Are you looking for an insider’s adventure travel guide for the best outdoor activities in Cairns?
As part of our Adventure City Guide series, Charli from Wanderlusters shares with you her expert insider tips on the top adventure and outdoor activities to do in Cairns; including how to get there and costs.
Why visit Cairns for adventure?
Cairns sits on the north east coast of the state of Queensland. Known as the place where the rainforest meets the reef the area provides a wealth of activities for the adventurous traveller. With its warm climate and laid back vibe the city is an excellent base to explore Australia’s tropical north.
We spent two months living in Cairns although we’d only planned on visiting for a few days. Camping each night in our Winnebago we utilised the city’s excellent network of bicycle lanes to discover all that is on offer.
Outdoor Activities in Cairns
Scuba Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and it would be impossible to visit the city without hopping aboard a boat to see first-hand the beauty of the world’s most extensive coral reef eco system. For the adventurous traveller the only way to experience the reef is to join one of the liveaboard dive boats that take guests out to the best dive sites on the reef.
The famous Cod Hole, Steve’s Bommie and Pixie Gardens all provide world class dives and give a brilliant insight into the diversity of life on the reef.
If you’re a more experienced diver or wish to gain experience fast join Mike Ball’s 7 day Coral Sea Safari and see the best of the Great Barrier Reef as well as the epic shark dive 150km from the shore at Osprey Reef. This five star liveaboard is world renowned for ensuring you see the best the reef has to offer.
Jump in at the Cod Hole and dive with fish the same size as you!
Brush up on your macro photography skills at Steve Bommie where you’ll spot nudibranchs, frog fish and sea horses. You’ll need nerves of steel for the shark feed dive out at Osprey Reef. Descending to fifteen metres your heart will race as you watch their shadows appear from below anticipating a meal. As they frenzy around you’ll need a steady hand to take a photo as they swim inches from your mask. In our opinion this trip is the only way to literally submerse yourself in an unforgettable Great Barrier Reef adventure.
Getting to the Great Barrier Reef
You can jump aboard any of the liveaboard boats in Cairns so no transportation is required.
Mike Ball offers three, four and seven night trips. Note that you must opt for either the four or seven day trip to experience the shark feed. Prices start at $1600 AUD for the three night trip but cheaper rates can be negotiated a week before departure.
SAVVY TIP – We secured a placement on the Mike Ball Expedition Volunteer Programme and worked as dive crew on the boat for two weeks. This meant that we experienced the seven night Coral Sea Safari twice in exchange for two weeks of unpaid employment on the boat.Averaging three dives a day this is a brilliant way to experience the reef on a budget.
Note: To work on the dive deck you must be a certified Dive Master however there are opportunities for Open Water divers to volunteer in the galley.
For more information read our trip report.
White Water Rafting
For adrenaline junkies the opportunity to get off the beaten track and onto some white water is always met with enthusiasm. The run off from the rainforest and mountain ranges that surround Cairns provides a number of great stretches of river to explore. The Tully River is known throughout Australia and New Zealand for its exceptional rafting and encompasses classes one through five.
Along with the white water rafting a day trip to the River Tully includes the opportunity for rock jumping, raft surfing and rapid swimming. With memorable spots along the stretch of forty five rapids like ‘Alarm Clock’ named because it provides those who pass a soggy wakeup call, and ‘Stair Case’ a nail biting drop, the Tully makes for a first rate adventure from your base in Cairns.
When booking your white water adventure you will be advised of a collection point for your journey south to the Tully River. The transport is included in the cost of your rafting experience.
Cairns Rafting offer collection and return to your accommodation, a lunch time BBQ and five hour rafting experience for $195 AUD
SAVVY TIP – Visit the numerous tour desks in the town and barter for the best rate you can. Booking direct with the company is not always the cheapest option. The tour desks receive commission and they often give extra discounts to secure a sale.
If you’re strapped for cash take a day trip to the freshwater paradise of Crystal Cascades. Located just twenty minutes west of the city this area is known to locals and tourists alike and is a popular place to cool off in the heat of the day.
With no entry fees this is one of the most affordable paradise retreats you’ll ever find.
With numerous waterfalls and swimming holes set in stunning rainforest surroundings it’s a great place to explore or relax and soak up some sun. There are opportunities for the more adventurous to take part in some cliff jumping. A short walk up the cliff from the largest waterhole will take you to ‘No Fear’ point, the highest part of the cliff face from which you can launch yourself into the water below.
While not far from Cairns there are no public transport options to Crystal Cascades.
