Cairns is a city located in the tropical north on the east coast of Australia and you can’t miss it on your trip! The city is well known as the place where the Great Barrier Reef meets the Daintree rainforest. While the city has a great vibe and offers a lot of things to do, you need to go outside the city for real adventures. After living in Australia for 2 years I spent a lot of time on the east coast and Cairns in particular and did a lot of day trips from Cairns.
The area around Cairns offers great opportunities for all kinds of outdoor activities. The Great Barrier Reef, rainforest, waterfalls, tropical beaches, mountains everything is close by. In this travel guide, you will find an overview of the best day trips from Cairns and all information that helps you to prepare for your trip.
Video: Day trips from cairns INSPIRATION
12 STUNNING DAY TRIPS FROM CAIRNS
1. Explore The Great Barrier Reef
- Duration: 9 hours
- Location: Reef Fleet Terminal Cairns, open in Google Maps
The Great Barrier Reef is the number one experience in Australia and for a lot of people a bucket list item. The reef has a length of 2.300 km and stretches all the way from Bundaberg to Cape York. As there are tons of tour operators offering Great Barrier Reef day trips from Cairns it can be hard to pick the right one, to help you out here are some basic questions:
1. Meals provided during the tour?
2. How many people are on board?
3. Is all equipment provided?
The Great Barrier Reef Cruise is one of my favorite Great Barrier Reef activities from Cairns, because of the great staff. The tour offers a great combination of a catamaran cruise, snorkeling, diving, swimming and don’t forget the great scenery across the reef. The guides will share stories about the great barrier reef and all the marine wildlife you find along with your dive.
Book here the recommended tour: Great Barrier Reef Cruise by Premium Catamaran
2. Daintree, Mossman Gorge & Cape Tribulation
- Duration: 1 day
- Location: Pickup available from selected hotels in Cairns, Palm Cove, and Port Douglas
Cape Tribulation is in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in the Northern Part of Australia I totally get that this site is a Unesco World Heritage-listed site. The Great Barrier Reef meets the Daintree Rainforest and this gives unique viewpoints.
Start your day with a guided walking tour into Mossman Gorge and learn about one of the oldest rainforests, I can tell you the vibe over there is fascinating. Ready for more wildlife? After a short tea break, it’s time for the Daintree River Cruise, explore wildlife like: tree snakes, saltwater crocodiles, tropical birds and don’t forget all the beautiful plants.
In the afternoon you will admire the incredible beaches of Cape Tribulation, there are some stops along the way for great viewpoints! A little secret for the ones who like ice cream… you will visit the Daintree Cream Company which offers delicious tropical fruit ice creams.
Book here the recommended tour: Cape Tribulation, Daintree and Mossman Gorge Day Tour
3. Kuranda, Scenic Rail & Skyrail
- Duration: 7 hours
- Location: Pickup available from Cairns city area
Kuranda is famous for the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway both offers a trip with incredible views. The little hippie village is just 30 minutes from Cairns but such a different world. In Kuranda, you can do some great activities like aboriginal art, a scenic cable car, markets, and learn more about the wildlife in the area.
If you want to make this one of the best day trips from Cairns I would suggest this Self-guided day trip, wondering why? Your day starts by taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway to Kuranda, a long the way you can enjoy the mountain scenery. After a visit in Kuranda it’s time to set directions to Skyrail Smithfield station and start your way back taking the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. This was one of my favorite parts of the day because of the views over the Barron Gorge and the waterfalls, wow really it is GREAT!
Book here the recommended tour: Self-Guided Kuranda Day Trip, Scenic Rail & Skyrail
4. Fitzroy Island
- Duration: 5-8 hours
- Location: Reef Fleet Terminal Cairns, open in Google Maps
Fitzroy Island is like paradise, with white beaches, crystal clear water and a rainforest full of wildlife. It’s one of the most popular half day trips from Cairns. In just 45 minutes you can reach the island by boat from the terminal in Cairns. A nice fact to know is that the Island was once part of the mainland, but rising water separated the two from each other.
