See the Best of Cairns Australia

Best of Cairns

Fish sculptures at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon‘Best of Cairns‘ includes the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and experiencing the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Cairns is a tropical far northern city, part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Site. Cairns has the 5th largest population in Queensland and 14th in Australia.

Cairns Esplanade LagoonTom and I spent a couple of days in Cairns on our return from a liveaboard on GBR. Arriving in the Central Business District (CBD), I was immediately attracted to the Esplanade. I wanted to walk along this delightful boardwalk that sits between the beach and the giant lagoon pool and playground. It’s as close to the ocean as visitors should get and still remain safe from crocodile attacks. The man-made lagoon provides a public swimming area overlooking the beach and gives the feeling of being at the beach. It looked like so much fun, I couldn’t wait to get in the pool. But with only a couple of days and so much to see in the Best of Cairns, I never made into the pool.

Cairns marinaThe Esplanade, a ‘Best of Cairns’ attraction, is lined with stores, hotels, restaurants, bars, and marina. It’s lovely to walk along the Esplanade to gaze at the ocean and the large and small boats at the marina. Military ships are here at times, too. We enjoyed strolling on the Esplanade and stopping for a bite to eat.

While originally not planning to stay in Cairns, I am glad we had a few days to see it. Now I can share the ‘Best of Cairns’ with you. If you want a smattering of all things Australia and have only a little time, Cairns offers it – from Aborigine Cultural to Wildlife Experiences (in zoo environments), to the Rainforest, and the colorful fish in the Coral Sea.

Best of Cairns

Skyrail view to Coral SeaFor a mix of GBR snorkeling or diving, rainforest, wildlife, cultural and island adventures all from one place, the Cairns area has it all. There is no shortage of things to do and see. ‘Best of Cairns’ offers access to:

  • Snorkeling and Diving at the Great Barrier Reef
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in the Wet Tropics
  • Tours to Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation
  • Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
  • Esplanade
  • Kuranda Scenic Railway
  • Kuranda World Heritage Rainforest
  • Cairns Botanical Gardens
  • Wildlife Parks
    • Kuranda Koala Gardens
    • Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
    • BirdWorld Kuranda
    • Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
    • Rainforest Nature Park
  • Atherton Tablelands 
  • Connections to many islands on GBR

Cairns covers 651 square miles, so you’ll need transportation to visit some of the Best of Cairns. The buses go to many places both inside and outside the CBD, but not all. To access more remote ‘Best of Cairns’ attractions, either arrange a tour or rent a car. When we were in Cairns, we used public transportation and had rides provided by our host. Between buses, taxis and UBER, you likely won’t need a car unless you want to visit Daintree or Atherton Tablelands on your own.


Like most popular crowded beach towns there are countless resorts, tour agencies, souvenir shops, and everything Great Barrier Reef – snorkeling, diving, and glass-bottom boats. Our liveaboard left Cairns and returned us to Cairns after our 4-day GBR liveaboard excursion. I recently wrote about our Great Barrier Reef excursion on the Spirit of Freedom.

Best of Cairns Attraction – Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Skyrail Gondola viewIf you are short on time and can’t visit the Daintree Rainforest, discover the Wet Tropics via the Cairns Skyrail between Smithfield and Kuranda with panoramas of Barron Gorge National Park. Immerse yourself in one of the “most botanically fascinating, diverse areas on earth.” As the world’s oldest continually surviving rainforest, it dates back over 120 million years. Cairns Skyrail has been voted one of the best things to do in Cairns and is recognized as a world leader in eco-tourism.

The Skyrail spans 4.5 miles gliding over the rainforest canopy to deliver passengers to Red Peak and Barron Falls Rainforest Stations to explore the forest floor. The last stop is Kuranda, a rainforest village with wildlife parks, restaurants, and shops.  This is definitely a ‘Best of Cairns’ attraction!

This rainforest receives 45” to 120” of rainfall/year – 60% falls in Summer, December – March. Expect some wet weather; it is a rainforest. Bring rain gear. We experienced everything – rain, sun, clouds.

Smithfield Terminal

The Skyrail from Smithfield Terminal enables guests to glide above the treetops for a unique bird’s eye view of this World Heritage Rainforest. It’s breathtaking to gaze across its expanse and out in the distance see the glittering Coral Sea.

On a round trip, guests return to Smithfield Station. We caught a bus from just outside of Smithfield Station back to Cairns CBD.

Red Peak Station

At Red Peak, arrive deep in the forest where a boardwalk leads you through the forest. Immerse yourself in nature’s wonder along the rainforest walkways. I recommend taking the complimentary ranger-led guided tour from here. You’ll learn about this lush rainforest, its Eucalypt woodlands, understorey, ferns, how trees grow here and access light, about the flowers, fruits, and animals of this rainforest.

The rangers keep a nature diary, which is published monthly on their rainforest observations of the flora and fauna.

Barron Falls Station

From the cable car enjoy spectacular views of the Barron Gorge. After disembarking, head to the Barron Falls Lookout for a view of the deep chasm and falls. There are 3 lookouts here; check them all out. A guided ATV tour through the Barron Falls area is available to add-on to your Skyrail package to see the rainforest up close.

