Many of the Cairns region’s attractions lie outside the city center. Apart from the Reef, there is a string of white sandy beaches just 15 minutes north of the city center. Trinity Beach, 15 minutes from the airport or 25 minutes from the city center, is secluded, elegant, and scenic. The most upscale is Palm Cove, 20 minutes from the airport or 30 minutes from the city. If you’re staying in Cairns, also check out activities in and around Port Douglas. Many tour operators in Port Douglas offer transfers from Cairns. Ask about packages that include discounted entry when you visit several of Cairns’attractions, such as Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, Cairns Tropical Zoo, Skyrail, and Kuranda Scenic Rail.
Cairns Wildlife Dome :Here, 200 animals—including a large saltwater crocodile named Goliath—are housed in a 20-m-high (66-ft.) glass dome on the rooftop of the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino. Birds soar overhead, and you can get up close with koalas, lizards, frogs, pademelons, turtles, and snakes. There are wildlife presentations and free guided tours throughout the day. Koala photos are A$15 (pay when you buy your entry ticket).
35–41 Wharf St., Cairns. tel. 07/4031 7250. www.cairnsdome.com.au. Admission A$22 adults, A$11 children 4–14. Tickets are valid for reentry for up to 4 days. Daily 9am–8pm. Closed Christmas Day.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway:This magnificent feat of engineering is one of Australia’s top tourism attractions. Six-person gondolas leave every few seconds for the 7.5 km (4 1/2-mile) journey to the rainforest village of Kuranda . The view of the coast as you ascend is so breathtaking that even those afraid of heights will find it worthwhile. As you rise over the foothills of the coastal range, watch the lush green of the rainforest take over beneath you. Looking back, you have spectacular views over Cairns and north toward Trinity Bay. On a clear day, you can see . . . if not forever, then at least to Green Island. There are two stops during the 90-minute trip, at Red Peak and Barron Falls. After about 10 minutes, you reach Red Peak. You are now 545 m (1,788 ft.) above sea level, and massive kauri pines dominate the view. You must change gondolas at each station, so take the time to stroll around the boardwalks for the ground view of the rainforest. Free guided walks are run regularly through the day.
On board again, you continue on to Barron Falls station, built on the site of an old construction camp for workers on the first hydroelectric power station on the Barron River in the 1930s. A rainforest information center is here, as well as boardwalks to the lookouts for wonderful views of the Barron Gorge and Falls. From Barron Falls station, the gondola travels over the thick rainforest of the range. As you reach the end of the trip, the gondola passes over the Barron River and across the Kuranda railway line into the station. Don’t worry if it rains on the day you go—one of the best trips I’ve made on Skyrail was in a misty rain, which added a new dimension to the rainforest.
I strongly recommend that you combine Skyrail with a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Rail for a wonderful day trip from Cairns. The best way is to take the train from Cairns in the morning and return on Skyrail in the afternoon—for the views going down the range.
Cairns Western Arterial Rd. and Captain Cook Hwy., Smithfield. tel. 07/4038 5555. www.skyrail.com.au.Round-trip ticket A$94 adults, A$47 children, A$235 families, including transfers from Cairns or northern beaches hotels. Daily 9am–5:15pm. Closed Christmas Day. You must make a reservation to travel within a 15-minute time frame. The last boardings are at 2:45pm for a return trip or 3:30pm for a one-way journey. Free parking. Bus: 123. Round-trip shuttle transfers to and through the park from Cairns hotels A$25 adults and A$15 children.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: After a A$12 million revamp, due to be completed in early 2015, Tjapukai (pronounced Jab-oo-guy) offers new indigenous cultural experiences in a new all-weather venue.Cutting-edge theatre technology and an open plan glass design to showcase the park's rainforest surrounds are among the highlights of the redevelopment. Two state-of-the-art theatre spaces, History and Hero's walk, and a new restaurant and outdoor bar will complement the existing interactive cultural village, where you can try fire-making, didgeridoo playing, and boomerang and spear throwing and learn about bush foods and medicines and hunting techniques. In addition to Aboriginal culture, Torres Strait Islander dance is also now part of the Tjapukai experience. Allow 2 to 3 hours to see everything (although you could spend longer here). Start in the Creation Theatre, where performers use the latest in illusion, theatrics, and technology to tell the story of the creation of the world according to the spiritual beliefs of Tjapukai people. Move on through the Magic Space museum and gallery section of the complex to the History Theatre, where a 20-minute film relates the history of the Tjapukai people since the arrival of white settlers 120 years ago.
