346 km (215 miles) N of Townsville; 1,807 km (1,120 miles) N of Brisbane
Cairns is the only place on earth where two World Heritage-listed sites—the Wet Tropics Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef—are side by side. Explore the reef and offshore islands and slip into the distinctive pace, heat, and style of a truly tropical city.
This is the departure point for the large-scale Reef boats, taking hundreds of people out every day. Many smaller operators offer a more intimate experience, some on sailing boats. Offshore, Michaelmas Cay and Upolu Cay are two pretty coral sand blips in the ocean, 30 km (19 miles) and 25 km (16 miles) off Cairns, surrounded by reefs. Michaelmas is vegetated and is home to 27,000 seabirds; you may spot dugongs (cousins of manatees) off Upolu. Michaelmas and Upolu are great for snorkelers and introductory divers.
Cairns Esplanade offers top-to-bottom-dollar shopping plus an array of food halls, but its sparkling jewel is the manmade lagoon on the Esplanade, where you can cool off from the heat. There’s plenty to do on days when the Reef’s not on your radar.