The gateway city of Cairns is the throbbing heart of Tropical North Queensland, internationally renowned for the world's best scuba diving and snorkelling on the nearby Great Barrier Reef. But there is much, much more to Cairns. This city will surprise and delight you with activities for everyone, from the nature lover to the thrill seeker. Cairns is a wonderful place to live, and a visitor's paradise! Cairns carries with pride the mantle of 'safest tropical city in the world'. Cairns is referred to as a 'gateway city' because of its ideal location at the entrance to two World Heritage listed areas; the Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics Rainforest region that stretches almost from Townsville to Cooktown. Indeed, this is the only region in the world where two World Heritage listed sites lie side by side, and in some places the 135 million year old rainforest spills right down to the sandy beach. Just a one hour hour drive up the Kuranda Range from Cairns and you're in the lush Atherton Tablelands, and a couple of hours further you're in the grasslands of the Gulf Savannah and the unique Northern Outback.
The city was settled in 1876 as a convenient port for the inland goldfields. Modern day Cairns, with a population of over 100,000 is well equipped for the boom in tourism to the region, with an international airport -Australia's fifth busiest- just ten minutes drive from the city centre. The city boasts all the attributes of a world class modern city; world class restaurants, an art gallery, botanical gardens, university, casino, convention centre, and a range of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets, from backpackers hostels to five star luxury resorts, not to mention the world class marina and wharf used by visiting yachts and cruise liners. In all, more than three million travellers pass through the city every year. Cairns is alive with more activities than you will ever have time for.
The focal point around which the city revolves is the CAIRNS ESPLANADE. Until 2003 the Cairns 'beachfront' was nothing more than a wide mudflat, and beach lovers had to shuttle to the Northern Beaches, a string of gorgeous beaches just a short drive north of Cairns. To give the city credit, even then the council had the Cairns waterfront fringed with a pleasant strip of parkland, equipped with picnic facilities and free barbecues. But recent development has transformed the waterfront, with a 4,000 square metre saltwater lagoon and artificial beach right there on the Esplanade.
ATTRACTIONS AND THINGS TO DO - CAIRNS
GREAT BARRIER REEFOf course, the number one attraction is the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef ecosystem and the only living thing visible from outer space. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1981, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Visit our GREAT BARRIER REEF page for more information about the reef itself and the range of experiences you can have exploring this Natural Wonder.
Our tropical rainforest stretches over a million hectares. Internationally recognised as one of the most ecologically significant natural areas in the entire world, the Wet Tropics Rainforest are the oldest constantly surviving rainforest on earth, and once upon a time it covered the whole Australian continent.
Visit our RAINFOREST page for more information about Tropical North Queensland's unique rainforest environment, and suggestions for the best places to experience the Wet Tropics rainforest.
It opens from 10:00am to 4:00pm from Monday to Saturday and after hours by appointment. A small entry fee is charged.
The Cairns Regional Art Gallery is located right in the heart of Cairns, in a two storey heritage building, and is North Queensland's only visual art museum. For more than 10 years, Cairns Regional Art Gallery has been documenting and presenting history, heritage and contemporary culture of North Queensland through the visual arts, craft and design. Housing exhibitions of fine arts from major Australian and international collections, including the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, the gallery also organises tours for the general public on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
For more information, and details about other museums and galleries around Tropical North Queensland, please visit our MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES page.
35-41 Wharf Street. Phone (07) 4030 8888
Highly regarded as Australia's finest boutique casino, the Cairns Reef Casino prides itself on being the only casino in Far North Queensland. The casino is located right in the heart of Cairns and casts a remarkable silhouette on the city skyline, featuring a massive glass dome as its rooftop.
Within the casino, visitors will also be startled by the Cairns Rainforest Dome, which features a magnificent all weather wildlife exhibit enclosed by a 20 metre high glass dome. It's home to over one hundred species of Australian animals. The Rainforest Dome replicates the animals' natural environment and offers visitors an insight into the rainforest ecology. The Dome is also home to the Cairns' first underwater viewing enclosure, featuring a large saltwater crocodile.
FLECKER BOTANIC GARDENS AND CENTENARY LAKES
Created in 1886, the Flecker Botanic Gardens are located only five kilometres north from the heart of the city centre and feature 38 hectares of native Australian gardens containing plants that cannot be found anywhere else. Exotic palms, gingers and aroids and many other rare plants, including carnivorous species, flourish in this beautiful and well maintained park. The jewel of the park is the Amorphophallus Titanius, a tropical flower that weights up to 70 kilograms, with a single leaf almost seven metres across. This plant is one of the only two found in Australia.