We recommend hiring a car which can be done for around $35/day. If you’re considering taking a taxi note there is intermittent mobile reception at the falls and you may find yourself unable to call for a ride home. Drive to the suburb of Redlynch, and simply follow the signs to Crystal Cascades. From the Red Beret Pub, the swimming hole is about 10 kilometres away.
There is no entry fee to the falls however be sure to take supplies and sun cream as there are no shops close by.
SAVVY TIP – Chat to other travellers about visiting the falls, they may have their own transport and be interested in experiencing the beauty of the falls themselves. Leave a wanted advert on the noticeboards in hostels and caravan parks advertising for travel buddies to share the cost of car rental and fuel.
Local Secret Adventure in Cairns
If you’ve spent your day laid by the lagoon and are in need of something to get your blood pumping pop down to the esplanade for an evening exercise class. The best part about this programme is that all the classes are free. All you need to do is arrive at the esplanade in the centre of the city equipped with the motivation to burn some calories and away you go.
Choose from yoga, pilates, beach volley ball, aqua aerobics, bootcamp and zumba and get that booty in shape for free.
Best time of the year to visit Cairns for adventure?
Cairns provides adventurers with activities throughout the year however be aware that the Minkie Whale migratory season is from May to August and you can scuba dive with them aboard Mike Ball’s Minke Whale Expedition in June and July.
Temperatures in northern Queensland can also reach 40°C during the summer months and the area can be hit with thunderstorms and cyclones December to March. If visiting during this time be vigilant about applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and always carry water.
The reason I love Cairns for adventure is because…
The city is nestled in between the aquatic splendour of the Great Barrier Reef and the vibrant canopy of the surrounding rainforest that covers many of the coastal mountain ranges. Both provide endless opportunity for exploration and would keep any explorer happy for the duration of their stay.
And once you’ve explored the natural beauty of the surrounding environment you can experience the cities thriving nightlife and relaxed beach vibe. Sometimes a cool beer and a sea view is just what you need after a day of adventure.
In 2010 Charli & Ben made the decision to live a life less ordinary and six months later embarked on an undefined period of travel. Enforcing no restrictions on their itinerary they have chosen to travel at a slow pace and incorporate house sitting assignments in each country they visit.
With no time limit restricting their experience they are content to continue exploring the world as digital nomads. From backpacking through Central America to road tripping around Australia they embrace each and every opportunity for adventure.
How to Make the Most of Your Travels
Traveling is a very liberating and fun experience. Not only do you get to see some incredible sights, taste some amazing foods, and hear sounds you might never have heard before, but you also get to know the people who live in such exotic places. There are 7.6 billion people in the world, and we have created a complex, fascinating collection of cultures that truly need to be experienced to be understood. There is so much potential when you travel, but you need to make the most of your time abroad in order to appreciate it truly. Staying at a hotel the whole time won’t let you learn about places like Egypt, Israel and Peru, it will only give you a taste of what another resort is like. To truly make the most of your travels, you need to:
- Get Out There: Taking Tours
If you aren’t comfortable jetting off on your own, that’s okay! There are tours and packages available that will ensure you have a safe and comfortable trip. For instance, you can extend your South Africa trip and take all-inclusive tours to Israel. This means you get a return flight, your hotel rooms booked, and your food covered all on top of great guides to show you around the most ancient of cities. These kinds of tours allow you to experience the world with the comfort and peace of mind that comes when an experienced travel agency has arranged everything.
- Explore at Your Own Pace: Going Off on Your Own
When you’re experienced enough with traveling the area, you can then go off on your own. When you do, opt for slow travel. This means that instead of trying to see all the top sights in a week, you stay for a longer period of time and explore a smaller area at greater length. Not only is this slower travel better for the environment, but it’s also better for your health, and you’ll gain more insight from your trip.
- Do Your Research
Many activities will have to be booked in advance. Therefore, you’ll need to read up on the activities in advance, so you know the scams you should avoid and the best offers available to you. You should also read up on common dos and don’ts. For instance, you shouldn’t take cabs that aren’t arranged for you through your hotel.
- Document It!
Memories only last so long before they begin to fade, which is why you need to document your travels. Take photos, video, and most of all, keep a journal. This can be on paper or on your phone, but write down everything that you have done that day. Write down what you’ve done and what you felt. This will be the best souvenir that you can take home with you.
Traveling is an amazing experience, but you need to do your research so that you can find the best tours, key information, and safety tips. The more prepared you are and the more you know, the more you’ll get out of your journey.
Travel Photography – Most Photogenic Places in New Zealand
If there is a place in the world no nature enthusiast should miss no doubt the South Island of New Zealand it is. The landscapes there are simply breathtaking, so diverse you can’t imagine such a small country has it all. Throughout this wonderful island are stunning beaches and thrilling waterfalls, turquoise lakes and snow-capped mountains; the list is literally endless. Although so small you only need a few hours to traverse, you a likely to spend days in the blissful amazement of this country.
