This 3 day in Cairns itinerary is packed full of great activities, giving you the chance to explore Cairns itself for one day before taking on some more adventurous activities. 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 and Cape Tribulation.
Cairns, Australia – it’s a long way away from, well, almost anywhere. With an incredibly diverse landscape and distinct beauty, it’s well worth the trip. That is why, if you’re making the move across the sea (or just an Aussie looking for a lovely weekend getaway somewhere far away) you’d want to make the most of your time and fill your itinerary with everything to see and do.
Cairns, located in North-East Australia, is not only the entrance to one of the seven natural wonders of the world – The Great Barrier Reef – which even though it may be seen from Outer Space is a whole lot more beautiful up close, but it also has some stunning waterfalls and natural beauty.
Although you can’t see everything in Cairns and its environs in just 3 days, I believe this itinerary will enable you to travel as much ground as feasible.
*Bondi to Basic uses affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
CAIRNS | BASIC INFORMATION
Cairns is a major tourist destination, but don’t be discouraged if you’re not into it; it isn’t always the “less-travelled path” that makes all the difference – I always think – If two million people from all around the world visit this region each year, they must be onto something. Because of its popularity, there are several accommodation options available in the city and its surroundings. From incredible 5-star luxury hotels to backpackers and everything in between.
Where the Reef Meets the Rainforest is the cities catchy slogan and it is spot on! This amazing tropical North Queensland city is both the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef as well as Daintree Rainforest (the oldest rainforest in the world)
Three days is the ideal amount of time for a quick getaway while still allowing you to discover Cairns’ major attractions, but it’s not long enough to explore all there is to see.
|Electricity||Flat three-pin plug. Electrical power in Australia runs on a cycle of 50hz, and a voltage of 230 Volt.|
|Currency||Australian Dollar ($)|
|Tipping||In Australia, you don’t have to tip – ever. But you can if you want to.|
The Australian dollar ($) is the official currency. You can pay with a credit card in almost all places. However, some street vendors refuse to accept credit cards, so I recommend having some cash on you just in case. There may also be a few tiny businesses that do not have an EFTPOS terminal.
Tipping is not necessary, but it is considered good manners to round up your restaurant bill to the next Dollar. It’s common to leave a 5-10% tip at higher-end restaurants.
Australia has two official languages: English and Australian Sign Language. Below are some useful English/Australian phrases as well as some helpful travel words that may be of assistance to you while you’re in the nation.
|How are ya||Greeting, warm welcome|
|Catch ya later||Goodbye|
|Good on ya||Good job|
|Dunno||I don’t know|
|Bloody oath||That’s true|
|Beaut||Fantastic, wonderful, the best|
|Buzz off||Go away|
|BYO||Bring your own grog/alcohol (Often seen at Restaurants)|
|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:
Best Hotels in Cairns
HOW TO GET AROUND IN CAIRNS?
Cairns is not the world’s largest city, so getting around isn’t difficult. If you don’t have your own vehicle, I’ll show you a few different options below.
Cairns does not have a metro or rail system, but it does have a decent public bus network. It will get you anywhere you need to go. You can either buy a single paper ticket or use the Go Card.
The cost of a one-zone ticket is $4.90 AUD, while the prices vary based on how many zones you travel (it’s $6.00 AUD for two zones). One zone costs $3.37 with a Go card, while two zones cost $4.11.
If you will be using public transportation a lot while you are in Cairns, it is more worth your money. If you just plan to stay for a few nights and aren’t going to use public transport much, buy individual tickets instead. This is because the card must be topped up with at least $20 AUD as well as a $10 deposit, but you can turn in your card before leaving the city and be refunded any unused credit as well as your deposit.
Taxi or Uber
Taxis within the city range from about $20 to $27 AUD. Ubers are somewhat less expensive, but they have been prohibited from certain tourist destinations. For instance, you cannot hail an Uber from the ferry terminal. To get one, you’ll have to walk around 5 minutes further up the road.
