If you’re heading to Cairns, you already know you’re lucky.
After all, where else can you roll out of bed and face the day in a singlet and thongs while the rest of the country shivers through winter? Aside from the weather and the city’s great restaurants, attractions, clubs and shopping, here are five of the best day trips from Cairns that will introduce you to the incredible beauty of the wider Tropical North Queensland region.
The ‘Village in the Rainforest’ is exactly what it says on the tin: a charming village nestled within the lush World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics rainforest. Whether you arrive on the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway, by road up the winding range, or on the world-renowned Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Kuranda is a destination in its own right — or a great stopping off point on the way to the Tablelands.
The township is compact and easy to explore, but brimming with attractions of the retail and natural variety. You’ll easily fill in a few hours exploring the markets, shops and wildlife attractions, which include fabulous Birdworld, the serene Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and the Koala Gardens. If you’ve got time, take a scenic boat trip on the river (crocs ahoy!) with The Kuranda Riverboat or head over to see the majestic Barron Falls.
The Atherton Tablelands are characterised by a spectacular undulating landscape, which encompasses some of Queensland’s most iconic natural attractions. They include the volcanic crater lakes of Eacham and Barrine, the Curtain Fig Tree, Lake Tinaroo and a circuit of spectacular waterfalls. The myriad botanical species and unique wildlife of the Tablelands provide endless fodder for nature lovers, while for foodies, its renown as the food bowl of the region has given rise to numerous gourmet food and wine trail tours.
A little further afield at the Herberton Historic Village, you’ll discover a rich trove of relics dating back to the 1880s.
Experience the splendour of North Queensland in all its magnificent glory in one place in the Wooroonooran National Park — a microcosm (although at 800 square kilometres, perhaps not so micro) of head-swivelling natural beauty. Wooroonooran is home to the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, which takes you on a gentle stroll through a panoscape of clouds and rainforest canopy. You can also feed your soul and senses with a plunge into the crystal clear waters of Josephine Falls, Nandroya Falls, Behana Gorge and the Boulders.
If you’ve got the energy for hiking you can venture along circuitous trails through ancient rainforests, and scale the dizzy heights of Walsh’s Pyramid or Queensland’s highest mountain — Bartle Frere.
In the ancient, complex eco-system of the Daintree National Park, magic happens where the rainforest and the reef meet down by the sea. This vast protected region is a sacred Indigenous site and home to a mind-blowing array of some of the oldest plant and animal species on Earth.
There are numerous day tours and guided experiences designed to showcase the best of the rainforest and immerse you in its splendour. Possible activities include a visit to the original settlement of Daintree Village, crossing the river to Cape Tribulation on the Daintree River Ferry, or seeking adventure on the spine-jarring 4WD Bloomfield Track. You can explore the lush surroundings on guided boardwalk trails or soak up the solitude on pristine beaches. However you see it, Daintree National Park is an experience unlike any other on the planet.
At the end of what’s consistently voted one of the most beautiful drives in the world (and you can call in for an encounter with the less-than-friendly locals at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures along the way), Port Douglas is the jewel in the crown, the cat that got the cream, and the icing on the cake with a cherry on top! You’ll run out of clichés well before you run out of appreciation for this jaunty little seaside town that’s been winning the hearts of Cairns locals and visitors to the region for decades.
Beyond the obvious delights of Macrossan Street’s boutiques and the colour of the weekly local craft markets, you can experience the traditional Kuku Yalanji aboriginal culture on Indigenous tours, cruise out to Low Isles and the Outer Reef, and dazzle your taste buds in award-winning restaurants and cosy cafes.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best day trips from Cairns? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.