How to spend 3 days in Cairns (The perfect itinerary)

Cairns itinerary. 3 day in Far North Queensland

I recently spend some time in Far North Queensland, and I fell in love with this area! From stunning untouched roughed nature to the Great Barrier Reef, a Rainforest and a pumping city! Cairns in Queensland truly has it all! I have therefore created this Cairns itinerary for when you are heading to Far North Queensland for a couple of days and want to head out and explore.

This 3 day in Cairns Itinerary will allow you to explore Cairns itself for one day and takes you out to Fitzroy Island as well as Daintree National Park.

Though you can’t see everything in Cairns and its surroundings in just 3 days, I think this itinerary will allow you to cover as much ground as possible.

CAIRNS | BASIC INFORMATION

3 days in Cairns

As per usual I will start off by giving you some general information about the city. I like to do this in order to give you as much information as possible in my posts.

Where the Reef Meets the Rainforest is the cities catchy slogan and it is spot on! This amazing tropical North Queensland city both the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef as well as Daintree Rainforest (the oldest rainforest in the world)

While you could definitely spend a week or more taking in all the incredible sight in and around Cairns, three days is the perfect amount of time for a quick getaway but you still get to explore the cities major attractions.

Language English
Time Zone GMT+10
Electricity Flat three-pin plug. Electrical power in Australia runs on a cycle of 50hz, and a voltage of 230 Volt.
Currency Australian Dollar ($)
Tipping In Australia, you don’t have to tip – ever. But you can if you want to.

MONEY

Australia uses The Australian Dollar ($).  In pretty much all places will accept credit card. Some stalls at the markets do not though, so I do advise to carry some Australian Dollars with you just in case. There might also be a couple of smaller stores that do not have an EFTPOS machine.

As stated above, tipping is not expected, though it is customary to round up your restaurant bill to the nearest Dollar. At more expensive restaurants, it is normal to leave a 5-10% tip.

LANGUAGE

English is the official language of Australia. Underneath you can find some handy English/Australian phrases as well as some handy travel phrases that might come in handy during your time in the country.

Australian English
G’day Hello
How are ya Greeting, warm welcome
Arvo Afternoon
Catch ya later Goodbye
Good on ya Good job
Dunno I don’t know
Barbie Barbecue
Bloody oath That’s true
Beaut Fantastic, wonderful, the best
Buzz off Go away
BYO Bring your own grog/alcohol (Often seen at Restaurants)
Crikey! Astonishment, disbelief
Fair dinkum True, real, honest
Fair go To give somebody a reasonable chance at something; to treat them fairly

WHERE TO STAY IN CAIRNS?

When I was in Cairns, I was there as part of my month-long road trip through Queensland. I was, therefore, staying in a campervan, and as you might guess, we, therefore, had to stay at a campsite. There are quite a few available, but we stayed at the NRMA Cairns Holiday Park and loved it. It is a quiet and well-maintained campground with a small swimming pool and large amenities block. So, if you want to go camping whilst in Cairns I would highly suggest staying at this campsite.

On the last night of our holiday, we stayed in a hotel, as we had to fly out early. The hotel we stayed at Bay Village Tropical Retreat &
Apartments, which was a reasonable place to stay for a couple of nights as well. It comes with 2 swimming pools and an option for hotel rooms or apartments.

The city attracts a lot of (international) backpackers, so here are some of my favourite backpacker’s places to stay in Cairns, if you are looking at budget places as well:

HOW TO GET AROUND IN CAIRNS?

Cairns is not the biggest city in the world, so getting around is not too hard. Underneath I will show you just a couple of options if you don’t have your own vehicle.

Public transport | Cairns does not have a metro or train system, but it does have a good public bus system. It will take you just about anywhere you need to go. You can either get a Go Card, our buy a single paper ticket.
A single ticket fare for one zone is $4.90 AUD, and the prices increase per number of zones you travel (it’s $6.00 AUD for two zones). With a Go card, one zone is $3.37 and two zones are $4.11. So it will be worth it if you are planning to use public transport a lot during your stay in Cairns. If you are only staying a couple of nights and won’t be using public transport a lot, then just buy single tickets. This because you have to put a minimum of $20 AUD on the card as well as pay a $10 AUD  deposit, but you can turn in your card before leaving the city and be refunded any unused credit as well as your deposit.

Taxi + Uber | A taxi around the city is about $20-27 AUD. Ubers are a bit cheaper but have been banned from certain tourist hot spots. For example, you can not pick up an uber from the ferry terminal. You have to walk about 5 minutes further up the road to grab one.

