23 Fun Things to Do in Cairns On Your Very First Visit

23 Fun Things to Do in Cairns On Your Very First Visit

From visiting the Great Barrier Reef to feeding a humongous crocodile to cuddling a koala, there's no lack of fun things to do in Cairns!

We all need a little ADVENTURE in our lives. After all, who doesn’t? Start your daring exploit in Cairns, Australia’s exhilarating adventure capital – a lesser-known gem (read: not yet flooded with tourists) full of exciting things to do and surprises around every corner.

Not sure where to begin? Here are 23 fun things you just gotta do on your first visit to Cairns!

1. Check the Great Barrier Reef off your #bucketlist

fun things to do cairns

Every visit to Cairns naturally begins with the Great Barrier Reef! Cairns is the gateway to this magnificent creation, drawing diving enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike to its humble shores. The reef is located no more than 90 minutes away from Cairns, and lots of tour operators offer day trips there. We highly recommend Reef Magic Cruises, who made our reef exploration nothing short of amazing! Over the course of 5 hours, we managed to take an introductory diving course (no experience necessary), sit in a semi-submersible boat, go helmet diving and even took a whirl in a helicopter. We also had ample time to snorkel amidst striking corals and among fishes of every colour. The experience was simply out of this world; it’s time to strike this off your bucket list!

2. Swim in the outdoor saltwater lagoon

This stunning outdoor saltwater lagoon is located along the Cairns Esplanade, and is, get this, absolutely free to use. Located right smack of the middle city, the lagoon is simply a feast for the eyes. Just look at that crystal-clear turquoise water, and against the background of the sea, no less! A little sand beach even frames one end, making this saltwater lagoon the perfect place to while away an afternoon. There are toilet and shower facilities available, and lifeguards in attendance as well.

3. Navigate a challenging ropes course in a wildlife dome

The Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome is the world’s first challenge ropes course located WITHIN a wildlife immersion exhibit. That’s right, you get to navigate through ropes, suspended logs and hanging tyres whilst having a bird’s eye view of various reptiles, koalas, wallabies with birds flying all around the enclosure. You can even zipline ABOVE a giant crocodile. Better hold on tight! Choose between a ‘Mid-Zoom’ or a ‘Hi-Zoom’ adventure, the former having an easier difficulty level and the second catering for the more adventurous at a higher level of difficulty.

4. Jump off a suspended platform… Backwards


Granted that this is no bungee jump, but this is guaranteed to make your heart race! Jump off a 13-metre high tower, and if you dare, backwards. This power jump is part of the ropes course at Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome, which is located on the roof of the Reef Hotel Casino. Feel your stomach rise up to your throat as you freefall through the air. Get ready to scream your lungs out!

5. Take a walk AROUND a dome

Offered by the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome as well, this Dome Climb lets you walk around a the giant dome on an external platform. Have a gorgeous bird’s-eye view of the city with the mountains and ocean in the background. You’ll be anchored by a safety harness the whole time, so it’s perfectly secure!

6. Feast on the biggest and freshest seafood platter ever

This GIGANTIC seafood platter can be found at Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront, a darling establishment offering the ‘Ultimate Seafood Experience’. Aptly named, this staggering platter of seafood offers a selection of mud crab, prawns, oysters, mussels, lobsters, fish, scallops and so on. Calling all seafood lovers – THIS is the seafood feast of a lifetime! Every morsel is overwhelmingly fresh, and comes accompanied with sides of spaghetti, potato salad and the like. Grab a friend or a loved one and come with loose jeans as well as a raving appetite, you’ll need it!

7. Eat bugs… the Australian version

When we first saw “bugs” on the menu, our mind immediately travelled to Cambodia, envisioning stores peddling steaming piles of fried crickets. But here in Cairns, they do it a little differently. “Bugs” simply refer to a type of seafood, and are rather similar to crayfish. Commonly known as Moreton Bay bugs, they have a certain crunch to them and the meat is tender beyond compare. Here’s your chance to say you dined on bugs in Australia!

