Cairns: The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

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As the heart of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, Cairns pulses with energy. More than 600 tours a day make the most of the year-round outdoor lifestyle while world-class sporting events and festivals embrace the cosmopolitan city’s vibrant tropical culture.  Energized by nature, Cairns is the place to soak up the tropical lifestyle.
Cairns was named for Sir William Wellington Cairns, and officially founded in 1876, following the discovery of gold in the surrounding area. However, Captain James Cook had discovered the area more than a century earlier, on his first voyage of discovery in 1770. While Aboriginal inhabitants had lived well in the rainforest and from the sea, immigrants found the land harsh and unforgiving. The dangerous reefs, dense vegetation, debilitating climate and advent of disease took their toll. For these reasons, it was not until gold fever lured hundreds of thousands of fortune hunters to Palmer River in 1872 and the region became developed.
Cairns was far from secure as a future city until the railway was built.  The engineering feat required to build the railway up the steep inclines to the tableland was enormous. The railway allowed for the opening up of the rich agricultural lands over the ranges.  This provided a livelihood for the pioneers after the decline of gold. The city remained a low-key place until after World War II, when visitors for pleasure started arriving. Tourism was cemented as the town’s major industry.  In 1984 the opening of the international airport and the subsequent listing of World Heritage areas helped this transition.

Explore the Great Barrier Reef

One of the top reasons people visit Cairns, Australia is to experience the Great Barrier Reef.  Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is an exotic playground just waiting to be explored by snorkelers and scuba divers. The amazing array of marine wildlife and exotic coral reef colors cannot be found elsewhere in the world.  Cairns offers the ideal departure point for day trips to see the outer Great Barrier Reef.  Some of the most exotic and rare scuba diving and snorkeling spots in the world are a short distance from the city of Cairns and Port Douglas, courtesy of dozens of reef tour companies.

Botanical Gardens

The Cairns Botanic Gardens are a tropical paradise where you can explore the beauty of tropical plants, relax in stunning surroundings and learn about tropical flora and horticulture. The Cairns Botanic Gardens are renowned for having one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. Today, the recreational reserve has blossomed into several botanic spaces that include Flecker Gardens, The Rainforest Boardwalk, Conservation Walk, and more.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway  

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is an amazing experience over Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest Canopy. The Skyrail experience is a must do attraction spanning miles over pristine rainforest.  You can explore the wonders of an ancient tropical rainforest and learn about one of the most diverse areas on earth. Gliding just feet above the canopy in comfortable six-person gondola cabins, the Skyrail journey immerses you in an intimate natural experience where you’ll see, hear, smell and become part of the tropical environment.  Accessible by Car, Coach, or Taxi in about 15 minutes from Cairns.
cairns: gateway to the great barrier reef

Walk the Esplanade Boardwalk

Don’t miss the Esplanade Boardwalk. The Cairns Esplanade has been a focal point for the city since the first explorers dragged themselves through the mangrove swamps. The esplanade street as we know it today, was the first to be surveyed in Cairns in October 1876.
The boardwalk section goes from about the Holiday Inn south almost to the Lagoon. At intervals along the boardwalk there are displays that explain some of the history of Cairns, Aboriginal traditions, and the flora and fauna. From about 4.30 pm onward the Esplanade becomes a hive of activity. You’ll see people jogging along the sea front, working out at the various fitness stations, having picnics on the grass, taking their children to the various playgrounds or simply strolling along the Esplanade.

Trek the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest

Visit the oldest lowland rain forest on Earth, 135 million years old, to glimpse rare animals like tree-living kangaroos, rainforest dragons, colorful butterflies and prehistoric birds. The Daintree Cape Tribulation Rainforest in North Queensland is home to the most extensive range of rare plants and animals on earth.  Two hours north by car, do it as a day trip or stay in an eco-lodge.

Cairns Lagoon

The Cairns Lagoon is a hugely popular site on the Esplanade. It’s a vast 4-hectare outdoor swimming pool containing crystal clear seawater, complete with sandy beaches. It can comfortably accommodate 1000 swimmers at one time. The water is pumped in from the nearby Cairns Inlet and is filtered every three hours, ensuring that the water is crystal clear at all times. The lagoon is located on the Cairns Esplanade right next to the sea so you get magnificent views of the ocean beyond.

Crystal Cascades

Crystal Cascades is one of the most popular swimming holes among Cairns.  You won’t see a lot of tourists here, partly because there’s no public transport and the only way to get there is in your own car.  Crystal Cascades are a series of beautiful waterfalls and idyllic, croc-free swimming holes that locals would rather keep to themselves. From the car park, there’s a paved track that runs alongside the creek through dense rainforest. At five or six points along this track there are well-constructed steps leading down to the separate pools that make up Crystal Cascades. Drive to the suburb of Redlynch, and simply follow the signs to Crystal Cascades.

Cairns Tropical Zoo

Located on 6 hectares of tropical landscaped gardens, Cairns Tropical Zoo has the largest, most comprehensive wildlife collection in Tropical North Queensland.  This zoo offers an up-close wildlife experience with crocodiles and snakes, koala photo sessions and kangaroo feeding. Its Cairns Night Zoo experience includes a barbecue dinner and entertainment.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai is Australia’s most accessible venue to experience authentic Aboriginal Islander culture. The Park has been sharing the authentic culture and traditions of the local Djabugay people that goes back 40,000 years. Watch Indigenous performers bring the world’s oldest living culture to life through traditional dance, art and interactive demonstrations. There’s a dance theater, a gallery, boomerang- and spear-throwing demonstrations and turtle-spotting canoe rides.
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