From rainforests to reefs, Cairns has it all

Cairns is one of the country’s most beautiful spots, and an adrenaline-seeker’s paradise.

A man sea kayaking in a yellow kayak
  • Thomas Woodgate
  • October 2011

We’ve all seen the postcard-perfect images of the Great Barrier Reef in tropical North Queensland, but is there more to the area than just snorkelling with some colourful — albeit rather beautiful — fish? Although the reef is reason enough to visit, you can pack in a whole lot more that’ll get the heartbeat going while still enjoying the views. If you’ve got four days, here’s some of the fun to be had.

Day 1

I don’t have time to waste after landing in Cairns, so I head off for a spot of river tubing down the Mulgrave River with Foaming Fury. Never heard of river tubing? You basically sit in an inflatable ring and float down the river. It might not sound too thrilling, but there are small rapids and currents along the way to spice things up and you have to put in a bit of effort to manoeuvre the ring.

It’s a perfect activity for all ages and little skill is required. You’ll be fitted with a life jacket, although it helps if you can swim if you happen to fall out. It’s a lot of fun and a serene way to explore the area from the river.

After a morning of flying, then an afternoon on the river, I head to Angsana Resort for dinner and drinks on the beach with a picture-perfect sunset as a backdrop, before staying the night at Sea Temple Resort & Spa with its beautifully modern and comfortable rooms.

Day 2

To my delight, Cairns is full of beautiful golden beaches that are both unspoilt and uncrowded. The waters are crystal clear, so a morning spent in a kayak off the beach at nearby Thala Beach with Back Country Bliss is just the ticket. From the moment I jump into my kayak and follow my guide out through the waves, I can’t help but be struck by the sheer size and beauty of the coast line and surrounding cliffs.

There really aren’t many better places to sea kayak than in Cairns. For families, there are dual kayaks for kids to share with their folks, so no one misses out. You might even spot sea turtles. It’s four well-spent hours out on the water.

There really aren’t many better places to sea kayak than in Cairns

There are many ways to see and experience the Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest living rainforest, but riding a quad bike at Daintree Station near Port Douglas has to be the most fun. The speedy quad bikes are surprisingly easy to get to grips with.

After a quick introduction I’m straight into it. As I pull up in front of what looks like a sheer vertical hill, I’m sure I won’t make it to the top. It takes a lot of grunt from the bike and even more grunt from me as I thrash the accelerator to reach the summit, but somehow I make it.

From there it’s non-stop action. If we’re not thrashing the bike through dirt tracks, we’re bumping along shallow riverbeds, hurtling down hills and speeding through forest tracks. Word of warning, though: bring a spare change of clothes, because getting dirty has never been so much fun!

That night I head to one of Port Douglas’ most famous restaurants: Salsa Bar and Grill. Everyone loves to eat where the celebs have been and Salsa is where they flock to when they’re in town (Oprah included) — the wall of signed plates is proof. The food stands up to the reputation, and you’ll be forgiven for digging into three courses and the extensive wine list.

Day 3

Don’t be put off by the two-hour drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, because the Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours are absolutely worth it. Where else can you fly at high speed from tree to tree — in the Daintree Rainforest no less — on a zip-line hundreds of metres up, the wind rushing through your hair?

I don’t like heights much, but it’s such an awesome experience and so safe that you just go with it. It’s suitable for all ages and from that height you get the most amazing and unique views of the forest.

Afterwards, I check into the Thala Beach Lodge, where individual cabins set high in the cliff s overlook Thala Beach. I sit out on the balcony with a cold drink after a thrilling day and watch the waves crash in before dinner at the resort restaurant.

Day 4

No trip to Cairns is complete without a snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns is Green Island where you can hire snorkelling gear to get up close to the marine wildlife. There are supposedly 1,500 species of fish living in the reef, but it feels like even more as no two fish look the same as you snorkel among them.

If you can swim snorkelling is easy to pick up, but even those not confident will still see plenty of marine wildlife in the shallower waters. You can also go for bush walks or jump on board any of the tour boats with glass floors for a drier view of what goes on down below, or just relax on the beach.

My four days have been great, but I’m left wanting more. There’s so much amazing nature, a short break really isn’t doing it justice. Next time, I’ll take at least a week and try to discover everything.

Take me there

Angsana Great Barrier Reef, 1 Veivers Rd, Palm Cove, tel:+61 7 4055 3000

Back Country Bliss, Port Douglas, tel:+61 7 4098 1149

Foaming Fury, 19-21 Barry St, Cairns, tel:+61 7 4031 3460

Green Island Resort, Green Island, tel:+61 7 4031 3300

Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours, tel:+61 7 4098 0043

Salsa Bar and Grill, 26 Wharf St, Port Douglas, tel:+61 7 4099 4922

Sea Temple Resort & Spa, 5 Triton St, Palm Cove, tel:+61 7 4059 9600

Thala Beach Lodge, Private Rd, Port Douglas, tel:+61 7 4098 5700

Jetstar flies direct to Cairns from Osaka, Tokyo and Auckland, and from across Australia. Book online at opens in new window