8. Go on a crocodile spotting cruise

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures offers thrilling escapades with the world’s largest reptile. Located just 40 minutes away from Cairns, Hartley’s is both wildlife reserve and crocodile farm. Fun fact: we even heard that the Hartley’s crocodile farm supplies Louis Vuitton with crocodile skins for the manufacturing of their handbags and purses! Join a tour of the farm to gain insight into the world of crocodile farming, and learn how it aids conservation efforts. One of the highlights would be taking a cruise on the lagoon filled with lots of menacing crocodiles. Watch as the crocodiles swim lazily by you, and delight in watching them come up to the surface to feed on dangling bits of meat.

9. Pole-Feed a humongous crocodile

Here at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, you even get to try your hand at feeding a HUMONGOUS crocodile! The crocodile was 5-metre long, with a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth to boot. This was a (however scary) first for us, as we’ve never been in such close proximity to a crocodile! It was definitely something else standing on tiptoes dangling the meat over the railing, heart pounding in our ears, and watching the fearsome crocodile rise out of the water just inches away. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and is a thrilling experience like no other!

10. Walk a wombat

Don’t wombats look just like adorable furry big fat sausages? And that’s precisely why we love them! Imagine our delight when we actually got to walk one of these babies! This was something special offered to us by the lovely staff of Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, but you never know, you might just get to do it the next time you visit – stay tuned for more updates. Walking a dog? Meh. We’re perfectly content with our wombat, thank you very much!

11. Brave the rapids at Tully River

Whitewater rafting along Tully River is a definite must-do for all adventure junkies! Maneuver your way down thundering Class 3-4 rapids (gulp!) – this activity will need all your grit, determination and skill. Also be prepared to get wet… very, very wet! The Tully River runs through an ancient World Heritage Rainforest, offering picturesque views in every direction. If you’re looking for a greater adrenaline rush, try canyoning in the rainforest where you zipline, abseil and even jump off cliffs into pools.

12. Travel above a rainforest in a glass-floored cable car

We’ve heard of traversing through a rainforest, but we’ve never dreamed that we could actually travel ABOVE it! At Kuranda Rainforest – a world heritage listed rainforest – cruise through the skies high above the treetops in one of the ‘Diamond View’ gondolas, a crystal glass-floored cable car that allows you to watch the rainforest whiz by below your feet. This gondola is offered by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Scenic Rail, and includes a 7.5km journey over and through the protected rainforest. Just think: a multitude of trees reaching out as far as the eye can see, with a blanket of green stretching out in every direction. This is, indeed, the “The World’s Most Beautiful Rainforest Experience”!

13. Go on a ranger-guided tour of the rainforest

Thee Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Scenic Rail is a highly recommended way to explore the Barron Gorge National Park. After gliding above the forest canopy, you will alight at two rainforest stations to see more of the park. Join a guided ranger tour to learn more about the various flora and fauna, or simply stand still and breathe in the impeccably fresh air. Walk among towering trunks and wander along countless rainforest boardwalks – there’s no better time to grab a respite from city life and simply lose yourself in nature.

14. Explore the charming town of Kuranda

Kuranda is an artsy paradise of everything chic and quirky, and is home to 16% of the region’s artists. We loved simply wandering around the town and taking in all there is on display – from stalls of eclectic colour necklaces to a building shaped like a boat to intricate paintings adorning almost every empty wall. Kuranda is known as the Village in the Rainforest, and the journey there is said to be an “experience in itself” – you can choose to either take the Skyrail Rainforest Railway, catch the Kuranda Scenic Railway Train or take a drive up through the rainforest. Don’t rush through this town and take your time to explore every nook and cranny – the town is full of enchanting arts and crafts markets, whimsical village shops as well as wildlife gardens.

15. Spot baby koalas at the Kuranda Koala Gardens

The Kuranda Koala Gardens is a cosy enclave tucked in one corner of the Kuranda village, and is the place to set sight on cute little baby koalas! They’re tiny, unbelievably furry, and absolutely adorable. Watch as they cling to their mother’s backs, and gaze at you through sleepy eyes. Fun fact: did you know that koalas actually sleep up to 20 hours a day? We felt so lucky to be able to watch them being up and about!

16. Cuddle a Koala

After squealing at how cute the baby koalas were, we just knew we had to hold one in our arms! Contrary to popular conception, koala cuddling isn’t allowed everywhere in Australia, and is only allowed in Queensland, South Australia or Western Australia. The koala feels exactly like a little furry teddy bear, and are surprisingly gentle. The next time you’re in Cairns, don’t pass by this once-in-lifetime photo opportunity; we wish we never had to let go!