Hire a bicycle | Since Cairns is such a compact city, hiring a bike to get you around is also a great option. Around the city, there is an excellent network of cycling paths and circuits, with some of the most popular routes being the Esplanade, Centenary Lakes, and the Botanic Gardens. There are many places available to hire a bike, including at most hotels and hostels. They are available from around $15 AUD per day!

WHEN TO GO TO CAIRNS?

The Tropical North Queensland region experiences two distinct seasons – the wet season and the dry season. The wet season is from November to March with tropical monsoons that include tropical cyclones. The warmer and dry season is from April to November.

During the summer season (December – February) the average temperatures range from 23.6 – 31.4°C (74.5 – 88.5°F). The wet season begins building up around December. The rainforests surrounding Cairns are at their finest during this period, Daintree Rainforest will be bustling with life. Also, at this time of year, the Great Barrier Reef is also phenomenal, with perfect water temperatures and visibility up to 50 meters.

WHEN IS THE STINGER SEASON?

Very important to know that Cairns does have singers from time to time. Stinger season is generally between November and May. It is advised to wear a stinger suit from November onwards. The waters around Cairns can carry the deadly box jellyfish and Irukandji.

Out on the Great Barrier Reef, the risk of marine stingers is low, however, stinger suits are recommended and available for hire on pretty much all reef tours.

CAIRNS ITINERARY | HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN CAIRNS 

Underneath I will show you the best things to see and do when in Cairns. I thought I would do it in an itinerary version, so make it more structured. If you wish to mix it op or change it around, that is completely fine. This itinerary it just to show you the best things to see and do in the 3-day timeframe.

DAY 1 | EXPLORE CAIRNS

I have added exploring cairns in this Cairns itinerary as you want to see a bit of the city. I have not done an hour by hour itinerary like I normally do, but I have given you some cool options to check out whilst in Cairns.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Because it is not possible to swim in the waters around Cairns because of jellies and crocodiles, the city has built a massive free-swimming pool! It is the hot spot to chill and take a dip on a hot summer’s day (Although, if it is too hot, be smart and stay inside where there is aircon)

Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome

This exhibit is enclosed by a 20m-tall glass dome on top of the Reef Hotel Casino. Because of its great city location, this place is perfect if you are short on time and have no time to visit other wildlife parks to cuddle a koala. This attraction is home to other Australian animals like snakes, tropical birds, and a saltwater crocodile. It is pretty small, so don’t expect too much! But it is a fun place to check out, especially if you want to hold a koala. The entry is $24 AUD.

Esplanade boardwalk

The Cairns Esplanade is a picturesque 2.5km stretch of foreshore in the heart of Cairns. Taking you along parklands, playgrounds, boardwalk, Lagoon, and recreational facilities. It also takes you along Cairns beach, the beach is muddy, not for swimming but lots to see, like birds and crabs. Also, across the street are plenty of wonderful restaurants.

Esplanade boardwalk Cairns itinerary

Check out the Botanical Gardens

The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a tropical paradise, renowned as one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants in Australia. Just 5 minutes from the airport, this is a lovely stop to make and enjoy these stunning lush gardens.

The garden is rich in trees, ferns, plants, and a lake. It’s open daily from 7:30 am-5:30 pm and Guided & audio tours are offered.

Chasing waterfalls | Crystal Cascades

Crystal Cascades in Cairns

It is a secluded freshwater swimming hole, hidden in a tropical rainforest. A series of small waterfalls flow into large pools surrounded by large impressive granite boulders. Rainforest trees hang over the mountain water, keeping it cool and refreshing. In rain season this waterfall has plenty of water and is super impressive.  

Day 2 | DAINTREE NATIONAL PARK

From Cairns, there is a couple of ways you can head to the rainforest. The best, and probably easiest, way to get there is by Car, Motorhome, etc. The road up there is pretty smooth (No unpaved roads) and can easily be done on your own accord. Especially if you first take the Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns, a world heritage listed route! By travelling it on your own accord, you can stop and enjoy the scenery when you wish.

There is no public transport to or from the Daintree region, so that is unfortunately not an option.

There are some private bus companies that do run to and from the park:
Cape Trib Adventure Bus runs a direct service between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation. It runs from Monday to Friday and departs Port Douglas at 8:30 am and leaves Cape Tribulation at 4:30 pm.

Another great option is by going on an organized day trip. A great option is the 1 Day Cape Tribulation & Daintree Tour with Mossman gorge.

Daintree National Park

Make sure to take the Great Barrier Reef Drive. Located between Cairns and Daintree and is one of the prettiest (and Heritage listed) stretched of the prettiest drive you will ever see!

