Found on the tropical northern coast of Queensland, Cairns is the famous gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Although far from the largest city in Australia in terms of population, Cairns is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. People from all over Australia and the world come to Cairns to snorkel, dive, and swim at the famous reef. But have you ever wondered what are the most unusual things to do in Cairns?
There’s actually a lot more to do and see in Cairns than just the Great Barrier reef. Thanks to its tropical climate, amazing beaches, and lush rainforests, the landscape here offers a multitude of possibilities. Especially if you’re the kind of person who likes being out in nature, you’re in for a treat. But whether you’re looking for adrenaline adventures or relaxing activities, you’re guaranteed to find something for everyone.
Whether it’s your first time or your twentieth time visiting Cairns, you may have wondered what unusual things you can see and do here. We’ve done the research for you and compiled this ultimate guide to the non-touristy, unusual things that you can do in Cairns.
So what are you waiting for? Store your bags with Stasher and get exploring.
See Cairns from a new perspective
There’s nothing more unique than seeing a landscape from an entirely different perspective. And so the first activity on our list of unusual things to do is to take a hot air balloon ride and see Cairns from the sky. You might not have guessed it, but Queensland is actually the hot air ballooning capital of the world.
Riding up into the sky in a hot air balloon is a totally unique way to see the landscape, with views stretching across the sea, the Atherton tablelands and the beautiful countryside. If you have a head for heights, there’s no better way to see the sun rising over Queensland. It’s up to you whether you want to ride for 30 minutes or an hour, and there are plenty of rides each day meaning you’re sure to get a slot.
Every ride is accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who will be able to tell you some interesting facts about Cairns and point out the areas of interest on the landscape below you.
Take a leap with skydiving
Next on our list is another fantastic way to see the landscape from the air, albeit likely to be a lot less relaxing than a hot air balloon ride. Queensland is certainly one of the top destinations in Australia for adrenaline junkies, and Cairns is no exception. If you’re into extreme sports, or you fancy trying something new, why not have a go at skydiving?
The popularity of the sport here means it’s the perfect place for beginners to take their first skydiving trip. First off, you’ll have to take the safety briefing, which is mandatory for all skydivers whatever your level of experience. A plane will then take you up 15,000 feet into the sky, where, attached securely to an experienced instructor, you will jump out into the sky. The great thing about doing a tandem jump (a jump with an instructor) is that they can take care of all the technical parts while you enjoy the amazing views. During your descent, you’ll be able to marvel at the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and you’ll get a certificate once you’re back on land as a souvenir of your adventure.
Visit the largest Butterfly Sanctuary in the Southern Hemisphere
Kuranda is a village found near Cairns in northern Queensland. One of the best things to do here is visit Kuranda’s Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, which is the largest butterfly sanctuary in the southern hemisphere. Once inside, you’ll feel like you’re inside nature’s own version of a colourful kaleidoscope.
The sanctuary is home to over 2000 tropical butterflies and moths, of all different colours, shapes and sizes. We recommend taking the free guided tour, which will teach you all about butterfly life cycles and behaviour, as well as showing you the 4000 caterpillars kept in the breeding laboratory.
Stasher tip: Butterflies are most attracted to red, white, and bright pink clothes, so make sure to wear these if you want to get lots of butterfly attention.
Take the Kuranda scenic railway
It’s often said amongst travellers that it’s not the destination that counts, but the journey. Well with a trip to Kuranda you can have both! Whether you’re on your way to visit the Butterfly Sanctuary that we mentioned earlier, or just to have a wander round Kuranda, you have two options for getting between Kuranda and Cairns.
Your first option is to take the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which is modelled on traditional steam trains, complete with comfortable seats and enormous windows for taking in the views of the rainforest.
The alternative is to get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest by taking a gondola ride. Here you’ll be up at the level of the birds and able to enjoy a treetop view on your journey. And the best part is you don’t have to choose between them. You can take one there and one on the way back, to make sure you get the full experience.