Hire a bicycle
Hiring a bike to get around Cairns is another fantastic alternative. There is an excellent network of cycling routes and circuits in the city, with some of the most popular paths being the Esplanade, Centenary Lakes, and Botanic Gardens. Many places provide bicycles for rent, including at many hotels and hostels. They start at approximately $ 15 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?
It’s also vital to remember that Cairns does have Stingers from time to time. The sting season generally lasts from November to May. Wear a stinger suit starting in November. Box jellyfish are carried by the waters around Cairns, as well as Irukandji.
The risk of marine stingers is low on the Great Barrier Reef, however, stinger suits are recommended and available for hire on most tour itineraries.
WHY GO TO CAIRNS?
If you’ve come to this post, it’s because you’re already committed to spending a few days in Cairns, but if you need a little more push to want to spend at least three days in Cairns, we’ve compiled a list of reasons why you should visit!
- It’s the entrance to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which means you’ll find some of the world’s best snorkelling and scuba diving. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s natural marvels, and it is one of those places that you must see before you die.
- Cairns is a lovely chill town and there are so many things to do. It’s got a relaxing beachside atmosphere that is perfect to increase your holiday mood! When you explore Cairns, any stress you may have will simply melt away.
- Just a simple drive away is the worlds oldest rainforest, the Daintree Forest. Discover a river journey through the Daintree rainforest, spot crocodiles, birds, and animals on a Daintree River tour, cruise to the Great Barrier Reef, ride a horse, take a scenic drive, explore the Bloomfield Track or unwind on an unoccupied beach – all from one convenient location.
- Never-ending sunshine! For the most part of the year, Cairns has a mild and sunny climate that allows you to soak up the vitamin D when needed!
CAIRNS ITINERARY | HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN CAIRNS
I’ll show you the greatest things to see and do in Cairns, based on my experience. I thought I’d make it more structured by using an itinerary format. If you’d like to vary it up or alter it around, that’s OK. This itinerary is simply intended to highlight the finest attractions of Cairns.
DAY 1 | EXPLORE CAIRNS
I’ve included exploring cairns in this Cairns itinerary since you’ll want to see a little of the city. I haven’t done an hour-by-hour itinerary like I usually do, but I did include some cool things to do while you’re 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 park is home to several Australian creatures, such as snakes, tropical birds, and saltwater crocodiles. It’s quite tiny, so don’t get your hopes up! However, it’s a nice place to visit, especially if you want to cuddle a koala. The fee for visiting the facility is $24 AUD.
The Cairns Esplanade is a picturesque 2.5km stretch of foreshore in the heart of Cairns. Take 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.
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
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
On day two of your stay in Cairns, we’ll visit the rainforest. So for that, we’ll leave Cairns and head a little north to see the world’s oldest rainforest.
From Cairns, there are a few options for reaching the rainforest. The best and most straightforward method to get there is by car, motorhome, or other vehicle. The route up there is really smooth (No unpaved roads) and can easily be completed on your own. Especially if you start in Cairns with the Great Barrier Drive from Cairns, a world heritage listed route!
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.
Great Barrier Reef Drive
The Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is along spectacular coastline hugging two World Heritage areas, the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest.
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.
You can travel from Cairns to the Northern Beaches of Cairns, including Trinity Beach, Palm Cove, and Ellis Beach. The drive then follows the edge of the Coral Sea past pristine tropical beaches before arriving in Port Douglas, where you may go on a cruise to see the Great Barrier Reef.
Port Douglas, a tiny, calm community on the northeastern coast of Australia’s Gulf country, is the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest, which is considered the world’s oldest tropical jungle. You may learn about the Kuku Yalanji culture before visiting Mossman Gorge and driving through sugar cane fields to Daintree Town via beautiful Mossman.
Cross the Daintree River on the cable ferry for a leisurely drive through ancient rainforest, pausing at lookouts for a glimpse of the Coral Sea as you wind your way past pretty beaches to Cape Tribulation where the rainforest meets the reef. Turn your journey into a 4WD rainforest adventure, follow a food trail, or learn more about the Aboriginal people of the rainforest.
