Posted on: March 7th, 2019 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments
If you hate Mondays, just head to Cairns.
Here, every day of the week feels like the weekend.
Located in Australia’s far north Queensland, time is almost nonexistent in this tropical oasis of rain forest and reef.
Known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, people from all over the world travel to Cairns to see this extraordinary natural wonder.
But there’s so much more to explore in and around Cairns. Here’s our list of the top things to do in Cairns.
14 Things to Do in Cairns
1. See the Great Barrier Reef
Image: Tourism Australia
If you’re heading to Cairns, you’re heading to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s one of the top things to do in Cairns – no trip is complete without seeing the reef.
As the largest reef system in the world and one of its most precious natural assets, seeing the reef is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Cairns is the base for most excursions setting out to the reef, with options even for those who’d rather keep their feet on the ground.
Since the reef sits about 158 miles away in the ocean from Cairns, snorkeling cruises are the most popular way to see the reef. Non-swimmers can opt for tour operators that cruise out to a large pontoon by the reef, where underwater observatories, glass-bottom boats and semi-submersible vessels reveal the incredible underwater world of the reef all without dipping a toe in the water.
For the more adventurous, introductory scuba diving sessions are always on offer. Nothing beats seeing the vibrant colors of tropical fish, flitting in and out of breathtaking coral formations, up close on a dive.
Half the fun about visiting the Kuranda Rainforest Village is actually getting there.
Surrounded in the verdant rainforest of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics, one of the best ways to get to Kuranda is riding the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
This scenic cable car ride lifts you up over this expansive rainforest system for an incredible 1.5 hour float above the Wet Tropics. Opt for a glass bottom cable car to see the millions of shades of green below you. Descend through canopy tops and stop at different stations offering boardwalk tours through the stunning rainforest and educational centers.
The village of Kuranda itself is a hub of local creatives who find inspiration in the rainforest and ancient culture of the Djabugay people belonging to this region. Markets featuring hand-made crafts, artisan goods and local produce line the village, perfect for finding a treasure to take back home.
From Kuranda you can explore the rainforest on self-guided walks, join a riverboat cruise and visit the Rainforestation Nature Park. Meet and cuddle a koala at the Koala Gardens, where you can also get up close to kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and other native Australian wildlife.
Change out furry marsupials for feathers and wings at the Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld, easily accessible from the Kuranda Heritage Markets.
End your visit with a ride back to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This scenic train ride winds through the tropical rainforest over bridges and tunnels built by pioneers over 100 years ago. Dole out a little extra cash for gold class seats and receive complimentary morning or afternoon tea consisting of local delicacies, wines and lagers.
3. Discover Indigenous Australia at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Image: Adam Bruzzone
Learn about the world’s oldest living civilization at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.
This award-winning park is one of Australia’s top destinations for learning about its indigenous culture through the eyes of the local Djabugay people.
Witness dreamtime stories about the creation of Earth come to life through performances, dances and breathtaking visual experiences.
Dancing is a large part of the Djabugay culture, so you can expect a hand pulling you up on stage and learning traditional dances and songs.
Join a bush food trail led by an Aboriginal guide and walk through the Tjapukai parklands, learning about the traditional uses of native plants.
Hear the sounds of native Australian animals come to life through the resounding notes of the didgeridoo. Learn about this unique instrument and its integral place in Aboriginal culture.
Kids will also love the spear and boomerang throwing. With something for everyone to enjoy, Tjapukai is not only one of the best things to do in Cairns with family but also one of the best ways to learn more about authentic Australia.
4. Explore the Daintree Rainforest
Image: Tropical North Queensland
Ready to meet a green dinosaur?
Just two hours north of Cairns is the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, where you’ll meet the green dinosaur, dating back up to 120 million years.
Although this species isn’t an actual dinosaur, once you step into the Daintree Rainforest you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
And you’d be right to feel so – the Daintree Rainforest is part of the oldest rainforest system in the world, even older than the Amazon!
The green dinosaur is one of many unique plants that make up the natural wonders of the rainforest. Explore the many walkways and viewing platforms stretching out from the Daintree Discovery Center, where you can learn about the origins of this ancient rainforest.
Join a cruise on the Daintree River and spot native wildlife such as saltwater crocodiles and bright cassowaries. You can even zip-line through the verdant canopies and take in the stunning views over the endless shades of green and cascading streams below you.
Our favorite way to explore the rainforest is on tours led by Aboriginal Kuku Yalanji guides, native to the Daintree region. As traditional caretakers of the land, they offer historical and cultural insight into the way their people used the rainforest for food, medicine and shelter for over 9,000 years. They’ll lead you through hidden streams and spots inaccessible to the general public, giving you a truly unique experience of the world’s oldest rainforest.
Don’t miss out on Cape Tribulation, a spectacular bay where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the only place in the world where to World Heritage-listed sites collide!
5. Relax at the Cairns Esplanade
Image: Tourism & Events Queensland/ Andrew Watson
Worried about stingers in the ocean?
No worries, just head to the Cairns Esplanade.
Located in the center of town right along the water’s edge, relaxing at the Esplanade is one of the best things to do in Cairns to cool off from the tropical heat.
