Luxury Escapes Guide to Cairns
The one place in the world where you can skydive over the Great Barrier Reef, explore a coral cay and then enjoy a candle-lit dinner amid the rainforest.
Things to see and do
Go white water rafting
Cairns really is the adventure hub of TNQ, and white-water rafting is one of the most exciting and loved outdoor activities in the area. The three main rivers here are the Tully, Russell and the Barron, and there is an abundance of companies that offer half or full day adventures. If you’re a thrillseeker, the full-day Tully River trip is the one for you: Australia’s most famous rafting adventure, this action-packed day will see you raft through the rainforest, tackling different rapid grades, raft surfing waterfalls and jumping from cliffs into the waters of the mighty Tully River. Travelling with kids? The Barron River offers the perfect family-friendly rafting experience, with gentle rapids and splendid surroundings to admire.
Chase the perfect waterfall
Tropical North Queensland’s annual wet season produces a majestic side-effect: thundering waterfalls. You can get up close with three of the best by following the Waterfall Circuit. Leave Cairns behind and head up the Gillies Highway into the heart of Atherton Tablelands, towards a trio of magnificent waterfalls. This 100km day trip includes a swim at the Heritage-Listed Millaa Millaa Waterfall – a jaw-dropping 18 metre waterfall nestled in the thick tropical forest. Next, it’s an easy trek to reach the viewing platform of the Zillie Falls, and lastly, a photo-opportunity at the most Instagrammable fall in TNQ, Ellinjaa Falls. Pack your swimmers, some food and spend a day chasing waterfalls.
Take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway
One of the most unique rail journeys in Australia, the Kuranda Scenic Railway travels from Cairns train station all the way to Kurunda, winding through jaw-dropping rainforest, gorges and waterfalls. Take a seat in one of the beautifully restored carriages, order a drink and sit back to enjoy this incredible journey. Rising from sea level to 328 meters, this epic train ride will see you meander through picturesque scenery, travel through 15 handmade tunnels and across 37 towering bridges. Admire cascading waterfalls and spot over 12,000 species of flowering plants, trees, orchids and exotic palms.
Discover the Great Barrier Reef
One of the world’s seven natural wonders, the UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef is a spectacular underwater universe, home to thousands of marine animals, colourful fish and corals. Glass-bottom boat trips, outer-reef scuba diving and snorkelling experiences are all available, with cruises departing hourly from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. Our tip to discover a stunning coral cay away from the crowds: embark on a sailing adventure with Great Adventures. Hop on a beautiful catamaran and reach the spectacular Michaelmas Cay, a protected paradise where you can snorkel, learn how to dive or just chill on the pristine sands of this glorious island.
Wander the dreamy Paronella Park
An hour and a half south of Cairns you will find the dreamy, heritage-Listed Paronella Park— a magical destination nestled among five acres of lush rainforest on the banks of the Mena Creek. Built in the 1930s by José Paronella, the park’s main attractions are the ruins of the Spanish-inspired Castillo, the thundering waterfalls that hide among the rainforest and the impressive range of tropical plants and trees that surround the ruins. Paronella thought of everything: the park comes complete with a picnic area by the falls, tennis courts and a series of winding paths and bridges to admire the tropical scenery.
Take a day trip to Green Island
A scenic, 45-minute boat ride from Cairns will drop you on a tropical playground, set on a dreamy coral island in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef: Green Island. Accessible only by boat or helicopter, Green Island is a spectacular cay nestled in the middle of the Coral Sea, where you will find pristine beaches, emerald forest and the Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef all in one, idyllic spot. Set off on a day trip and spend some time immersing yourself in the spectacular natural beauty of this incredible destination, exploring the island, swimming and snorkelling in crystal-clear waters, and relaxing on its white sand beaches.
Visit the Cairns Night Markets
In 1991 Hayden Redfern and Elise Warring came up with the idea of setting up a night market, inspired by those often found in southeast Asia. They had just 28 vendors when they rented the space opposite Cairns’ lagoon. Little did they know that, years later, they would have over 131 stalls, 70 retail outlets and myriad of food options – creating a bustling space that attracts over 2.7 million people every year. As the sun sets on the promenade, the lights go on at the market: this is a one-stop destination to grab some dinner on a breezy night, shop for locally made goods and hunt for bargains.
Top places to eat and drink
Prawn Star is the definition of tropical dining: a fishing trawler that’s evolved into a seafood restaurant anchored along Cairns’ waterfront. Offering a taste of the freshest seafood available, all served on the deck of an actual fishing boat, this is one of the town’s favourite spots. Order some fresh prawns, mud crabs, oysters and whatever else was caught on the day, pick up an ice-cold beer or some local wine and indulge in delicious fare as the sun sets on the waters of the Coral Sea.
Pouring some of the finest coffees in Queensland, Blackbird Espresso is the place to go for silky lattes and perfectly roasted beans. Owners Troy and Daniela Furner successfully operate this funky coffee shop. With expert baristas behind a Marzocco coffee machine, the team delivers consistently good cups of coffee, making this little café one of the most loved spots in town. Their specialty? Arabica blends, a rotating range of single origins and organic decaf coffee. If you like a treat with your coffee, their peanut butter cup is the perfect side to a strong latte.