After arriving on the island you can spend 7 hours exploring the Island and enjoy yourself doing some great outdoor activities. Fitzroy Island is a great place for hiking as 95% of the island is a national park, put on your shoes and start your hike all the way to the Fitzroy lighthouse.
Other things you can do are kayaking, snorkeling, taking a glass boat trip or jumping the sea trampoline. Not really into doing something active? No worries you can go sun bathing on Nudey beach, which is all covered with little pieces of white coral acting like sand. Don’t forget to visit the turtle sanctuary and learn about the rehabilation proces.
Book here the recommended tour: Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour
5. Great Barrier Reef From Above
- Duration: 1 hour
- Location: Daintree Air Services, open in Google Maps
The Great Barrier Reef is worth it to not only discover by boat, but really you also need to see it from the air. After just 10 minutes of departing from Cairns, you will get an adrenaline kick for sure when you see all the amazing views over Green Island, Oyster Reef, Upolo Reef, Pixie Reef and Arlington Reef. Already thrilled?
Let me tell you there is more. While you are sitting in a comfortable seat you can even spot marine wildlife like manta rays, sharks, green turtles and whales (July-September).
Ready for take-off?
Book here the recommended tour: Outer Edges of The Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight
6. Barron River White-Water Rafting
- Duration: 3.5 hours
- Location: Lake Placid parking lot, open in Google Maps
The Barron River is located in the deep Barron Gorge and is the feed for the Barron Falls. The river ends in the ocean by Cairns and comes all the way from the highlands. The best way to experience the power of the Barron River is by doing an outdoor activity like White-Water rafting.
This activity was one of my favorites as it rained the day before the water was more powerful. The tour will be a combination of calm and a series of white-water rapids.
Book here the recommended tour: Half-Day Barron River White-Water Rafting
7. Paronella Park and Mamu Tropical Skywalk
- Duration: 1 Day
- Location: Paronella Park or Mamu Tropical Skywalk, open in Google Maps
Paronella Park is a wonderful heritage-listed tourist attraction you can’t miss during your stay in Queensland. At Paronella park you can enjoy the beautiful flora and fauna in the botanical garden and don’t forget to check out the beautiful butterflies, birds and fish. Building a castle was the dream of Jose Paronella an early settler from Spain. The romantic castle is the icon of the park showing a masterpiece of architecture from the early 1900.
In 1933 Jose Paronella installed a hydro electric system to generate power of the waterfall and I can tell you the park is still powered by this system nowadays. How cool is that! You will learn all about this way of generating electricity, the flora and fauna and the history of the park during a 45-minute guided tour. What I really liked about this tour was the flexibility to schedule your own time. Don’t forget to check out the suspension bridge over the falls and the cafe to enjoy some great food and drinks.
Book here the recommended tour: Paronella Park and Mamu Tropical Skywalk Ticket Combo
8. Rainforest Bungy Jump
- Duration: 1 Day
- Location: Skypark Cairns, open in Google Maps
Would you dare all 16 different jumps styles in Skypark Cairns? No matter if you are just a beginner there are jumps for all type of levels. Still not ready? No problem while your friends got there adrenaline kicks you can enjoy the viewing decks, sun chairs and a great terrace.
If you are an adrenaline junkie I will dare you to jump from the 50 meter tower, not only for the jump but also to experience a view over the Great Ocean Reef and the Northern Beaches. Let’s jump!
Book here the recommended tour: Rainforest Bungy Jump
10. Atherton Tablelands Rainforest and Waterfalls
- Duration: 10.5 hours
- Location: Allbout Cairns, open in Google Maps
Atherton Tablelands is an area full of diverse landscapes you need to discover for at least a full day. One of the most unique things in this area for me was the waterfalls, especially the Josephine Falls and Millaa Millaa Falls. It’s possible to swim underneath some waterfalls, please make sure to check this before you jump in.
