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Port Review: Cairns, Queensland

Joanna Hall

It used to have a bit of reputation as a backpacker haven, but Cairns has evolved into a quite sophisticated smaller city, and has enough attractions to prove it.


Cairns has been called many things through its history but undoubtedly it’s the “gateway to North Queensland” and a major hub for visitors to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the region’s ancient rainforests including the Daintree. The city itself is somewhat laid-back tropical place, and has grown from a mosquito infested mangrove swamp to world famous port destination. It’s also a unique and attractive city popular with the wealthy “boatie" set among its many new admirers. Devotees compare its charms to the oh-so elegant South of France, but while that may be debatable, it is true that the capital of the tropical north has developed a charm and distinct sense of sophistication.

The Facts

Location: On the far north east coast of Australia in Queensland.

Language: English.

Currency: Australian dollar. 

Docking/anchoring: The Port of Cairns is a five minute walk to the CBD and can handle small to medium ships. Larger ships anchor off nearby Yorkeys Nob and tender/bus into the city.

Transport: Taxis are usually waiting outside the small cruise ship terminal, and sometimes shuttles are offered into the city centre.

Don’t Miss

The centrepiece of the city is The Esplanade which is a recreation area along the ocean front and popular with walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, bird watchers, and people watchers. It’s also where a slew of restaurants and cafes beckon both locals and visitors, along with the 4,800 sqm salt water swimming lagoon which has become the focal point of daytime activity in Cairns.

Kuranda is a quaint village west of Cairns in the rainforest and a Train and Skyrail tour is one of the most popular ways of getting there. The Kuranda Scenic Train takes about 90 minutes and winds through the Kuranda Range and past Barron Falls, and on the return you can take the Skyrail which is basically a gondola which runs over the top of the rainforest canopy. This tour can be done in reverse order as well.

Best Photo Op

The Scenic Train stops at Barron Falls overlook which offers the best views of the stunning Barron Falls and during the summer wet season, it’s usually in full flow and visually stunning.


The city has little souvenir shops scattered throughout the city centre selling furry kangaroos and koalas, Aboriginal art, boomerangs and didgeridoos, and part of the fun of the Cairns shopping experience is working out which of it is junk, and which is worth the money. There’s also the usual printed T-shirts and postcards, but if you keep walking the streets back from the Esplanade you’ll find some cool little local boutiques and the odd designer stores by Vuitton and Gucci etc. Kuranda Village holds markets Wednesday to Sunday and this is where you can pick up indigenous arts and crafts.

Food And Drink

The central section of The Esplanade is wall-to-wall restaurants which do breakfast, lunch and dinner and most are pretty good. For really cheap and fun options, the Cairns Night Markets (71-75 The Esplanade) are open from 5pm to 11pm and there are dozens of takeaway joints offering Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Italian food. The pubs and bars of Cairns are pretty lively even mid-week because of the backpacker population and keep your eyes peeled for happy hour specials.

Pick of the Excursions  

A snorkelling or diving trip out on the Great Barrier Reef is one of those essential Australian experiences and the beauty of Cairns is that is one of the closest cities to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Green and Frankland Island are a short catamaran ride away and are both ideal for an easy exploration of the beautiful reef and some charters also head to the Outer Reef where fixed pontoons make a comfortable base to dive into the deep blue. 

Tropical North Queensland is the only place in the world where two of the most complex ecosystems, the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage listed tropical rainforest, meet in grand style and a trip to the Daintree is another iconic Australian experience. The 135 million year old rainforest is the most ancient and primitive in the world and day trips can also take in Mossman Gorge, Port Douglas and Hartley’s Creek Crocodile Farm.



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  1. Posted by on 30th Sep 2018 Verified Customer

    Great POC 5 Star Review

    We took a cruise from Cairns and spent a couple of days there beforehand. First time visitors (we're from England but living in Oz now) and we loved the place although it was very humid! My teens want to go back again, as they loved the water sports.

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