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Cairns, Australia

Cairns is touted as the "gateway to the

Great Barrier Reef

" and other destinations such as

Kuranda

and the

Daintree rainforest

in Far North Queensland, Australia, although the city itself has little to offer to travelers besides tour agencies, a handful of restaurants, cafes, and backpacker bars, and a long walk along the esplanade looking out at the swampy shoreline.

The Cairns area has historically been inhabited by the indigenous Walubarra Yidinji people. Mapped by James Cook and named Trinity Bay in 1770, it was officially founded in 1876 as an export port for gold and renamed after the then-Governor of... Read more

Cairns, Australia

Destination:
Cairns is touted as the "gateway to the

Great Barrier Reef

" and other destinations such as

Kuranda

and the

Daintree rainforest

in Far North Queensland, Australia, although the city itself has little to offer to travelers besides tour agencies, a handful of restaurants, cafes, and backpacker bars, and a long walk along the esplanade looking out at the swampy shoreline.

The Cairns area has historically been inhabited by the indigenous Walubarra Yidinji people. Mapped by James Cook and named Trinity Bay in 1770, it was officially founded in 1876 as an export port for gold and renamed after the then-Governor of Queensland. Commonly mispronounced as cans, the actual pronunciation of Cairns is somewhat closer to kare-nz, with a non-silent "r."
The main industry for the city is tourism, with a focus on the European, Japanese and increasingly Chinese markets. There are a plethora of clubs and coffee shops, all overflowing with international tourists. Cairns is also supported by agricultural businesses which include sugar cane, bananas, coffee, tea, and the world's first tropical fruit wine region.
Peak season in Cairns is during the more comfortable winter months of June–August, especially compared to the hotter and stickier summer months. A particularly busy time occurs in the first two weeks of July during the school holidays.
There is no swimming beach to speak of in central Cairns, although there are many choices just north and south of the city. A large outdoor, lagoon-style pool is in the center of the Cairns City area, which is very popular throughout the year with tourists and locals alike. For a beachside resort holiday, there are several resorts a short drive north of Cairns.

  • Cairns Tourism Office, 51 The Esplanade, ☎ +61 7 4051-3588, toll-free: 1800 093 300, fax: +61 7 4051-7509. M-F 8:30 AM-6 PM, weekends & public holidays 10 AM-6 PM. Official Cairns and tropical Northern Queensland tourism office at the Esplanade.

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Cairns, Australia: Port Information


Smaller liners dock at the Cruise Terminal on Trinity Wharf. One can easily get to the city center on foot; it takes just several minutes.
Large cruise ships anchor offshore, and cruise passengers are transported ashore to Yorkeys Knob by tender boats. It is a 15-minute drive from the city. Shuttle service is available.

Get around Cairns, Australia


The center of Cairns is small enough to be covered on foot, but a car is needed to see the surrounding attractions if you are not taking a tour. Expect morning and evening congestion in the city center. Numerous car rental agencies are available in the city center. During peak season, make sure to book the car in advance.
Sunbus operates the public bus network and offers eight routes through the city. The terminal of all routes is at the corner of Lake and Shield Street in the center.

What to see in Cairns, Australia


Cairns serves as the gateway to the region and is rather short of cultural sights. Besides some historic buildings from the colonial era, the Esplanade and the bars/pubs are the main attraction of Cairns.

  • Duyfken. 9 AM-5 PM. The 16th-century replica of Duyfken, the first recorded European ship to visit Australia, is now berthed at Marlin Wharf, Marlin Marina. The ship is open to the public every day as a floating museum. See what life was like on a 16th-century sailing ship and learn about Australia's earliest maritime history. There's also an option to sail aboard the Duyfken. 
  • Cairns Regional Gallery, Cnr Abbott & Shields Streets, Cairns Queensland, Australia. 9 am-5 pm Mon-Fri, 10 am-5 pm Sat, 10 am-2 pm Sun. Located in a heritage building in the city center, the Cairns Regional Gallery is the region's premier destination for exhibitions featuring historical and contemporary art by leading regional, national and international artists. 
  • Cairns Museum, Cairns School of Arts Building, corner Lake and Shields Streets, ☏ +61 7 4051 5582, ✉ info@cairnsmuseum.org.au. M-Sa 10 AM-4 PM. The Cairns Museum showcases the Cairns Historical Society’s collection of objects, photographs, and archival records. This collection holds the memories of the people, places, events and changing environment of Cairns and Far North Queensland.
  • Cairns Botanic Gardens. 7.30am-5.30pm every day of the year. The Cairns Botanic Gardens are located about 4km from the city center, and some bus routes pass by the various entrances. The Gardens are divided into 5 distinct zones, including a Formal Gardens, Rainforest Boardwalk, and Mangroves Boardwalk. 