White Water Rafting on the Tully River
White water rafting is one of the many activities on offer in the rainforests surrounding Cairns. Another one for the adrenaline seekers, white water rafting on the Tully River is sure to get your heart pumping. Over the course of 5 hours, the tour goes over around 45 sets of rapids which vary in difficulty, including the excitingly named Stair Case, Theatre, and Alarm Clock. And during the calmer stretches you can enjoy the lush rainforest scenery of the Tully Gorge National Park. The trip is also broken up by a riverside barbeque next to the Ponytail Falls, giving you a chance to relax and recharge during the tour.
Go ziplining in the Daintree Rainforest
The Daintree Rainforest is one of the most beautiful attractions, and should be an essential part of any itinerary in Cairns. This is certainly one of the more unusual ways to see the rainforest, but all the more unforgettable for it. A ziplining tour will take you through part of the rainforest and the Wet Tropics of this Queensland World Heritage listed site.
This activity is for absolutely anyone and everyone, even if you’ve never been ziplining before in your life. The instructors on site will tell you everything you need to know before starting. You’ll then set off from platforms that vary in height from 7 to 16 meters from the rainforest floor. As you whizz through the trees, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife including koalas and kangaroos.
Swim in a volcanic crater
Lake Eacham is an enormous freshwater lake that fills a volcanic crater in the Cairns Highlands. Created some 10,000 years ago when magma came into contact with groundwater, exploding and forming the crater you can see today. This is a popular swimming spot with locals and tourists alike looking for refuge from the Queensland tropical heat.
If you’re in need of refuelling after your swim, head over to the Teahouse Cafe at Lake Barrine, Eacham’s twin crater, for tea and scones. The lake is situated about an hour’s drive outside of Cairns, but well worth the trip for the gorgeous scenery and refreshing dip in the lake. If you are headed to The Atherton Tablelands, Lake Eacham is well worth a stop on your journey.
Take a free exercise class on the Cairns esplanade
Any trip to Cairns wouldn’t be complete without a stroll along the esplanade. Here you’ll find fine dining, boutique shopping, and free exercise classes. Every morning, classes are hosted along the esplanade (check the council website for the schedule).
If you happen to be passing by on a Saturday morning, you’ll find the Esplanade Markets, where you can pick up all kinds of souvenirs of your travels. Around this area, you can also enjoy chilling out in Cairns, maybe hiring a bike to cycle through the town, or heading to the beach to soak up some rays.
Feast your eyes and stomach at the Night Markets
Want to pick a didgeridoo to take home with you as a souvenir from your travels? Or maybe some glassware? Or a brightly coloured T shirt? You can find all this and more at the Night Markets. This is a great thing to do in Cairns once the sun goes down, as the markets stay open until 11pm daily. Located on the Esplanade right in the heart of Cairns, here you’ll find souvenirs, clothes and food stalls serving up tasty dishes from all over the world. If you fancy a bite to eat and a bit of retail therapy this is definitely the activity for you and one of the most unusual things to do in Cairns.
Hike in the rainforests
One of the best things about Cairns is the unbelievable beauty of the surrounding landscape, all just a stone’s throw away. That’s why first on our list of the best things to do in Cairns is to go hiking at the Atherton Tablelands. This is a unique hiking experience, guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Look out for local wildlife including kangaroos, wallabees, and exotic birds. And make sure to make a stop at the gigantic fig tree, which is over 800 years old.
At the Atherton Tablelands, there are lots of different routes depending on your level of experience and stamina. Make sure to take a quick look at the map before you set off, as some of the trails are hard work and only fit for experienced bush walkers. However a lot of the routes are much easier and can be enjoyed by everyone. During your walk you’ll see varied scenery including waterfalls and rocky escarpments.
The Atherton Tablelands are situated a bit further from Cairns, so you’ll need to take a bus or car, but we strongly recommend making the journey. And you can always stop off at Lake Eacham (mentioned above) for a refreshing swim.
So there you have it, a complete guide to the most unusual things to do in Cairns. We hope you enjoy yourself.
Bonus: Don’t forget to drop off your bags, surfboard, or camping gear with Stasher so that you don’t have to carry around your heavy belongings all day. Bon voyage!
Hi! I am George and I am the Content Lead for Stasher.com. I love travel, writing, making music and meeting new and interesting people.