Cairns deserves more than a transit stop to get to the Great Barrier Reef!

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If exploring the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, your next trip should include time actually in Cairns. The Australian destination is a tropical paradise with ample adventure opportunities in a laid-back atmosphere. With temperatures of up to 32°C during summer,  Cairns has a lot you can discover if you are willing to explore the surrounding area.

Of course, visiting Cairns without visiting the Great Barrier Reef is also a no-no. As one of the natural wonders of the world exploring the reef allows you to get a glimpse of its unique features.

Cairns Waterfront

You get to learn about the 900 islands and almost 3,000 individual reefs that make it the largest system in the world. If you are adventurous, consider being part of a snorkeling excursion or scuba diving in its cool waters from one of the many island resorts or take a day long excurions from Cairns. Taking a tour that takes you into the 344,400 square kilometer coral reef system should be on your itinerary but you shouldn’t stop there.

Kuranda Skyway overs ocean views from above the rainforest as you travel 7.5 km journey from Smithfield to Kuranda.

 Discover scenic  Kuranda

It takes two hours to get to the picturesque Kuranda Village by train. But this train journey is unique because of the many attractions you get to see while on the 120-year old train. The village is surrounded by a World Heritage rain forest in full view while the train passes. Other fascinating sights on the Kuranda Railway include a wildlife park and an aviary with lots of beautiful birds. You can decide to spend the entire day on the scenic railway, for a deeper experience and connection with nature.

View the rainforest from the sky 

Booking a seat on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is an exciting way to see the popular World Heritage attraction. The glass bottom gondola provides an aerial view of the entire rainforest and the

nearby Barron Gorge National Park during the 7.5 km in the air. You can relax while traveling in style with the forest underneath your feet. At the end of the aerial trip, pass by the Rainforest Interpretation center to learn fascinating facts about what you saw or join a cultural tour of the Aborigine people. If you are interested in a more fulfilling trip, consider combining the Kuranda railway and the cableway activities in one day.

Walk through a rainforest

An abundance of vegetation, stunning scenery, and scenic sites is what you can expect in the Daintree rainforest. It is one of the oldest rainforests in Australia with one of the largest populations of butterfly and bat species. If you are a nature lover, hiking through the forest will lead you to incredible sites, waterfalls, amazing walking trails, and coastal views. Delight in different aspects of the ecosystem that has evolved in isolation for many decades resulting in an unspoiled Australian rainforest. Luckily, several tours are available for visitors interested in exploring Daintree, giving you a chance to be part of a guided excursion.

Explore the Crystal Cascades

Just outside Cairns is the breathtaking Crystal Cascades, a waterfall perfect for cooling down in the summer. It takes about

Walk thru the canopy of the Daintrain Rainforest.

twenty minutes to reach the area and another half-hour walk to reach the hotspot nestled within the expansive rainforest. The waterfall drops into a deep hole filled with clear freshwater, perfect for swimming. Snorkeling is another popular activity at Crystal Cascades with the clear water allowing you to swim safely and see different types of fish underwater.  If you prefer to stay out of the water, you can lay out a picnic nearby and enjoy the scenic view offered by the surrounding forest. Remember to carry insect repellant to be safe from the many flying insects that call the forest home.

Explore Aboriginal culture at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Park.

Experience Aboriginal Culture

The Australian aboriginal people are an interesting community and one of the oldest cultures globally. Its 40,000-year-old culture is worth exploring when visiting Australia at the famous Tjapukai Aboriginal Park. At the park, which is only 15 minutes from Cairns, you get to be part of the Aboriginal culture through storytelling, dance, live performances, and music. Visitors to the cultural park participate in several interactive experiences like throwing a boomerang, playing, riding a canoe, playing the

didgeridoo, or taking part in a corroboree at the fireside. For a wholesome experience, you can sample traditionally prepared bush foods at the park.

Go up the Atherton Tablelands

If you are looking for a quiet and peaceful spot, head to Atherton tablelands, half an hour from Cairns. The highland region attracts fewer tourists and I filled with several small towns with several activities you can be part of. It’s also cooler than Cairns during the summer making it the perfect getaway spot. At Atherton Tablelands, you can choose to ride the Express steam train, visit the Chinese temple Hou Wang Miau, Tyrconnell Gold mine and Gallo Dairyland Farm. You can also sample coffee and tea at the Coffee Works roastery and Lake Barrine Tea respectively.

See lava tubes at Undara National Park

Lava tubes crisscrossing an extinct volcano is the major attraction at the Undara National park. The volcanic park is safe and gives you a chance to get up close to some of the longest lava tubes in the world. Although the journey from Cairns to the volcanic park is about a day, it’s worth it for many people that make the trip. Besides, visiting the national park, you can also be part of a sunset tour to watch wildlife or book a pioneer hut, or “glamp” in a tent village for an overnight stay.

Explore lava tubes at Undara National Park.

Although Cairns and its environs have a lot to offer, the city also has great spots to explore as you wind up your trip. Check out Cairns Esplanade which hosts several shopfronts with various facilities and grassy areas for sports activities. The botanical gardens are a great place to take a break from the city and is perfect for taking strolls while enjoying various types of trees and local plant. Remember to stop by the Aquarium to interact with aquatic wildlife common in the Great Barrier Reef and other World Heritage Sites in the area.

Ready to explore beyond the Great Barrier Reef?  I have years of experience planning memorable trips to Australia and its environs. Talk to me today!

Oh, and the picture of the rocks?  They’re known as Gatz Rock Piles found south of Wangetti on the beautiful Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas.  No one knows how this got started but these mounds of rocks or cairns, are proving to be a hit on social media.  Now aren’t you glad you read to the end?  🙂

Pat Ogle-CollinsCairns deserves more than a transit stop to get to the Great Barrier Reef!

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