Events

  • Catch an amateur rugby game in town if you can, the locals play a mean game, and it's a great way to meet local folks.
  • International cricket is sometimes played in Cairns at Cazaly's Stadium 1. Time your visit right and you could catch a great game for just a couple of dollars.
  • Cairns is home to one of Australia's best basketball teams, as well as Australian basketball's most famous mascot, Joe Blake the Snake.

Natural attractions

  • Cairns attractions is an excellent entry point to see, dive, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and to visit the Daintree Rainforest which is at least a day trip. Copperlode Dam and Atherton Tablelands are other options.
  • Cairns is the hotspot for wildlife diversity in Australia and is an ideal place to see a huge variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles. Places such as Mount Lewis, Lamb Range, or Mount Hypipamee are ideal locations to see anything from a Cassowary to Tree Kangaroos.
  • Cairns Wildlife Dome, 35-41 Wharf Street, ☎ +61 7 4031 7250, e-mail: info@cairnsdome.com.au. A spectacular all-weather wildlife exhibit enclosed by a 20 m high glass dome on top of the iconic Reef Hotel Casino, visitors walk through a replicated rainforest environment while birds such as parrots, cockatoos, and lorikeets fly freely around you. See other animals such as koalas, frogmouths, kookaburras, rainforest wallabies, crocodiles, turtles, and pythons. Complimentary guided tours and animal presentations take place throughout the day.

What to do in Cairns, Australia


Cairns is an adventure sports enthusiast's paradise: every second shop is a tourist information center with signs blaring "dive dive" or "tandem skydiving." Its location close to the ocean, the mountains and the rainforest give travelers lots of choices of activities.
Standby rates are ubiquitous: many of the more expensive activities, including scuba diving and skydiving.

  • Swim in the artificial "lagoon" (a public swimming pool with some sand on one side) on the promenade near the pier. The lagoon is unfenced and free to use. A shallow depth (max depth 1.5 m) makes it ideal for families with children. The lagoon is a good place to cool off especially during "stinger season" between October and May (cf. Dangerous creatures in Australia) when swimming at local beaches should be avoided except inside the stinger net enclosures, which are no bigger than the lagoon itself. Note that there are also no beaches in central Cairns itself - one can catch a bus to the northern beaches, and there are swimming net enclosures at Holloways, Yorkey's Knob, Trinity, Kewarra, Palm Cove and Ellis Beaches but the sand there is rather rough.
  • Sun-bake or people watch on the grassy part of the promenade near the lagoon. On a sunny day, even in the middle of Cairns's tropical "winter," there will sometimes be more sun-bakers than there is visible grass.
  • Have a barbecue on the promenade. Cairns has free barbecues scattered generously among the picnic tables on the grass.
  • Go walking - Cairns is surrounded by rainforest-clad mountains, and there are nearly 200 walking tracks in this World Heritage Area. Keen walkers should keep an eye out for Tropical Walking Tracks, found at local bookshops and adventure shops. It lists all of the tracks around Cairns as well as those between Townsville and Cooktown and has maps of them and 'how-to-get-there' directions as well.

Diving and snorkeling

Some Cairns operators run day, and liveaboard scuba diving trips from both Cairns and Port Douglas, and almost all include complimentary day-transfers for their passengers between the two. For seeing the Great Barrier Reef, the smaller dive boats provide the most intimate experience, both for diving and for snorkeling and are excellent for the confident or experienced. The larger operations have more amenities - better food, larger and faster boats, more activities, and often easier access to the water and are great for beginners, but sometimes provide a poorer underwater experience, as the underwater areas that the larger boats visit are heavily used.

  • Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, 143 Lake Street, ☎ +61-7-4053-0500, e-mail: resv@mikeball.com. Dive sites suited to serious divers. Allows solo diving and rebreather diving if you provide appropriate equipment. Cabins with private bathrooms are available. 
  • New Horizon Sail and Dive, PO Box 5957, ☎ +61 7 4055-6130, fax: +61 7 4055-6315, e-mail: info@reefcharter.com. New Horizon Sail and Dive operates two classic sailing boats, Santa Maria and Coral Sea Dreaming, to the outer Great Barrier Reef. They allow you to experience the reef in a smaller more intimate affair with a maximum of 10 passengers on each trip.
  • Passions of Paradise, ☎ +61 7 4041-1600, e-mail: sales@passions.com.au. A 25 m modern, fast sailing catamaran traveling daily to Michaelmas Cay, where the company holds a permit allowing passengers access to the beach. This is one of the most important bird nesting sanctuaries on the Great Barrier Reef with over 20,000 sea birds. The cay has white sand, warm shallow water and an abundance of marine life making it perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, glass-bottom boat tours or just relaxing on the beach. The second destination is the Outer Barrier Reef and a mooring at Breaking Patches. There you will find the hard coral gardens that the Outer Reef is famous for. The day includes a hot and cold buffet lunch, all snorkeling equipment and sailing on one of the fastest catamarans traveling to the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Pro Dive Cairns, 116 Spence Street, ☎ +61 7 4031-5255, fax: +61 7 4051-9955, e-mail: info@prodivecairns.com. Their dive sites are suitable for inexperienced divers: most trips will include one or more groups of students doing their checkout dives. Pro Dive Cairns also offers several PADI courses which include the liveaboard trip: the basic Open Water course, Open Water referral checkout dives, Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver.  
  • Tusa Dive Australia, cnr Shield Street and the Esplanade, ☎ +61 7 4031-1028, fax: +61 7 4031-3141, e-mail: shop@tusadive.com. Good small operator.

For some serious airtime

If you are sick of the sea, head up in the air for skydiving, hang gliding or hot air ballooning. The Cairns region has some of the best weather for ballooning in the world and so trips go year-round and are rarely canceled. It's also one of the cheapest places to go flying, anywhere. The trips go inland to the Atherton Tablelands and take off at first light at Mareeba, finishing around 10 AM and can connect directly to a Great Barrier Reef tour or drop you in Kuranda. Hang gliders fly off Rex Point Lookout, halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas on the Captain Cook Highway. On weekends, it's common to see multiple gliders soaring the sky above the scenic lookout, and the winter season provides consistent flight conditions.

  • Airplay Hang Gliding, ☎ +61 412 000797, e-mail: gregandpatch@yahoo.com.au. Airplay offers tandem hang gliding flights of durations up to 1 hr and a free outbound shuttle service. Lessons and full instruction are also available to those wishing to learn to fly.
  • Ballooning with Hot Air, toll-free: 1800 800 829. Includes hot breakfast, champagne & transfers. 
  • Champagne Balloon Flights, ☎ +61 7 40392400. Offers a slightly cheaper trip that doesn't include breakfast.
  • Skydive Cairns, ☎ +61 7 4031-5466, toll-free: 1300 800 840, e-mail: reservations@skydivecairns.com.au. Tandem, single jumps, and AFF courses. One of the most beautiful planes rides up to 13,000 feet overlooking the reef just long enough before you lose your lunch on the way down.
  • Tandem Cairns, Shop 10, 93 The Esplanade (Entrance on Aplin Street), toll-free: 1800 805 432, e-mail: admin@tandemcairns.com.au. 

White water rafting

Rafting in North Queensland has the advantage of departures all year round, tropical water temperatures and ease of access to compliment breath-taking scenery and rapids. The region's white water rafting adventures are suitable for all levels of fitness and enthusiasm. Ride through the planet's oldest continuously growing tropical rainforests on rivers that still run wild.

  • RnR White Water Rafting, PO Box 2945, ☎ +61 7 4041 9444, fax: +61 7 4041 9499, e-mail: res@raft.com.au. Operating since 1984. The Tully River is Australia's best and most famous 1-day white water rafting experience, with up to 5 hr of rafting over more than 45 grade 4 rapids through World Heritage Rainforest. The Barron River option is a great half-day tour, with up to 2 hr of rafting on grade 3 rapids.

Coach tours

Many coach tours depart Cairns daily, with a couple of hundred to choose from. There are rainforest tours to Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River, Cape Tribulation, and the Cairns Highlands (Atherton Tablelands), specialized 4WD tours, city sights tours, tours to wildlife parks, outback tours.

