What to do in Cairns

Cairns has it all from snorkelling and scuba diving to white-water rafting and rain-forest treks, as well as hot-air ballooning, sky diving, jet-boating, horseback riding, ATV (all-terrain vehicle) safaris and parasailing. Your choice…

Scuba diving & snorkelling

Snorkel or dive above the amazing coral formations of the Great Barrier Reef. See some of the more than 400 varieties of coral and 1500 species of colourful tropical fish that inhabit the fringing reefs.

For the best spots, book a dive cruise to the usually crystal-clear waters off Agincourt Ribbon Reef, Moore Reef, Upolu Cay, Green Island or Lizard Island.

Cod Hole, located just 20km from Lizard Island, ranks among the best dive sites in the world. Swim among massive potato cod – some weigh 300 pounds and reach around two metres in length.

The island lures big-game anglers from all over the world from September to December, when black marlin are running.

Can't swim or don't want to get your hair wet? Don't worry, you can still see the wonders of the Reef – just don a dive helmet and ‘walk’ underwater.

Several tour companies offer a modern version of the old-style diving helmets, which allow you to breathe underwater: the helmet has air pumped into it by a hose. It’s quite safe as you walk into the water to a depth of about 4m accompanied by instructors.

Or stay dry by watching a variety of marine life from the comfort of a semi-submersible, glass-bottomed boat or the underwater observatory.

Reef Cruises

Choose from several experienced cruise operators that offer a wide range of day trips out to the Barrier Reef from the Reef Fleet Terminal in Cairns Marina.

Choose from fast catamarans, high-speed launches or sailing yachts. Great Adventures (www.greatadventures.com.au) offers daily reef cruises from Cairns in fast, air-conditioned catamarans to a three-level pontoon on the Outer Reef.

The pontoon includes a kind’s swimming area, a semisubmersible and an underwater observatory. The cruise offers an option to stop at Green Island, where you have time to walk nature trails, snorkel the off-shore reef or just laze on the beach.


Explore the 110-million-year-old Daintree National Park on foot accompanied by an experienced guide. Follow a choice of tracks past strangler figs and epiphytic plants alongside the Mossman River as it cascades over granite boulders.

Try the Gorge Circuit, a 3km track that snakes through the lush Mossman Gorge. Spot eastern yellow robins or blue Ulysses butterflies flitter through the canopy, then cool off with a refreshing swim in a rock pool at lush Mossman Gorge and perhaps spy a Boyd's rainforest dragon sunning itself on a mossy rock.

Learn more about the mysteries of the rainforest and later spot crocodiles and other wildlife on a Daintree River cruise. Or experience nature close up on an exciting quad bike ride through rainforest and tropical savannah.

The Daintree is located 2hours-drive north of Cairns. However, there are several tracts of rainforest closer to Cairns that are still considered part of the Wet Tropics. Try a day-into-night walk into the Atherton Tablelands.

Game fishing

Hook up a charter for black marlin during the season from September to December – the waters around Lizard Island lures big-game anglers from all over the world.

You can also chase Pacific sailfish, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel, wahoo, dolphin fish, barracuda and tiger shark.

Anglers can expect to hook coral trout, red emperor (sea perch) and sweetlip on the reefs, and mangrove jack, barramundi and tarpon in the estuaries.

Up to 214 charter fishing, diving and private vessels can moor along Marlin Marina.

Big-game fishing is a big business here; fish weighing more than 1,000 pounds have been caught in the waters off the reef. Most of the dive boats and catamarans that ply the Great Barrier Reef dock here or at nearby Trinity Wharf.

White-Water Rafting

Thrill to the Class III Barron River in the hills behind Cairns; the Class IV to V rapids of the Johnstone River; and the popular Class III to IV rides on the Tully River, 90 minutes south of Cairns near Mission Beach. For the less-adventurous, try rafting try the gentle Barron River.

Scenic Drives

Hire a car and cruise east through Kuranda into the scenic Atherton Tablelands, north past the beaches of Palm Cove to Port Douglas, the Mossman Gorge and the Daintree National Park; or head south to Josephine Falls in the stunning Wooroonooran National Park.

Further south the Great Green Way connects Cairns to Townsville – a 348km-long drive through sugarcane, papaya and banana plantations, passing numerous white-sand beaches with offshore islands beckoning in the sunlight.

Scenic Flights

Take a helicopter tour for a bird's eye view of the Great Barrier Reef as you soar above Arlington Reef, Green Island and Upolu Cay. Or head inland and soar above Kuranda and the Atherton Tableland.

Latest update: What to do in Cairns: 5 May, 2022