Cairns - Travel Guide

In the far north of Australia Cairns is closer to its Asian neighbours of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea than it is its state capital of Brisbane. Make no mistake; Cairns is still undeniably a Queensland city, just one with a much more vibrant tropical persona. Founded on sugar cane, Cairns has become renowned as a tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the jungles of Cape York and the rainforests of the Daintree.

Cairns History

The town was first settled in 1876 as a coastal base for the Hodgkinson River goldfield, but was soon superseded by Port Douglas which provided easier access to the area. As the agricultural, sugar cane and precious metals industries blossomed in the surrounding region, Cairns took over in prominence from Port Douglas and became the major rail hub and port for Far North Queensland.

As tourists discovered the Great Barrier Reef, and airfares became relatively cheap and easily available in the 20th century, Cairns' reputation as a world-class tourist destination began to grow. By 1984 Cairns was home to a major international airport and had become the first port of call for many Asian tourists arriving in Australia.

What's Cairns Like Now?

As the first port of call for Asian tourists, and the last step off the continent for European backpackers, it's definitely a tourist city. Unlike some of its Queensland counterparts however, Cairns definitely has a country-town vibe about it. The region is surrounded by cane fields and Cairns still acts as the main hub for rural Far North Queensland.

Make no mistake though, it's a party town. Backpackers love it for the cheap bars and literally endless summers, it's a Mecca for divers who want to explore the reef, and Asian tourists love it because it's so uniquely Australian, and very, very Queensland. It's also home to some of the world's best game fishing.

When to Go

It storms virtually every afternoon in summer, and it's sunny all winter, so take your pick. It's a tropical city, so the weather is always hot and humid. Australians tend to travel to Cairns in winter (June-August) to avoid the colder southern states, and you can't swim in the ocean in summer because of Box Jellyfish, but there are plenty of swimming pools around, and there are some protected beaches.

In reality it doesn't really matter when you go, it's going to be hot, and it's going to be great. If you can avoid the cyclone season (roughly October to March) you'll probably be better off, but you'll also miss out on the wet season in the tropics, which is a sight, sound and feeling to behold.

How to get there

If you have plenty of spare time you can follow the Bruce Highway by car. It is an incredibly long drive (1,700km from Brisbane) but one that passes through some rather iconic Queensland locations such as Rockhampton, Townsville and all the detour stops along the way.

If you're limited on tome you can fly in directly in to Cairns Airport from most Asian countries and Australian cities.

Getting Around Cairns

The city itself is quite small so a pair of feet might be all you need. There are plenty of busses around if you get too sapped by the tropical heat, and you can always hail a taxi (although there's a bit of a wait on Friday and Saturday nights). It only takes a day or so to see the city itself on foot, but you'll definitely want to check out the surrounding region, so either hire a car or hop on a guided tour to the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree Rainforest or Port Douglas.

Things to do in Cairns

  • Go on a crocodile watching safari.
  • Fish for something huge and tasty; barramundi live in the estuaries and giant black marlin swim seasonally off shore.
  • Work on your tan.
  • Party, hard!
  • Find more fun things to do in Cairns.

Cairns Bars

  • The Woolshed - Backpackers party paradise, girls in bikinis (and often less), cheap drinks, table dancing. Not for the faint-hearted, but if you want to party hard, this is the place: 24 Shields St, Cairns.
  • Apres Beach Bar and Grill - Two locations in Cairns and Palm Cove, winners of numerous food and tourism awards.

Cairns Accommodation

Where the Movie Stars Stay

Good, Reasonably Priced Hotels

Budget Accommodation

Backpackers Hostels

Interesting Things Nearby

  • Palm Cove
  • Port Douglas
  • Atherton Tablelands
  • Cape York Peninsula
  • Kuranda

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