Inspiration Destinations Australia Queensland 8 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Cairns  

8 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Cairns  

February 9, 2024
Kuranda railway in the world's oldest rainforest - Luxury Escapes

Move aside sun, sand and surf: Cairns’ rich outback, ancient geological heritage and UNESCO Heritage-listed vistas are just the tip of the itinerary.  

Few places in the world can take you from the world's oldest continually surviving rainforest to savannah plains in one day trip – Cairns is the place that truly delivers it all. From encounters with living relics like the prehistoric cassowary, to underwater odysseys in the Great Barrier Reef, and nostalgic rail adventures through the outback, this corner of Tropical North Queensland is full of surprises.  

Read on to discover more.

1. See descendants of dinosaurs  

A cassowary in Daintree Rainforest, one of the things to do and see in Cairns.
Cassowary, Daintree Rainforest.

It's no surprise that the world's oldest continually surviving rainforest (Daintree) is home to one of the closest living descendants of dinosaurs. Cassowaries are not only an ancient remnant of the Triassic era, they are also considered the ‘guardians of the rainforest’ thanks to their habit of dispersing seeds across the forest floor. With only 4,000 left in the wild, visitors to Daintree, Kuranda and Cape Tribulation might be lucky enough to spot their unique casqued heads up close. A more infamous ancestor of the dinosaurs, the saltwater crocodile, is also a Cairns native. Visitors to Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas can ‘become croc bait’ in their daring CrocArena, giving adrenaline-seeking swimmers the chance to paddle alongside the apex predators in their tank.  

2. Go helmet diving over the Great Barrier Reef  

Helmet diving, one of the things you didn't know you could do in Cairns.
Helmet diving. Source: Tourism & Events Queensland.

If swimming or snorkelling isn’t your thing, this doesn’t mean missing out on your chance to experience the beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Great Barrier Reef. The Seawalker experience on Green Island (45 minutes by boat from Cairns) can turn anyone into a marine explorer, regardless of diving experience. Wearing glass helmets, divers are lowered to the floor of Green Island’s 6,000-year-old coral quay. From here, divers are surrounded by schools of vivid fish and ancient coral clusters, all while walking directly along the seabed.  

3. Discover the QLD outback  

View from the Ramparts, with aboriginal rock art at chillagoe, Cairns - Luxury Escapes
Chillagoe, Cairns.

Tropical North Queensland has so much more to offer than its sparkling coastline, and with such diverse terrain, visitors can go from inlet to outback in a single day trip. A tour to Chillagoe (2.5 hours’ drive from Cairns) will take you up the McAllister Ranges – teeming with emus, kangaroos and frilled neck lizards – to the Chillagoe-Mungaga Caves National Park, where 400-million-year-old limestone caves reveal three millennia of Indigenous history. Visitors to the park can see the fossilised remains of ancient coral reefs, 3,500-year-old Aboriginal Rock Art and untouched geological marvels. The Chillagoe area is also home to historic mining towns, smelter ruins and small outback communities steeped in quintessential Australian charm.  

4. Take a historic train journey  

Cross tropical wetlands into the arid outback and then back on one of Australia’s greatest rail journeys. The Savannahlander train consists of three railmotor units, the oldest dating back to 1963, and the locomotive still has many of its original features. The historic four-day journey travels inland from Cairns to the dewy forests of Kuranda, through the mining towns of the Mareeba Shire, to Mount Surprise’s volcanic park and ending at Forsayth with the opportunity to visit the formidable Cobbold Gorge. This is the ultimate opportunity to revel in the golden age of Australian rail travel.  

5. Go canyoning over a water hole  

Crystal Cascades Waterfall in Redlynch Valley Barron Gorge National Park west of Cairns part of The Tropical North Queensland Australia - Luxury Escapes
The Crystal Cascades, Cairns.

The Crystal Cascades are a closely guarded secret among Queenslanders; this stunning natural sight is renowned for its clear freshwater swimming hole, surrounded by cascading waterfalls and shiny rockfaces. The water is shrouded by dense rainforest, making it the perfect spot to cool down from the Queensland sun. For a dose of adrenaline, join a canyoning tour and have access to a private stretch of water where you can jump and abseil down the gorges, soar down a 30-metre zip-line and cliff jump from heights of up to 10 metres, all under the supervision of an experienced guide.  

6. Eat at a 65-year-old restaurant  

Nestled under a verdant forest canopy, Nautilus is Port Douglas’ most breathtaking dining experience. Many consider this destination to be a must-do on any Cairns itinerary. The menu is a locally sourced degustation which might include sugarcane-cured salmon, mud crab and duck bao, with the option for an expert wine pairing, and its hidden location deep in Island Point Hill has elevated the restaurant to icon-status. Over its 65-year history, Nautilus has had its share of celebrity dinner guests, including Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Paul Hogan – if only the swaying palms overhead could talk. 

7. Ride a cable car through the rainforest  

Kuranda Sky Rail Rainforest Cableway, Kuranda, Australia’s World Heritage listed tropical rainforest - Luxury Escapes
Kuranda, Cairns.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Wet Tropics is the closest one might get to soaring like a bird. The cable car provides a jaw-dropping perspective of the rainforest canopy and guests can choose to upgrade to a glass-bottomed gondola to see the world's oldest continually surviving rainforest from every lush angle. This experience is perfectly paired with the Kuranda Scenic Railway journey, which stops at the stunning Barron Falls. For special occasions, the gold class ticket offers an extra comfortable seat and refreshments along the way.   

8. Uncover Australia’s Indigenous art capital  

Mossman Gorge - river in Daintree National Park, north Queensland, Australia - Luxury Escapes
Mossman Gorge River, Cairns.

Australia’s Indigenous culture is the oldest on earth and their Dreamtime stories and cultural sites are steeped in thousands of years of generational heritage. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in this culture is through art, which can be experienced hands-on at Janbal Gallery. This 100% Indigenous-owned gallery is open to art enthusiasts wanting to create their own dot-work or sculptural art, as well as those just wanting to browse. At the nearby Mossman Gorge, the local Indigenous community offer guided Dreamtime walks that unveil ancient traditions like ochre painting and making bush soap, as well as stories passed down through generations. The tour ends with traditional bush tea and damper.  

This article is produced in partnership with Tourism North Queensland. 

Ready to explore? Discover Why I’m Now Obsessed with the Great Barrier Reef.

About Sofia Calvert
Travel and lifestyle writer → born in Australia, raised in Asia and the South Pacific. Loves craft cocktails and long walks to the hotel pool.

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