Cairns is Australia’s gateway to northern Queensland. From here you can visit the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree rainforest, the Atherton tablelands, Cape Tribulation, and much more. Cairns is a pretty typical tropical city in that life here focuses on relaxing, staying cool, moving slowly, and enjoying nature. With so much to see here, the city deserves a very long stay. Plan to visit for a week, which will give you enough time to do all the activities in the area plus give you time to lounge by the pool. This town may be small but you are rarely bored here.
- Hostel Prices: Dorm rooms are quite cheap, ranging from $17-22 USD. Private rooms cost around $60 USD per night.
- Budget Hotel Prices: Rooms average $60-$80 USD per night.
- Average Cost of Food: Cheap meals can be found under $10 USD. Most restaurants meals will cost between $20 and 30 USD. If you cook your own food, plan to spend between $50-80 USD per week depending on what you like to cook. There’s a lot of good seafood and Asian food here.
- Transportation Costs: A taxi around the city is about $15-20 USD. Many of the hostels outside the city center offer free shuttle service around the city center. The public bus costs $2 USD.
Read more on the costs of traveling around the country.
Top Things to Do
- Dive the Great Barrier Reef – The only natural thing able to be seen from space, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places to dive in the world. Cairns is the biggest jumping off point for dive trips to the reef. Trips cost between $170 and $250 USD for the day. I loved my dive trip. I was blown away at how great the diving was and the abundant wildlife and coral. I’ve always wanted to see the reef and it did not disappoint.
- Visit the Daintree Rainforest - The rainforest north of Cairns is the oldest rainforest on the planet, dating back to prehistoric times. There are a number of day trips here but the best way to optimize your time is to visit the area on the way north towards Cape Tribulation. The forest is wonderful and makes for a beautiful day of swimming and hiking. My only regret is that I only had one day there as it would have been nice to spend a few days hiking all the trails.
- Take a trip up North - Cross the Daintree river and continue up into Cape Tribulation, Cooktown, and Cape York. These towns are great jumping off points for dive trips to the reef, jungle walks, and overall, lounging. Few tourists make it up this way and this area is a perfect place to escape the crowds. There isn’t anything to do up here except relax, enjoy nature, read a book, and avoid jellyfish.
- See the Atherton Tablelands and Waterfalls - The Atherton tablelands have a plethora of waterfalls. Day tours are long and you’ll leave early and get back late but you’ll see a ton of great waterfalls, especially the famous Millaa Millaa Falls. If you go, use Uncle Brian’s tours. They are an incredibly popular tour and, though the day is long, the tour is great and the driver is really engaging. I’ve never been on such a wild day tour in my life.
- Do Extreme Sports - If hiking, diving, and swimming is too mundane for you, there’s always AJ Hackett’s bungy jump, or a sky dive. AJ Hackett also has a swing that takes you 100 meters up and then launches you. It’s like the pirate ships at carnivals except you don’t spin around and it scared the crap out of me.
- Hang Out by Lagoon - Just sit around, do nothing and spend the day relaxing by Cairns’ Lagoon (read: really big pool).
- White Water Rafting – There are three major rivers that are all popular among white water rafters. In a tropical region that gets plenty of rain, the rivers are always overflowing and rafting is a popular and fun activity here.
- See the Crocs – Crocodiles, both fresh and saltwater, live in the area. You can get many tours out into the estuaries and mangroves and see some of these behemoths yourself. Many of the tours are very good and informative.
- Aboriginal Culture Walk - There are many Aboriginals in the area and they have done a great job of setting up an eco-tourism area. You can walk with them and learn about their culture, history, the plant life, traditional herbal medicine, and even go traditional Aboriginal spear fishing.
- Cairns Wildlife Dome- This wildlife exhibit is enclosed by 65 ft tall glass dome, on top of the Reef Hotel Casino. Quite different than any other zoo experience you may ever have, this exhibit is interesting and highly suited for those that would rather not adventure through the actual rainforest. This dome is host to a wide range of native animals, from lorikeets and rosellas to frogmouths and kookaburras.
- Cable Ski- Used more commonly by the locals, this cable-driven water skiing park is a fun activity — particularly for younger and more active people. When you get tired of sightseeing, this man-made lake might be the place for you. Various jumps and games are set up to keep you entertained for a few hours.
- The Botanical Gardens- Just 5 minutes from the airport, this is a lovely stop to make on your way out of Cairns. There are several paths to walk along, through the beautiful tropical landscape. The Garden is rich in trees, ferns, plants, and a lake.
- Take a helicopter tour – For those that aren’t quite ready to skydive, but want to see the Great Barrier Reef from a greater height, there are various companies that offer helicopter tours. Experience the true shape and magnitude of the reef and sand cays—take a tour today. You might even see some whales.
- Buy a package – There is a lot to see and do in the area. It can really be a drag on your budget. Booking tours together can get you a slight discount.
- Work for your room – Cairns is one of the biggest work destinations for travelers. Hostels are always hiring new staff. The city is a great option if you plan to stay in Australia longer.
- Eat cheap – The city has a lot of nice restaurants and eating out can be very expensive. However, there are a lot of sandwich shops around that can keep your costs down. Avoid the restaurants, grab a sandwich (or cook) and save money.
Other Destinations in Australia
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