The esplanade’s tremendously large man-made lagoon offers a beautiful spot for a safe swim in place of a beach. A sandy shore dips into crystal clear waters, dotted with splashing fountains and patrolled by lifeguards during the day.
A boardwalk runs along the esplanade, right by the pool, perfect for a walk or jog by the water. Grassy parkland surrounds the lagoon, with shady spots to lay out a picnic or enjoy local bands play live music.
Free fitness classes also run throughout the week, ranging from aqua aerobics in the lagoon to yoga and pilates. If you’re in Cairns on a Saturday check out the Esplanade markets for locally made arts and crafts.
6. Roam the Cairns Botanic Gardens
Image: Friends of Botanic Gardens Cairns
For a small taste of tropical rainforest right in the city, visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens.
Here you can explore exotic plants from tropical regions across the world, including plants from the jungles of South East Asia, South America and Queensland. These unique plants can be found in the Flecker Botanic Gardens, a conservatory highlighting some of the rarest tropical plants in the world.
Get a glimpse of what Cairns once looked like on the Rainforest Boardwalk, winding through a lush patch of rainforest ecosystem, home to endangered species of the region.
Stroll through the Fitzalan Gardens, a picturesque section connecting three separate gardens by paths and footbridges crossing through giant palms and ancient trees. There’s always a secluded nook or cranny here to hideaway and relax in the tranquility of the gardens.
Explore the journey of plant evolution at the Gondwana Heritage Garden. Its main trail traces through the evolution of plants from the very first bacteria that developed into the flowering plants we see today.
Walk around the freshwater and saltwater lakes in the gardens, where you can spot native birds, frogs and turtles or bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds.
As one of the more tranquil things to do in Cairns, visiting the gardens makes for a perfect half-day activity.
7. Discover Treasures at the Markets
Image: Tourism & Events Queensland/ Andrew Watson
What better place to get fresh produce than in the tropics?
At Rusty’s Market in Cairns, the local fruits and vegetables on offer are practically straight from the tree.
Here you can find arguably the best tropical produce in all Australia. You’ll catch the fragrant aroma of the market before you see it. Fruit and veggie lovers will find a wide variety of produce from avocados and mangoes to banana blossom, taro and cassava. You can also find boutiques selling hand-made jewelry, crafts and clothing, perfect for a souvenir.
Take a break from shopping and pick up a snack at one of the many stalls featuring local sellers. Some of the best Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches are found here. If you’re in Cairns for a few days, Rusty’s is the perfect place to pick up some ingredients for preparing fresh meals at your accommodation. The market is open during the day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
If you’re more of a night owl, then head to the Cairns Night Markets, open from 4pm – 10pm every day of the week. These lively markets offer an almost overwhelming variety of Australian souvenirs, t-shirts, custom-made jewelry and other trinkets. Grab anything from Asian cuisine to fresh Australian seafood at the food court for dinner. You’ll want to find a dessert at one of the stalls offering Australian snacks such as kangaroo and emu jerky or gelato.
This wildlife park combines a natural rainforest ecosystem with a challenging ropes course all in one attraction.
Don’t let the size of the park fool you. Though it’s not as large as other wildlife parks throughout Australia, its intimacy allows for personal wildlife encounters you won’t find in other places. The knowledgeable and passionate staff present informative talks on the wildlife, including snakes, lizards, birds, and Goliath, the gigantic saltwater crocodile. You can even pose for a picture while cuddling a koala – a bucket list photo op!
However, the main highlight of Cairns Zoom is its myriad of obstacles courses throughout the complex. Test your balance on the Slackline tightrope walk and cross above trees and tropical rainforest foliage or climb the Pirate Climb rope net to the top of the Power Jump.
Kids will love the Hi-Zoom obstacle course with its challenging wall climbs, tunnels, rope swings and zip lines. Just one look at it and the little ones will dash straight in line. Though a turn at the course is an extra cost, the reward of completing it like a champion is worth every dime.
9. See Tropical Marine Life at the Cairns Aquarium
Image: Cairns Aquarium
Stepping into the Cairns Aquarium is like stepping through the depths of the ocean. The range of aquatic life you’ll see here is even better than what a diver sees.
The Cairns Aquarium highlights the incredibly diverse marine life native to the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. As the oldest rainforest in the world and the world’s largest reef formation, the marine life from these two World Heritage sites is absolutely unreal.
The aquarium recreates over 10 different habitats encompassing these delicate ecosystems, creating a natural home for a variety of marine life. See the brilliant colors of unique crayfish and giant prawns of the Creek and Streams exhibit. Catch a glimpse of the some of the world’s most bizarre fish, the Freshwater Sawfish, in the Waterways and Billabongs exhibit. There are even exhibits showcasing snakes, lizards and frogs from the tropical rainforests as well as exotic insects and spiders.
One of the main attractions is the Great Barrier Reef Gallery, showcasing the colorful reefs, coral and tropical fish that call this natural wonder home. You can also interact with starfish, sea cucumbers and lizards at the Touch Tanks.
The aquarium also offers presentations to give you a deeper understanding of the marine life on display. It’s one of the best things to do in Cairns on a rainy day, or a perfect substitute for a Great Barrier Reef.
Located less than an hour’s drive away from Cairns, Hartley’s is the perfect day trip for young families.
