Cairns – While the stingers may prevent you from being able to go into the ocean (especially during the summer months), there is a lagoon roped off on the pier that allows swimming. The marina on the pier houses countless boats and ferries to take guests to the Great Barrier Reef. We visited both island off Cairns, Green Island and Fitzroy Island and enjoyed the snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef. Both islands are small and don’t require cars like many we visited off of Brisbane.
Fitzroy Island – A 45min ferry ride from Cairns, it’s fabulous for couples or families, the island has everything, great snorkeling and outdoor activities, mountain hikes, and is not overly populated. This island is a great escape and the highlight of our trip (read our review here).
Green Island – Also a 45min ferry ride from Cairns, this is a great day trip (although they have an upscale resort on the property). Green Island is a lot more crowded and touristy the Fitzroy but well set up for day-trippers. We booked our visit through Great Adventures and had a great experience. As part of our package we went on a 30-minute bottomless boat tour, which I highly recommend and saw incredible (ginormous!) fish. The skippers are very knowledgeable of the marine life and reef. The snorkeling is out of this world, with the vast colors of the reef and wildlife peeking its head out to swim with you.
Green Island also houses Marineland Melanesia, which hosts a range of crocodiles, turtles and marine aquariums. In residence is Cassius, the world’s largest captive crocodile. While you can’t take a picture with him, you can watch the Crocodiles shows and see them get fed and have a photo opp and host a baby crocodile.
Crystal Cascades – We unfortunately didn’t make it but this was recommended by many locals as one of the best kept secrets of Queensland. We were told to bring a picnic and swim in a secluded freshwater swimming hole surrounded in tropical rainforest.
Palm Cove – We traveled quite a bit in Cairns and stayed at a variety of hotels but if we had to pick one area to stay in, it would be Palm Cove and one hotel, it would be the Alamada (see our review HERE). Palm Cove is beach community only 20minutes away from Cairns and between Cairns and Port Douglas, another popular North Queensland destination. It’s a beautiful and relaxing area with a small strip of restaurants and coffee shops. It’s beyond gorgeous and not too touristy and has a great scene of people without being too crowded. The water is incredibly warm and if it’s stinger season they section off a part of the beach so you can still swim. It’s a great location that’s still close to everywhere you’ll want to visit but yet it’s own miraculous bubble of paradise.
Port Douglas – About 60 minutes outside of Cairns, it’s one of the most beautiful drives you can do from the city. It passes Palm Cove and is one road along the mose scenic coastal roads. Just take in the waves and secluded beaches as you drive the coast.
Port Douglas itself is an upscale resort golf-town with great shopping, art galleries, and restaurants around the town. It’s much larger then Palm Cove and also on the water. One of the big to-does in addition to going into town and walking Macrossan Street is the palm-fringed Four Mile Beach (that you can walk or bike) and that runs from Macrossan Street.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – A complete gem and beautiful way to explore Australia’s tropical rainforest. It took 14 months to build, has been running for 7 years and has even been visited by the Queen of England. The cableway spans 7.5kms beginning in Smithfield (minutes from Cairns) and ending in Kurunda (or starting in Kurunda and ending in Smithfield).
It makes two stops along the way Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station. Both of which are optional to get off the gondola to explore, before getting back on and continuing the journey. Both stops have guided walk ways that won’t take more the 15 minutes to do, and feature look out points for all of your picture needs. Red Peak station is surrounded in towering trees, and basket ferns. While Barron Falls station overlooks Barron Gorge and offers three spectacular, scenic look out points to enjoy breathtaking views of the Gorge and Falls.
Our last stop was to Kuranda Terminal, which is a small hippie village filled with markets and souvenirs. Tons of restaurants, shops and the Kuranda Koala Gardens (yes, you can hold a Koala there). You can also take a bus from Cairns to Kuranda – but with the Skyrail service, I don’t know why anyone would. With all of the stops and touring Kuranda give yourself a half or full day to experience all of it. Last year, Skyrail introduced 11 Diamond View glass floor gondolas so you can see out the bottom as you travel through the rainforest. It’s an additional $10 for adults ($5 for children). Learn more at skyrail.com
Mossman Gorge – we only enjoyed the gorge through Skyrail but the world heritage site offers one of Australia’s most iconic Aboriginal experiences. You can organize an array of tours through the Mossman Gorge Center and learn about the Dreamtime stories from the Kuku Yalanji people.
Daintree Rainforest is the tropical rainforest that runs north of Mossman and Cairns. It’s one of the biggest draws to Cairns as it’s the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia and includes the Daintree National Park. Their ecosystem is one of the most complex on earth. We ran out of time to fully explore the rainforest but there are several tours available through daintreerainforest.net.au