Free and Fun Things To Do in Cairns
Were interested in your experiences as you explore Cairns. Please feel free to contribute to our collection of information by adding your two cents. You can contact us at our email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Well share your hands-on experience with others who come to our site looking for unique and fun things to do. This list has no particular order, and intentionally leaves out things that closely resemble the opportunities you have back at home.
When we mention a business here, it is because we really like the way they do things. We do not sell or trade endorsements; we just want to help you enjoy yourself. This is by no means a complete list; we havent gotten around to check out everything yet. These are just places and activities we enjoy often.
Trinity Beach - It is a small (3/4 mile) beach with a swimming enclosure during stinger season, a number of food shops for snacks, and a beach rental outfit that will rent you anything from a beach umbrella to a windsurfer. Remember to follow the rules in stinger season. Bus service is available from downtown Cairns.
Palm Cove - A little further out, with fewer snack shops. There is a dock to walk on, and a long, long beach. Remember to follow the rules in stinger season. Bus service is available from downtown Cairns.
Ellis Beach - This must be one of the prettiest beaches in Australia. About 30 minutes North of town, with one small café, and miles of nearly deserted beach, it is by far our favorite. Remember to follow the rules in stinger season.
The wildlife of this region is incredibly unusual, and we urge you to make the effort to get out in the forests and dry country to see wallabies, platypus, and other wonderful creatures. Check out the nature and wildlife section of our Adventure Index to see if one fhe guided small group tours is for you.
If you want to go for the sure thing, there are three wildlife parks outside of town. Wild World is a bit touristy, but gets you up close and personal with most Australian wildlife. They have shows and demonstrations all day. About 15 minutes North of Cairns, Wildworld is serviced by bus. Admission is charged.
We like the smaller and less touristy, Hartleys' Creek Crocodile Farm, with its local feel. While there are a few less animals, visitors can see the larger crocodiles kept on the farm, as well as some of the more common local wildlife on display. Like Wildworld, every hour or so there is a demonstration. We recommend you time your visit to see the crocodile show. They now have organized transport for visitors. Admission is charged.
Rainforest Habitat - Located in Port Douglas this facility recreates local rainforest in an enormous enclosure, filled with the wildlife that is often difficult to see in the nearby forests without a guide. The collection of bird life here is especially interesting, and we like the fact that you can get very close to these animals (or they close to you) in a nature-like setting. Admission is charged.
Coffee in the Morning
(Lots of great coffee in the region, this is by no means a
complete list, explore!)
Perrottas at the Gallery: Great coffee, great people watching.
Chapter One: Great wonderful sandwiches, coffee. Where we read the paper in the morning..
Beethoven's and the Swiss Cafe: Right next door to each other, Great morning sun and sweets.
Java Joe's: We like the upbeat music, the big bookcase and the free half-hour of internet access with any purchase, perfect for checking the email.
The Lily Pad: An alternative sort of place, great for hanging out.
Espresso Art: A café mocha drinker's paradise.
Sunset Happy Hour Combo
This one is easy... In Cairns go for beers on the outside of the Pier Tavern by the Marina...or... Grab a cab out to the Barron River Hotel, 10 minutes outside of town. In Port Douglas try the deck at Marina Mirage. There are nice sunset views from all these locations.
Dining and Food
Eating out during the day should be no problem; heaps of food shops, called Take-Aways, serve a variety everything from All-American burgers to Chinese fare to fruit smoothies. For dinner, you have lots of choices. We have yet to try all of the
restaurants in town but have had great meals at the following places:
Red Ochre Grill - Unique Australian native foods, great wine list.
Fishlips - Great fish, love the front door!
Cock 'n Bull - Great Steaks and selection of beers.
Cape York Hotel - Great Steaks. A true Aussie pub.
Perrottas at the Gallery - Great food, al fresco dining, good people watching.
There is also a nice row of small restaurants right downtown on Shields Street between the mall and the Cairns Central Station Shopping Center. We never remember the names of all these places, but have had many good meals down there. We think its fun to choose a restaurant by walking around and sampling the aromas and ambience emanating from each establishment.
Lots of good choices, but we really like Capers, in Clifton Beach.
This small town is filled with great cafes and restaurants. Hit the main street, and follow the aroma that suits you!
We urge you to try the local seafood, especially the Barramundi, Coral Trout, and Prawns. While all three partners in our company are avid athletes, and we undoubtedly look at food differently than a true gourmet, we find the following places to be small, unique restaurants:
We highly recommend the Italian tradition of a "pasa giatta", an evening stroll between dinner and desert. Our walks always seem to end up at Perlotta's where they serve great desserts, coffee drinks and fine wines.
