With its wealth of accommodation, dining and shopping options, Cairns makes a great base for your Tropical North Queensland holiday. These five great attractions are all an easy day trip from the city.
SkyRail Forest Cableway
This award-winning ride over tropical rainforest canopy is one of Australia's best sustainable tourism attractions. When it opened in 1995 it was the longest gondola ride in the world, a 7.5km, 1.5 hour trip from outer Cairns up into the mountainous Barron Gorge National Park. Between departure and arrival there are two stations where passengers can get out and explore the rainforest, and at the top is the village of Kuranda (see below). For a memorable 360 degree experience, book one of the reinforced glass floor “Diamond View” gondolas.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Opened in 1891 as a passenger railway connecting hilltop tin mines with the coast, the Kuranda Scenic Railway is now a hugely popular tourist route. It starts at Freshwater Station in the Cairns suburbs, and snakes through 15 tunnels and 37 bridges on its climb up to the village of Kuranda in the Atherton Tableland. The entire one-way trip takes around two hours and includes a stop at a lookout by the cascading Barron Falls. Passengers travel in carriages that are artful recreations of early 20th century originals, with wood-paneled walls and red leather seats; during the journey LCD television screens provide information about the tropical rainforest and the railway's history.
However you arrive, be it by gondola, rail or car, Kuranda is a must-visit. A small town in the middle of dense tropical rainforest, Kuranda is an intriguing destination in its own right and a great base for exploring the local wildlife. Cuddle koalas and meet kangaroos, crocodiles, wombats and more at Kuranda Koala Gardens, walk among tropical birds from all over the world at Birdworld, or take an amphibious tour of the rainforest, including a walk through a tropical fruit orchard and an interactive Aborignal experience, at Rainforestation Nature Park. A centre of Djabugay Aboriginal culture, Kuranda is a excellent place to buy indigenous arts and crafts, along with well-priced opals.
Far North Queensland isn't short of gorgeous beaches, but for the full tropical island experience jump aboard the Fast Cat for the 45 minute ride from Cairns to Fitzroy Island. There's resort accommodation here, and a camping ground, but nearly all the rest of the island is national parkland. A walking trail through the bush takes in breathtaking 360 degree views from the island's highest peak and leads to a lighthouse at the north-western tip. Bring your togs and head for Nudey Beach which, despite the name, is totally family-friendly. Fitzroy Island also offers excellent snorkelling and diving too – gear can be hired on the island or as part of a day-tour package.
While our ideal Far North Queensland holiday definitely includes buzzy Cairns, it also makes time for the more laidback town of Port Douglas, 70km to Cairns' north. A stay here will likely revolve around the pristine, palm tree-fringed Four Mile Beach, but there's much more to Port Douglas than sea and sand. You'll also want to check out some of the town's brilliant dining options (try The Little Larder for breakfast and Watergate for a special dinner), take a trip into the nearby Daintree Rainforest, and head out into that perfect blue ocean whenever you can. With the Great Barrier Reef only a short boat ride away, Port Douglas is an ideal place to book a diving trip, boat tour or cruise.