The park is made up of four different habitats showcasing different wildlife. Meet the beautiful flightless cassowary at the Cassowary Garden on a boarded walk through lush eucalyptus trees rising out of lily padded wetlands. See alligators, lizards and turtles on the Wildlife Discovery Trail, winding into the wildlife amphitheater where the Snake Show and famous Crocodile Attack Show highlight the day.
You can also meet other native Australia wildlife such as wombats, koalas and kangaroos at the Gondwana Gateway section of the park, where you’ll learn how evolution shaped Australia’s unique animals. Don’t miss out on the koala feeding to see these sleepy creatures in action!
The absolute highlight of Hartley’s is the lagoon boat cruise. Embark on a journey through Hartley’s Lagoon, gliding along side enormous crocodiles right in the water! All of nineteen crocs laze in the water, enjoying their natural wetland habitat. Cruising into the lagoon gives visitors an impressive insight into crocodile behavior just as they would act in the wild.
11. Soak Up the Sun in Northern Beaches
Palm Cove Beach
Cairns is not the place to go for the beach. In fact, there is no beach in Cairns.
But don’t cross Cairns off your list just yet. There are so many incredible beaches not even an hour away from Cairns. You’ll have the perfect beach day yet.
Just 20 minutes north of Cairns lies Trinity Beach, a favorite with the locals. The gentle rolling waves, soft golden sand and extremely laid back ambience will have you instantly rolling out your towel and laying out in the sun. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer months and a net is cast out during stinger season to keep out unwanted jellyfish. Barbecue areas nestled within the surrounding palm trees are perfect for a picnic out at the beach.
Palm Cove is also a popular respite from the hustle and bustle of Cairns. Only 30 minutes away, Palm Cove is surrounded by a boutique beach town with an array of upscale resorts and classy bars and restaurants for an intimate night out. The beach itself is fringed with palm tress rising high with a gentle lean into the serene, blue waters. A pier juts out into the sea, offering a boarded walk above the sea foam and spray of the fresh ocean breeze.
Yorkey’s Knob, about 20 minutes away from Cairns, is for the adventurers. It’s popular for water sports such as jet skiing, kite surfing and wind surfing. An onsite kite center offers rental gear and introduction courses on kite surfing.
12. Go White Water Rafting
White Water Rafting the Tully River
Wet and wild in Cairns means rafts and oars.
The raging rapids of the Tully River, about two hours from Cairns, offers some of the best white water rafting in all Australia.
Thrill seekers can join extreme white water rafting tours where raft flips, swimming the rapids and jumping from high rocks is not only allowed, but encouraged!
Less risky rafting with the right amount of torrents is also available for beginners.
For easier grade 2-3 guided rafting, the Barron River is the perfect rafting spot. Only 20 minutes away from Cairns, joining a half day rafting tour gives you the excitement of white water rafting while still leaving time to enjoy the rest of your day.
One of our favorite tours transports you right from your hotel in Cairns to the river of your choice for a guided rafting experience. Experience one of the best things to do in Cairns and ask your About Australia destination specialist about booking this adventure for you.
13. Skydive Over the Great Barrier Reef
Skydiving over Cairns
You don’t really hear about people proclaiming “that was awful!” after landing from a skydive. Usually it’s more incredulous laughter, an indescribable sense of accomplishment and an adrenaline rush that makes you feel like you can do anything.
Sounds like the thrill of a lifetime!
What better way to tick this adventure off your bucket list than over the most incredible natural formation in the world?
If you’ve never been skydiving before, this is the perfect place to give it a go. Any fear and nerves you’ll feel will blend in with the exhilaration of the jaw-dropping views around you.
Take in the vast, aquamarine ocean as you plummet towards the turquoise stretch of coral-framed reef. The tropical rainforests of Queensland are spread out before your eyes, and you’ll descend onto a perfect beach landing.
Tandem skydiving – where you jump off a plane attached to a certified skydiver – is the most popular form of skydiving in Cairns. Booking this in advance is essential – skydiving in Cairns tends to sell out fast!
14. Try Your Luck at the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
Image: Reef Hotel Casino Cairns
The Pullman Reef Hotel is more than just a hotel – it’s a Cairns icon.
Taking up an entire block, this 5-star hotel houses a fabulous casino, world class restaurants, live music, and the Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome.
Perhaps the best part about the casino is its rather intimate environment. With poker tables, pool tables, electronic darts, gaming machines and movie screenings on offer, there’s something for everyone.
Unwind at the electronic gaming machines and order a drink from BAR36, personally delivered to you. Join one of the gaming tables – the friendly staff are more than welcoming to new players.
Looking for More Thing to Do in Cairns?
As the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, Cairns is Australia’s tropical paradise.
About Australia knows the best hidden gems and things to do in Cairns to perfectly fit into your Australia trip.
Want to get started on planning your vacation Down Under? Contact About Australia today to get the wheels in motion for the trip of a lifetime!
Posted on: February 13th, 2019 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments
Cairns is all about tropical vibes. Suits and ties are exchanged for shorts and sunglasses. Days feel like the carefree, relaxed summers of your childhood and nights instantly put you into holiday mode.
As gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics – the oldest rainforest system in the world – your visit to Cairns will no doubt be a busy one.
But if you’re looking for other things to do in Cairns, we’ve gathered a list of local must-see gems. Here’s our list of 7 favorite free things to do in Cairns.
