Carefree in Cairns

Your One-Week Itinerary 

If you’ve ever dreamed of snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (“GBR” for short), Cairns is the Aussie city for you! Cairns (pronounced “Cannes”) is located on Australia’s northeast coast and is the gateway to the GBR and to the Daintree rainforest. With so many amazing outdoor experiences, it’s easy to feel totally carefree in Cairns.  Read on for your one-week Cairns itinerary – guaranteed to ensure you soak up all the sun, surf, and beautiful wildlife northeastern Australia has to offer. 

Day 1 – Get Settled In

Get checked in and settled at your hotel of choice. I personally recommend Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns. Located right on the marina and within walking distance to the Esplanade (Cairns’ entertainment district), it’s perfectly situated to be your home base while in Cairns. Unpack, maybe unwind with some pool time, and rest up because you have a week full of adventure ahead of you! 

Day 2 – Explore the Esplanade

The Esplanade fronts the Cairns Harbour and is the focal point of the city. This bustling boardwalk and recreation area features a beautiful and public saltwater pool that faces the ocean. Perfect for an afternoon swim and refreshing break from Cairns’ year round heat and humidity. Opposite the pool you’ll find yourself surrounded by restaurants, shops, hotels, bars, tour operators, and art galleries. Wander to your heart’s content! Enjoy a glass of wine from an Aussie vineyard or a beer from one of local breweries. There’s also a casino if you’re feeling lucky. 

Carefree in Cairns

Day 3 – Canyoneering!

Ready for a day of wet and wild adventure? Give canyoneering a try! Cairns Canyoning runs adventure tours to rivers and gorges in the surrounding area. These canyoning tours feature abseiling, swimming, cliff jumping, and sliding down waterfalls. Not to mention that the scenery is breathtaking! Thrilling, fun, and not for the faint of heart – going on one of Cairns Canyoning tours will definitely give you an adrenaline rush and leave you with great stories to tell for years to come! What better way to feel carefree in Cairns than by sliding down a waterfall? I went on the Behana Canyon adventure and had a blast. And don’t worry, beginners are welcome and all the gear you’ll need is provided by Cairns Canyoning. 

Carefree in Cairns

Days 4 & 5 – Set Sail on the GBR

Let’s be honest – if you’re in Cairns odds are the GBR is on your bucket list.  So do it RIGHT! Why on earth would you settle for a day trip snorkeling or diving when you could do a liveaboard experience out on the reef? With a liveaboard experience, you pay for accommodations on a yacht (or similar type vessel) and spend the night out on the reef. I went for a 2 day/ 1 night option – but you could choose to go for longer! A liveaboard experience will give you multiple opportunities to dive or snorkel in the GBR at multiple locations, allowing you to fully enjoy the reef and all the beauty it has to offer. I highly recommend if you’re interested in a liveaboard experience. 

Day 6 – Reset in the Rainforest 

After seeing nothing but ocean for 2 days, feast your eyes on the astounding greenery of Daintree National Park. Take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from just outside of Cairns up to the village of Kuranda. I recommend upgrading to the Diamond View, which is a glass floor gondola, for the very best views of the rainforest on your ride up to Kuranda. If you have time take the Kuranda Scenic Railway down to experience different vantage points of the rainforest and Barron Falls. While in Kuranda, there are several nature-oriented attractions, including the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld Kuranda, and the Kuranda Koala Gardens. Note that at the Kuranda Koala Gardens you can PET koalas and kangaroos! Seriously adorable and one of the highlights of my trip to Oz. Don’t miss out on this particular opportunity to be carefree in Cairns!

Carefree in Cairns

Day 7 – Day Trip Up the Coast to Port Douglas

The drive up the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Port Douglas is stunningly scenic, offering you approximately 75 minutes of back and forth between inland stretches of rainforest and idyllic shoreline.  Port Douglas itself is a cute little town with the main drag found on Macrossan Street, where you’ll find a ton of cute shops, restaurants, bars, and galleries to stroll in and out of. Be sure to take in the views from Four Mile Beach while you’re there.  On your way back to Cairns, stop off at Palm Cove for a stroll down the pier and enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches in northeast Australia. 

Carefree in Cairns

Where to Eat

While the food scene in Cairns pales in comparison to Sydney and Melbourne, you will still need to eat, so here are some recommendations:

  • Waterbar & Grill Steakhouse – excellent Cairns waterfront location, big flavors, and great service make this one a no brainer. Did I mention the cocktails are well made and the wine list delightful? 
  • Ochre – this Cairns institution is also located on the waterfront and specializes in bush dining. So, if you’ve been dying to try crocodile or kangaroo – this is the place. Note, I had a lovely vegetarian gnocchi for dinner here, so it’s not all exotic Australian bush fare on the menu. 
  • Dundee’s on the Waterfront – with a great location and a large and diverse menu, Dundee’s offers something for everyone.
  • The Pier Bar – this bar is consistently lively and the perfect spot for an after dinner drink if you’re looking for a little fun. 

What to Pack

The weather in Cairns is warm and fairly humid year round and can be downright hot and muggy in the summers. As such, plan to pack for warm weather. And remember – only reef safe sunscreen for your GBR adventures. 

*Just FYI, some of the links in this post are affiliate links – which just means if you click through and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.*

  • Reef Safe Sunscreen:  chemicals found in most sunscreens can damage and even kill coral. Do your part in protecting the GBR by only wearing reef safe sunscreens when you snorkel or dive.  There are plenty of options to choose from and I happen to like Sun Bum (Amazon link: ). 
  • A Hat: the sun can be intense year round in Cairns and especially if you’re out on the water. Protect that gorgeous skin of yours with a cute wide brimmed hat. I like this one that you can roll up for easy packing (Amazon link: ). 
  • Swimsuits: Look, odds are you’ll be spending a ton of time in the water or at least near it, so don’t skimp on packing swimwear.  My go to swimwear line is Vix Paula Hermanny.
  • Rashguard (aka a sun shirt): with all the fun in the sun you’ll be having, at some point you’re bound to feel a bit crispy. But never fear! With a rashguard, you can still enjoy being outside while getting great protection from those UV rays. Check out Kanu Surf for a wide variety of options (Amazon link: ). 

And there you have it! Everything you need to know so that you too can be carefree in Cairns for at least a week.  Enjoy! 

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