Dreaming of a cool tropical holiday with a unique mix of adventure thrills, stunning escapes, cultural history and cosmopolitan pleasures?
Wake up and get packing because Cairns, capital of Tropical North Queensland in Australia’s Pacific-kissed northeast, is waiting to warmly welcome you to its reef-and-rainforest splendour. This lush corner of Australia puts you in the hotseat for two incredibly important Natural Wonders of the World: the famous Great Barrier Reef and the superabundant wet tropics rainforest.
Relaxed-and-comfortable Cairns, which wears the title “city” as loosely as a favourite pair of shorts, and its charming uplands cousin Kuranda, are easy entry points for these unique travel experiences.
A warm welcome to cool Cairns
Cairns is a lively, modern, multicultural place and visitors find themselves mingling easily with international tourists and residents making the most of the tropical lifestyle. Get your bearings at Esplanade Lagoon, central Cairns’ buzzing man-made beach, joining locals for a stroll, swim, barbecue or laze in the shade of a banyan tree.
If, like most visitors, you’re chasing Great Barrier Reef action, you’ll soon be heading for Marlin Marina, home to reef tour operators, the big-game fishing fleet and super yachts. Linger at The Pier complex for wellness centres, boutique shopping, bars, cafés and floating seafood restaurants.
Cairns has a growing foodie reputation and you’ll find plenty of classy options for everything from lingering breakfasts through to late-night gelato. Grafton Street is a fine place to refuel, starting with a quality coffee (try early openers Caffiend or Blackbird Expresso), then hit vibrant Rusty’s Market (Friday to Sunday only) for exotic fruits, breads, seafood, meats and cheeses. For dinner, fine-dining choices include chic waterside Salt House and spectacular indigenous flavours at Ochre.
Cairns CBD: shop by day, party by night
After dinner, hit the nightlife hotspots around Grafton Street. Try your luck at Pullman Reef Casino, party at iconic backpacker hangouts Gilligans and the Woolshed or ease into The Attic Lounge for a cocktail.
If retail therapy is on the agenda, Cairns has markets and shops to rival the southern capitals. In the city centre you’ll find high-end designs at Cairns Central, and vintage and indie labels in Oceana Walk Arcade. The night market, open daily until 11pm, has souvenirs, jewellery, crafts and clothing. Cairns Art Gallery is recognised for its rich indigenous cultural collection and excellent range of gifts.
When the heat rises, look to escape to the rainforest-clad ranges and head to laidback heritage hideaway Kuranda, which sits a refreshing 330 metres above steamy Cairns.
Hip to the vibe in carefree Kuranda
As a day trip Kuranda is a must, not least for the sheer excitement of getting there. You can make a breathtaking, twisting drive up the range, but if you want to enjoy the full jaw-dropping rainforest, gorges and waterfall experience, take the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns. Better still, combine it with a Skyrail cable car journey through the treetops and soar high over stunning features including the mighty Barren Gorge, renowned for white water rafting and bushwalking.
Kuranda is rightly known for its friendly hippy style, colourful markets and wildlife experiences. Kuranda Original Rainforest Market and Heritage Market both open seven days to offer locally made clothes, jewellery, crafts and produce. Soak up Indigenous culture, including traditional dance and a Dreamtime experience at Rainforestation Nature Park. Cuddle a resident at Koala Gardens or keep a watchful distance at Australian Venom Zoo.
Head into the rainforest via one of Kuranda’s bushwalking trails, including the famous Barron Falls lookout walk, then head back to the village for a well-deserved beverage with the locals at Barron Falls Hotel or Kuranda Hotel Motel.
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