7 Free Things to Do in Cairns
1. Spend a Day at the Cairns Esplanade
Credit: Tourism & Events Queensland
Some people prefer the beach, others prefer the pool.
At the Cairns Esplanade, you get the best of both worlds.
This local landmark combines a large man-made lagoon with a small sandy shore, so you get the feel of a beach at the pool. The crystal clear waters offer a fresh respite from the tropical heat, along with shaded areas to help keep you cool. Lifeguards patrol the lagoon during the day.
A lush, green park surrounds the lagoon, with soft grass perfect for laying out and sunbathing or enjoying a picnic lunch. The park also features picnic benches and BBQ grills free to use, but be sure to get in early to snag a bench!
If you’re in Cairns during the weekend, you can enjoy live bands play in the park from 2pm – 5pm. Feeling a bit more active? Take to the wide boardwalk surrounding the lagoon, equipped with free fitness equipment and a playground for the kids. Continue on to Muddy’s Playground, a small splash park perfect for younger children.
The Esplanade also offers free fitness classes throughout the week, ranging from aqua aerobics in the lagoon to yoga and pilates.
Swimming, grilling, workouts and music – there’s something for everyone at the Esplanade. The best part is it’s all free!
2. Browse the Markets
Rusty’s Market. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland / Andrew Watson
Cairns is famous for its local markets, with Rusty’s Market as the main attraction.
Rusty’s Market is known to draw in visitors from out of town for the freshest produce in Queensland. Early risers are rewarded, too – open only from Friday to Sunday, Rusty’s begins from 5am to 6pm. Fruits and vegetables are freshly gathered in the morning then carted off to the market, making it all truly farm-to-table.
You’ll find everything from mangoes, durians and leafy greens to tropical nuts, lychees and pineapples. Many local vendors also sell their wares at Rusty’s, such as turmeric products, hand made natural soaps and lotions, pastries, and knits.
In the evening you’ll want to hit up the Cairns Night Markets, a mecca of creative sweet treats and Australian souvenirs. Open from 5pm to 11pm every day of the week, browsing the night markets is a great way to spend your free evenings.
With an incredible array of souvenirs, here is where you should do your souvenir shopping. You’ll find staples such as T-shirts, fridge magnets and key chains along with more unique items such as indigenous Australian art, koala dream catchers, and even a stall where you can get a fish pedicure!
If you’re craving something sweet, choose from fish-shaped cream puffs, waffle desserts on a stick, churros served with ice cream or crepes. That doesn’t even touch the full list of sweet treats you’ll find at the Night Markets’ food court, where you’ll also find an array of Asian cuisine sure to get your mouth watering.
3. Explore the Cairns Botanic Gardens
Rainforest Boardwalk, Cairns Botanic Gardens
Get a taste of the rainforest at the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Located near the center of the city, the gardens and its walking paths offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city.
Open every day from 7:30am to 5:30pm, you can enjoy a quiet stroll through its unique gardens, each vastly different from the next. The Watkins Munroe Martin Conservatory houses some of the gardens’ most valuable and rarest plants along with a collection of local butterflies. Step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into a bubble of rainforest.
Take to the Rainforest Boardwalk, winding through an ecosystem of tropical palm trees towering over a floor of green ferns. Discover the tropical fruit trees and vegetables of the grounds surrounding the Saltwater Lake, or look out for native birds while you enjoy a picnic by the gardens’ Freshwater Lake.
The Gondwana Heritage Garden displays Australia’s unique flora tracing back from the beginning stages of evolution of its native plants. You’ll find species of plants that were among the first flowering plants in the world.
You can also explore a collection of local plants used by the indigenous people of the region for over 40,000 years at the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden. See a Chinese-style garden at the Zhanjiang Friendship Garden, a perfect spot to stop and take in the tranquility of the gardens.
Join a free guided tour every day beginning at 10am for deeper insight into the gardens, or simply spend a quite afternoon.
4. Visit the Cairns Art Gallery
Cairns Art Gallery
Once you get past the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics – the undisputed stars of Cairns – you’ll get to see the hidden gems the city has to offer.
The Cairns Art Gallery, just a block away from the Cairns Esplanade, is a small but elegant gallery showcasing local, contemporary and indigenous art.
The gallery is comprised of three levels in a heritage building, beautifully styled in classical-inspired architecture. Each level is dedicated to carefully curated pieces and rotating exhibitions featuring everything from photo collections, installations, thought-provoking modern art and Aboriginal artifacts.
After exploring the gallery, pop in to Perrotta’s, the on-site cafe serving up delicious coffee, tasty breakfast options and zesty lunch and dinner menus. Outside seating underneath a shaded verandah creates the perfect ambience for al fresco dining.
The gallery shop offers a great range of specialty gifts, jewelry, books and toys inspired by the in-house exhibitions and collections. You’ll also see pieces from local artists on sale, a perfect memento of your visit to the gallery.
5. Relax at the Northern Beaches
Palm Cove, Tropical North Queensland
Nothing beats a day at the beach, especially in the sun-kissed beaches of Australia.
However, Cairns has no beaches. At least, not within the city itself.
