Wedged between the Great Barrier Reef and ancient rainforests, the small city of Cairns, Australia is big on attractions. Adventure travel abounds, providing the perfect contrast to relaxing on sun-drenched beaches. From island hopping to bungee jumping and an award-winning dining scene, this is a balmy holiday haven for travelers of all tastes.

Cairns is located in tropical North Queensland, with its own international airport. This is an easy place for independent travel, via quiet roads lined with sugar cane fields. However, local tour companies will also ensure you see the top sights, both on and off the famous reef.

Luxuriate at Palm Cove

Cairns is surrounded by pretty beaches. However, Palm Cove offers its own style of barefoot luxury, as a hot spot for spa and wellness retreats. To go with the theme, the beach village hosts a number of upmarket restaurants, as well as boutique shops and galleries.

Exclusive Double Island is visible from the palm-fringed beach and close enough to reach by kayak in about 30 minutes. You’ll cross over Haycock Reef to spot eagle rays and sea turtles. Daily buses or shuttles get you to Palm Cove from Cairns City in half an hour and you’ll find water sports operators on Williams Esplanade.

Explore the Great Barrier Reef

There are plenty of ways to discover the world’s largest coral reef, with many breathtaking sites within a 60-minute boat trip from Cairns. Dive and snorkel tours, for both professionals and beginners, get you up-close and personal to over 6,000 magical underwater species.

From liveaboard cruises to day trips, tour companies like Quicksilver Cruises and Great Adventures offer equipment, reef education, comfortable vessels, and onboard dining. If you prefer to stay dry, glass-bottomed boat tours and fishing charters depart daily from Cairns Marlin Marina and the Reef Fleet Terminal. 

Raft the Barron River

Barron Falls, Kuranda (Australia)

The Barron River offers scenic whitewater rafting through World Heritage-listed rainforest. Rapids range from class II to III, with dips, canyons, and falls to thrill beginners and families. Half the fun is discovering the names of upcoming rapids, like Kitchen Sink and Cheese Churn.

Just a 20-minute drive from town, the Barron Gorge National Park is an easy day trip, for both rafting and hiking through forest trails. Most rafting tours leave in the afternoon and include hotel transfers, from operators like Raging Thunder Adventures and Foaming Fury.

Hang Out at the Esplanade

Whether it’s swimming, strolling, dining or catching some rays, holiday action takes place on the Esplanade. Cairns Lagoon is the star attraction, with a sparkling swimming pool located on the waterfront amid harbor and mountain views. Picnic tables, exercise equipment, and playgrounds dot the grounds, giving it a social atmosphere year-round.

Everything from quaint cafes to takeaway shops, bars, and fine-dining seafood restaurants line the road. For shopping, the Night Markets kick off each night, with over 70 retail stores. As the area is a walker’s paradise, you’ll find everything within a short distance of most hotels. 

Bathe at Babinda Boulders

Steeped in Aboriginal legend, Babinda Boulders is the spot to cool off in the tropical heat. Pristine water runs from Mount Bartle Frere, swirls over Babinda Creek’s giant granite boulders, and pools to create refreshing swimming holes. The most revered is the Devil’s Pool, complete with its own tragic myth of lost love.

The smooth drive to Babinda takes about an hour from Cairns and encompasses mountain, rainforest, and farm views on a spectacular road trip. You can also discover the boulders with the help of a local tour company, like Barefoot Tours. 

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