Cooking for yourself
If your accommodations have a kitchen and you have the urge to cook, heres a recipe for easy shopping and healthy food. Purchase fruits and veggies at Rusty's Market. Rice or noodles and tasty sauces are available at the two nearby oriental markets. Captain Cooks Fish Shop, only a 5 min taxi ride from downtown, offers the best fish in town. Ask the owners what they would take home, and you will get an honest recommendation. (A caveat: Once when we asked this question, the man behind the counter pointed at a women standing in the shop and said, "Forget the fish. I'd take her home!") We like the yellowtail; we marinate it in sesame oil, soy, and ginger, then pan fry it quickly.
Farmers' and Crafts Markets
Rusty's Market -This could be the most diverse farmers market on earth, both due to the variety of yummy foods available available and the farmers who grow and sell them. Find fruits, vegetables, and people of all colors, shapes and sizes. Local farmers warm right up when you show an interest in their delectable smorgasbord of exotic fruits. We enjoy visiting the market and buying wild looking things we have never seen before! Not to mention the staple stand-bys...by the way, the mangos are to die for
Consume as many as possible when in season. Other tropical fruits you might like (for all sorts of reasons) are rambutan, custard apple, mangosteens, mandarins, white sapote, and many of the small varieties of bananas. Indulge your taste buds in unique, delicious, healthy treats! The market is in the downtown area and open Thursday evenings, all day Friday and until early afternoon Saturday.
Other communities offer weekly or monthly markets. Port Douglas has a huge arts/crafts/produce market every Sunday morning. Check the weekend sections of the Cairns Post for the days/locations of these markets.
Special Community Events
Like any town its size, Cairns has festivals, a concert series, parades, and other fun community events. Until we finish constructing an online calendar of these events, we recommend you consult the local paper, The Cairns Post, or the community news/entertainment weekly, Barfly, for goings on.
Well, one of us is married, the other nearly so, and the third is more adept at diving the deep or exploring the rainforest than braving the Cairns club scene. The Barfly is a great guide to the clubs. When we do go out, we try to tap into the active music scene. Snake Gully is the hot local bush band, playing a uniquely Australian version of folk music. Catch them if you can. The Pier Tavern has local Celtic and other genres of folk music on Fridays and Saturdays. When we go out for a beer, we usually end up at one of the pubs outside of town, either in Redlynch, Freshwater or Stratford.
Rent a car and Get Out There!
There are some great places to visit close by, and we urge you to get out and check them out. We also hope you will learn from our years of local
vehicle rental experience and follow our recommendations. Check out our links in our Getting Around Section and Car Rental Nightmares story section.
Lake Morris/Copperload Dam - A 30-minute drive through the rain forest gets you to a beautiful still lake, surrounded by jungle, with small teahouse. A peaceful picnic spot for a picnic.
Crystal Cascades - A 20-minute drive from town takes you to this lovely park with a creek cascading though it, great swimming holes, scenic and easy walks.
Lake Placid - A 20-minute drive. A big swimming hole, café, lots of big ollizards (goannas) walking around here, really!
Mountain View Hotel - A 30-mintue drive will land you at this great rural pub; with an extensive shady creekside patio. Its perfect for lazy hot afternoons.
Atherton Tablelands - A bit of Hawaii, the wild west, and the English countryside all mixed together; with kangaroos and cockatoos added. Lots to see. It is worth a day of exploring if you have the time.
Mareeba - A 45-minute drive away, Mareeba is an old cow town, with an interesting Italian cemetery. If you can find the funky and magical Granite Gorge, you will not be disappointed.
Mareeba wetlands - A 60-minute drive away, this sanctuary combines great outback scenery and bird life. Rent a canoe and go for a paddle on a beautiful small lake.
Our favorite walks below should get you started. If you are really committed to exploring on foot, you may want to look for a guide to walks in the area. Youll find one in most bookshops in town.
The Esplanade at Sunset - Lots of people, lots of strange and noisy birds, and a good view of the mountains, mudflats and shore. The walk gets less and less crowded as you move away from town. (Bring binoculars if you got 'em.)
The Marina early evening - I don't know about you, but some folks, me included, just like to sit on the long finger of the pier and watch the mountains change color, as all the dive and fishing boats return starting at around 5:00 pm.
Mt. Whitfield - Check out two walks on Mt. Whitfield: The mile long red arrow walk is clearly marked and winds up through the forest to afford great views of Cairns and the airport. The Blue Arrow walk is about 8 miles round trip and is a bit more adventurous as walks go. Bring water, and avoid the hot part of the day. About a 10-minute drive from downtown.
Centenary Lakes and Fletcher Botanic Garden A good bet if you like an easy but natural walk on this flat network of paved paths. The café in the Botanic garden is a great spot for coffee or a cold drink. About a 10-minute drive from downtown.