Travel 20 minutes north of Cairns and you’ll come across what are known as the Northern Beaches. The closest and a consistent favorite beach is Trinity Beach, where gentle waves, soft golden sand and its relaxed ambience make it perfect for rolling out a towel and soaking up the sun. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer season, and a net keeps out jellyfish during stinger season so you can enjoy a swim.
Palm Cove is another favorite only 30 minutes away. This is the sort of beach you see on the covers of travel magazines, with its serene, blue waters, soft sand and splendid sunsets framed by relaxed palms. A pier juts out into the sea, offering a boarded walk above the sea foam and spray of the fresh ocean breeze.
Yorkey’s Knob is for the adventurers, popular for water sports such as jet skiing, kite surfing and wind surfing. Only 20 minutes away from Cairns, this is the place for an adventurous beach day trying your hand at extreme water sports. If you’re interested in giving kite surfing a go, an onsite kite center offers rental gear and introduction courses.
6. Discover Local Waterfalls and Swimming Holes
Swimming at Crystal Cascades. Image: Tourism & Events Queensland / Andrew Watson
There’s a local secret to staying cool during the hot Cairns summer – swimming holes and waterfalls.
In fact, many locals completely skip the beach and head straight to these hidden gems for a cool, refreshing swim. Surrounded by lush, shady rainforest, these natural rock pools and waterfalls are hidden tropical oases only minutes from Cairns.
The Crystal Cascades is a popular spot due to its close proximity to Cairns (only 15 – 20 minutes away) and its several different rock pool. Water cascades down a mountain rising out of the rainforest, creating many spectacular waterfalls splashing into the refreshing pools. Small streams running over collections of smoothed rock create natural water slides, just be careful to watch out for people before you slide down! This spot is easily accessible from a carpark, with barbecue and toilet facilities available.
Stoney Creek Falls, located 20 minutes from Cairns, is hidden beneath the pristine wilderness of Barron Gorge National Park. This sparkling waterfall cascades down into a refreshing swimming hole, surrounded in crystal clear rock pools and streams. There’s a walking path running along the creek that takes you to an old weir, a popular spot for relaxing and taking in the tranquility of the untouched rainforest around you.
Freshwater Creek, just 10 – 15 minutes from the city center, is a continuation of Crystal Cascades. This clear stream runs under towering, verdant trees and through smooth stones, offering a shady, cool respite. Picnic benches and barbecues are available throughout different spots along the creek.
7. Climb Walsh’s Pyramid
This adventure is not for the faint-hearted.
But if you’re an experienced hiker looking for the best walks in Cairns, Walsh’s Pyramid is the perfect challenge.
Located about 30 minutes south of Cairns, Walsh’s Pyramid is the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world. Ascending over 3000 feet, this amazing natural formation rewards climbers with truly incredible views out to Cairns.
The whole walk takes about 4 – 7 hours to complete, best started early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. The marked trail to the summit is rocky and steep, so you’ll need to use your hands for many parts of the hike. Take as much water as you can, and when you think you’ve packed enough, pack even more. You’ll also want to pack snacks to keep you energized throughout the walk. Dab on a good layer of sunscreen.
You’ll likely see many runners summiting the pyramid, training for the annual “Pyramid Race” that takes place every August. They’ll make climbing the pyramid look easy, but don’t feel pressured to keep up. You’ll want to be able to say you’ve climbed the highest natural pyramid in the world!
Try These Free Things to Do in Cairns
As home to the Great Barrier Reef and the spectacular Wet Tropics, your visit to Cairns is sure to hold once in a lifetime experiences. For the free moments you may have in between, these free things to do in Cairns offer a true local’s Cairns experience.
Posted on: December 17th, 2018 by Melissa Maxwell No Comments
Visit the Great Barrier Reef Between June & July to Swim with Minke Whales
First recognized by scientists less than 30 years ago, the dwarf minke whale is both elusive and super friendly.
There is so much we don’t know about these whales despite their proclivity to search out human company.
Scientists don’t understand why, but these whales are extremely curious and will often spend hours swimming around snorkelers and divers, giving quite a show! They are known to follow a boat around for hours, stopping for a look at each new dive site.
When to Swim with Minke Whales
Minke whales are the most common of the great whale species, found in abundance throughout the world’s oceans. They are mostly found in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Antarctic Oceans.
They are found off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand between March and December, but the best time to see minke whales is in June and July.
Despite their wide reach, swimming with minke whales only happens in The Great Barrier Ribbon Reefs in Tropical North Queenland, Australia. The great thing about this is that minke whales in the Great Barrier Reef are very social and communicative. Expeditions out to the reef regularly report seeing multiple whales in one day!
These multi-day Liveaboard expeditions depart from Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. These expeditions visit unique reef sites each day, offering more opportunities to swim with these gentle creatures.
This is one of the only animal encounters in the world that is entirely on the animal’s own terms. When a pod is spotted, a rope is tossed into the water. Groups of up to 10 swimmers hold on to the rope and the whales can approach or leave as they like. The whales are very generous with their time and once a pod is spotted, its rare if someone on the boat misses out on the experience while waiting their turn.
Things to Know Before Swimming with Minke Whales
Being in the water with these majestic creatures is described as a life-changing experience. It’s common for people to emerge from the water crying, screaming or just plain speechless.
If you want to add this encounter to your Australia bucket list, here are a few things you should know!
