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Cairns Cruises

About Cairns, Australia

Cairns, on the Coral Sea coast of northern Queensland, is the gateway to spectacular natural wonders, the famed Great Barrier Reef and the lush Daintree Rainforest among them. But it is also a destination in its own right, with an energetic vibe set against a tropical backdrop.

Some of Cairns’s original inhabitants were the indigenous Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people, whose imprint can still be seen today. The British arrived in the late 1800s and founded the city in 1876, naming it after the governor of Queensland. Cairns initially served the mining industry after a pair of lucrative discoveries: prospectors were turning over gold in the Hodgkinson and Palmer Rivers, and finding tin on the Atherton Tableland, a fertile plateau with heavy rainfall and rich volcanic soil. As settlers moved in seeking their fortunes, a vibrant agriculture developed, supplying sugarcane, dairy products, corn, fruit and tobacco to the young coastal community. Today, Cairns’s city center is home to many businesses and landmarks, but its location near the water also supplies stunning ocean views and world-class dining.

Cairns Lifestyle and Culture

Nature, in all its wild incarnations, sets the tone in and around Cairns. The great outdoors is revered here, attracting travelers from around the globe. Yet the city also maintains an intimate, cosmopolitan atmosphere. In the same day you can trek through the rainforest, bicycle along the beach and enjoy a five-course meal.

Cairns Sights and Landmarks

As in the rest of Australia, the people of Cairns exude a casual approach to daily life. Locals move at a relaxed pace more in tune with the natural world that surrounds them. Most visitors come to this area for the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system and biggest single structure built by living organisms. Explore this remarkably biodiverse area for a glimpse of various whale species, sea turtles, fish, frogs, birds and other sea life, including some endangered species. Diving and snorkeling day trips to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park depart from Cairns each morning. Daintree Rainforest, the oldest living rainforest on earth, is also one of the most unique. Tropical rainforest, eucalyptus, wetlands and mangroves harbor a wide array of wildlife. Enjoy walking trails, swimming holes, waterfalls, birdwatching and more throughout this complex ecosystem along the Daintree River. Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites meet at the bordering edges of the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

Immerse yourself in more natural beauty in Kuranda, in the fertile Atherton Tableland. Several nature walks and lookout points traverse this tropical rainforest, in addition to a wildlife rescue center, koala sanctuary and other reserves. At Birdworld Kuranda, hundreds of different birds fly overhead. For winged creatures of a smaller variety, perhaps explore the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary inside a rainforest aviary, also in Kuranda. Don’t miss the caterpillar breeding area. Closer to town, the northern beaches provide an excellent place to walk, bike or relax.

Cairns Entertainment and Activities

Visit the KickArts galleries at the Center of Contemporary Arts (CoCA) for displays of modern visual art. Two blocks away is the Cairns Regional Gallery; located in the beautiful 1930s former Public Office Building, it features indigenous art alongside local and international works. Both galleries feature impressive gift shops with a variety of items made by local artists. Just north of the city center, the Tanks Art Center in the Botanic Gardens is made up of three former World War II storage tanks. This performing arts complex offers everything from jazz and folk music to comedy, theater, dance and visual arts.

The Esplanade along Cairns Harbor is a top attraction. This boardwalk and shady recreational area features picnic areas, public art, volleyball courts, playgrounds, a skate plaza and live entertainment. But its main attraction is the lagoon. This huge manmade saltwater swimming pool with sandy shores is the perfect spot to relax after a day exploring the city. Restaurants, shops, cafés, galleries, bars and more line the boardwalk’s southern end.

Cairns Restaurants and Shopping

Most dining in Cairns is “island casual,” with no shortage of open air restaurants focusing on local seafood and produce. From budget-friendly to upscale, options abound in this tourist-friendly town.

Vivo Bar & Grill on the Esplanade is a reliable favorite for top-notch service, inventive dishes and gorgeous sea views. For bush-style Australian cuisine, try Ochre. Its elegant decor of natural wood and indigenous artwork pays homage to the Outback. Waterbar & Grill is the place for prime cuts of meat and a favorite among visitors and locals alike.

The Cairns Central Shopping Center, on top of the Central Railway Station, offers clothing, fashion accessories, and health and beauty. Alternatively, the Cairns Night Markets feature more than 70 stalls selling artisan goods, indigenous crafts, jewelry, souvenirs and food.