While we had visited some of Australia's most gorgeous cities, we decided to spend our last weekend getting away from the urban life to soak in the incredible natural beauty of Cairns. Cairns can be a popular tourist hub and for good reason. Home to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is also full of lush rainforests, wide mountain ranges and a vibrant city.
Where We Stayed
Since we were saying goodbye to one of our favorite countries, we decided to treat ourselves for our last weekend and booked an AirBNB house. We stayed in a wonderful Bali styled home that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, the mountains, the city and the rainforest. The pool and outside lounge area was a perfect place to relax after a long day of activities..and we definitely took advantage of that!
How to Get Around
We had hired a car when we first arrived in Australia and road-tripped all the way from Melbourne to Cairns. Since many of the things we wanted to do in Cairns required a long drive, we would suggest hiring a car for just a few days and truly taking advantage of it. We went through Alamo Car Rentals and got a small car perfect for us both. The great part about having your own car is that everything is on your time. You don't have to spend an unnecessarily long amount of time somewhere just because it's on your tour's itinerary.
One of the best parts about Cairns is it's access to the Great Barrier Reef. Though visiting and experiencing the Reef should most definitely be at the top of your list of things to do here, there are plenty more places around Cairns that deserve a visit.
Kuranda National Park
Not too far from the city is the Kuranda National Park. There are many ways to see the park through walking and biking paths, just be sure to dress appropriately since your bound to find the bike path to be quite a work out. There is a unique rock slide in the park, so pack your bathing suit and slide down to the fresh water pools!
A bit north of Cairns you will find the beautiful small town of Port Douglas. If you can stay a night or two, we definitely suggest doing so. You can spend time swimming at it's beautiful and sandy Four Mile Beach or go for a walk around the luxurious marina. There are also daily cruises and tours departing Port Douglas daily that head to the Great Barrier Reef.
Daintree National Park
This stunning location is a must. The Daintree Rainforest sits on the northeastern coast of Queensland and is more than 139 million years old, making it the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforest in the world! At 460sq miles, the Daintree is also the largest tropical rainforest in Australia.
It is about a 2 hour drive north of Cairns and to get to the park, you have to board a ferry with your car. Now it's important to mention that this is no ordinary ferry with cushioned seats and a bar that serves snacks and refreshments. To keep the eco vibes going and because of natural preservation laws, there has never been a bridge built across the Daintree River. So the ferry is essentially a raft that takes you fifteen minutes across dangers crocodile waters before you continue on your journey. Once you get across the river, consider yourself officially off the grid. Service is non existent, electricity is solar powered and there are very limited shops and services.
The windy dirt roads cut through the rainforest. The sky disappears above a lush canopy and you are surrounded by a sea of green leaves and ancient ferns older than your great great grandparents.
Whether you want to embark on a hike or walk through the mangroves, you will learn an incredible amount of these complex ecosystems. There are three raised boardwalks that you can stop at and wander through the rainforest. The Marrjda Boardwalk is a 45 minute loop through the mangrove forest which is what we did. You can also talk a wall on the Jindalba and Dubiji boardwalk if you have the time on your way to Cape Tribulation.
The Alexandra Lookout point looks out to the Daintree River emptying into the sea and visibility of the beautiful shades of the reef.
Some of the best Cape Tribulation things to do involve the many wonderful beaches of the region. Cow Bay is a beautiful beach with the rainforest coming right down.
Part of the Daintree National Park, Cape Tribulation is where the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef meet and is the only place in the world where the UNESCO World Heritage Sites collide aka "Rainforest Meets Reef". Always be alert for crocodiles roaming the beaches...there have been a few accidents in the past! If you're obsessed with crocodiles like we are, look into booking a river tour. Sightings of wild crocs are not always guaranteed, but the boats can take you along the river and spotters will point out massive groups of crocodiles along the shore.
Behana Gorge Waterfall
We like to think of this special place as our secret spot and what locals call "The Cairns Hike in Paradise". It's a waterfall at the end of a long 45 minute hike uphill into the famous Cairns Pyramid mountains.
When you first arrive there, it looks like an abandoned parking lot for a closed off construction zone. Go through the restricted area and walk along the rainforest to one of the best spots in Cairns. There are many small creeks and waterholes that you will notice along the walk but soon enough you'll see white water rapids, waterfalls and calm fresh water swimming holes. We had this spot all to ourselves and got to spend the whole day there. It was only after hours of swimming and free floating in the water that we realized a massive eel had been enjoying the water!
Cairns is one of the most visited cities in Australia every year. Even though we only had a weekend to spend in Cairns, we managed to explore two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, eat out at some of Australia's most authentic authentic dining establishments, and visit the city’s best neighboring towns.