The Great Barrier Drive cradles up to the Coral Sea and offers the first spectacular view of palm-fringed beaches.  The drive itself is not long, but there are several incredible beaches you can stop at, take photos of and enjoy the sunshine.

Daintree National Park

Make sure to stop at Rock Stacking beach. I am not sure what it’s the official name is, but it is pretty much impossible to miss along the Captain John Cook Highway. It truly is a standout spot to stop. Rocks stacked on each other, its fun to look at and do your own stack.

Daintree River Cruise

A great stop on your way to the Daintree rainforest is at the Daintree River Cruise! They offer one-hour cruises on the Daintree River. The river is home to crocodiles, lots of birds, snakes and incredible mangroves (featured in David Attenborough documentaries) I found the cruise incredible, even though we didn’t get to see any crocodiles.

For more information on this 1-hour cruise, you can check out my Daintree River Cruise blog.

Underneath are just a couple of things you can check out in the rainforest:

  • Check out the Swimming Hole @ Masons Cafe – Besides having some pretty taste burgers (From Camel to Standard Aussie beef) you should take a short walk around the back of the Cafe, through a patch of regenerating forest and check out their swimming hole. Beautiful clear cold water running down from the mountains into a swimming hole below. It makes this spot perfect to cool off on a hot sunny day as there are no Crocodiles or stingers!
  • Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre – collect lost of incredible information on the Daintree rainforest and all its inhabitants.
  • Marrdja Boardwalk at Noah Beach – This boardwalk will take you through the dense rainforest, some muddy mangrove plains and along the beach and riverbanks. It is only 1.2 kilometres long and will take about 45 minutes to complete.
  • Jindalba Boardwalk – Another great boardwalk through dense rainforest. You will pass the creek her and there and you will also go past a waterfall. This walk is only 0.70km and takes less than 20 minutes to complete.

SNORKEL AT THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

From Daintree (Cape Tribulation) you can take a half a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. If you want to see as much as possible from the reef and would like to check this out.

The Ocean Safari is run from Cape Tribulation (In the Daintree Rainforest) and offers half a day snorkelling tours.  They go to two different reef sites (Mackay and Undine Reefs). In total, you swim for about 2 hours and you have the opportunity to see turtles, stingrays, lots of parrotfish and much more.  It includes all snorkelling equipment and personalized snorkel instructions.

This trip is pretty much back to basic and it a bit of an intense one. if you are in luck and the sea is not rough, then it will be a bit more enjoyable then what I experience. But this is one of those once in a lifetime trips.

Make sure to check out my post on what it was like and how we concured the rough ocean.

Daintree Great Barrier reefDaintree snorkeling with Ocean Safari at the Great Barrier ReefDaintree snorkeling with Ocean Safari at the Great Barrier Reef

DAY 3 | GREAT BARRIER REEF OR FITZROY ISLAND

Fitzroy Island is a stunning island located just a 45 minutes ferry trip from Cairns. Here you can find Austalia’s most beautiful beach (voted in 2018), the Great Barrier Reef just meters from the beach, turtles and so much more.

There are several boats that provide transfer services to Fitzroy Island.  Underneath are just a couple of options that you can take:

We went with the Fitzroy Island Flyer. Just because I have travelled with them I have some more information below.

Underneath are just a couple of things you should do when visiting the island.

NUDEY BEACH

Nudey beach on Fitzroy Island

This beach has been voted the number one beach of 2018 within Australia by beach ambassador Brad Farmer. Nudey Beach is about a 15-minute walk from the ferry wharf and offers some nice reef action right off the beach. It is a bit of a hike from the wharf and the route is not always super clear.  The beach is filled with broken of Coral (Which is super upsetting, not sure how that is caused) So please bring Aqua Shoes with you!⠀I didn’t and getting in and out of the water was not very Pamela Anderson like….

Nudey beach on Fitzroy IslandCoral at Walcome Bay at Fitzroy IslandCoral at Walcome Bay at Fitzroy Island

Literally the second your face hits the turquoise water you will be able to see massive coral and lots of fishes. There are no facilities at this beach (as in toilet or food) so prepare before you make the track down.

FITZROY ISLAND TURTLE REHABILITATION CENTER

Fitzroy island turtle rehabilitation center

A quick stop at the rehabilitation centre is a must when you want to know more about the preservation of these animals. The tour involves a lot about plastics and the environment. You will get to see some rehab turtles during the tour. The money for the cost of the ticket is donated straight to the turtle rehab centre.

