8 Best Things to Do Around Cairns

Discover the top 8 things to do around Cairns, from exploring the Great Barrier Reef to hiking in the Daintree Rainforest.

things to do around cairns

Brooke Blurton doesn’t shy away from a challenge. The one we gave her? Travel to Tropical North Queensland and report back on the 8 best things to do around Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  


A proud Noongar-Yamatji woman, Brooke Blurton was the first Indigenous Bachelorette. But above and beyond her role on the hit reality TV series, Brooke is a talented broadcaster, and passionate youth worker and mental-health advocate. 


Having grown up in Western Australia, Brooke loves nothing more than sunshine and an epic coastline. Living in Melbourne today, she looks for every opportunity to be reunited with both. 


We sent her packing to Tropical North Queensland to report back on the 8 best things to do around Cairns. 

The Route Brooke Took to Discover the 8 Best Things to Do Around Cairns

Brooke began her journey in Cairns with a cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef, followed by Palm Cove and Port Douglas, with a visit to Mossman Gorge.


It’s only 70 kilometres from Cairns to Port Douglas. But you’ll want to break up your journey, as Brooke has done.


She says you need at least a week (longer if possible) to experience all that Tropical North Queensland has to offer and discover the 8 the best things to do around Cairns and the region. You can, however, see the highlights in four to five days at a pinch.

1. Snorkelling and Diving the Great Barrier Reef with Indigenous Rangers

Brooke signed up to go to the outer Great Barrier Reef for a full day with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel. Departing Cairns, the cruise takes you to two reefs, where you can get acquainted with the World Heritage Site’s amazing marine life.


Depending on conditions, you might visit Milln, Flynn, Hastings, Saxon, Norman or Thetford reefs. The best bit? You get to see it through Indigenous eyes. 


“Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel is incredible,” says Brooke. “They employ Indigenous sea rangers on the boat. So when you’re cruising out to the reef you can immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture, like learning the Reef’s Creation story. You can also listen to a didgeridoo performance and discover ancient tools, and what they were used for.”


Lunch is included, with native ingredients throughout. Think lemon myrtle roast chicken, native dukkah-crusted kangaroo loin, and wattleseed-and-banana muffins.


“I love meeting mobs from different parts of the country. I made a lot of friends on this cruise.”


And then there was the diving. “I’ve only ever free-dived before. So to have the chance to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef was really cool,” says Brooke. The staff were really generous with their time, decoding everything that we saw, and also explaining just how significant this ecosystem is globally.”


Hot tip: Don’t be afraid to ask the Indigenous rangers questions about their culture; they love talking about their heritage and the environment you’re exploring. 

I loved learning about the different migration patterns of marine life.


— Brooke Blurton

2. Stay Surrounded by Tropical Paradise at Pullman Cairns International Hotel

Brooke says that when she checked into the Pullman Cairns International Hotel, she felt like she had discovered her “own private tropical paradise. The lobby is absolutely stunning, with enormous marble columns and chandeliers, and lots of wood and light.” 


Brooke says it felt like she was stepping into a glamorous tropical cocoon, one replete with a lagoon-style pool ringed by palm trees. Because when researching the 8 best things to do around Cairns… 


Hot tip: “Make sure you indulge in the breakfast buffet, which is absolutely delicious,” says Brooke. She says a favourite was the press where you could make your own freshly squeezed juices.

3. Indulging in Tapas and Margaritas at La Mesa

You can’t stay much closer to the sand than at Peppers Beach Club & Spa Palm Cove. In fact, aside from the road, the only thing between you and the water is a postcard-perfect grove of palm trees and a stretch of sand. 


The resort revolves around a lagoon-style pool, replete with a swim-up bar. Because, why not? Its other dining offering is La Mesa, a Mexican restaurant with a vibe as fun as the food. 


“I loved the food here,” says Brooke. “There are heaps of great tapas options and shared-plates to choose from. And I was also a huge fan of the margaritas!” Try dishes like spanner crab tacos, mojito oysters, reef fish ceviche, and octopus and chorizo tostadas.


Hot tip: Every Wednesday there are margarita specials. Don’t miss out!  