The Botanic Gardens are popular with local residents and tourists alike. On weekends they can get quite busy with picnicking families. They are open to the public from 7:30am to 5:30pm every day of the year and admission is free.
Adjacent to the Botanic Gardens we find the Centenary Lakes, a tranquil parkland area with billabong style lakes covered in water lilies.
Two tips, don't forget to apply insect repellent to avoid annoying bites. And although the Botanic Gardens are not far away from the city, we recommend you organise transport to get there, especially on a very hot and humid day.
CAIRNS CIVIC THEATRE
Corner of Sheridan and Florence Streets. Phone (07) 4031 9933 / Fax (07) 4031 3228. The Box Office is open from Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Saturday from 9:00am to 12:00pm and one hour prior to every show.
The Cairns Civic Theatre is owned and operated by the Cairns City Council, and it has been presenting some of the best arts and entertainment available in Australia, since it was opened in 1974.
More than 100 shows are presented at the theatre each year, ranging from local amateur shows to national and international touring extravaganzas. Whether your interest is in comedy, dance, drama, circus or another form of live entertainment, the chances are you can see it at the Cairns Civic Theatre.
We're sure by now you know that Cairns is the closest port to the Great Barrier Reef. Do you know what that means? It means that the Cairns area has some of the finest and most exotic diving and snorkelling in the world. Diving the Great Barrier Reef is a spectacular, thrilling and unforgettable experience and you don't want to miss it, do you?
There is a wide array of diving schools in Cairns to cover your every need, whether a first timer or a seasoned professional. Even if you have never dived before, you can still experience the depths of the Great Barrier Reef with a one day dive. Of course, if you're aiming to become certified or upgrade your certificationss, you can join in more advanced courses that last a week or longer.
And of course, you can choose how you want to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef, whether it is snorkelling for a couple of hours, a diving day trip, live aboard dive cruises, extended diving expeditions or even learning to dive for the first time. There are tours to cater for everyone's needs and ensure you go back home having achieved your dream.
For more information about the tours that are available in the area, please visit our SCUBA DIVING TOURS page.
The Cairns City Golf Course is an excellent public course located 7 kilometres south of Cairns, on the Bruce Highway at Woree (access via Kate St). A beautifully lush, undulating course, well laid out and set amidst tropical and native landscaping, with lush greens and a mountain backdrop. The course has several water hazards, which both complements as well as making the course challenging to all levels of golfers. The layout has 4 x par 3, 10 x par 4 and 4 x par 5. Practice fairway (own balls), green. Full clubhouse facilities, practice tees and pro shop.
For full details of all the golf courses in Cairns and the surrouding area, please visit our GOLFING page.
The Cassowary, the second largest flightless bird in Australia, can also be seen in some rainforest areas close to Cairns. Motorists should be careful, as Cassowary populations have been diminishing due to road accidents.
We cannot forget the Great Barrier Reef when it comes to birdwatching. The islands of the reef all have large numbers of migrating and nesting sea birds and, during some months, it may even be difficult to see the sand!
For more information about birdlife and birding in Tropical North Queensland, please visit our BIRDWATCHING page.
SAFE TRAVEL page.
Devoted fishermen will find some of the most excellent tropical waterways in the world just an hour's drive either north or south of Cairns. Thanks to the local tidal system and the physical and structural features of their sand bars, weed beds, rock holes, tidal flows and gutters can bring in some first-class sportfish. The Mulgrave River, Daintree River and Rusell River are prime locations to enjoy your favourite sport and capture the best catches.
Seasons play a key part in the array of species available at any given time. Barramundi is more active from September to March BUT its season is closed from November to January inclusive and all fish caught must be released. Tarpon, Grunter, Mangrove Jack and Fingermark are other species to be caught during these months.
During the cooler months, the species found are mainly Queenfish, Flathead, Whiting, King and Blue Salmon, Bream and Estuary Cod, and four species of Trevally.
Cairns is the closest, most important port to the Great Barrier Reef, possibly the location that attracts more fish than anywhere on earth. Also called 'Bottom Bouncing', reef fishing is not for every one but fishermen who go for it will catch very tasty eating fish such as Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Spanish Mackerel, Sweetlip or Nannygai, to name a few.
This style of fishing is most effective with heavy hand lines (60-100lbs) although some charter operators will arrange for rod and reel if preferred, depending on the number of anglers onboard, weather conditions and the species of fish you will be targeting.
The huge array of fish species that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef is beyond belief, making the reef a angler's dream destination.
