What to do in Cairns? You’ll be thrilled by these things to do in Cairns, including a new Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour. One of the world’s last untapped tourism destinations, the Torres Strait is now open to travellers big on curiosity and short on time with the launch of this tour that packs six iconic experiences into one big day out from Cairns.
What to do in Cairns
New developments have given Cairns a stunning facelift making it an exciting destination and a jumping point to explore the wondrous creatures that live in the Great Barrier Reef waters. Don’t miss out on exploring the city as well as the reef. There are interesting bars to discover, restaurant dining to enjoy and three new hotels that you won’t want to leave.
Strait Experience launches Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour Credit @phlipvids
Strait Experience ferry cruise on the Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour. Credit @phlipvids
A Strait Day Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour
A new tour developed by two mates residing in the Torres Strait, A Strait Day allows visitors the rare opportunity to experience one of the few places in the world where ancient culture is still part of everyday life. Visitors can depart Cairns by plane in the morning and then seamlessly hop-scotch between Waibene (Thursday Island) and Ngurapai (Horn Island), some 800 km away, to learn about culture, food, history, and tradition – all in one convenient package.
Co-founder of Strait Experience and a proud Traditional Owner on Masig Island, Fraser Nai, says the tour targets travellers short on time and big on curiosity, making The Torres Strait “doable in a day”. It also provides a powerful platform to tell the story of Australia’s two Indigenous cultures to a new audience. “Torres Strait, I would say, is like the last frontier. You’ve gone everywhere in Australia and seen it, but you haven’t seen Torres Strait,” said Mr Nai. “It’s the only place in Australia where you will see Indigenous Aboriginal Australians and Indigenous Torres Strait Islander Australians in their own country.”
“Our culture is unique. We have our own customs, we have our own beliefs, and it is something that we want to share with the world.”
The six attractions and experiences in the one-day package tour include a scenic flight over the Torres Strait, a tour of Ngurapai (Horn Island) stopping at Horn Island Heritage Museum and looking at secret wartime infrastructure, a tour of Waibene (Thursday Island) with time to explore the Gab Titui Cultural Centre and Green Hill Fort, an Islander style banquet lunch, and a stirring song and dance performance by local youths. Throughout the day, local Islander guides share their own stories and coordinate ground and ferry transfers to optimise the time in the region.
Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour seafood. Credit @phlipvids
Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour touring. Credit @phlipvids
Mr Nai is passionate about platforming small Torres Strait Island businesses to empower the community, stimulate economic growth, and create career pathways. The tour showcases existing small tourism businesses – known for their excellence – and bundles them into a bigger tour.
“We are creating an economic pathway, creating purpose, creating stronger culture – those are the values that sit behind this product,” said Mr Nai, who added that he wants more people to know about The Torres Strait. “Come and have a look, and you will find out about the Torres Strait story.”
A Strait Day will run on the first Saturday of every month, with the next tour operating in July. The cost is $1399 per person. The tour is the first of a handful of packages being developed by Strait Experience to showcase the remote locations and cultures of Queensland. Also in the pipeline are Tip in a Day trip, a one-day tour from Cairns to Pajinka at Australia’s most northern point, a two-hour scenic tour over some of the 274 islands that make up the Torres Strait, and multi-night immersions to remote and isolated island communities.
For more information, visit A Strait Day
Strait Experience Cairns to Torres Strait Day Tour Credit @phlipvids
Swimming at Fitzroy Island
Indigenous Tour of Green Island
The Wunyami Cultural Walking Tour offers a guided journey around Wunyami, Green Island. This ancient coral cay has a fascinating ancient cultural history. Led by Indigenous guides, guests will hear how the island is connected to an ancient journey of two ancestorial story-time beings. You’ll learn about the cultural ceremonies of the GuruGulu Gungganji and Gimuy Yidinji tribes and discover the connectivity of this iconic island to the ancient seascape.
Cuddle a Cow
Cow Cuddling Co., a cow therapy farm located in Goldsborough, South of Cairns, offers people living with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and anyone wishing to support their own mental health a chance to meet and cuddle with hand-raised therapy cows. A community-focused social enterprise with six cows on the farm, cow cuddling is a legitimate therapeutic service and a fun recreational activity suitable for the whole family.
