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If you plan on exploring the far northern half of Queensland, Cairns (pronounced "Cahns") offers a convenient home base. About 1,500 miles north of Sydney, Cairns boasts the closest mainland access to the Great Barrier Reef. One reason Cairns is such a popular entry point to the reef is its airport. While there are a number of regional airports dotting the Queensland coast, Cairns hosts the only international airport in the north (Brisbane and Gold Coast welcome international passengers in the south). But while the city provides a favorable jumping-off point for reef explorations, it also touts its own attractions. And along with a variety of shops and restaurants, Cairns hosts plenty of lodging options, from luxurious five-star properties to budget-friendly hostels.
You may be here to discover the reef, but Cairns is worth exploring, too. Travelers recommend strolling along the Cairns Esplanade and swimming in its adjacent lagoon. A plethora of picnic areas and eateries can also be found by the boardwalk, and some report seeing colorful lorikeets in the trees and pelicans floating on the water. Other must-visit attractions include the Cairns Botanic Gardens and the Atherton Tablelands.
Cairns is the starting point for Kuranda Scenic Railway trips and sits about 26 miles southeast of Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Sunbus, a regional bus operator, offers fee-based routes throughout the city; street and lot parking are also available, with most options starting at 1.20 Australian dollars (less than $1) per hour. The city is free to visit 24 hours a day, but operating hours and fees for local boutiques, eateries and sights vary by location. Check out Tourism Tropical North Queensland's Cairns page for more details about Cairns.