Trinity Inlet, only five minutes from the city centre, is the prime location for estuary fishing thanks to its over 90 kilometres of meandering waterways. This spectacular natural harbour, surrounded by luxuriant greenery, mountains and mangrove forest, is home to a immense variety of species. Catches in this area include the famous Barramundi, Mangrove Jack, Salmon Grunter, Fingermark, Gold Spot and Trevally.
In order to protect its magnificent wildlife and mangrove forest, Trinity Inlet will be soon declared a State Marine Park. If you keep your eyes open you may even spot a saltwater croc sunbathing on a muddy bank. Trinity Inlet is also a fish nursery and a 'Fish Habitat Reserve', which it is why so many young fish as well as prawns are caught in these waters.
There is a wide array of charters available and all of them are suitable for all the family as no experience is required. Unlike other types of fishing, estuary fishing is not weather dependent. This means that most tours will run seven days a week.
King's Point, just off Cairns Harbour, abounds in Squid and is home to the big Fingermark.
For more information about fishing, please visit our FISHING page.
57-89 Grafton Street
Rusty's Markets have been running for more than 30 years now and have developed from a humble display of six stall holders to one of the largest and most successful and best known markets in Australia. The Markets run for three days, from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, and the 180 stall holders who sell their produce in this beautiful location offer you flowers, delicatessens, exotic fruit and a wide array of quality fruit and veges that come directly from the growers. But although the market is widely known for its quality food, you will also find jewellery, clothing, gem stones, organic skin and personal care products, leatherwear, medicinal herbs and spices, second hand goods and much more.
On Sundays the market becomes 'Rusty's Bazaar' and the range of bric-a-brac and arts & crafts is even greater.
Rusty's Markets have received their name from the late Emrys 'Rusty' Rees, responsible for the development of the market into the superb event that it is nowadays. Save some of your time to enjoy a shopping experience in a carnival like environment.
CAIRNS NIGHT MARKETS
71-75 The Esplanade. Entrances in both Abbott Street and the Esplanade.
The Cairns Night Markets are the perfect spot for shopping until late. They are open every night from 4:30 till 11:00pm, and their fantastic location - right on the Esplanade - makes them a very popular shopping area for tourists and locals alike. The Cairns Night Markets offer a unique shopping and dining experience, featuring more than 70 different outlets. Whether you are hungry and looking for a place to fill your grumbling tummy or you want to buy something to take home with you, this is the place.
Although the Cairns Night Markets were first created as a way for local traders to promote their North Queensland souvenirs, nowadays they have expanded and are alive with internationally renowned restaurants and trendy shops where you will surely find what you are looking for. And don't worry about the weather, the market's innovative design captures all of the atmosphere of an outdoor market with the convenience of an indoor one.
The Esplanade Markets happen every Saturday, from 8.00am to 5.00pm, at the Esplanade Lagoon. There is usally live music and entertainment as well.
There are three factors that contribute to Cairns' amazing nightlife. Firstly, Cairns is one of the country's top destinations for young single travellers who love to party. Secondly, the competition among the numerous entertainment venues is so strong that there are always promotions and special deals. Finally, a point that we find very important, is Cairns' well deserved reputation as the safest tropical city. Together, these factors make Cairns an affordable, safe, fun and diverse place to party.
The range of pubs, bars and nightclubs in Cairns is huge and there are new venues opening every day. We couldn't do the entertainment scene justice by trying to squeeze everything into a small space on this page, so we have devoted a whole section of Cairns Unlimited to CAIRNS NIGHTLIFE.
CAIRNS REGGAE FESTIVAL
The Cairns Reggae Festival is suitable for everyone. No worries about your age, or where you are from. If you are a music lover, you will enjoy a day out in the rainforest listening to all sorts of reggae music: reggae, dub, ska, soul, funk, raga, roots, R&B, Africana, and Island music.
COAST TO COAST BIKE RIDE
If you are into endurance sports, the Coast to Coast Bike Ride is for you. This fun and exhilarating bicycle tour through the outback Queensland is aimed at raising money to help kids in the bush. For a whole week you can ride as much or as little as you want and participate as a rider, support crew or as a volunteer. Cyclists from all over the world have taken part in this generous ride. And many of them keep coming back year after year. Why don't you become part of this event and contribute to this wonderful cause while having fun? Don't worry about how fit you are, the ride caters for all levels of fitness. You can also win the 'Where's Wally Award' if the rest of the participants think that you are funny.
CAIRNS CLASSIC GOLF TOURNAMENT
This 4-day professional golf tournament is held annually at North Queensland's premier Golf Course, Paradise Palms. The Cairns Classic is considered one of the ten best tournaments in Australia in terms of quality of the fields and prize money. More than $100,000 are up for grabs, including a prize for the best dressed team.