1. Every Australian winter, the minke whales make their annual migration from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef from May to August. Plan your trip between June to mid-July for the best odds of seeing a pod. Peak season is in early July.
2. This special experience might take a bit of effort and luck! Only a handful of tour operators have permits to swim with minke whales and you’re never guaranteed an encounter. Increase your odds of swimming with the genial giants by taking a 3-7 night Liveaboard Excursion. In June and July, you’ll have a 98% chance of encountering the whales. It is recommend that you pre-book your excursion.
3. If you’re not keen on spending nights at sea, you can take a day-trip out of Port Douglas. These day-trips have an encounter rate of about 18%. This decreases your odds quite a bit, but if you do encounter them, you will feel as though you won the lottery! Either way it’s an amazing day out on the Great Barrier Reef. These day-trips often give discounts for multiple days out on the boat and they usually end up at different dive sites each day. So, you could stay a few nights in lovely Port Douglas and increase your odds by taking multiple trips out to the reef without feeling like you’re doing the same thing every day.
4. If you go in July, you might even have a chance to see and/or swim with Humpback whales too!
5. You can contribute directly to ongoing research including photo-identification, behavior research and conservation efforts from your minke whale encounter.
6. Dwarf minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. Like Humpback whales, they have no teeth, but a series of baleen plates that they use to trap and filter the food krill.
7. There is still much to be learned about these whales. For example, they have never been seen feeding on the Great Barrier Reef so it is assumed that they feed in Open Ocean while in the tropics, but no one really knows!
8. They are one of the fastest whales. They can travel at speeds greater than 20 knots or about 23 miles per hour.
9. Minke whales seem to prefer snorkelers to divers. They tend to get closer to and hang around longer when humans are not wearing large air tanks.
Want a chance to cross this amazing experience off your Bucket List? Visit Australia with the help of a Destination Specialist at About Australia. We can make your once in a lifetime trip Down Under fun and easy!
Posted on: April 4th, 2018 by Lizandra Santillan No Comments
Forever a huge draw to Australia, seeing the Great Barrier Reef never fails to inspire a huge rush of emotions.
As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef is on the bucket list for nature-lovers and travelers alike.
But what is seeing the reef really like?
Are the colors and marine life as vibrant as you see in the postcards?
Is the reef still quite a sight to see?
Our clients weigh in on their Great Barrier Reef experience – and some unexpected surprises.
“We loved the helicopter ride at the reef because it gave us a feel for how large the reef is.”
Photo by: Sheri Hardin
With a scenic helicopter ride over the reef, Sheri Hardin was able to take in the immense size of the reef from a different perspective.
When you’re snorkeling up close to intricate coral gardens and gazing at the colors around you, it’s easy to forget the enormous size of the reef.
Made up of over 900 islands stretching over 1,600 miles along the coast of Queensland, the reef is approximately the same area size as Japan – and visible from outer space!
This means no two spots of the reef are the same – the marine and reef life in the northern part of the reef is different to that in the south.
But the reef takes on an entirely different look when gazed at from above.
The tantalizing blue waters of the reef blend into almost luminescent shades of turquoise – truly breathtaking to behold.
“I did not know snuba was available but was happy it was. It’s like scuba diving but you pull your tank above you.”
Sheri Hardin snuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns
Fascinated with the reef by air, Sheri wanted to go beyond snorkeling to get as up close to the reef as possible.
From glass bottom boats to semi-submersibles, she could easily see the reef without even dipping a toe in the water.
But Sheri felt a little courageous. Though scuba diving seemed daunting, she found the perfect balance with snuba.
With the help of marine biologists, tourism operators are always coming up with new, safe ways to see the reef.
One of these new ways rapidly gaining popularity is snuba, a perfect combination of snorkeling and scuba diving.
After strapping on her snorkeling gear, a snuba harness and light weight belt, Sheri was ready to go.
Breathing from a scuba mouthpiece through a long air line attached to a floating air tank, she explored the reef with ultimate freedom.
No need to come up for air, no heavy equipment weighing her down. No diving experience necessary and easier than snorkeling.
The best part was seeing those hidden sea creatures easily missed by snorkelers!
“The Barrier Reef was great…We were thrilled!”
Barbara McHuron on a helmet dive at the Great Barrier Reef
Although Barbara McHuron is terrified of the water, she was determined to see the reef in its full glory.
Glass bottom boats and semi-submersibles wouldn’t cut it.
After taking swimming lessons just for this trip to the reef, she was ready for a helmet dive.
Another fantastic way for non-swimmers to see the reef, helmet dives allow you to breath normally while walking among the fish and corals.
Once the crew secured the diving helmet on her, Barbara walked down the ramp steps to an underwater reef platform.
She was immediately greeted by curious fish as fascinated with her helmet as she was by them.
“Our favorite moment was when the crew did a fish feeding and the bigger fish came up to the barge.”
On her Great Barrier Reef excursion, Haley Olson and her husband were given stinger suits for protection.
Stinger season was approaching, and it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
This turned out to be a good call after all, as they caught glimpses of jellyfish floating by.
But with the impenetrable protection of their stinger suits and the abundance of marine life in the water below, they quickly forgot about these stingers.
With colorful tropical fish of different sizes and incredible coral formations, it’s easy to get lost in the underwater wonderland of the reef.