The Daintree River Cruise is a wonderful place to visit on your way to the Daintree Rainforest. They provide one-hour cruises along the Daintree River. I thought the trip was amazing even though we didn’t see any crocodiles; the river is home to crocs, several birds, snakes, and stunning mangro
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 lots 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 is 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 than what I experienced. 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 concurred the rough ocean.
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 Australia’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.
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….
Literally the second your face hits the turquoise water you will be able to see massive coral and lots of fish. 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
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 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.
Hot 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 is 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.
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!
WHAT ARE GREAT DAY TRIPS FROM 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.
From this beautiful seaside village, Port Douglas is a major center for northern Queensland; some may even claim it competes with Cairns! You may go out onto the Great Barrier Reef from here, see the Daintree Forest, and engage in most of the activities we’ve suggested.
But there is even more to do in this relaxing village. I’d suggest you go to 4 Mile Beach and, if you’re in the area on a Saturday, check out the Sunday market.
4 Mile Beach is a four-mile stretch of sand with picture-perfect views. It doesn’t have any buildings on it, and it’s a preserved length of beach where you may truly lay down your towel and simply listen to the wind blowing among the palm trees.
If you are in town on Sunday, then make sure to visit the Sunday Market. It’s a gorgeous, picturesque location where you can buy jewelry, candles, homewares, and delicious fresh produce with the mountains in the background and the Coral Sea ahead of you. The market is open every Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until 1:30
Mission Beach, about 90 minutes from Cairns, is a huge stretch of beachfront that appears to go on forever. It’s actually around 14 kilometers long if you include the four beach towns along the way.
To get a birds-eye view of the region, spend some time on Bicton Hill doing the walking circuit. Cycle around Djiru National Park or catch the ferry to “Dunk” Island for solitude, palm-fringed beaches, and even better walking routes.
Kuranda and Barron Falls
Kuranda is a little town located in the mountains just outside of Cairns, and it’s a fantastic location to visit to get away from the humid climate of Cairns.
The trip to Kuranda is a journey in itself, and while you may drive up to the village, many visitors prefer to take one of the park’s two thrilling cable cars or the breathtaking scenic railway that flies over the rainforest below.
One of Queensland’s most magnificent waterfalls may be found outside of Kuranda. Barron Falls is a stunning sight, with numerous tiers cascading over tumbling rocks and through the rainforest.
After a short walk through the forest, you’ll reach a panoramic viewpoint. While the falls might be little more than a trickle during the dry season, visit after it has rained and you may witness one of Australia’s most powerful waterfalls.
Tully River, also known as the finest white-water rafting river in Australia, is worth a visit. It’s about two hours south of Cairns and sits against the stunning backdrop of the Tully Gorge National Park and rainforest. You’ll encounter Grade 3 and 4 rapids here that will make your heart race!
It is known as the “Village in the Rainforest,” with wildlife activities including the Koala Gardens, Butterfly Sanctuary, and Rainforestation, as well as markets, quaint cafés, and boutiques to explore.
The Atherton Tablelands is a spectacular sight that was formed by volcanic activity and features everything you could want: waterfalls, rainforest, mountains, local marketplaces, and festivals.
ADDITIONAL QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
- Whale watching | Hervey Bay
- The Capricorn Caves
- Cape Hillsborough Beach Kangaroos
- Solo guide to Brisbane
Thank you for reading my 3 days in Cairns Itinerary, I hope this was helpful. have you been to Cairns? What was your favorite 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 favorite. (If you can choose)
PLANNING TO GO TO AUSTRALIA? THEN CHECK OUT SOME MORE TRAVEL TIPS HERE:
- Western Australia
LOVE MY 3 DAYS IN CAIRNS ITINERARY? PIN IT…
Thank You Guys For Reading My 3 days in cairns Itinerary <3
If you enjoyed this post, please SHARE it for me!
I Can’t Do This Without You xxx