I am loving discovering the home towns of travel-loving families around the globe through their eyes in my series My City (with kids!) Meeting a local is a great way to get to know a place which is exactly what I’ve tried to create through this series. Today it’s the turn of Bryony from Coasting Australia to share more about her home town of Cairns… Well, truth be told, she and her family are currently travelling around Australia full time, but before they hit the road they called Cairns home for 7 years. Read on to find out more about Bryony’s suggestions of Things to do in Cairns, Australia (with kids!)
How to Visit Cairns with Kids – Like a Local
Cairns is one of my favourite destinations in Australia.
One of the best things is that most of the activities are also outdoors, nature based or surround by incredible scenery, meaning that you’re making the most of the great outdoors whilst exploring the area.
While you can walk into any travel agent and book one of the many popular tours on offer, here are some alternative ways to enjoy Cairns that you won’t find in the brochures…
Things to do in Cairns, Australia
Everyone knows that a visit to Cairns isn’t complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, and one unique way to experience it is to visit one of the beautiful islands off the coast.
A lot of locals purchase annual passes to visit Fitzroy Island on unlimited trips throughout the year as it is such an incredible spot. Nudey Beach (don’t worry – it’s named after a person and not a nudist area!) has made countless lists as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and you can snorkel right off the sand all around the island. We’ve often spotted rays, turtles and reef sharks in the crystal clear waters off the beach, and you can hire all your snorkel gear while you’re there if you don’t want to bring it along – as well as sea kayaks and SUPs. There is also an ocean trampoline you can swim out to, and if you stay in the Island Resort there is a swim up bar!
Green Island is another favourite, where you can also snorkel straight off the beach, take a walk around the full circumference of the island along the sand and visit the world’s largest crocodile (luckily for swimmers he’s not in the wild!). The Frankland Islands is a National Park about 45km SE of Cairns where you can bushwalk, picnic, swim and snorkel.
It is impossible to describe the beauty of Paronella Park in words so you’ll just have to visit and see for yourself!
It’s a Spanish Castle built in the 1930’s by a Spanish immigrant, Jose Paronella for his wife, and the romance of the place seeps out of every stone.
There is a waterfall, beautiful gardens to explore and a stunning avenue of giant Kauri pines. It’s a couple of hours south of Cairns but well worth the drive.
The Atherton Tablelands
Cairns’ locals often escape to the Tablelands to beat the summer heat. The climate in the elevated region of Atherton and the surrounds is several degrees cooler than in Cairns, much dryer during the wet season and much less humid.
One of the best things about the Tablelands is the food trail – you can find home grown tea and coffee, wine and distilleries, cheese, chocolate, dairy and more. Add to this the historical villages, beautiful waterfalls and swimming spots and you’ve got a perfect day out or weekend away.
If you’re travelling to Cairns with your dog or with kids then don’t miss a visit to Goomooara Park. This massive parkland area about 10 minutes from Cairns City in Brinsmead.
There is a beautiful cool creek for swimming, large green open spaces for ball games or running, BBQs and picnic spots and well as lots of bush walks and bike paths. There is a giant adventure playground with a flying fox, and a great café at the entrance to the park where you can grab food to feed the wild turtles.
Another great way to see Cairns is by bike. There are hundreds of interconnected bike paths around the area, including over 60km of mountain bike trails in the Smithfield Mountain Bike Trail Park, about 20 minutes north of Cairns city.
Around the city you can ride the full length of the Esplanade to the Botanic Gardens, along scenic waterways or further distances up to the northern beaches. If you’re not travelling with bikes, you can easily hire them around the city centre for a great way to see all the sights on a budget and enjoy the tropical lifestyle
The Botanic Gardens
Loved by locals as a place to enjoy the serenity of the rainforest, The Cairns Botanic Gardens are a must when visiting Cairns.
There is a lovely café hidden amongst the trees, a short walk from the conservatory where you are surrounded by tropical plants and colourful butterflies.
You can spend hours exploring the boardwalks that lead around the gardens, past the saltwater and freshwater lakes where you can spot legions of birdlife and fish, including giant pelicans and swimming turtles.
On the banks of the Freshwater Lake you can also visit the Zhanjiang Friendship Garden – a Chinese garden with a Moon Gate, granite carved dogs and traditional entry pillars.
The Red Arrow is a bush walk accessed from the Botanic Gardens and is a favourite of locals before and after work. The challenging track leads you up through the rainforest to a lookout over the ocean and Cairns city and is well worth the climb.
Adjacent to the Botanic Gardens is the Tanks Art Precinct, where converted water tanks now house modern galleries and host live music events. The Tanks are also the location of monthly markets which are not to be missed.
Secret Swimming Spots
Swimming is a top priority to escape the heat in Cairns, but a quick dip in the ocean is not always an option with stingers and crocs about!
The locals head to one of Cairns’ freshwater swimming spots instead – Crystal Cascades, Babinda Boulders, Lake Eacham, Behana Horge and Stoney Creek are some of our favourites.
About 2 hours north of Cairns you will find yourself in the World Heritage listed area of the Daintree. The journey itself is one of the most scenic drives in Australia, the highway winds along with the ocean on one side and the rainforest towering up on the other.
Stay overnight in Cape Tribulation and explore on of the many bushwalks, secluded beaches, lookouts and swimming spots on offer.
Cairns is world famous for white-water rafting, but the locals have been enjoying the rivers another way for years too.
Tubing is a safe and relaxed way to cool down for all the family – floating down the Mulgrave River is an amazing way to enjoy a hot day (without speeding down the rapids!)
The Cairns region is one of exceptional local produce. Every week Rusty’s markets in the city centre has local grown produce on offer, with lots of fresh fruit laid out on the stalls for free tasting.
Head down to Cairns marina and search out the fishing boat ‘The Prawn Star’ for seafood straight out of the ocean.
One of our favourite places to dine in style is the Beach Shack at Kewarra Beach resort, where you can sit right on the beach with the sand between your toes and enjoy a wine, beer and gourmet food.
Cairns also has an amazing coffee scene – try Caffiend, the Blackbird Café, Lillipad or Bang and Grind.
The Coffee Works in Mareeba on the Tablelands also has a shop in the city centre, where you can find over 40 blends and beans, as well as over 100 specialty teas and over 50 types of chocolate!
Free Family Fun in Cairns
The best free thing to do with kids in town has to be the lagoon – it’s always hot in Tropical North Queensland so there’s always an excuse for a swim!
The lagoon is situated on Cairns Esplanade – which is another of our favourite places.
We love to hang out on the ‘Espy’ early in the evening when it’s cooling down. We bring a picnic or grab a takeaway pizza from one of the amazing local eateries and sit and watch the world go by.
There is a huge skatepark for the kids to enjoy, a bouldering wall, a water splash park and a pirate themed playground along the Esplanade too – all connected by a scooter and pram friendly walk.
Best Road Trip from Cairns
The Savannah Way is an epic 3 700km journey across Australia’s tropical north. Stretching from Cairns it goes through the Northern Territory and finishes in Broome.
Living in Cairns felt like being on a perpetual holiday – the climate and scenery make it perfect to explore the outdoors and the standard of attractions and activities are world class.
The best time to visit Cairns is during the cooler months from May – October when the warm weather makes it a great escape from the southern winter.
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About the Author
Bryony lived in Cairns for 8 years before deciding to travel Australia full time with the family. They have been on the road for 18 months so far, travelling with their 2 sons, aged 3 and 4, and their kelpie cross Bobby. They are exploring Australia in a Toyota Coaster bus, looking for the best destinations, attractions, and accommodation along the way.