Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’) has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a boggy swamp and rollicking goldfields port. As the number-one base for Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, today Cairns heaves under the weight of an ever-growing number of resorts, tour agencies, souvenir shops, backpacker bars and reef boats. This is a tourist town, and unashamedly so – luxury hotel development in 2018 and an increasingly busy cruise-ship port suggest it's only growing busier.
The city centre is more boardshorts than briefcases, and you'll find yourself throwing away all notions of speed and schedules here, thanks to heady humidity and a hearty hospitality. There's no beach in town, but spend time at the Esplanade lagoon or the Pier marina and you'll understand why many travellers fall for Cairns.
The Cairns region is the traditional land of the Yirrganydji and Yidinji peoples.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Cairns.
Babinda Boulders is a natural gorge where a photogenic creek rushes between 4m-high granite rocks. It’s croc-free, but waters can turn treacherous after heavy rain. Local Aboriginal Dreaming stories recount that a young woman, Oolana, threw herself into the then-still waters after being separated from her love; her anguish caused the creek to become the surging, swirling torrent it is today. Almost 20 visitors have lost their lives swimming at the boulders over the years, though marked trails and safety rails now keep most at a safe distance. Swimming is permitted in the calm, well-marked parts of the creek, but pay careful heed to all warning signs. It's around 470m from the picnic area to Devil's Pool and 600m to Boulder Gorge. There are interpretive boards along the way.
Josephine Falls is a series of cascades over eroded granite boulders as the creek trickles – often sometimes flows – down from the misty Bellenden Kerr Range. It's a well-signposted 8km west of the Bruce Hwy to the car park, from where a paved 700m walk heads uphill through the rainforest to three viewing platforms. The bottom (first) pool is suitable for swimming and lounging, the middle pool is for viewing only and the upper falls is now officially off limits to walkers. A further 2km drive on from the Josephine Falls turnoff brings you to the Golden Pool recreation area, a picnic spot on the Russell River – don't swim here as crocs inhabit the waters.
While this family-owned, tropical-themed aquarium has plenty of fish, turtles and beautiful artefacts on display, it's Cassius, the world's largest croc in captivity, that is the star attraction; the 5.5m saltie is believed to be more than 110 years old. Cassius and pals are fed daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm, which is when you'll see the most activity. Your ticket entitles you to re-entry throughout the day.
This centre looks after sick and injured sea turtles before releasing them back into the wild. Educational tours (45 minutes, maximum 15 guests) take visitors through the turtle hospital to meet recovering residents. Bookings through the Fitzroy Island Resort are essential.