Even more amazing is when a gigantic blue fish swims up to you and refuses to leave until you pet him.
Who knew fish could be so social?
On the Great Eight list of the Great Barrier Reef, the curious Humphead or Maori Wrasse fish is known to swim right up to snorkelers and divers.
This large blue fish grows up to 6 feet in length and weighs up to 400 pounds – quite the friendly giant!
Excursions out to the reef often include a fish feeding. Among the hungry frequenters is a Maori wrasse, charming Haley with its friendliness and dazzling shades of blue and green.
“I immediately came back up from the water and cried!”
Photo Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland/Fabrice Jaine
After donning on her fins and snorkel mask, Gretchen Ibarra carefully lowered herself into the water from the reef pontoon. She couldn’t see any coral at first, as there was something blocking her view.
A giant, curious manta ray had made its way close to Gretchen for a quick ‘hello!’
Gazing at the manta ray for a few moments, she rushed back to the water’s surface, eyes filling with tears.
The crew immediately congratulated her – this was a moment many people only dream about.
Also slated as one of the Great Eight of the Great Barrier Reef, these majestic and harmless creatures are big bucket list items for snorkelers and divers. As shy creatures that keep mostly to themselves, manta rays remain a bit of a mystery.
With a wingspan of up to 22 feet, seeing these creatures up close is an incredible experience you just have to see to believe. It’s like seeing a small car just glide past you underwater!
You’ll find manta rays hanging out in the waters of Lady Elliot Island, Osprey Reef, Heron Island and Lady Musgrove Island. The best time to see them is during the Australian winter months in May and June.
“A lot of people say the Reef is dead, but that’s not true. The locals say it is on a slow recovery right now and is still quite the sight to see!”
Nicholas Culhane posing with a sea turtle.
Any fears Nicholas Culhane felt on his first diving trip were quelled by the extremely knowledgeable and outgoing crew onboard. His comfort was their utmost priority.
And as often happens – after his first dive, Nicholas couldn’t get enough.
But nothing could prepare him for the exhilarating rush when a sea turtle and 5-foot long reef shark joined him on a swim!
From parrotfish to clownfish to giant clams and reef sharks, the marine life he saw on the outer reef was plentiful and thriving.
More than 1,500 species of fish, over 300 species of molluscs, 30 species of whales and six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles call this reef their home.
Despite recent coral bleaching events affecting coral systems around the globe, the reef remains one of the healthiest and most protected reefs in the world.
Standard excursions out to the reef are joined by marine biologists who provide a wealth of information regarding the health of the reef and marine life.
In fact, tourism operators play an important role in managing its recovery and helping visitors learn about the reef.
Ready to See the Great Barrier Reef?
Arguably Australia’s most precious natural asset, the Great Barrier Reef is a must for any traveler visiting from around the world.
No matter the kind of person you are – whether you’re terrified of the water or can’t get enough – there’s a way to see the reef perfect just for you.
Glorious and packing unexpected surprises, the unparalleled diversity and natural beauty of the reef awaits.
Posted on: September 21st, 2015 by Melissa Maxwell No Comments
Add these to your SCUBA Diving Bucket List
From the Great Barrier Reef in the east to the majestic whale sharks in the west, this list of the best underwater experiences in Australia will have you itching to get down under for an amazing dive adventure. Lucky for you, there’s never been a better time book a trip to Australia.
Dive the Great Barrier Reef
There’s no way around it. If you’re a diver, the Great Barrier Reef needs to be on your bucket list. It’s the biggest reef system in the world with over 2,900 reefs and 900 islands stretching 1,429 miles. That’s massive! It’s filled with nonstop underwater action and is perfect for divers of all levels. It’s overflowing with all manner of aquatic life; 380 species of coral, over 2,000 species of fish, 4,000 species of mollusks, 500 species of seaweed and 6 of the 7 kinds of sea turtles.
Stand Where the Reef Meets the Rainforest
Ok, so it’s not an underwater experience, but it’s worth a mention! Australia is home to the only place in the world where Two World Heritage Sites meet. The Great Barrier Reef meets up with the Wet Tropics of North Queensland, a group of rainforests with the highest concentration of primitive flowers plant families in the world, at Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rainforest. This majestic site offers a glance into what the world was like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (Along with really great diving close by!)
Dive Ribbon Reefs
Just outside of Cairns, in the northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find the Ribbon Reefs. The ten reefs, simply named Ribbon Reef 1 through Ribbon Reef 10, stretch for more than 50 miles along the edge of the continental self and offer legendary diving for all levels of experience. There’s even really great snorkeling!
As you explore the Ribbon Reefs you are also likely to find everything from large Maori wrasse to leopard morays, playing clownfish to large aggregations of batfish, bommie to whitetip reef sharks, and uncountable species of anemonefish.
Dive in June or July and you’re almost guaranteed to swim with a Minke whale.
Some great dive sites include: Challenger Bay, Steve’s Bommie, Acropolis, Cod Hole, Lighthouse Bommie and Snake Pit.
Come Face to Face with a Giant Potato Cod
Found in “Cod Hole” (Ribbon Reef #10) these giant grouper are extremely friendly and accustom to being hand fed. Find them off the coast of Cairns, Australia or Lizard Island on the North End of the Great Barrier Reef.
