No journey to Australia is complete without a visit to the largest barrier reef in the world, and that in turn means no journey to Australia is complete without first stopping in Cairns. While the city itself is relatively small, the easy access it provides to the Great Barrier Reef, tropical beaches, and lush rainforests ensure that no visitor will come away unsatisfied.
Located on the east coast of Far North Queensland, Cairns is best accessed through major hubs such as Sydney or Brisbane, though direct flights from Asian hubs such as Tokyo, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, are also sometimes available. Keep an eye out. Be aware that due to Australia’s isolated location, the vast majority of flights to the continent will be expensive no matter when they are booked. If you’re planning a trip, sign up for deal alerts and start saving. Though it can be pricey, the trip is definitely worth it.
From hubs such as Sydney, direct flights are available to Cairns. Flying is the most efficient and cost-friendly option, though trains from Brisbane and rental cars are other potential options, depending on your itinerary. Cairns also has a plethora of accommodations to choose from, and it’s worth looking into discounted package deals with travel agencies if this is your main destination.
The Great Barrier Reef can be experienced in a variety of ways, all of which feature their own unique charms. By far the most popular activity on the reef is snorkeling. Tours generally take you to several different areas of the reef for guided views of the corals, fish, and other creatures who dwell here. As these tours are guided and provide life jackets, they are highly recommended for families as well as adults. Adult tickets will generally go for 205 Australian dollars (152 USD), while children tickets cost around 120 Australian Dollars (89 USD).
For more experienced underwater adventurers, diving is an absolute must here. Many snorkeling agencies also provided dive tours, and by taking one the amount of reef you can view increases exponentially. Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs are a great diving area to explore, in addition to the Outer Barrier area where most snorkeling takes place. Expect to see marine life of all shapes and sizes, as well as both colorful and bleached corals.
Finally, for those wishing to explore the reef without getting wet, consider taking a semi-submersible tour. Such tours allow you a literal window into the underwater world, and allow you to see the reef from a unique perspective.
Beaches, Jungles, and More
Cairns also offers up a huge variety of experiences beyond the reef, starting with beaches. Trinity Beach and Palm Cove, both located just outside Cairns, offer great waves and relaxing shores. Both are popular with locals, though they can occasionally be popular with the local wildlife as well – namely Australia’s salt-water crocodiles and jellyfish (the latter only when in season). This can be a great opportunity to see these creatures in the wild so long as you use common sense.
For a more relaxing swimming experience, check out the fresh waters of Mossman Gorge in the jungles outside Port Douglas. The jungle can also be explored via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway. Both offer pristine views of the natural scenery and are well worth a trip whenever you want a break from the water.
To inject a healthy dose of culture into your trip, check out Tjapukai Aboriginal Park, an experience run entirely by the Tjapukai tribe. This is a great place to see boomerang and didgeridoo demonstrations, as well as tribal song and dance routines. Unique souvenirs can also be purchased here. Interacting with a people that have been here nearly as long as the nature you have just experienced is a great way to round out your Cairns excursion.
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