Take your camera with you. This is a place to remember through the rest of your lifetime. In that regard, below are the most photogenic places on The South Island of New Zealand.
Found on Koekohe Beach, these strange-looking, large spherical concretions rank among nature’s oddest and astonishing sights. Eroded from the shoreline, some of these boulders are up to 2 meters in diameter. The best time to view these natural wonders is at sunset, and some visitors say they look like dragon eggs waiting to hatch.
Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
At the top end of the South Island, you’ll find an amazing geological occurrence. The Marlborough Sounds are a collection of sunken river valleys, where the ocean has reclaimed the land. The stunning contrast of thick forested hills sinking steeply into the ocean creates some wonderful opportunities for photography.
Church of the Good Shepherd
One of the most visited historical sites in New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shepherd is located in Mackenzie Country area. Located right within the international dark sky reserve in, the placement of the church means you can capture some of the most amazing astrophotographical shots imaginable. Any astrophotography enthusiast visiting must see this little chapel, located in the famous Tekapo region.
St Clair’s Beach – Dunedin
St. Clair’s is a stunningly beautiful sandy beach, one of the many sweeping along Dunedin’s eastern suburbs. As well as being a highly popular surfing spot, St. Clair’s Beach is home to tourist’s bars, café’s and relaxing saltwater outdoor heated swimming pools. At the end of the beach stand old wooden poles, and there is most photographers’ favourite spot.
The Caitlins region is an absolute delight for nature photographers, with countless beautiful locations to visit. One of the best in the region is the Purakaunui Waterfalls. Found at the southern tip of the country, the crystal cascade of water contrasts beautifully with the mossy green rock and lush vegetation it cuts through.
Lake Pukaki, with its amazingly ice blue 180 square kilometer water expanse provides breathtaking colour combinations across a backdrop of snowy mountain ranges. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d suddenly ended up in the Canadian ranges as the scenery is very similar.
Lupin Flowers in Tekapo
On December, during the summer’s peak, pretty beautiful lupin flowers buoyantly bloom for up to six weeks, offering a very fantastic view for nature kids. Each summer these flowers turn into startling bright colours, calling masses of photographers and tourists. Mostly found at the beautiful shores of Lake Tekapo as well as the nearing zones, these wonder flowers flourish best in the first two weeks of the month.
Hikers have a reason to smile whenever they visit the Southern Island of New Zealand. Mount Roy is the place that, besides offering an iconic viewpoint of the Lake Wanaka, stands out as a wonderful area for exciting day hikes. Up there, you get amazing views to the landscape below, which savvy photographers cannot miss.
Hooker Glacier Lake
At the foot of Mount Cook is the Hooker Glacier Lake, an all-year-round stunner you cannot afford to miss while visiting this incredible country. However, most experts recommend winter as the most suitable time for photo taking.
Planted at the centre of Glacier Country and Westland National Park, this lake provides a pretty sight. It was formed 14,000 years ago through glaciations. Its surrounding is rich in ancient native forests that are also a favourite phenomenon for photographers. Lake Matheson mirrors Mount Tasman and Mount Cook—two of the highest peaks in New Zealand.
Milford Sound receives quite much rainfall. The annual estimates are up to an amazing 6.8 meters, making it among the very wettest spots of New Zealand. Due to such high rains, the area is adorned with pretty spectacular waterfalls, many of them cascading into the photo famous fjord on wet days. Milford Sound is found in the Fiordland National Park.
Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall
Anyone would be excited to see and photograph the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall. It is the largest waterfall in the land, standing at 131 meters. It is surely worthy visiting, but remember to take rain jacket. You likely will get wet.
As suggests the name, this is a truly remarkable place. Featuring a rare scene of mountain range, the Remarkables are located next to Queenstown. Moreover, around this top photogenic zone is one of the finest ski fields the island boasts of.
Bennett’s Bluff, Glenorchy Road
Bennett’s Bluff is a popular viewpoint along one of the impressive drives through New Zealand. Glenorchy Road runs from Queenstown to Glenorchy. This particular viewpoint impressively overlooks the Pig and Pigeon Islands, as well as Lake Wakatipu.
The Wanaka Tree
The Wanaka is a symbolic willow tree located off Lake Wanaka shore line. It is claimed to be among the most photographed trees the world over, making it one of the most photogenic places in The Southern Island of New Zealand.
Franz Josef Glacier Valley
This is one of the major attractions on the island’s west coast, an ice glacier descending 12 kilometres. It starts in the high peaks coming down through rainforest to a mere 300 meters above the sea level.