Tours run daily from 1.00 pm. They are 45 minutes in duration, with a maximum of 15 guests and are accompanied by a tour guide. It costs  $11.50 AUD for an adult and $7.00 AUD for a child (4-13 years). Proceeds of the tickets sale go back into the wildlife protection and rehabilitation. To book a tour you have to go to the General Store (next to Foxy’s Bar) or at Resort Guests at the hotel reception.

WELCOME BAY

Welcome Bay at Fitzroy Island

Welcome Bay at Fitzroy IslandHot spots for fish and turtle spotting are around the boulders framing both ends of Welcome Bay. Welcome Bay starts next to the Ferry Warf and it a small beach filled with coral. Only a couple of steps in you will find lots of coral and large fishes. It is, however, depends on the tide if you are allowed to snorkel there. The coral is pretty close to the surface and you will damage it if the tide is too low.

Therefore do please check whether you are allowed to snorkel. The last thing you want to do is damage something so fragile and precious.

Welcome Bay at Fitzroy IslandCoral at Walcome Bay at Fitzroy Island

I had an absolutely amazing day and highly suggest you add Fitzroy island to your own Cairns itinerary! You definitely don’t want to miss this stunning island!

WHERE TO GO AFTER YOUR 3 DAY TRIP TO CAIRNS? 

Cairns is an incredible spot to start travelling either up the coast or down to Brisbane. Underneath are just a couple of handy posts if you are planning to travel after you have completed this Cairns itinerary.

ADDITIONAL QUEENSLAND RESOURCES

Thank you for reading my 3 days in Cairns Itinerary, I hope this was helpful. have you been to Cairns? What was your favourite stop? I have to be honest and I don’t think I can choose between Daintree and Fitzroy! Both were absolutely spectacular. Let me know in the comments below what is your favourite. (If you can choose)

PLANNING TO GO TO AUSTRALIA? THEN CHECK OUT SOME MORE TRAVEL TIPS HERE:

Thank You Guys For Reading My 3 days in cairns Itinerary  <3

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I Can’t Do This Without You xxx

14 Comments

  1. Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes
    January 30, 2020 / 9:49 pm

    I have not been to Australia, great post full of tips and lovely pictures 🙂

    Nic | Nic’s Adventures & Bakes

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      January 31, 2020 / 9:56 am

      Thank Nic, Australia is amazing, I hope you get to visit us one day 🙂

    • February 1, 2020 / 2:30 am

      I love this!!! I’ve saved the slang for when I go to Australia in a week!! And those turtles, that water is just so clear it’s like a pool!! Saving the post for when I get to come back to Australia again!! Xx

      • bonditobasic
        Author
        February 1, 2020 / 9:53 am

        Thank you 🙂
        I can not wait to see your photos of Australia! They are going to be incredible!
        Cairns region is simply amazing with the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, I think you will love that part of Aus. xx

  2. Lellalee
    January 31, 2020 / 10:48 pm

    What a beautiful place – your photos are amazing! I’ve never been to Australia but you’ve totally sold it to me! xxx

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      February 1, 2020 / 9:51 am

      Thank you Lellalee, that is very kind of you!
      Australia is absolutely amazing, if you ever travel to here you will definitely not regret it 🙂 xx

  3. katelyn | embark to explore
    February 1, 2020 / 8:25 am

    Wow this post really made me wanna visit! I love how much detail you go into, basically planned it all out for me when I decide to go, haha! I also pinned literally all of these photos because their gorgeous! x

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      February 1, 2020 / 9:55 am

      ahhh Thank you Katelyn, that is so incredibly kind of you.
      I try to write extensive posts so that people have all the information that they need, I am glad you liked it and think its handy ahah
      Hope you can make it to Cairns one day, you’ll love it xx

  4. Kate
    February 17, 2020 / 5:17 am

    Australia is so beautiful!
    Thank you for sharing in your lovely blog 😀

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      February 17, 2020 / 10:51 am

      Thank you so much Kate 🙂

  5. February 22, 2020 / 2:04 pm

    Hi Noni,

    Your blog is fantastic! I have travelled along the coast of Australia as well and have recently began a blog. You are giving me a lot of tips!

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      February 25, 2020 / 9:55 am

      Ahh Awesome sally, I am glad you like my blog.
      All the best with your blogging journey xx Manon

  6. May 12, 2020 / 11:12 am

    What a great guide! Thanks for sharing. Definitely bookmarking this when I visit Australia 🙂

    • bonditobasic
      Author
      May 12, 2020 / 2:20 pm

      Thank you so much, that is very kind of you. Cairns is an amazing city with incredible surroundings. Definitely worth checking out 🙂 xx Manon

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