Some great spots for swimming are Babinda Boulders and Lake Eacham a volcanic crater, both are good spots for a lunch break. The tour was a great mix of enjoying the Atherton Tablelands culture with all the agriculture, cheese factories, waterfalls, locally-grown tea and coffee tasting and much more.
Book here the recommended tour: Atherton Tablelands Rainforest and Waterfalls Tour
11. Green Island Cruise
- Duration: 6 hours
- Location: Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises office, open in Google Maps
Green Island offers beautiful beaches in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a great location for snorkeling or exploring the National Park on the island.
During this tour, you will enjoy the island and views of the Great Barrier Reef on a 35-meter catamaran. All snorkeling gear is provided. You can also opt for a glass-bottom boat tour or semi-submarine.
Book here the recommended tour: Full-Day Green Island Cruise
12. Rainforest River Tubing
- Duration: 2.5 hours
- Location: Pickup from hotels in Cairns and Northern Beaches
Ready for a great water activity? The Behana Gorge is a great place for outdoor activities and river tubing is one of them, I freaking liked it. Just grab a tube, put on a helmet and spend some hours on the Mulgrave river while enjoying the surroundings. You can pick gently water or go for the small rapids, there are guides to make sure everything is safe!
Book here the recommended tour: Rainforest River Tubing
Best Time To Visit Cairns
The best time for day trips from Cairns is from April until October. The temperatures are more comfortable and you don’t have to plan your explorations around the rain showers. The beginning of the dry season is the most beautiful time, as nature has had lots of water and everything is in bloom. Later on, in the season, nature gets dry and more yellowish. Below you will find a weather chart to give you a better indication of what to expect from the weather in Cairns.
|Month||Min Temperature °C||Max Temperature °C||Rain mm|
How To Get To Cairns?
Cairns – Brisbane
Distance: 1.700 km
Cairns – Sydney
Distance: 2.700 km
Cairns – Darwin
Distance: 2.800 km
Cairns – Melbourne
Distance: 3.100 km
Getting to Cairns will take a little longer from the airports in the Northern Territory and Brisbane. It’s 28 hours from Darwin a total distance of 2.800 km. Be aware that driving distances in Australia can be pretty long, so make sure to rest enough. From Brisbane, you can get to Cairns in 20 hours with a distance of 1.700 km.
Cairns by Train
You can get to Cairns by train via Queensland Rail’s most popular routes:
2. Spirit of Queensland: A relaxed route from Brisbane to Cairns takes 25 hours with 2 stops. ( 5 times a week) Click here for more information about timetables and ticket information.
Cairns by bus/coach
Coach travel is a great way to travel between big cities in Australia. Greyhound is one of the most popular companies offering luxury, air-conditioned bus trips. I used Greyhound a lot while traveling between Katherine and Cairns and on the East Coast between big cities.
Getting Around in Cairns
There is a bus company named Sunbus driving different routes to connect the upper North to the South. One of the most popular ways of transportation in the city is by bike or electric scooter.
Where to stay in Cairns?
How much does Cairns cost?
|Accommodation per person for a hostel bed||$30AUD/night|
|Accommodation per person for a simple hotel||$80AUD/night|
|Restaurant meals||$10 – 30 AUD|
|Single bus ticket||$2.5 – 5.0AUD|
|Average price tours||$ 25 – 250AUD|
|Beer in a bar||$5 – 10AUD|
|Campervan rental||$45AUD/per day|
FAQ DAY TRIPS from cairns
How many days are enough in Cairns?
For the city of Cairns itself, I would suggest spending at least 3 days exploring. If you also want to discover the surroundings of Cairns like the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest plan around 7 days for your visit.
What is there to do from Cairns to Cape Tribulation?
The most popular stops between Cairns and Cape Tribulation are Port Douglas and Palm Cove.