4. Taking Time Out. Essential.

“Often when we travel, things can get hectic; sometimes we forget to switch off and just appreciate where we are,” says Brooke. “It’s nice to have a downtime day to appreciate your hotel or become one with nature.”


And there are plenty of places to do just that in Tropical North Queensland, not in the least Rex Lookout, offering unbroken views over Trinity Bay Below. The lookout is about 40 kilometres north of Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway, just outside the town of Wangetti. 


Hot tip: The lookout is a popular spot for hang-gliders to launch themselves into the wind. Bring your camera.

5. Learning About the World’s Oldest Surviving Tropical Rainforest with Traditional Custodians

“Before I visited Mossman Gorge, I had no idea that the Daintree Rainforest was the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world,” says Brooke. “Being able to walk through it with an Aboriginal guide was phenomenal.”


The Indigenous-owned and -operated Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre is located about an hour north of Cairns and 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. You can explore the Daintree Rainforest on your own, or (for a deeper understanding of Kuku Yalanji culture) take part in a guided 1.5-hour Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk, as Brooke did, led by the local Indigenous community.


“I was super excited being there,” says Brooke. “I just wanted to know more. Our guide talked to us about the history of the rainforest, bush foods and medicines, and even pointed out ceremonial sites.


“Whenever I visit somewhere new, I like to know that I’m educating myself on the area. And it’s really good to do this experience at the start of your trip because it makes sense of the region’s Indigenous culture and sets you up for the rest of your journey.” It’s truly one of the best things to do around Cairns.


Hot tip: After your walk, head to the Centre’s cafe for food and drinks that hero native Australian ingredients, like lemon myrtle and finger lime. Order the kangaroo fillet or barramundi burger for a true taste of place.  

6. Choppering to a Deserted Sand Cay for Lunch

“This is a bit of a bucket list experience!” says Brooke of jumping in a helicopter with Nautilus Aviation from Port Douglas, and swooping over the Great Barrier Reef to a deserted sand cay. 


“It felt really exclusive, because you can only get to Undine Sand Cay by helicopter or boat,” says Brooke. “The water was so clear, the sand so white, and there were beautiful shells everywhere. Michael, our pilot, made us feel at home, setting up lunch, pouring champagne and telling us the best spots to snorkel.”


Brooke said it’s an extraordinary way to see the Reef in a different light. “Having cruised over the Great Barrier Reef, then dived into it, it was incredible to get a bird’s-eye view from the helicopter. It really gives you perspective on how immense it is.” 


Hot tip: The trip to Undine Sand Cay is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you want to get a taste of the Reef from the air and at a fraction of the cost, sign up for one of the 30-minute scenic flights. 

7. Strolling Along Port Douglas Beach at Sunrise

“Being from the West Coast of Australia, I’ve usually been into sunset strolls along beaches. But being on the East Coast, there’s nothing better than getting up early to watch the sun rise,” says Brooke. 


“I encourage everyone to do it. There are always lots of people and dogs out and about, whether walking, running or kayaking. And the colours over the ocean as the day begins are mesmerising.”


Hot tip: The lookout is accessed via steps at Four Mile Beach’s north end, and is both the most beautiful spot in the region from which to take in a sunrise, or to watch a full moon casting its glow over the waters of the Coral Sea.

8. Enjoying Down-Time in the Pool at Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple Resort & Spa

“You’re in Tropical North Queensland. Things can get hot,” says Brooke. That’s where the 3,000-square-metre lagoon-style pool at Pullman Port Douglas Sea Temple Resort and Spa comes in. 


“The pool is huge,” says Brooke. “It’s great because you can access it from whatever room you’re staying in. This makes it great for families, because adults can keep watch on their kids from their private balcony.” Adults in the water, take note: there’s a swim-up bar.


Hot tip: The resort’s Vie Spa is the perfect place to unwind. Try the signature two-hour ‘Earth and Ocean’ treatment. 

Best Places to Stay In and Around Cairns

From Cairns to Port Douglas and places in between, Accor has dozens of hotels and resorts across Tropical North Queensland, giving you easy access to some of the best things to do around Cairns. In addition to the resorts that Brooke stayed at, Accor operates properties to meet all tastes and budgets.

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