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Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Pelicans picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns Beaches picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Pelicans picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns Beaches picture in Great Barrier Reef

Details

  • Neighborhood/Area Type
  • Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.6
Overall
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  • Value
    5.0
  • Food Scene
    4.0
  • Atmosphere
    3.5

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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.

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#1 Diving and Snorkeling Many visitors say the Great Barrier Reef is best seen through a scuba mask, but it's no small feat to traverse the area's dive spots. When choosing which ... Read more » chameleonseye / Getty Images

#2 Cairns 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 ... Read more » artherng / Getty Images

#3 Whitehaven Beach It's the most photographed beach in all of Australia, and after one look at its white sands, you'll understand why. Stretching across more than 4 miles of Whitsunday ... Read more » DarrenTierney / Getty Images

#4 Hamilton Island If the diving spots closest to the Queensland coast are too crowded for you, consider trekking a few miles east of the mainland to Hamilton Island. It's the largest ... Read more » Tanya Ann Photography / Getty Images

#5 Townsville Located by the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville is conveniently situated between Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands. It sits a short ferry ride away from Magnetic Island ... Read more » Phil Copp / Getty Images

#6 Sailing Picture it: As the wind-powered craft clips along the Coral Sea, a tropical breeze teases your hair while the ocean spits sea spray on your arms. You drop anchor within ... Read more » RugliG / Getty Images

#7 Air Tours After getting a fish-eye view of the reef, experience a bird's perspective of unique sights like Heart Reef and Hook Reef with an air tour. According to recent travelers ... Read more » Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

#8 Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas The Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is a wildlife sanctuary that strives to promote conservation through up-close encounters with its creatures. You'll have access to four immersion exhibits – the Woodland ... Read more » Louise_Lantz / Getty Images

#9 Hartley's Crocodile Adventures Visitors who want to enjoy a close encounter with Australia's unique animals will love checking out Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Though the main draw of this wildlife habitat is ... Read more » Darren Puttock / Flickr

#10 Kuranda Scenic Railway If you need a break from exploring the reef, why not go 1,076 feet above sea level with a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway? Departing from Cairns, the ... Read more » chameleonseye / Getty Images

Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Whitehaven Beach picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hamilton Island picture in Great Barrier Reef
Townsville picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sailing picture in Great Barrier Reef
Air Tours picture in Great Barrier Reef
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures picture in Great Barrier Reef
Kuranda Scenic Railway picture in Great Barrier Reef
Diving and Snorkeling picture in Great Barrier Reef
Cairns picture in Great Barrier Reef
Whitehaven Beach picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hamilton Island picture in Great Barrier Reef
Townsville picture in Great Barrier Reef
Sailing picture in Great Barrier Reef
Air Tours picture in Great Barrier Reef
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas picture in Great Barrier Reef
Hartley's Crocodile Adventures picture in Great Barrier Reef
Kuranda Scenic Railway picture in Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef boasts more than 5,000 dive sites, meaning your possibilities for exploration are nearly limitless. chameleonseye / Getty Images

While the Great Barrier Reef offers an extensive array of underwater sightseeing, don't forget about the mainland. The Queensland city of Cairns is a convenient home base that offers some tourist hot spots of its own. artherng / Getty Images

With just one look at its milky white sands and swirling azure waters, it's easy to see why Whitehaven Beach is Australia's most photographed beach. DarrenTierney / Getty Images

Surrounded by its fellow Whitsunday Islands, Hamilton Island is a playground for adventure-seekers. Snorkel, hike, sail or simply relax on its soft, sugary sands. Tanya Ann Photography / Getty Images

For some of the best views of Townsville and Magnetic Island, climb to the top of Castle Hill. Phil Copp / Getty Images

Take to the seas on a Great Barrier Reef sailing adventure. Whether it's a daytrip or a multiday excursion, there is nothing quite like clipping along the Coral Sea. RugliG / Getty Images

Enjoy a thrilling bird's-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef while on an air tour. Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

At the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas, you'll encounter a variety of Queensland's local residents, including kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles and koalas. Louise_Lantz / Getty Images

Large and small crocs, plus quintessential Aussie creatures like kangaroos, koalas and cassowaries can be seen at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. Darren Puttock / Flickr

For some of Queensland's best views away from the reef, take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. chameleonseye / Getty Images

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