17. Set sight on an abandoned plane wreck

We happened to chance upon this plane wreck whilst in Kuranda, which looked like a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. We half expected a T-rex to rear his head from behind the wreck! The plane wreck isn’t just a hastily constructed display, but actually has a bit of a history! The plane was called “Geronimo” back in its glory days, and saw its fair share of wartime. It was also a passenger aircraft at some point in time and was eventually used as a movie prop before journeying to its home in Kuranda. It now serves as a “visual memorial” for all those fortunate enough to visit Kuranda’s Heritage Markets!

18. Hand feed a wallaby

Wallabies are found in wildlife reserves aplenty across Australia, and one of our favourite things to do would be to feed these little critters every time we visit the continent. We love how these wallabies are much like itty-bitty mini kangaroos, and are super friendly! They pretty much come hopping right up to you – as long as you have food! Yep, like all animals, wallabies are just superficial like that. However, arm yourself with a handful of feed and these wallabies will literally be eating right out of your hand.

19. Get up close and personal with birds of every colour

Being rather accustomed to our usual black crows and grey pigeons, the birds in Australia seemed like from another planet! They were gloriously coloured in all colours of the rainbow, and we even chanced upon a cockatoo that was a creamy barbie shade of pink. In certain wildlife reserves, some of them will even take the liberty to land on your head and shoulders!

20. Get acquainted with aboriginal culture at Tjapukai Cultural Park

If you’re curious about the fascinating Australian aboriginal culture, Tjapukai Cultural Park is the place to go! Touted as the place that showcases “where Australia begins”, Tjapukai delves into the history of a culture that dates back over 40,000 years. Try your hand at traditional aboriginal hunting methods such as throwing a boomerang or a spear or go on a guided bush walk. Learn about bush foods and medicines, and join in the rousing celebration with the dance put up by the Tjapukai Aboriginal dancers. The performances and experiences here at Tjapukai feel incredibly authentic, and we enjoyed ourselves immensely while also gaining treasured insight into the Aboriginal culture.

21. Try your hand at making fire with two sticks

If you visit Tjapukai Cultural Park at night, join in the “Night Fire” celebration where you’ll get your face painted, watch a cultural performance or try to blow a didgeridoo. You can even get back to basics and try to make a fire with just two sticks! We had so much fun learning traditional language songs together with the ‘Bama’, the indigenous rainforest people. At the end of the night, enjoy a sumptuous dinner consisting of traditional Australian bush meats, such as crocodile, emu and kangaroo. One of the highlights of the night was watching a majestic fireball shoot high into the sky. A night at Tjapukai is both educational and good fun, and we highly recommend everyone to visit whilst in Cairns!

22. Trawl through the many weekend/night markets

One of the things that we never quite liked about Australia would be how there’s virtually nothing to do at night. Shops close at 5pm, and the only option left is to have a long dinner. Here in Cairns, at least they have night markets to keep all us night owls entertained! The night markets feel like an organised enclosure of delightful chaos, with assaults of color and sound everywhere we turned. Venture here for an hour or two of aimless wandering; you’ll never know what you might find – dainty wood-carved figurines, a glass-blower spinning creations out of thin air, or packets after packets of chia seeds. Grab your souvenirs here, they have something for everyone!

23. Join a free aerobics class

If shopping isn’t up your alley, why not try out an aerobics class? And did we mention that these ‘Active Living Fitness Classes’ are absolutely FREE? These classes are held six days a week, and range from aqua aerobics to zumba to yoga and more. Spend the evening working out, or dancing to a groovy beat. If you haven’t done this before, don’t fret – the classes are all at an introductory level. You’ll get the hang of it within minutes of trying, easy peasy!

So there you have it, 23 fun things to do in Cairns on your very first visit! If you’re not convinced to book your ticket there now, here’s a picture of the sunset viewed from Cairns Esplanade to give you that extra push:

Have the adventure of a lifetime!

Special thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland for making this trip possible, and for showing me the unadulterated beauty of Cairns.

About Author

E-lyn Tham
E-lyn Tham

Having a strong conviction that getting lost is just another adventure in itself, E-lyn takes particular delight in wandering stranger lands, inhibitions and fears thrown asunder. There’s so much left in the world to see, and there’s nothing she would like better than to spend her days dreaming whimsical, thinking adventure, and laughing curious.