Barron Falls area was once the construction base for hydroelectric development in the 1930s. See a display of the construction equipment here. Visit the Rainforest Interpretation Centre at the Barron Falls Station.

Rainforest Interpretation Centre

The Centre provides visual and interactive presentations on the rainforest. A great learning experience for children and adults, the interpretation center has touch-screen computers, videos and graphics that explain the mysteries of the rainforest and complex ecosystem. It’s a fun way to learn about the Wet Tropics.

Kuranda Terminal

Colorful display at the Kuranda Visitor Centre.After stopping at each station, the Skyrail arrives in Kuranda, the village in the rainforest. Figure on taking 90 minutes from Smithfield until arriving at Kuranda, including the two stops.

We strolled around Kuranda, had lunch, shopped for gifts at Kuranda Heritage Markets, and visited the Gemstone Museum.  The Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, and Koala Gardens are located in Kuranda too.

A Skyrail trip can be combined with the Kuranda Scenic Railway, a historic railroad that served miners, another ‘Best of Cairns’ excursion. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a scenic ride that transports guests to the Cairns Station, just a short walk from the CBD. It was closed for maintenance in late April; we rode the Skyrail roundtrip.

We enjoyed gliding quietly above the rainforest, viewing it from its canopy, the ranger tour and walk, and loved our day visiting Kuranda rainforest village.

The Smithfield Skyrail Base Terminal is 15 minutes from Cairns CBD, and 50 minutes south of Port Douglas. Coach transfers and pick-ups, city buses from Cairns, cars and taxis service this area.

While we were invited guests by Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.


Skyrail GondolaCairns offers the best of Australia in one location. Settings in the Cairns area are a mix of natural environments and man-made. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway provides a quick easy way to see and learn about the Wet Tropics natural environment. We thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend the Skyrail. If you are short on time, Cairns may be the best place to see almost everything Australia.  Check other Australia destinations!

32 thoughts on “See the Best of Cairns Australia

  1. Ahh, love Cairns. We visited a few years ago during their winter, which meant the weather was perfect. We loved Barron Falls and Kuranda scenic railway. The sky tram looks fun too.

  2. What an incredibly diverse array of experiences! My kids would love the Red Peak Station and I always dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef!

  3. David and I have been to Cairns many times on our way to various Barrier Reef Islands. I love it. It has a remote and exotic charm. I can highly recommend hiring a car. It is very easy to drive around and if you have the time and really want to get to the end of the sealed road take an overnight trip to Cooktown. Cooktown has an outback character which is hard to match. I will never forget the name of the local Chinese Restaurant – Chop Suey Louie’s.

  4. Oh we missed the Skyrail last time we were in Cairns! The views are so impressive that it’s definitely at the top of our list for our next visit.

  5. There is so much to see and experience in Cairns, I am sure there can never be a dull moment there. I would, of course, love to head straightaway to the Great Barrier Reef, something that I have studied about from schooldays.

    • If you dive at GBR, the only way it is worth the money is on a liveaboard. Have you been diving in Western Australia? If not, you’ll see many of the same things and more, plus very healthy reefs. It’s great for day diving.

  6. The skyrail experience is something I’d love to try! Both the red peak and Barron Falls station seem like interesting places with exciting experiences. I haven’t been to Australia yet but hopefully soon, fingers crossed!

    • I have posts on many places in Australia. If you want to build an itinerary, take a look at some of my previous posts. Also, we went many places on which I have not yet posted. You may want to check back or subscribe so you get notifications when I post on other places in Australia or as the Aussies say – Oz.

  7. I love the look of Red Peak and Barrons Fall station – there seems to be so much nature to see! The skyrail looks fun and I’m definitely adding Cairns to my ‘when I finally make it down-under’ wish list – I’m from London UK!

  8. I love exploring rainforests and the scenery around Cairns looks stunning! The Skyrail looks like a great way to explore the area, I bet the view of Barron Falls was amazing from the cable car.

    • The Skyrail is a great introduction to nature in Australia. After that visit places like Daintree and Cape Trib (see my earlier post on these).

  9. We were so glad we went to the GBR when we were in Cairns to both snorkel and scuba. We were not leaving Australia without at least trying this. But we love your idea of the live aboard and will try that next time. We ran out of time to try the Skyrail Rainforest trip but your views means this will definitely go on the plans for a return visit. Thanks for taking me back to Cairns! Linda

  10. I would have never guessed Cairns was over 650 miles big. I guess I had in my mind that Australia was small so any city on the continent would also be.

    I want to visit Barron Gorge!! It looks so magical

  11. That cassowary looks friendly in that photo, but I’m sure the ranger is more alert than he lets on!
    That glide through the jungle sounds like a wonderful (and safe!) adventure. I must admit that the warning about crocodiles scared me a bit. I want to be as far away from them as possible!

  12. Pingback: Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation - Why visit them?Adventurous Retirement

  13. Pingback: Great Barrier Reef - Is it Worth the Time and Money?Adventurous Retirement

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