Cairns is located in northeast Queensland on the east coast of Australia. However, Cairns can not really be called a city with its 150,000 inhabitants but there’s a lot to do in and outside the city center. The weather is a constant and only fluctuates between warm and wet and warm and dry. Moreover, subtropical Cairns is ideally located around prehistoric rainforests and beautiful beaches. It’s a perfect start for one of the most beautiful road trips Australia has to offer, from Cairns to Brisbane. Below you will find the best sights that Cairns has to offer.
10. Trinity Beach
Trinity Beach became our first home in Cairns during our ‘Capricorn Coast’ road trip. This beach is mainly used by Aussies who have their weekend stay there. That’s why it’s a perfect starting point to enjoy the peace and quiet. Although the beach is not huge, the background is beautiful. Palm trees and rainforest in the background and the salty water almost touching your toes.
9. Palm Cove
Since Cairns is a top destination amongst backpackers, it’s nice to leave the center and discover the slightly finer surroundings. Palm Cove fits this description. Although you’ll see a lot of tourists, the hustle and bustle here is pleasant. Everyone who visits Palm Cove comes here to relax. You’ll find trendy coffee bars, gelato and nice local shops. Of course the beach is the real highlight. In short, walk on the beach, discover the pier and then enjoy a nice cool ice cream.
8. Waterfall Loop
Cairns has a subtropical climate and experiences heavy rainfall during their wet season. Just behind the centre of Cairns you’ll find a mountainous landscape where most of the rainfall occurs. This gives you the opportunity to jump in your rental car and make a real ‘Waterfall Loop’. The region around Cairns has at least 20 waterfalls. Enough to keep you busy for a few days. Moreover, the tourism industry has rolled up its sleeves and mapped out a great route:
- Gillies Highway
- Millaa Millaa Falls
- Zillie Falls
- Elinjaa Falls
Protip! Be aware if there has been a rainy season at all. If not, you get to see very skinny waterfalls, like we saw:
7. Port Douglas
This town may well knock Cairns off its throne as the ideal base from which to explore north-east Queensland. Port Douglas is closer to Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda, Great Barrier Reef and offers an impressive beach. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained in the evening.
4 Mile Beach is a straight stretch of beach that embraces the rainforest in the distance. You’ll never find too many people here, because there’s plenty of room. This impressive beach joins a great walk that takes you all the way around for a beautiful view of the beach. If you feel sporty, you can continue walking to the impressive bay of Port Douglas:
6. Kuranda (Scenic Railway)
A fifteen minute drive from Cairns you’ll find the station that’ll take you to Kuranda. Kuranda is a village in the middle of the rainforest. You have several options to reach the village:
- Skil fit
Using the ski lift you’ll find yourself above the towering trees and you’ll be able to see the beautiful nature. If you choose the train, you’ll rediscover the old tracks that were used to transport ground resources from the rainforest to the city. Despite these options, I advise you to use your own rental car to create your own path. The highlight is without a doubt the Barron Falls and the Kuranda Markets.
5. Captain Cook Highway
Going from Cairns to Mossman Gorge you’ll drive on the Captain Cook Highway. The highway meanders along the beautiful tropical coast for 75 kilometres. Stop once in a while and take your camera, you won’t find better viewpoints during your drive from Cairns to Brisbane. The road is named after the British explorer James Cook who didn’t like the region very much. Due to the heavy rainfall during his visit, he came up with the name ‘Cape Tribulation‘ during his stop in the Daintree region.
4. Atherton Tablelands
A landscape that has so much to offer that it probably needs its own blog post. The Tablelands can be reached after driving through the hilly landscape of Cairns. The ride itself is a quality experience. On top of that, the Atherton Tablelands is the place to be to go waterfall hunting. One moment you’re driving through the rainforest, the next you’re riding on the top of the hills and looking down on the farms.
Protip!For an authentic Atherton experience, punch in Mungalli Creek Dairy Farm on your GPS. Here you can taste homemade cheesecake and other daily fresh dairy products.
3. Crystal Cascades
What are the locals doing in Cairns? The Crystal Cascades! Not accessible by public transport, no tours you can book, but you can reach them if you have a rental car at your disposal. This secret of Cairns is only a half hour drive from the CBD. You can start your half hour hike admiring the Crystal Cascades. Moreover you have public toilets, showers and a barbecue available, enough facilities to enjoy a day of nature and fresh water in tropical Cairns.
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Protip! Keep walking until you can’t. Many people jump into the water somewhere during the walk. However, the best view is at the end of the track.
2. Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is likely to appear in every top ten article about Australia. So why visit the Great Barrier Reef in the Cairns region? The reef here is one of the best preserved stretches of over 2000 kilometers of Barrier Reef. Departing from Port Douglas you have a huge range of tours. The price tag of GBR tours is a bit higher here, but it would be worth it. We have chosen to do our GBR experience during our Whitsundays story.
Without a doubt, Daintree Rainforest is number one on the list. Australia’s largest rainforest is also the oldest in the world. What really distinguishes Daintree is the seemingly perfect transition between the rainforest and the ocean. Cape Tribulation is undoubtedly the highlight of this trip.
The collection of walks that Daintree has to offer is impressive. Mossman Gorge is your first pitstop before crossing the Daintree River by ferry. Try to get here on time because buses of tourists arrive here every minute. During your walk to Mossman Gorge you should keep your eyes open, because you never know what you can see in the rainforest.
Afterwards you continue your trip to the Daintree River where you take the ferry. Keep your eyes open and look left and right as the Daintree River is crawling with saltwater crocodiles. Further on you drive through the densely forested area and experience the winding road through Daintree. Although driving is an experience in itself, a pill is recommended for those who quickly become car sick.
Our accommodation was close to Cape Tribulation. If you can find anything in this region, book it right away. By the way, this will save you some money so you don’t have to take the ferry every time. You’ll find great cottages on Airbnb and Booking, but be quick, because there aren’t many options.
Plus, you can choose from a whole bunch of walks. On top of that, the Four Wheel Drive fanatics have options to drive all the way to Cooktown. I definitely recommend to visit Cow Bay. Although it seems a bit isolated, the tranquility and beautiful nature is a real treat for the eye. Stay there for a while and watch the tides transform Cow Bay. The gelato farm is also a must. They serve seasonal flavors you’ve never heard of and every time they’re worth it.
In short, Daintree is a no-brainer when you’re in Cairns!