My 4 days in Cairns left me wanting to never, ever leave. It is by far my favourite destination in Australia and one I’d ask EVERYONE to go to. There was a lot of splashing around in water, stomping through lush rainforests, meeting new people and some excellent nosh, making me a very happy person indeed. I’m gonna spell it all out for you, because I really don’t want you to skip out on something as splendid as this!
I spent 4 days in Cairns, which included the day I arrived and three days of unimaginable fun with folks I only met there. I knew I’d go diving at the Great Barrier Reef for sure, but the other stuff I did opened me up to a whole new level of awesomeness and left me with some fantastic experiences and memories! Keepin’ it simple, here goes!
Day 1 – Explore the City
You’ve probably only just arrived. Take the day to get used to the mix of modern and traditional that this city offers. Walk around the Esplanade, there are some really pretty photo ops you’ll find. The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon with installations of fish lights up at night and drenches the esplanade in a stunning shade of blue.
The gardens nearby are beautiful, and you an easily set up a barbecue at one of the picnic tables there (I really loved this whole concept).
Alternatively, you can do this heritage walk to orient yourself to the city and see for yourself the amazing blend of past and present – get the guide here.
Just relax today, because the next few days will require you to be at your highest energy levels (eat some chocolate if you’re feeling down. No wait, EAT ALL THE TIM TAMS!!!!!)
Day 2 – The Great Barrier Reef
Save an entire day to get lost in the blue, blue ocean and explore those deliciously stunning coral reefs. GO JUMP INTO THAT GORGEOUS OCEAN, YOU ADVENTURER, YOU!!! There are PLENTY of tour operators who organize cruises that take you to explore some of the outer reefs. This usually depends on the weather, and I lucked out with a beautiful sunny day right in the middle of winter. They’ve got some excellent packages which include dives, snorkeling and even informative chats on the marine life by marine biologists.
Keep aside a whole day for this. You’ll set out early in the AM, you will be snorkeling and diving to your heart’s content (even better if you’re a certified diver); and then there’s lunch, wine, sunbathing and what not right on board. Lounge around on the top deck of your boat after you’ve had your fill of the underwater world and take in the stunning blues that will captivate you and make you want to stay there forever.
By the time you return in the evening, you’ll be thrown by the magic that nature weaves in this world, and how ignorant you’ve been of it for so long. There aren’t enough words to describe how splendid the Reef is, and I can’t stress enough on how you absolutely must go and see it for yourself once in your life.
Take note though..
The Reef is disappearing (global warming is NOT a myth), so if there is a time to see it, it’s now. That being said, PLEASE be responsible about it. Don’t throw your trash in the sea. Listen to what the crew and marine biologists instruct, and follow them. And for all that is good and proper in this world, DO NOT TOUCH THE REEF. A single touch could destroy decades worth of growth, and you’ll only serve to increase depletion.
(For a deep-dive – pun TOTALLY intended hehehe – into what my experience at the Reef was, read Diving at the Great Barrier Reef.
I checked out these tour operators when I was planning my trip, and eventually went ahead with Reef Experience. They’re super-friendly, really helpful and offer quite a wide variety of tours!
Day 3 – Chasing Waterfalls at the Atherton Tablelands
So when I was reading up about Cairns, I was thrown by all the natural beauty surrounding it. Cairns is amazing. It’s rich. It’s got the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests, waterfalls, mountains.. It’s spectacularly stunning and one can easily drown in all the natural beauty and actually get a sense of what Australian wildlife feels like.
I LOVE waterfalls. I cannot BEGIN to explain just HOW MUCH I love splashing around in the water like a mad, excited child, but you can get some sort of an idea from this post – Chasing Waterfalls in Cairns.
There’s no better way to spend your second day in Cairns. You went underwater yesterday, now exalt in the gush of those splendid waterfalls as you flick your hair back to create your own Herbal Essences moment. See!
It’s genuinely exhilarating. I went with this company called Uncle Brian’s, and it was a little bunch of unknowns who came together and became family for a day (some stayed on, I’m still in touch with ‘em, lovely folks!), and went exploring the Atherton Tablelands, jumped into waterfalls, climbed rocks to whizz down rock slides into the water, downed sugar like there was no tomorrow, and just had a ton of fun! Check out the tour, you can book it here.
