Investigate limestone caves, sail across the Great Barrier Reef, uncover the secrets of bush medicine, or just unwind on a palm-tree-lined beach – here’s our pick of the best day trips from Cairns.
A tropical paradise, Far North Queensland has plenty of adventures ripe for the picking right on Cairns’ doorstep. Whether you want to venture underwater, or underground, relax at the beach or jump out of a plane some 15,000 feet over one, these are the Cairns day trips worthy of your hard-earned annual leave.
This remote headland is a wildly photogenic spot for a daytrip. Known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef, go beyond the surface of Cape Trib with a bushwalk. The easy Kulki Boardwalk is a great place to start, just a 10-minute round-trip promising views over the Coral Sea and Cape Tribulation Beach. Otherwise, you can put your tastebuds to the test at a rare exotic fruit orchard. Or, if you’d like to dial up the adventure a notch, then canter through the rainforest or the shallow waters of the sea on a guided horse ride.
Plumb the depths of three labyrinthine caves, on this ranger-guided cave tour. The perfect tonic for hot sticky days when temperatures above ground are too much, these subterranean limestone beauties are also thoroughly engrossing, whether you’re a budding geologist, or travelling with curious kids. Donna Cave features beautiful columns and calcite crystals. Trezkinn Cave boasts an impressive ‘chandelier’ formation. And the vast Royal Arch Cave promises 11 different chambers, ancient marine fossils and the novelty of carrying a hand-held lamp to explore.
The coral reef that needs no introduction, this vast UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is best accessed from Cairns, where a wide range of tour operators have their base. Really, a visit to Cairns without at least one trip out into the blue would be criminal; some visitors commit days to exploring all that the GBR has to offer from a liveaboard. But you can easily get a taste of this 2,300-kilometre behemoth, the largest of its kind in the world, even with just a day to spare. Swim, snorkel, sail or dive among the 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish that the reef plays home to: you might even witness coral spawning, whales migrating, or turtles nesting.
Sleep-y yet boutique-y, this coastal suburb has become a destination in its own right – so much so that many catch the shuttle here straight from Cairns Airport and never venture outside of its postcode. The balmy shores of this so-called ‘tropical village by the sea’ are lined with palm trees, smart-casual cafes and restaurants, plus plentiful hotel spas and a couple of galleries. While away an afternoon (or longer) exploring the colourful esplanade and taking a stroll along the beach with an ice cream. Or hit the water by canoe, stand-up paddleboard, jetski or catamaran. And don’t leave without visiting standout local restaurant Nu Nu (bookings highly recommended).
This tropical mountain town is perhaps best known as the home of Skyrail: a seven-and-a-half-kilometre cableway that rises above the resplendent green canopy of Barron Gorge National Park, which is part of Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area: one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. It’s also home to the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a 37-kilometre long railroad that traverses through valleys, past waterfalls, and around mountaintops. You can do both in one day with the combined railway-and-cableway round trip to Kuranda from Cairns.
But beyond the big ticket attractions, the town of Kuranda has some draws of its own too. Roam around the bohemian shops, galleries, cafes and outdoor markets of Coondoo Street.
Part of the Cassowary Coast, the small coastal town is in fact made up of four beach villages, and has developed a name for itself as Far North Queensland’s adventure capital. If tandem skydiving or white water rafting are on your bucket list then you’re in luck.
Or for something a bit more sedate, but no less intriguing, pay a visit to Paronella Park. A surreal parcel of land, where a stone structure that resembles a small castle lies hidden among a plethora of verdant foliage, beside fountains and waterfalls. The park’s ‘refreshment rooms’ were inspired by the late owner’s childhood memories of Catalan castles. Stay a while and stroll around the park, soaking up the abundant flora and fauna: more than 7,500 plants, trees and ferns have been planted here, providing food and shelter to birds, butterflies and more.
Daintree Rainforest & Mossman Gorge
One of the world’s oldest rainforests, the Daintree is estimated to be more than 135 million years old. And Mossman Gorge just so happens to be the best gateway to explore this green lung, and learn more about its custodians. Mossman Gorge Centre is an Indigenous ecotourism experience that offers guided walks and tours, led by the Kuku Yalanji people, whose history in these parts dates back some 50,000 years.
Walk among the thick of the forest, learn about the plants that are used as medicine, identify bush foods, and take part in a traditional smoking ceremony to ward off bad spirits on the Dreamtime Walk.