway back down to the coast. This historic train takes you on a scenic voyage with views of deep valleys, waterfalls and the tropical rainforest on the way down. Perhaps you will catch sight of the elusive Ulysses or Birdwing butterflies.
Option 2 – Daintree and Cape Tribulation – This is a big day (12hrs) but well worth it. Travel north from Cairns along the coast to Mossman Gorge for a visit to the Rainforest Centre,Which includes a guided talk and then on to the Daintree river for a cruise where we look for birdlife, tree snakes, unique plants and if we’re lucky, crocodiles. This tour includes a BBQ lunch in a rainforest setting after which we continue to Cape Tribulation. You’ll have some free time to explore the beach and surrounds. On the way back to Cairns we stop for an ice cream tasting before having one last look over the countryside from the Alexandra lookout.
Option 2B – Daintree Dreaming – This tour takes you to the Mossman Gorge cultural centre where you’re welcomed to the country with a traditional aboriginal smoking ceremony. There is time to view the local arts and craft gallery before taking a walk through the rainforest of Morgan Mossman Gorge with your Aboriginal guide who will interpret this ancient environment for you. Here we learn about the special relationship of the Kuku Yalanji people with this ancient forest.
Lunch is included at the Mayi Cafe.
For the afternoon choose from two options as follows:
The first is a traditional fishing experience where you meet a member of the Kubirri Warra Clan of the Kuku Yalanji people who’ll take you on a 2-hour fishing and gathering walk along Cooya Beach and homemade damper.
The second option is for those who prefer art and culture where you will go to the Janbal Gallery to discover ancient Aboriginal Dreamtime stories from the local region. You will also be able to create your own artwork that you can take home with you.
Return transfers to your hotel in Cairns are included.
Option 3 – Wooroonooran Safari This tour travels south from Cairns where our first stop is to see Wallabies in the wild. Continue to the Eubenangee Wetlands for a chance to see rare plants, birds, turtles, crocodiles and more. From here we continue to Josephine Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in tropical North Queensland. Here we take a rainforest walk to the waterfall and learn from your guide about the flora and fauna of the rainforest. Lunch is at a local restaurant featuring an Italian buffet which includes pizza pasta and salads.
In the afternoon we take a cruise on the Johnson River hoping to spot wildlife in this ancient Mangrove ecosystem where estuarine crocodiles are often found. The last stop of the day is at the famous Babinda Boulders where there is a chance to take a swim in the clear bright Aqua pools in this spectacular granite Gorge.
Port Douglas and Beyond
(We have recommendations for this place)
To the north of Cairns is found the tropical coastal village of Port Douglas and beyond that Mossman Gorge the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation.
Port Douglas is a luxury tropical village which has a wide variety of accommodation and access to the same tours that we have outlined above. If you want to stay completely in the tropical rainforest we have options within the national parks for a unique experience.