Getting a Workout
In Cairns there are three large facilities close to the central business district.
Body Alive has a full range of free weights, machines and cardio machines. 4031-7216
Fitness Connection, an equally well-outfitted gym catering exclusively to women, 4031-4320.
Matson Resort also operates a fully outfitted club, 4044-4160. Right on the Esplanade.
Sportsworld, a gym with a full range of aerobic, spin and weight classes. 4051-2863. (5km from Downtown)
All four centers sell one-day passes
Mt. Whitfield - great runs in the rainforest, great views. Check out the mile-long red arrow circuit or the challenging five-mile blue arrow trail. Centenary Lakes Park has paths throughout, and is popular with runners.
The Esplanade - three-mile loop - great coastal scenery and interesting people.
From May through October every Sunday afternoon theres a mini World Cup soccer tourney, teams from the local
backpackers hostels, and pick-up teams compete for the weeks cup. The tourney is sponsored by the Woolshed, a nightclub in town, so its likely that any thirst you develop can be quenched after the game..
The indoor volleyball club trains on Wednesday evenings at the Cairns Showgrounds, and usually welcomes experienced players. On Friday evenings there is a drop in pairs beach volleyball (they have lighted courts) competition at Sportsworld, an great health club and sports center about a mile from the downtown area..
You can rent basic bikes at several shops, just not at the bike shops. (No fancy road bikes are available.) We like the road-style mountain bikes available at Bandicoot Bicycle Tours and Skydive Cairns. Youll find lots of bike paths all over the place; but keep an eye on the traffic. You can rent high-end mountain bikes from Ian at CTC tours. The Cairns Mountain bike Club has created a wonderful looping trail system out near the bungy jump site North of town. (About a 30-minute ride from town.)
Men and women are invited to participate in a weekly pickup roller hockey game, Wednesday nights at the Behan St. skate park. Play starts at 7:00pm
There are several swim centers in Cairns that maintain open hours for drop in training. The Tobruk Pool just is close to the Downtown area, they also conduct spin classes and aquaerobic classes. Contact them at 4052-1266. Out near the Northern Beaches is another aquatic center, the Marlin Coast Swimming Complex, phone number 4057-7720. Both facilities are full-sized swimming complexes. South of Cairns lies the Trinity Aquatics Center, thy can be reached at 4036-4326.
There is a very active mountain biking community in Cairns. A surprising number of the worlds top downhill riders, both men and women, are from Cairns. The local trails range from easy to terrifyingly technical. The best place to get started is out at the Smithfield tail system, a network of trails out by the bungy jump site. Check in with the Cairns Mountainbike Club and the local bike shops for news. Be sure to volunteer for trailwork if you have time.
Cairns is a sporting kind of place, and nearly every weekend, and some weeknights, sporting events occur all over town. We recommend you check the Thursday through Saturday editions of the local paper, The Cairns Post, to see whats going on. Sports include: Pro Basketball, Rugby (two kinds), Australian rules football, cricket, and field hockey. Admission to most of these events is nominal and most of the venues are close to downtown. This is truly local sport, so the crowds are made up of the parents, husbands, wives and mates of the athletes. They are friendly to visitors, and usually very pleased to see you.
Are you an athlete yourself? Youll find an extensive schedule of running and biking events, and triathlon is big in the area. Stop in at one of the local bike shops (Pump 'n Pedals on Sheridan St. has a good display of flyers) and find out whats going on. Lot's of locals participate for fun. Don't worry about a personal record. Just do your best, have a good time, and make some friends.
Cairns local Paddy Colwell runs a fast paced and lively illustrated lecture on the Great Barrier Reef nearly every night in his shop downtown. If youre planning a trip to the reef, we highly recommend this informative intro. Very affordable, perhaps AUS$10, and well worth it.
Cairns Historical Museum - Gather some great local history here. Very interesting. Dont judge it by its exterior.
Cairns Regional Art Museum - View a great collection of local works. Always hosts a unique touring exhibition. Well worth a look.
A visit to the night markets on the esplanade will expose you and your wallet to every Australian souvenir imaginable. The markets are a series of small permanent booths, similar to a craft fair in style, with just about everything for sale, from fine gift items to cheesy trinkets.
Two iconic and functional Australian souvenirs are the felt bush hat and the horse rider's raincoat. We buy our hats at Cairns Hatters in the downtown; they know their stuff and will fit the hat to you perfectly. (Fitting a hat correctly makes all the difference.) We buy our Drizabone (Dry-as-a bone, get it?) coats at City Place Disposals, a camping outfitter located in the brightest yellow building you have ever seen, at the corner of Shields and Grafton Streets in the Downtown area. They have a great selection of coats at great prices.