Day 4 – Daintree Rainforest / Kuranda
Here’s the thing – Cairns is the perfect springboard to explore the natural beauty that Queensland offers. You will basically need full days to explore parts of it, which is why 4 days in Cairns will let you do 4 things. Adjust your stay according to what YOU like to do 🙂
Which is why for your 4th day, I’ll give you two options. If you have an extra day in hand, then great, do both!
Option I – Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
You can walk through a ‘tropical mesophyll rainforest complex’. This one receives 3 – 3.5 meters of rainfall in a year. That’s a LOT. You’ll see tens and hundreds of different types of trees and birds and animals and learn AAALLLL about the type of plants that’ll happily kill you. Go chasing cassowaries. Take a dip in a pristine pool in the middle of the forest. Keep an eye out for wallabies and kangaroos. You’ll be surrounded by nature and you’ll feel happier than you’ve been in a long time. Trust me.
Well, if that smile on my face is anything to go by.
I went with Uncle Brian’s tour again, and wasn’t disappointed. They’re really good at bringing together travellers and building a fun bond. The folks at Uncle Brian’s are also really smart and totally know their stuff! So while you’re busy marvelling at the sights and sounds of nature, you’ll also keep getting a steady stream of interesting tidbits and facts about the forest, the city, the country.. So much to LEARN! 😀
Book it here!
Option 2 – Kuranda
This is a little mountain village near Cairns. The highlight of this place is the Scenic Railway, which offers up magnificent views of the mountains, waterfalls and the rainforests. I didn’t get a chance to do this since I had only 4 days in Cairns, so I picked Daintree instead. But check it out, whatever floats your boat! This’ll help.
Cairns NEEDS your attention, folks! It’s amaze. It was the first city I landed in in Australia and it really got my trip started off on a GREAT note!
I’ll quickly give you a few more tips that’ll make your trip a happy, happy one indeed.
Let’s start with that belly, shall we? FOOOOOD!!!!!
Where to Eat
- Dundees – Right at the esplanade, amazing location with a fantastic view of Marlin Marina. They’ve got an excellent selection of seafood and wines, and I was happily chowing down a plate of calamari on my first night here. SO delish! Dundees is known to be difficult to get a place at (I love solo travel, we just squeeze in absolutely anywhere!), so get there early if you want great seating (or if you want a place at all). Go for the Barramundi, you’re in Australia after all!
- Splash – I ordered a King Threadfin with chips. Such yum happened, I can’t even tell you. Again, AMAZING seafood options. I just feel like I’m so spoilt for choice sometimes!
- Rattle and Hum – This looks extremely happening and is known to serve up lip smacking pizzas and steaks and burgers. It’s where you’d want to head if you’re looking for a bit of a chilled out vibe.
Everything shuts early, but if you’re looking for a nightlife of sorts, almost everyone heads to Salt House. It’s right by the Marina and has GREAT views, really good music, and the crowd is so much fun! I could’ve danced the night away 😀
Where to Stay
The Esplanade, without doubt.
My 4 days in Cairns saw me living in luxury at the Hilton (because I won a contest. I don’t have the moolah for Hilton). Excellent location. Excellent. It’s walking distance from both, the Marina, as well as the city centre. I woke up to a view of the ocean and the sound of birds chirping EVERYDAY.
I stayed at Calypso Inn Backpackers for the one night before my return flight (this is more my scene. Also, my bank account’s scene). The hostel is GREAT, and I met such lovely folks there! There’s a pool, it has free brekky (Yaaasssss), AND! AND AND AND FREE AIRPORT TRANSFERS, WHAAAAAAAT!!
A lot of backpackers stay at Gilligan’s which has a reputation for being a mad party hostel. Go for it, if that’s your scene!
So that’s the perfect 4 days in Cairns for you, and I’ll stop talking now. I hope this helps you plan an amazingly, fantastically, spectacularly awesome trip!! Let me know if you need to know absolutely ANYTHING else, I’m super-happy to help.