Cairns is perhaps Australia’s most unabashed tourist-friendly city. Every year, more than two million travelers take cheap flights to Cairns for its near-perfect climate and its proximity to the jaw-droppingly awesome attractions of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. Cairns is the only place in the world where two World Heritage Areas meet.
Cairns city is a great base and has plenty to occupy tourists while they’re between reef or rainforest trips. There’s a wonderful Esplanade that includes a swimming lagoon (open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily), an amphitheatre, picnic and barbecue spots, walking trails, a children’s playground called Muddy’s and shops, restaurants and markets both day and night.
Just 2.5 miles from the centre of the city are the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Lush and very, very green, these 38km of gardens are made up of the Flecker Gardens and Centenary Lakes where a boardwalk will wind you through mangroves and tropical rainforest. Behind the gardens, Mt Whitfield Conservation Park is more than 300 hectares of forested mountain range.
There are two seasons – a wet season that runs from November to May (summer) and a dry season that starts about June and stretches to October (winter). January, February and March are the wettest months and there is the greatest chance of cyclones between December and April. Temperatures are pretty stable throughout the year. Daytime temps range between 57 and 79 degrees in the dry season while visitors can expect temperatures of between about 75 to 91 degrees during the wet season. Tourists should bear in mind that the Marine Stinger season stretches from November to May.
July to October is high season.
Wet season is low season and runs from November to April when there are torrential rains and humidity levels are high. If you’re willing to brave the rains it’s a good time to book cheap flights to Cairns and take up the discounts offered by tour operators, hotels and apartments. Divers will experience the best underwater visibility during the “wet” months, more than 164 feet sometimes. Stinger (Box jellyfish) Season is November-May and bathers should ensure that they follow the lifeguards’ advice about swimming within enclosures and between lifeguard flags.
May and June are shoulder months.
Cairns’s city center is small enough to walk around, but if you are planning on getting out to the Daintree National Park (a three-hour drive north of Cairns) or Kuranda Village (a 40-minute drive), renting a car is best. There are car-rental desks at Cairns Airport. Alternatively, you could take a four-wheel drive (4WD) tour. Several companies offer 4WD tours to the most popular destinations including Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation, Cape York, Undara National Park and Chillagoe. If you’re visiting the region during the wet season (November-April) a four-wheel drive is the best way of getting around. Sunbus is the bus service around Cairns. There are eight routes, serving destinations such as the Botanic Gardens, Clifton Beach, Kewarra Beach and Yorkeys Knob.
Walsh’s Pyramid is located about 12 miles south of Cairns. It’s the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world. At 3025 feet high, it is a popular, if strenuous, hike.
Crystal Cascades is a little-known freshwater swimming hole in a tropical rainforest. To get there, drive to Redlynch, and then follow the signs to Crystal Cascades. When you see the Red Beret Pub, you’ll be just 6 miles from the swimming hole.
Josephine Falls are considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland. Take the Bruce Highway, then drive towards Mount Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain. You’ll see signs to the falls.
If you’re in Cairns between May and October, grab a picnic and catch a film at the Starry Night Cinema in the Flecker Botanic Gardens. The local film club screens non-mainstream films for a $10 entrance fee. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the film starts at 7.30 p.m.
Fitzroy Island is just 45 minutes from Cairns. Just 339 hectares, of which 324 is designated Fitzroy Island National Park. It’s a castaway island where you can snorkel, hike, or kayak.