Among the new offerings is Art of My People, a performance that explains the varying styles of Australian Indigenous art, including the role of totems, body painting traditions and differing types of artistic expression used to identify tribes, languages, dialects and geographical landscapes. A gallery stocks the work of Aboriginal artists and crafts workers.
Tjapukai by Night tours include interactive time in the Magic Space museum, a Creation Show performance, and an outdoor Serpent Circle—a show featuring tap sticks for each guest to use, a join-in corroboree (an Aboriginal nighttime dance), and a ceremony involving fire and water. A buffet dinner and dance show follow, where you get the chance to meet the dancers.
Captain Cook Hwy. (beside the Skyrail terminal), Smithfield. tel. 07/4042 9999. www.tjapukai.com.au. Admission A$40 adults, A$25 children 5–14, A$105 families. Daily 9am–5pm. Tjapukai by Night tours run daily from 7:30pm-9:30pm and cost A$134 adults, A$72 children or A$340 family of four, including transfers to and from Cairns. Closed Christmas Day. Free parking. Bus: 123. Round-trip shuttle transfers to and through the park from Cairns hotels A$25 adults, A$13 children and A$63 families.
Packaging Your Day Trip
A package combining one-way travel on Skyrail and a trip back on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is A$119 for adults, A$60 for children, and A$298 for families of four with round-trip transfers from Cairns or the northern beaches. A package including the Skyrail, the Scenic Railway, and entry to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is A$155 for adults, A$78 for kids, and A$388 for families of four, including transfers. An option including the Skyrail, Scenic Railway, and Rainforestation is A$173 for adults, A$87 for kids, and A$433 for families of four, including transfers. There are other packages, too, and some can upgrade to Gold Class train service for A$48 extra per person. In most cases, these packages represent convenience rather than savings. Book them through Skyrail, Queensland Rail, or Tjapukai.
RnR Rafting (tel. 07/4041 9444; www.raft.com.au) and Raging Thunder Adventures (tel. 07/4030 7990; www.ragingthunder.com.au) serve as one-stop booking shops for action pursuits in and around Cairns, including hot-air ballooning, sky diving, jet-boating, horseback riding, ATV (all-terrain vehicle) safaris, parasailing, and rafting. Ask about multipursuit packages.
Bungee Jumping -- Contact A. J. Hackett Bungy (tel. 1800/622 888 in Australia, or 07/4057 7188; www.ajhackett.com.au). The cost is A$130 per person, including transport to the site, which is 20 minutes north of town on McGregor Road.
Fishing -- Cairns is the world's giant black marlin capital. The game-fishing season is September through December, with November the busiest. Book early -- game boats are reserved months in advance. Game fishers can also battle Pacific sailfish, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna, Spanish mackerel, wahoo, dolphin fish, barracuda, and tiger shark. Reef anglers can expect to land coral trout, red emperor (sea perch), and sweetlip. Mangrove jack, barramundi, and tarpon lurk in the estuaries. Contact Fishing Cairns (tel. 07/4041 1169; www.fishingcairns.com.au) to book a charter. Expect to pay around A$1,980 for a day's heavy-tackle game fishing trip for 2 people, plus A$50 for each extra angler, A$395 per person for light-tackle fishing, at least A$200 for reef fishing, and from A$85 for a half-day in Cairns's Trinity Inlet estuary.
White-Water Rafting -- Several companies offer exciting white-water-rafting trips from Cairns on the Class III to IV Tully River, 90 minutes south of Cairns near Mission Beach; the Class III Barron River in the hills behind the city; and the Class IV to V rapids of the inland Johnstone River. You must be 13 years or older.
One-day trips on the Tully are the most popular. A trip with RnR Rafting (tel. 07/4041 9444; www.raft.com.au) costs A$195 from Cairns or the northern beaches including transfers.
Closer to Cairns, the gentler Barron River is a good choice for the timid. A half-day trip with RnR Rafting costs A$130 (plus a A$30 national park levy), including pickup from Cairns and about 1 1/2 hours of rafting.
Safe Swimming -- All of the northern beaches have small, netted enclosures for safe swimming from October through May, when deadly stingers (box jellyfish) render all mainland beaches in north Queensland off-limits.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.