Go to a Gallery
Paparazzi king Darryn Lyons has opened a Lyons Gallery at DFS Galleria in Cairns showcasing prints from the likes of Helmut Newton and Banksy and his famous photo of Princess Diana on her last yachting holiday before her death. Located above iconic brands including Prada and Marc Jacobs, the gallery is on the same block as the Cairns Gallery Precinct which will link a new purpose-built gallery to the existing Cairns Art Gallery and the Court House gallery.
Indigenous Tours for Independent Travellers
A 100 per cent Indigenous owned and operated company, Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours, has launched its first scheduled tours for independent travellers. The tours, taking place on Mandingalbay Yidinji Country, a short 15-minute boat ride from Cairns CBD, include experiences such as an eco-cultural walk, camping on country and a monthly Full Moon Dinner.
Helmet dive on the reef
Say hello to ‘Wally’, the world-famous Maori Wrasse and test out one of the largest helmet diving circuits on the Great Barrier Reef at Experience Co’s Reef Magic pontoon located off Cairns. Reef Magic also offers introduction diving, certified diving, and guided snorkel tours of the colourful coral gardens around their new pontoon at popular Moore Reef. The pontoon has 18 solar panels and three wind turbines for sustainable power. A dedicated scientific lab onboard will be home to GBR Biology Marine Biologists for reef research. The pontoon will boast a one-of-a-kind water entry point for swimmers and snorkellers featuring an easy step structure for guests with different abilities.
Cruise Trinity Inlet
Cairns River Cruises has new guided tours and charters that will take you exploring the waters of Trinity Inlet. Their sheltered pontoon-style vessel seats up to 18 guests on a daytime sightseeing safari or sunset cruise along the inlet. You will relax in complete comfort with lounge-style seating with uninterrupted water views.
Kerry Heaney meets Mr Chang
Meet Mr Chang
Amongst the 15,000 water creatures living in 10 different ecosystems in Cairns Aquarium is oversized ogler Mr Chang. Queensland groupers are the largest bony fish found in coral reefs, and Chang is about two metres long and weighs around 80 kilograms. Groupers often can be found hanging around jetties and coral bommies where people often visit and seem to enjoy interaction with humans. Chang likes to follow female visitors around the aquarium’s walkthrough 1.8 million litres Coral Sea exhibit. I decided to award his attention with a kiss through the glass, and he seemed quite interested. The aquarium only features species and habitats from tropical North Queensland. It’s filled with the deadly, the elusive and the most amazingly beautiful creatures. Cairns Aquarium is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm and deserves a spot on your things to do in Cairns list.
Taste your way around Rusty’s Market and try new tropical fruits. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Wander Rusty’s Market
What to do in Cairns? See Cairns’ famous Rusty’s Market. Start with a refreshing iced Vietnamese coffee and find your way through a fantastic maze of stalls with seven food samples along the way. Try Luca’s Italian arancini balls at Mamma Mia’s, chef Gyorgi’s Hungarian arancini balls or a stop at Frenchie’s patisserie. It takes about one and a half hours to explore the undercover market. Go hungry!
Waterbar & Grill has some of the finest ribs in town. Photo: K Heaney
Ribs with a water view
Using grain-fed, aged organic beef from the Atherton Tablelands, Waterbar & Grill on the Cairns esplanade has a reputation for offering some of the finest steaks in town. Their juicy, meaty ribs live up to the promise, but it is the 500gm Lazy Aged Rump that locals come back for again and again. Head chef Dumi Dlamini’s legendary Lekker Sauce is another must-try.
The Cairns Esplanade from my room in Riley. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Discover a local distillery
Taste tropical North Queensland in a glass with a sip of Wolf Lane Distillery’s Tropical Gin. It has 13 botanicals sourced fresh from local farms. You can visit the micro gin distillery cellar door located at 28 Abbott Street in converted turn-of-the-century stables or try it at any of 30 venues from Cairns to Port Douglas.
See how turtles recover at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Go to turtle rehab
Combine a day on the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Cairns with a visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. On Fitzroy Island, you’ll see how sick and injured turtles are helped to recover before release back into the ocean. The turtle rehab tours run most days and can only be booked by day visitors on the day at Fitzroy Island’s General Store. Fitzroy Island is just a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns.