Take a Live-aboard out to North Horn, Osprey Reef for an amazing shark frenzy experience. The North Horn of Osprey reef is a unique diving landscape with the reef starting 16 feet below the surface, sloping to 131 feet and then making a vertical drop to around 1,312 feet. It feels like an oasis of life in the middle of a desolate sea and deep sea creatures are known to stop by for a visit. It’s a place where 2 ocean currents converge and a place famous for it’s shark dives.
Silvertips, grey reefs, grey whalers, white tips and even hammerheads come to the site for an easy meal. When the dive operators drop the bucket, the intensity of the free-for-all reaches a fiver pitch. The sharks are accustomed to this feed and ignore the divers as they tear into their meal. You’ll get a nice adrenaline rush, without much actual danger.
Selfie with a Maori Wrasse (Humphead Wrasse)
This large personable fish can be found on reef slopes and lagoon reefs on The Great Barrier Reef. They are one of the few fish that eat the reef’s toxic arch enemies. With their large lips, comical eyes and friendly personalities they make great selfie buddies!
Swim with Sea Turtles
Swimming with sea turtles is a dream come true for many divers. The Great Barrier Reef is home to 6 of the 7 species of turtles in the world. One of the best places to swim with sea turtles (Green and Loggerhead) is from Heron Island. The reef surrounding Heron Island is also home to around 60% of the 1,500 species of fish and 72% of the coral species found on the Great Barrier Reef.
Visit November – March for turtle breeding season.
Dive the Great Barrier Reef and you are almost guaranteed to find him.
Swim with Whale Sharks, Ningaloo Reef
You don’t even have to be a diver for this one but an Australian aquatic wish list wouldn’t be complete without the majestic whale shark. Don’t worry, whale sharks don’t have teeth. For this amazing experience head to Ningaloo Reef on the Coral Coast in Western Australia between mid-March and the end of July. Not only will you swim with the whale sharks, but you’ll see an abundance of reef life such as manta rays, dolphins and turtles.
Spot a Dugong
The seawater cousin of the manatee, the Dugong or sea cow can be found on the Coral Coast of Australia. Shark Bay and Ningaloo marine parks supports about 10% of the world’s population.
Cage Dive with Great White Sharks
You won’t find Great Whites on the Great Barrier Reef so the adventurous types should head to Port Lincoln in South Australia to catch a charter and cage dive with the sharks. The pristine waters off Neptune Islands make it one of best places to see sharks in their natural habitat. The cages keep you from becoming dinner.
Scuba with a Leafy Sea Dragon
These interesting creatures can be found hiding in the kelp leaves and seaweed off the coast of southern and eastern Australia. Many divers travel to Australia only to find that the leafy sea creatures are tough to spot. Make sure to ask your destination specialist about the best places and times to see the elusive Leafy Sea Dragon.
Traveling to Australia for a dive trip is on nearly every diver’s Bucket List. Have you had the opportunity to experience it?
Luckily, there’s never been a better time to travel to Australia.
Posted on: November 13th, 2014 by veronicap No Comments
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Our Australian Dive Specialists will be attending the DEMA Show in Las Vegas next week (19-22 November, 2014).
DEMA is a trade-only event for qualified professionals, attracting more than 9,000 attendees and features over 500 leading manufacturers, destinations, wholesalers and service providers all dedicated to the diving, action watersports and travel industries.
We’ll be showcasing our Travel Services to Dive Groups & Shops who sell International Dive Trips to their customer-base. Our niche & specialty being travel to Australia and Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef. Land based or Live-aboard diving we can coordinate all arrangements including flights, transfers, accommodation, diving plus additional touring. For group travel we assist with marketing, handle all logistics, create travel documents plus make the planning of a trip a profitable exercise for your business.
DEMA Show 2014 Event Date: November 19-22, 2014 Location: Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA Company: AboutAustralia.com Booth: 1545
Posted on: February 18th, 2012 by veronicap No Comments
Our in-house Dive Specialists from “About Australia” will be at The Tacoma Dive Show & Travel Expo this weekend (21-22 April, 2012). We’ll be flying the Aussie flag for Vacation Packages tailored specifically for scuba divers to Dive Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Although our travel packages will have a dive focus at the show, we can tailor any package to suit your needs. So stop by our booth and say G’day!
The Tacoma Dive Show & Travel Expo Event Date: April 21-22, 2012 Location: Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, Tacoma, Washington, USA Company: About Australia
DIVE SHOW SPECIAL: BUDDY DEAL, UP TO 50% OFF 2ND PERSON
7 Day Cod Hole & Coral Sea Tours (Monday departures) For every booking of 2 people, the 2nd person receives a 50% discount off the Liveaboard (boat only).
3 Day Cod Hole and 4 Day Coral Sea Tours For every booking of 2 people, the 2nd person receives a 25% discount off the Liveaboard (boat only). Liveaboard
Travel window:06 August – 03 September 2012 Deposit by31 May 12
Conditions: The discount is on the Spirit of Freedom Liveaboat boat trip fees only, (not applicable to gear hire, courses, nitrox fills or levies). The second person must travel on the same date, same tour, and same cabin type for the discount to apply. The offer is not valid with any other specials. Subject to Availability. Subject to Change Without Notice.