  • Tropic Wings Coach Tours, PO 1230 Cairns, ☎ +61 7 4041 9400, fax: +61 7 4041 9499, e-mail: daytours@tropicwings.com.au. One of the largest and longest established coaches touring companies in Cairns, operating since 1981. Operate full and half-day tours to Kuranda including Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail, Rainforest Nature Park and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Cape Tribulation and the Daintree, Port Douglas, Atherton Tablelands and the 'Outback'.Extended tours are available to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree.
  • Jungle Tours, PO Box 2945, ☎ +61 7 4041 9440, fax: +61 7 4041 9499, e-mail: res@jungletours.com.au. Day and extended tours to the World Heritage areas of Cape Tribulation and the Daintree - where the oldest rainforest in the world meets the Great Barrier Reef. Small groups travel with their informative guides on air-conditioned buses. Tours can include Port Douglas, The Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, cruising on the Daintree River searching for crocodiles and wildlife, swimming in the Mossman Gorge and exploring Cape Tribulation Beach. On extended tours, various levels of accommodation are offered, from backpacker dorms to deluxe resorts, with plenty of options to party and play. Activities vary from reef trips with Rum Runner to horseriding, jungle surfing, and sea kayaking.
  • Northern Experience Eco Tour, Stratford, ☎ +61 7 4058 0268. Visits the waterfalls, Lake Barrine Cater lake, The Curtain Fig tree, Famous Milla Milla falls, 2 course hot lunch and cheese/yogurt tasting at the Mungalli organic bio-dynamic dairy, rainforest of the Southern Cairns Highlands, plus the historic Spanish castle ruins and gardens of Paronella Park and Mena Creek falls, near Innisfail, and the Babinda boulders for a swim in clear mountain spring waters. Back to Cairns via Bruce Highway, sugar cane fields, and Walsh's Pyramid. Many photo opportunities. Small groups, max 20 passengers.

What to eat and drink in Cairns, Australia


Eat

As with much of Cairns, you can divide the city into the Esplanade and the places within a block of it, and the rest of the city. The Esplanade is littered with bar and grill places supplying red meat and beer all in the one place and with seafood restaurants. It's relatively difficult to find anything open before 11 AM since they expect the clientele to be sleeping in. The rest of the city has small cafes and milkbars catering to locals. The number of Japanese tourists here makes Japanese food a fairly reliable option, although prices can be steep.
A number of the more expensive restaurants on the Esplanade, particularly towards the north end, offer discounts of 20-30% for early birds: usually, you will need to order by 6:30 PM and pay and leave no later than 7:30 PM to get a discounted meal.

  • La Pizza Trattoria, ☎ +61 7 4031-2646. 93 The Esplanade. La Pizza Trattoria has good pizza. It lures most patrons in by letting them wander past the pizza chef kneading the dough as they smell the baking pizzas. Open 7 Days 7 AM until late.
  • Rex's Burger Bar, 316 Sheridan St, ☎ +61 7 4031-1756. 7 AM-8:30 PM. 
  • Villa Romana Trattoria, Aplin Street (cnr The Esplanade), ☎ +61 7 4051-9000, fax: +61 7 4031-5557. Italian meals with some good seafood options and overworked wait staff. 25% discount if you order before 6:30 PM.
  • Hide's Coffee Cafe, Shop 7, 87 Lake Street, ☎ +61 7 4041-1899. A couple of streets back from the Esplanade, this cafe is a good place for breakfast or lunch. Order at the counter and remember to keep an eye on the collapsing umbrellas at the outside tables. They have free Wi-Fi for guests.
  • Sushi Express, Shop 28 Orchid Plaza, 79 Abbott Street, ☎ +61 7 4041-4388, fax: +61 7 4052-1277. A sushi train made up to look like the Kuranda Railway; this place is popular but not wildly busy. The tempura seems to get more attention than the sushi or sashimi. 
  • Perrotta's At The Gallery, 38 Abbott Street, ☎ +61 7 4031-5899. If you want to escape from several evenings touring the bar and grill places, Perotta's is just off the Esplanade and does more sophisticated Western food. Try the French toast with roast pear for breakfast. 
  • Donnini's Ciao Italia, Pier Marketplace. Indoor and outdoor dining with an ocean backdrop. 

Drink

Cairns has pubs and bars to cater to travelers, students, and locals.