Fitzroy Island Resort is in the midst of a million-dollar makeover with remodelled bathrooms, new walkways and refurbished Beach Cabins on the edge of Welcome Bay. Redevelopment of the pool and pool bar is scheduled for May.
See Cairns as a hipster
Into street art? Find the alleyways, coffee shops and elite barbers in Cairns with a Cairns Urban Walking Tour. It only takes eight blocks to see the cool in Cairns, which is becoming known as Australia’s second hipster capital.
Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Located in a former bank building, The Chambers is a café, bar and restaurant in the heart of Cairns. Relax amongst hanging plants and exposed brickwork inside, or in the lush garden oasis at the rear. This is the new face of Cairns.
There are three reasons to put a visit to the Cairns Art Gallery on your things to do in Cairns list. Walk inside the heritage building to discover an exciting range of exhibitions showcasing life in the tropical north. On your way out browse the gift shop for one of a kind souvenirs that will evoke memories of your holiday at home. Just outside, Perrotta’s at the Gallery is the perfect place to stop and reflect on your visit over a coffee or locally inspired meal.
Bailey has an artistic bent which is reflected in the rooms. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Say hello to Riley, Bailey and Flynn
Crystalbrook Collection Resorts like to call their three new five-star Cairns hotels ‘siblings’, and they should all be on your where to stay in Cairns list. First to open, Riley is the mindful sibling who is all about living in the moment. It’s not hard to live in the moment while staying there with a 1000 square metre swimming lagoon, a manmade beach and Cairns’ first rooftop bar, the Mediterranean inspired Rocco, to play in. There are three restaurants to enjoy when not relaxing in your plush room.
Bailey is a modern and innovative hotel with an artistic bent. The three dining options include a signature steakhouse, a nostalgic Aussie milk bar and a Latin-fusion food restaurant. Flynn is the youngest, attention-seeking sibling. Expect glass swimming pools overlooking The Esplanade, an Italian themed restaurant and a whiskey bar.
So, have you got your what to do in Cairns list organised? There is so much to see and do in this beautiful tropical city. Better make it a week, hey?
We should have been heading to Australia in April and Cairns was on our route. It looks like a really cool and vibrant city. Hopefully we’ll get there another time as I’d love to visit the turtle rehabilitation centre and the aquarium.
The turtle rehab centre, along with the aquarium are top Cairns spots. It is a wonderful experience to come up close and personal with sea creatures and gain understandings of their lives. You will love visiting Cairns – it’s such a vibrant city.
We always talk about visiting the GBR and Cairns sounds like a wonderful destination. I’ve only been to Melbourne and from the photos, the vibe here looks very different. The turtle rehab sounds interesting to me and I’m sure to find a cool looking cafe in Australia’s second hipster capital. What i the first hipster capital?
Hi Candy, I’d have to nominate Melbourne as Australia’s hipster capital on the back of their bar and coffee culture and hipster beards! The Cairns scene is much more laid back as befits the tropical lifestyle. I did love the turtle rehab and that beach on Fitzroy Island too.
I haven’t stayed in Cairns for a number of years but I do remember there were starting some new developments. I’d love to go see Mr Chang. I would love to travel out and see the Barrier Reef from there.
Mr Chang is so engaging, it’s hard to remember he is a fish! Cairns is a great jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef with many tour options. While you are there, take the Great Barrier Reef Drive and explore Palm Cove and Port Douglas. You won’t regret it.
Every time I read about Cairns or see photos of the city, I want to try and get there more and more (I have only done Melbourne in Australia). However I probably would only want to go when its cooler, I heard it can feel really sticky up there when its really hot. Is that true to you? As a parent, I would love to take kids to the turtle rehab and educate them (as well as checking out the beach and the sea of course). Hopefully I can get there on my next visit.
Cairns is a wonderful destination and perfect during Australia’s winter months, especially for travellers from the Northern Hemisphere. Locals love it up there right up to the summer months when it does get sticky, but the vibrancy of the tropics is compensation. So much to see and do in this area and perfect for kids. I hope you get there on your next visit. Do allow more than a few days to explore the region.