The Edge Lookout Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Kuranda Cairns Sarah Latham

Cairns is full to the brim of so many different types of activities to experience. Whatever you choose, make sure you don’t leave without ticking off all five of these Cairns bucket list items.

Suggested read: 101 things to do in Cairns

1. Cairns Bucket List – The Great Barrier Reef

Does it really need to be said? The World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef is the hero attraction of Queensland (actually, in fact, Australia) and is the major Cairns bucket list item to tick off! One of the seven wonders of the natural world and can even be seen from Space, the Great Barrier Reef is easily the first of all Cairns bucket list items. How you choose to see it – from snorkelling, to scuba diving, tropical island hopping, to above by small plane or helicopter… well, that’s up to you.

scUber The Great Barrier Reef Sarah Latham

The Great Barrier Reef is complete with tropical islands and sand cays. With pure white sand and the bluest of seas from above and a hub of tropical marine life bursting with colour from below. While the news may be reporting the terror of the Great Barrier Reef dying, Cairns locals can tell you that it is very much alive. With many tours leaving from Cairns and Port Douglas everyday, you can tick off this major Cairns bucket list item by spending half a day, a full day or even multiple days and nights experiencing the Great Barrier Reef. Choose to go to Low Isles with Sailaway, Fitzroy IslandGreen IslandMichaelmas Caythe Three SistersVlasscoff CayFrankland Islands or more – there really is a lot of beautiful places to see.

2. The World Heritage listed Rainforest

Cairns also has another claim to fame (and Cairns bucket list item to tick off) which is its tropical rainforest. Stretching from Cooktown, a 4-hour drive north of Cairns, down to just above Townsville, another 4-hour drive south of Cairns, is a narrow strip of green tropical rainforest called the Wet Tropics Rainforest. Home to the oldest tropical rainforest on Earth, the Wet Tropics is estimated to be 130 million years old which makes it over 60 million years older than the Amazon! Areas of this rainforest haven’t changed in millions of years and can be thought of as a living time machine allowing you to look back at what the rainforest was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Suggested read: How to experience the Cairns rainforest.

The Edge Lookout Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Barron Gorge

A major Cairns bucket list item, there are many ways to experience this majestic rainforest. You can choose from hiking through to Glacier Rock on the Douglas Track (suggested read: How to get to Glacier Rock: The Ultimate Guide), or swimming in the pristine green pools of Josephine Falls. One of the most popular attractions of this region is exploring the rainforest with the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. A combined train and gondola experience, the train takes you up and through the mountain ranges on a heritage listed vintage train, and Skyrail allows you to experience the rainforest from above, sailing across the ancient canopy and exploring the forest floor at stops along the way.

Kuranda Scenic Railway train travelling through the rainforest

You can do the train and Skyrail journey in either order, but in between each experience, make sure to spend some time in Kuranda, the village in the rainforest (suggested read: Things to do in Kuranda). There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops and Kuranda is also home to the Kuranda Original Markets and many wildlife parks – like Rainforestation, Birdworld, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Kuranda Koala Gardens.

 3. Chillagoe and the Outback

Cairns is a gateway to all types of experiences, and in addition to the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforest, only a few hours drive will see you standing in the dry outback with an insight into the region’s distant past. 3 hours drive west from Cairns is the tiny outback town of Chillagoe. Chillagoe is known for its rocky outcrops and deep caves. It might boggle your mind when standing in the dry landscape 3 hours drive inland, but Chillagoe was once completely underwater. The rocky outcrops are actually fossilised reef and ancient caves dating back 400 million years ago. You can read more about Chillagoe’s history here.

Hire a car (certain car companies will allow you to take your car off road to reach Chillagoe so be sure to ask) and pack a tent for a weekend wandering around the outback. Camping spots are available at the Chillagoe Observatory & Eco Lodge. Spend your time exploring the Chillagoe Caves – some caves are free but some are worth paying for a tour. The insight you receive from the guide, and the extra adventure is worth the cost.

Chillagoe Caves Billy Tea Safaris Cairns

4. The Ultimate Cairns Bucket List – Waterfall Chasing!

Don’t go chasing waterfalls is terrible advice, and if you follow what TLC preach you’ll be missing out on some epic adventures while you are visiting Cairns (not to mention some major Cairns bucket list items!). There are waterfalls near and far in Cairns from Stoney Creek, Crystal Cascades and Fairy Falls just outside of the Cairns CBD, to Barron Falls and Emerald Creek Falls between Kuranda and Mareeba, Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders south of Cairns and, of course, the stunning (and famous) Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit on the Atherton Tablelands. Just note the best way to see all the many beautiful waterfalls in Cairns, including those closer to the city, is by hiring a car.

Emerald Creek Falls Cairns Sarah Latham

5. Crocodiles!

A major Cairns bucket list for many, crocodiles inhabit the far north of Australia and have stood the test of time. Ancient dinosaurs that have maintained their predator status to all animals and humans alike, crocodiles sure are pretty damn terrifying and while you should never go looking for a crocodile in the wild, as due to their highly camouflaged body and vicious nature, they are extremely dangerous, you can experience these fascinating monsters in Cairns safely.

Whether you visit Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures located in Wangetti, between Cairns and Port Douglas or visit Rainforestation near Kuranda to meet their resident 5m saltwater crocodile. Named Jack the Ripper and weighing 650kg, this crocodile is known for killing 12 of his past crocodile girlfriends. If you’re visiting Port Douglas, be sure to stop in at Wildlife Habitat where you can walk the ‘plank’ over crocodile waters and even meet the little babies (pictured below!). If you’re looking for somewhere closer to Cairns city, visit Cairns Zoom located in the roof of the casino (yes, you read that right) in the Cairns CBD. Crocodile Goliath hangs out here every day and at Cairns Zoom you even have the opportunity to zip line over him – a pretty epic Cairns bucket list item, how many other places in the world can you do that?!

Girl kissing crocodile

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