Despite being a small country, New Zealand is one of the most exciting places to visit in the world. You cannot finish in a day or even two, for every corner you go, you will want to take a photo.
Summer Events to check out in Surfers Paradise
The weather is already heating up on the Gold Coast and everyone is getting ready for some hot days on the beach. Christmas is just around the corner and with it all the big summer events and festivals that happen at this time of year. Surfers Paradise is at the centre of it all and makes a great base for exploring the Gold Coast and attending the events on the Gold Coast’s summer schedule. There is plenty of places to stay in Surfers Paradise, so book yourself a room and check out some of these fantastic summer events.
Australian PGA Championship
Pacific Pines Resort is one of the premier golf courses in Australia. The country’s biggest golf tournament will make its way here from the 30th of November until the 3rd of December, where the best golfers from Australia and overseas will compete for the title. This is a must attend event for golfers, and there will be plenty of food and entertainment on offer across the four days.
The foreshore in Surfers Paradise comes alive every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday night, with over 100 market stalls filling up the esplanade. The iconic Beachfront Markets will continue throughout the summer and provides the perfect opportunity to get out and about on those warm summer nights, browse the stalls for some unique buys, and then head out on the town for dinner.
Christmas in Surfers Paradise
Experience Christmas in true Aussie style by attending the popular Christmas in Surfers Paradise event that fills up Cavill Mall from the 13th – 24th of December. The entire mall is transformed into a festive wonderland, Surfers style. Even Santa himself will be wearing boardies and travelling in a surf boat sleigh. The kids will love getting to visit Santa in the mall, and the whole event ends with the popular Carols on the Beach on the 23rd of December. Where else in the world can you experience Christmas Carols on the beach on a hot summer’s night?
New Year’s Carnival
Surfers Paradise is one of the best places to celebrate the New Year in the country. The New Year’s Carnival happens on the foreshore of Surfers Paradise across five days from the 27th of December until the 1st of January. It will be one big celebration with lots of rides and fun filled activities, music and more. On New Year’s Eve, you can enjoy massive fireworks displays over the water, with three different displays lighting up the skies above the Gold Coast. There will even be an earlier fireworks display for the little ones. This is definitely the place to be to bring in the New Year.
Magic Millions Carnival
One of the first big events to check out in 2018 will be the extravagant Magic Millions Carnival. On from the 7th until the 13th of January, the Magic Millions Carnival is the premier event of the summer horse racing season. This is a $10 Million horse race and it is sure to be a huge event, with all the glitz and glamour and socialising that goes with it. On the 9th of January, head to the Surfers Paradise Foreshore for the Barrier Draw, where you can watch the horses on the sand and enjoy food and beverages from the stalls. The big race day will be held on the 13th of January.
Surfing is huge on the Gold Coast and one of the best surf spots is at Burleigh Heads. The Burleigh Pro has grown to become one of the biggest surfing competitions in Australia and will see some of the world’s top surfers compete for the title. Local surfers and visitors should definitely attend this one. The Burleigh Pro will be held from the 25th – 28th of January.
One of the more unique and interesting events to check out this summer will be the 2018 Sand Safari. This arts festival focuses on Australia’s talented sand sculptors, who will compete in the Australian Sand Sculpting Championships. These sand artists carve out incredible, often life sized sculptures entirely of sand, and you will often be truly awed by what they are able to create. The main sculpture competition takes place on the beach along the Surfers Paradise foreshore, however this is a big event from the 2nd to the 25th of February, and you will be able to find special sand sculpture exhibits all over Surfers Paradise.
Summer of Surf
The Summer of Surf is a massive event which will see the country’s best Ironmen and Ironwomen compete in a gruelling six discipline event across six rounds, including the highlighted IronMan and IronWoman competitions. These athletes are the epitome of endurance, and the competition will hit Surfers Paradise for round five of the competition on the 3rd and 4th of February.
The Village Markets
Burleigh Heads is one of the most picturesque and laid back places on the Gold Coast and well worth heading to for a few hours. A good time to visit is during the twice monthly Village Markets which have become an integral part of the Burleigh atmosphere. This popular and laid back market has a beachy, artsy feel to it, and you will find all kinds of unique buys here from the many stalls on offer. Street food stalls are also a big thing here so you can sample some delicious delicacies while browsing the stalls. Finish the day by relaxing on the beach, or sit down for a drink at the Burleigh Surf Club.
Whether you’re looking for a destination for a family holiday or just wanting a quick getaway to unwind this summer, Surfers Paradise is a great choice. With so much happening from cultural night markets to world class sporting events, you are sure to find something of interest in this iconic Gold Coast location.
Meet Cole and Adela
We have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...
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