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Swimming Holes, Chill Cafés And The Reef: A Weekend Guide To Cairns

Swimming Holes, Chill Cafés And The Reef: A Weekend Guide To Cairns

A tranquil waterhole in the Daintree near Cairns.

Cairns is rightfully known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s so much more than that. Step through its jungle-clad gateway and what you’ll find is a cosmopolitan city with a tropical climate similar to our buddies up in Bali and a relaxed pace of life to suit.


But don’t for a second associate this jewel of Far North Queensland with Hawaiian shirt-wearing septuagenarians sipping sundowners just before bed time: Cairns is a city equally blessed with adventure and late-night revelry as it is with swimming and snorkelling, ace local fare, and backroad 4WD-ing. Here’s a guide to making the most out of a weekend in Cairns.

Breakfast and coffee at Bang & Grind

TNQ Food and Shopping Trail - Photoshoot for Tourism & Events Queensland, Cairns, 21 May 2015.
Image: Tourism and Events Queensland / Andrew Watson

Rev up those engines and inject a good dose of caffeine and sustenance into your morning at Bang & Grind, a Cairns institution that locals swear by. Not only does this cool café brew the best coffee in town, but the staff here are incredibly friendly, too.

Oh, and then there’s the amazing food, including light-as-air pancakes and carb-heavy big brekkies, as well as more health-conscious options like granola and fruit salad. On busy mornings, Caffiend, which draws its inspiration from Melbourne’s graffitied laneways and the southern city’s high standards of good coffee, is a great alternative.

Drop out of your comfort zone

If a morning coffee isn’t enough to jolt you wide awake, then wrestling yourself out of your comfort zone and jumping off a 50m-tall purpose-built platform certainly will. Just a 20-minute drive north of Cairns and 196 steps up, the AJ Hacket Bungy Tower is set within a lush jungle and is the only structure of its kind down under.

Jumpers can choose to throw themselves off the platform in 16 different ways, each requiring different amounts of skill and courage. Time your jump on a Sunday and you’ll get to drop like a stone through the air as live bands belt out rocking numbers down below – but they’ll hardly be loud enough to mask your scream.

Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef

Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

You can’t visit Cairns and not spend time at one of Australia’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Great Barrier Reef. A full day snorkelling or diving through its crystalline waters its heartily recommended, and there are many cruising outfits that can take you into the heart of the reef – even as far as paradisiacal Fitzroy Island.

But if time won’t permit a full day on the water, visiting Green Island for a few hours is an excellent alternative; found just 27km away from Cairns’ coastline, you can easily tick this off in half a day.


Induce a food coma on Cairns cuisine

Beat any hunger pangs down into feeble submission by walking through downtown Cairns and filling your belly on the city’s cosmopolitan menu. Cairns draws its culinary inspiration from practically every corner of the globe, reflecting its multicultural tastes in its excellent cafés and restaurants.

Sit down by the water and tuck into contemporary Australian fare, such as grilled crocodile and kangaroo, at Dundee’s Restaurant on the Waterfront. Also on the menu are juicy steaks and seafood so fresh it practically swims onto your plate. For something from further reaches, settle into a traditional Balinese curry and rice over at Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant, or smash some plates at Fetta’s Greek Taverna.

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Grab a drink at one of Cairns’ cool bars

Image: Salt House

Once the unrelenting Queensland sun sinks below the hazy horizon and the temperature drops a few degrees, the city’s bars and pubs fill with thirsty patrons. Cool kids flock to the Salt House for sunset cocktails by the seafront and tipsy conversation, while those that prefer an unpretentious drink and traditional pub grub head to The Jack. Both venues feature live music most nights of the week.

Visit Cape Tribulation, where two World Heritage sites meet

The Daintree is the largest area of tropical rainforest in Australia, and it meets its UNESCO companion – the Great Barrier Reef – at Cape Tribulation. You’ll need to dedicate a full-day of your Cairns weekend to visit Cape Tribulation, driving past vistas of steamy rainforest in a 4WD and crossing crocodile-infested rivers to get there, but it’s an absolute must-do in far north Queensland.

Explore the oldest living rainforest on earth with an Indigenous guide, join a croc-spotting river cruise, cool off in Emmagen Creek, or zip-line through the jungle. Before setting off for the return journey back to Cairns, take a fresh water dip in Mason’s Waterhole – a “secret”  swimming hole just behind the tourist information centre – and swim to the beating soundtrack of the Australian rainforest.

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(Lead image: Sol Davey / Tourism and Events Queensland)

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