Don’t let all those laidback tropical vibes distract you from your purpose: to see as much of Tropical North Queensland as is possible.
Here are the top tours to book in and around Cairns, from day trips to the reef to tasting adventures on the Tableland and a jet-ski tour beyond.
Croc Spotting Jet-ski Tour
How fast can a crocodile swim? Not as fast as a jet ski, says NQ Water Sports owner Steve Singleton. After a safety briefing, participants on the Croc Spotting Tour hit the throttle of their jet ski and follow Steve’s lead toward Admiralty Island in Trinity Inlet where, after hopping a few waves, they kill the engine and observe giant crocodiles sunbaking on the mud flats. One of the headline acts of the eco tour is a 90-year-old saltwater crocodile, Jaws, who is about 4.5 metres long.
If you’re in Cairns for an extended break, book in to complete your four-day PADI Open Water certification with a Diver’s Den course that includes two day trips to the reef (plus a bonus one for free). If you’re fully certified and good to go, do your research first and time your visit to coincide with the seasonal migration of the dwarf minke whales or the magical phenomenon that is coral spawning.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel
Join local Indigenous sea rangers on a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel day tour that cruises through the blindingly blue tropical waters to two reef sites off the coast of Cairns. In addition to diving and snorkelling, this tour is all about cultural immersion as the Gunggandji First Nations’ people share Great Barrier Reef creation stories, song and dance about their connection to country. The tour focuses on how traditional owners lived off the waters on the Great Barrier Reef.
Passions of Paradise
Walk past the hippies strumming guitars on the Esplanade and down to the Marlin Marina to meet the friendly crew onboard Passions of Paradise. The 25-metre catamaran sails daily from Cairns to two unique reef locations where passengers can try diving for the first time, enjoy a fully guided snorkel tour to see turtles, colourful fish and coral and listen to a presentation about the Great Barrier Reef. A buffet lunch is also included.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway + Kuranda Scenic Railway
Catching the Kuranda Scenic Railway as it slowly corkscrews its way to Kuranda village makes for a remarkable commute. The historic railway, which was completed in 1891, chugs around 15 handmade tunnels and over 37 bridges as it makes its way to the top of Kuranda Range, passing spectacular waterfalls and stopping off at Barron Gorge along the way. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is an equally impressive feat of engineering as it soars above the rainforest on your return journey.
Mossman Gorge Centre Voyages
Day-trippers to the Daintree can listen and learn from Kuku Yalanji First Nations’ people during a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk that departs from Mossman Gorge Centre. ‘Ngadiku’ means ‘stories and legends from a long time ago’ in local Kuku Yalanji language and the Dreamtime Walk provides a compelling narrative about the rainforest that includes a demonstration of how to use traditional medicinal plants and identify native food. Traditional tea and damper follows.
Kayak Turtle Tour
Paddle in a sea kayak from Palm Cove, with its palm trees bent into the wind, across a glimmering stretch of sea all the way to the reefs that fringe Double Island and Haycock Island on Pacific Water Sports’ Kayak Turtle Tour. First stop is the place where green and hawksbill turtles are often seen basking in the ocean followed by an excursion to the shallows to see rays and shovel-nosed sharks. When the tide is right, the tour will also venture into a limestone cave dripping with stalactites.
Cairns Tablelands Tasting Tour
Take your tastebuds on a tour of the Atherton Tablelands with No Limit Adventures to sample everything from tropical fruits to organic tea and small-batch spirits produced in the vibrant, highland plateau. The boutique-y Cairns Tablelands Tasting Tour also loops in a visit to Mungalli Dairy Café, Crater Lakes Coffee (the highest-altitude coffee plantation in Australia) and back down to Cairns microbrewery, Macalisters, overlooking the cane fields.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is one of the more creative ways to see some of Tropical North Queensland’s most stunning landscapes. Not only is a Tully River Rafting tour with White Water Rafting Cairns guaranteed to thrill; the full-day tour also cascades at high speed through one of the most pristine pockets of rainforest on the planet. The local tour operator also offers a half-day rafting tour on the Barron River.
Cairns Hot Air Balloon
A hot-air balloon ride over the Atherton Tablelands with Cairns Hot Air Balloon will change your perspective on the highland plateau providing 360-degree views of what looks like a little miniature world: ancient crater lakes that appear like murky pot holes, tiny broccoli trees and fertile farmland that looks like a rumpled fleece blanket balled up with little lint sheep. Receive a commemorative certificate and a glass of bubbles on landing.
For more great travel tips and itineraries read our Ultimate guide to Cairns holidays here.