Located on the coast of Tropical North Queensland, Cairns is the perfect base in which to experience some of the most iconic destinations in Australia. This small town is within easy reach of both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. The beauty of this region is unparalleled, and it is a surreal experience to snorkel amongst the largest living organism on earth one day, and wander through the world’s oldest rainforest the next. These are my top Cairns day trips.
When to go
Cairns has two seasons, with the dry season running from April to October, and the wet season from November to March.
In the dry season the temperature ranges from 22-26 degrees, and the chance of rain is low.
The weather warms up in the wet season, with an average temperature of 31 degrees. The chance of rain is high, however it usually comes in shorts bursts. The wet season is also stinger season, so a stinger suit is advised when swimming in the ocean.
The best Cairns day trips
Nestled in the beginnings of the Daintree Rainforest, visiting Mossman Gorge is a beautiful way to connect with the rainforest and the Indigenous history of the area. Go on a walk through the rainforest, bounce on the swing bridge and then take a dip in the crystal clear water. Be warned that the water is freezing, but the experience is worth it!
The gorge is a 5 minute drive from the Mossman Gorge Centre, and as of July 2020, taking the shuttle bus is mandatory. This is to prevent people from walking though vulnerable Indigenous communities on their way to the Gorge. The centre also has a great display of Indigenous art work and souvenirs.
Drive time: A hour and 15 minute drive from Cairns.
Price: Shuttle Bus Tickets cost $12.30 and can be bought online here, or at the centre on arrival.
Port Douglas is an idyllic, relaxed beachside escape. The town is full of beautiful accommodation, upscale restaurants and boutique shops. Four Mile beach is a highlight of the area, with a seemingly endless stretch of golden sand lined with palm trees. The close proximity from Cairns makes it the perfect day trip, or even a weekend away. We loved spending our days riding our bikes down the beach, and sun bathing by the pool.
The flagstaff hill walk is also a must do when in Port Douglas. This short walk has panoramic views out over the ocean, along with some great viewing platforms.
Travel time: An hour drive from Cairns
A short 45 minute ferry ride from the Cairns Marina will take you to this island paradise. Fitzroy Island is blessed with stunning turquoise waters and abundant marine life, as well as a beautiful National Park. Choose to relax by the beach, or partake in some of the numerous activities available on the Island. Go for a hike up to the summit of the island, snorkel or paddle board in the water, or take a walk around to Nudey Beach.
The island is also a habitat for sea turtles, so its highly likely that you’ll get to swim with one here. We saw over 5 turtles over the space of two days the last time we were here! If you don’t see any then don’t worry, the island is home to a turtle rehabilitation centre that runs tours most days.
Travel time: A 45 minute ferry ride from Cairns Marina.
Price: Ferry tickets cost $82 return per adult, and can be purchased here.
Check out my detailed Fitzroy Island Guide for everything you need to know about this beautiful Island!
A trip up to Cape Trib will give you the ultimate Far North Queensland experience, with both the rainforest and the reef within easy reach. The experience starts at the Daintree River crossing, where a barge will take you across and transport you right into the middle of the rainforest. Once in Cape Tribulation there are endless things to do, including rainforest walks, creeks and swimming holes, and trips out to the reef.
The area is quite off the grid, with limited reception and only a few restaurants and shops. I recommend that you buy supplies in Mossman before you go up and bring a map.
Travel time: A 2 and a half hour drive.
Price: A return barge pass will cost $31 for a car and can be bought at the crossing.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
This unique railway winds its way through the lush green Wet Tropics, one of the oldest rainforests on earth. The journey begins in Cairns, and ends at the Kuranda Village. The Village is home to boutique shops, a butterfly sanctuary, Koala Gardens, Bird World and walking trails. Trains depart every day at 8:30am and 9:30 am.
Kuranda also has a skyrail rainforest railway, which offers a birds eye experience of the rainforest. The cable car glides above the rainforest, passing over the Barron Gorge National Park.
Travel Time: 2 hour train ride.
Price: $76 per adult return. Tickets can be booked online here.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a wonder of the natural world, and is the largest living organism on earth. It is an absolute must do Cairns day trip! There are many tours available, from large boats that go out to pontoons, to small group tours that zip out on a tiny boat.
The reef will blow you away no matter which tour you choose, but there a few things to consider. Research how many people will be on the tour, how much time in the water you will get, how long it will take to get out onto the reef, and if food and beverages are included.
Quicksilver tours which depart from Cairns are a great popular option. This boat cruise moors onto an activity platform on the outer reef. Here you can snorkel, scuba dive, take a semi submersible tour and more.
If you are visiting Cape Tribulation then we highly recommended going with Ocean Safari. It is just a 25 minute trip out to either Mackay or Undine reef. The visibility is amazing, and is a well known area to spot turtles. We also saw a huge variety of hard and soft coral, rays, giant clams, star fish and of course a huge amount of colourful tropical fish.
Travel Time: 1.5 hours to the outer reef from Cairns or 25 minutes from Cape Tribulation.
Price: Quicksilver tours are $266 per adult for a full day tour, or Ocean Safari is $159 per adult for a half day.