Cairns is a great spot to stop for several days on any east coast Australia trip. It has an international airport, and is a central point to a lot of Northern Queensland sites. Within a 3 hour driving radius there is Fitzroy Island, the Great Barrier Reef, Mossman Gorge, Atherton Tablelands, Palm Cove, and Cape Tribulation/ Daintree Rainforest. Cairns itself has a nice Esplanade, a Night Market, and several nice restaurants such as Salt House, Tandoori Oven, and Outback Jack’s Bar and Grill. If you are into the bar/ party scene there is Gilligan’s and Woolshed where there is generally a party every night of the week.
About 30 minutes from Cairns you can visit Fitzroy Island (to the east) as well as Kuranda (to the west) and Palm Cove (to the north). All are pretty touristy areas that cater to families. Fitzroy has some nice hiking as well as basic water sports.
Kuranda was known as artist/ hippie area, but now has several outdoor markets as well as a Butterfly Sanctuary and places to encounter wildlife. A short 10 minutes ride out of the central area allows you to see the lovely Barron Falls.
Palm Cove is a super cute boutique area that has a variety of accommodations (camping to luxury hotels) along a palm tree lined road that overlooks the beach. We enjoyed strolling along the main drag, grabbing a cup of coffee, and poking our head into the shops.
If you drive north 45-60 minutes you will arrive at Mossman Gorge. This area is very pretty. Sadly, we couldn’t swim in the gorge that day, but the shuttle bus still took you up to the hiking trails. The trees were unbelievable. Unlike the Redwoods, the trees here had huge buttress roots and vines that twisted and turned in every direction. We didn’t spot too much wildlife, however, there were many plants that were very unique looking.
In 60+ minutes (by boat) we arrived at the Great Barrier Reef. This was one of the highlights of our trip. We started our adventure with Reef Quest. We got on a big boat (with about 50 other people) and set out for the reef. The boat had several levels to enjoy the sea views. Our trip included two snorkel sights, snacks, lunch, and our equipment. I opted to just snorkel, while the husband tried out an introductory scuba dive. The snorkeling was unbelievable! We saw so many beautiful fish, sea turtles, giant clams, sea cucumbers, and so much coral.
The Atherton Tablelands and Cape Tribulation are about 60+ minutes to the west and north or Cairns. Both areas were so alluring that they each deserve a separate post.
All and all Cairns might not be THE target destination on your adventures, but it sure is a great jumping off point.