All contestants will be invited to a barbecue buffet with champagne afterwards, so join this tournament and have a fist-class time.
Over two weeks, Cairns becomes a non-stop party for the Cairns Festival. Ending on the first weekend in September, the whole city is converted into a stage where different free outdoor performances take place. From food and wine events and performances by national and international guest artists, to multi-cultural and community celebrations that showcase the region's talent, Festival Cairns is a celebration of Tropical North Queensland's varied cultural life. Around 40,000 people gather in Cairns for this festival. Be one of them and enjoy the Food, Wine and all that Jazz, the Carnival on Collins or the Festival Finale.
Did you think this is enough? Well, Cairns also celebrates the Japan Festival. Join us to celebrate Japanese culture and learn about their customs and traditions. Performances by both Australian and Japanese artists will take place in the streets of Cairns. Arts, music, food and many other different ceremonies will take you a step closer to the Japanese civilization. These two weeks of entertainment will have their grand finale with the Tanks Market Day.
The Cairns Show is Queensland's largest regional show, held at the Cairns Showgrounds. With agricultural, pastoral and mining displays, the show also features a fun park with amusement rides, stalls, exhibitions, competitions and much more.
During these three days, visitors will experience historical displays, farm and produce exhibits, wood chopping competitions and lots of other different activities that will provide them with a great insight into the region while they're having fun.
And the list go on. For two days, Cairns Esplanade holds sports and entertainment for the whole family at the Pier Shopping Sportsfest. The Coral Cost Triathlon, fun runs, ocean swims, the Cycling Criterium, beach volleyball and much more entertaining will go on during this weekend. Don't miss the craft markets, the sports expo and the live bands. An event suitable for people of all ages and styles who want to experience and atmosphere full of passion, drive and determination.
The magical mountain village of Kuranda, just 40 minutes drive from Cairns, is the most popular day trip destination from Cairns. You\'ll soon see why if you click here to visit our Kuranda page.')">
Port Douglas is the perfect retreat, with a very distinctive laid back atmosphere but all the facilities needed to enjoy your holidays. Click to visit our Port Douglas page.')">
Mossman Gorge is a beautiful section of the World Heritage listed Daintree National Park. Here the Mossman River, with its crystal clear water cascades, tumbles its way over and around large granite boulders to create cool clear freshwater swimming holes. Lush steep mountainsides surround the riverbanks. Click to visit our Mossman page.')">
The Atherton Tablelands, set among mountanous ranges, offers Australian country life at its best. This is one of Australia\'s top destinations for hot air ballooning... and don\'t even mention the food and wine tours! Click to visit our Atherton Tablelands section.')">
KURANDA and PORT DOUGLAS are two of the most popular day trips from Cairns, each less than an hour from the Cairns city centre, and serviced by a range of tour operators. But also within comfortable daytrip distance - about 90 minutes drive- are MOSSMAN GORGE and the DAINTREE, to the north, and the ATHERTON TABLELANDS, past Kuranda to the west. Check out the individual destination pages for more information, and for a choice of tour operators that service each area.
If you're hoping to indulge in a little independent exploration of the area, and don't have your own wheels, please visit our CAIRNS RENTAL CAR page for the best possible deal on a vehicle to suit you.
Daily fast catamaran service to Fitzroy Island takes about 45 minutes from Cairns, and it\'s only another 45 minutes to the Outer Barrier Reef. Fitzroy Island National Park is a 340 hectare mountainous rainforest oasis surrounded by fringing reef formations. The population of the island is approximately 12, and they are all employees and residents at the island\'s resort. Click to visit our Cairns Islands page.')">
Double Island is on a private tropical island, home to an exclusive resort. The luxury retreat is available for the exclusive use by only one party of up to fifty guests at a time; a genuine 5 star alternative to larger, more commercial, resorts and is only available for rental on a \'whole-of-island\' basis. Click to visit our Cairns Islands page.')"> Of course, a day trip from Cairns doesn't have to be on land! Why not check out some of the magical CAIRNS ISLAND DESTINATIONS, just off the coast of Cairns.
Please, surf through the destination pages to find which things to see and do each city offers. We warn you, the list and the fun is endless in Cairns and surroundings.
CAIRNS HOLIDAY ACCOMMODATION is staggering. As one of Australia's top tourism destinations, the lodging available in Cairns covers every section of the market, and caters to every taste and budget. We recommend you use the 'Express Menu' in the top left corner of the page (simply roll your mouse over the button to activate the menu) or use the buttons in the right hand column to find the style of accommodation you like.