  • Blue Sky Brewery Bar & Restaurant, 34-42 Lake Street, ☎ +61 7 4057-0500. Situated in the heart of Cairns CBD. Its bar, restaurant and function rooms attract both locals and visitors. It has a wide selection of boutique beers brewed onsite, a comprehensive wine cellar, a diverse modern cuisine, and dynamic, yet relaxed Tropical North Queensland atmosphere. All of Blue Sky's handcrafted beers are unpasteurized and brewed naturally, giving a distinct depth of flavor and fresh taste
  • Casa De Meze, ☎ +61 7 4051-5550. The corner of the Esplanade and Aplin St (above Villa Romana), From 5 PM daily serving Mediterranean cuisine including steak, seafood, pasta, and pizza.
  • Rattle 'N Hum, 65-67 The Esplanade, ☎ +61 7 4031-3011. The Rattle 'n Hum is a bar and grill in the midst of one of the busiest parts of The Esplanade. It's quite large and getting a seat is seldom a problem: sit out back once they light torches in the evenings. Competition for the pool table is not formidable so you should be able to get several games in. They do some main meals, including wood-fired pizza. The staff is highly variable in quality, ordering a cocktail can be risky, but they're certainly able to pull a beer.
  • Rhino Bar Cairns, corner of Lake & Spence Street, ☎ +61 7 4031-5305. Your liver will remember your stay;)
  • The Woolshed Chargrill & Saloon Bar, 24 Shields Street, ☎ +61 7 4031-6304, fax: +61 7 4041-2283. If you are looking for a place to find all the travelers, go to the Woolshed in downtown Cairns.

Shopping in Cairns, Australia


Shops selling pearls are fairly widespread in Cairns, with a huge price range. You can find real A-grade pearls from the Torres Strait - not cheap, but at the end more than fair in comparison to the European or US prices for the same quality level.

  • Cairns Esplanade Markets, The Esplanade @ The Lagoon (Go to the Lagoon on the Esplanade), ☎ +61 7 4044 3044. Saturday 8-4 PM. Esplanade Markets have homemade products, rare stones, clothes, all types of art, massage, local music, local rainforest timbers/carvings/wooden chopping boards and you will be buying from the maker/artist of the products. Heaps of budget-priced stuff, but some very refined high art/design/ideas that could easily become a feature piece of a house/garden. Great place to find a special gift. And best of all it has a 'locals feel' about it. Make sure take a hat and sunscreen as it's an outdoor market. Have fun and meet some locals.
  • Night Markets, 71-75 The Esplanade, ☎ +61 7 4051-7666. Every night of the week till late. The markets are a collection of stalls catering mainly to tourists: you can buy lots of clothes, games, and Australiana.
  • Cairns Central, Cnr MacLeod & Spence St ☎ +61 7 4041 4111. Large shopping center with more than 180 shops, restaurants, and takeaways located in the city center.
  • Smithfield Shopping Centre, Cnr Captain Cook & Kennedy Hwy ☎ +61 7 4038 1006. A shopping center with two supermarkets, clothing and book shops as well as takeaways. Located on Captain Cook Highway and therefore a good place to stock up on the way north.
  • Exchange Bookshop 78 Grafton St. All kinds of second-hand books in good condition, especially a good section of classic literature and also a selection of recent books by Australian writers and guide books.
  • Rusty's Market 57-89 Grafton St, ☎ +61 7 4040-2705. F 05:00-18:00, Ss 06:00-15:00, Su 06:00-14:00. Storefronts are lined with many kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits picked locally.

Safety in Cairns, Australia


Cairns is, in general, a safe city with all the annoyances (e.g., pickpockets and touts) that a city full of tourists experiences. The most notable threats are nature and the weather. Cairns is hit by tropical cyclones during the rain season (December until March) that causes damage to the infrastructure and stops public activities.

Language spoken in Cairns, Australia


English is the main language.

LOCAL TIME

1:27 am
September 20, 2019
Australia/Brisbane

CURRENT WEATHER

18.16 °C / 64.688 °F
few clouds
Fri

16.35 °C/61 °F
sky is clear
Sat

16.19 °C/61 °F
sky is clear
Sun

17.76 °C/64 °F
overcast clouds
Mon

17.21 °C/63 °F
overcast clouds

LOCAL CURRENCY

AUD

1 USD = 0 AUD
1 EUR = 0 AUD
1 GBP = 0 AUD
1 CAD = 0 AUD

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