Ochre is the crowning jewel of Cairns’ food scene, an award-winning institution recognised as one of the most innovative restaurants in the country. Every dish on the menu pays homage to the diversity of Australia and the menu is crafted using more than 30 native ingredients and only the best local and seasonal produce. If you’re keen to taste wattle seed, lemon myrtle sauces, riberry mayo as well as emu, kangaroo, wallaby and emu, you are in the right place. Expect to taste traditional delicacies with a twist, including wallaby fillet with three tomato and olive confit, black mussels with lemon myrtle sauce and even a wattle-seed pavlova.
Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium
Ever wanted to enjoy a dinner under the sea with manta rays and sharks swimming next to you? That's what Dundee’s at the Cairns Aquarium is all about. Located inside Cairns’ extraordinary aquarium, the restaurant features a stunning 70,000-litre saltwater aquarium brimming with colourful marine life, sharks and manta rays. Executive Chef James Wort brings modern Australian fare to the table alongside some of TNQ’s finest seafood, all complemented by a vibrant drinks menu to match and an unforgettable view.
Boasting unparalleled sea views and a prime location on Cairns’ Marina, Salt House is the perfect place to soak up the beauty of TNQ with a drink in your hand. Glamorous and cool, this bar, restaurant and pizzeria has everything you need for a good night out. Start by sipping cocktails on the deck’s daybeds before heading inside for a decadent dinner prepared on a custom-built Argentinian wood-fired grill. Seafood lovers can’t go past the wild caught barramundi with eggplant hummus, chickpea tabbouleh, harrisa yoghurt, lemon, and dukkah, while meat-eaters will be drawn to the lamb shoulder tagine with Moroccan spices, butternut pumpkin, couscous and spiced yoghurt.
Hidden down a red brick laneway in Cairns CBD, you will find the quirky Three Wolves. Winner of the 2019 AGFG Reader’s Choice Award, this premium restaurant and bar boasts an incredible list with some of the finest whiskeys, spirits, wines and beers available. Here you will be able to sip innovative cocktails and devour delicious, made-to-share bites and charcuterie plates to accompany your drinks. Bring four friends along and share a Mad Hatter Tea Pot — a delicious concoction of gin, elderflower, lemon and peach iced tea.
A romantic picnic on a coral cay
Picture yourself flying over the Great Barrier Reef, before reaching a pristine coral cay in the middle of the sea for a one-of-a-kind picnic. Nautilus Aviation offers the ultimate helicopter experience, transporting you to the shores of picture-perfect Vlasoff Cay to find your slice of private tropical paradise in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Swim in the waters of your private island, pop open a bottle of sparkling and enjoy a gourmet picnic before flying back to Cairns, soaking up unparalleled views over the reef.
Unforgettable dining in the rainforest
A degustation dinner served under the forest’s canopy is a unique way to experience the magical beauty of the rainforest. Flames of the Forest offers two unforgettable dining experiences that will transport you into a world beyond your imagination. On Tuesdays and Thursdays enjoy an Aboriginal Cultural Experience: a once-in-a-lifetime dining and storytelling event set in the traditional grounds of the Kuku Yalanji people, allowing you to learn more about Australia’s Aboriginal culture. On Saturdays, you can enjoy a romantic and intimate six-course degustation dinner with matched wines, served at a candle-lit table set in the heart of the rainforest.
Private hot air balloon experience with sparkling breakfast
Get ready to wake up nice and early for a hot balloon ride like no other, flying gently above the spectacular Atherton Tablelands, located an hour and a half south west of Cairns. Thanks to the year-round near-perfect weather conditions for flying, the region is renowned for its striking scenery and marvellous natural wonders – and there’s no better way to soak it all up then from high up in the sky. Witness the sun rising over the clouds as you float hundreds of metres above the impressive scenery of the region, before enjoying a gourmet beachside breakfast with sparkling wine at Palm Cove’s celebrated NuNus.
Skydive over Cairns... or hop on a helicopter
With its perennially warm weather and spectacular natural scenery, Cairns might have one of the best backdrops in the world for a skydive. With the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea on one side and the lush tropical forest on the other, falling from the sky has never looked as glorious as this. Not the adventurous type? No worries at all – you can enjoy the views from the comfort of a helicopter. Nautilus Aviation offers scenic 30-minute flights over the rainforest or the reef, as well as a 45-minute reef and rainforest experience, so you can soak up two of the region’s most impressive natural beauties in one go.
Tailor your escape to Cairns
Immerse yourself in Cairns with Luxury Escapes’ hand-picked Experiences. We’ve curated a selection of cultural activities, adrenaline thrills, food adventures and luxury add-ons to help you discover your destination. These Experiences are bookable when you purchase your next escape. Simply select your travel dates and number of travellers for any package, and opt to tailor your escape by selecting the available Experiences.