There’s no better time than the months following summer to visit the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef Region.
Whether you’re staring up at a 100-metre-high waterfall, heavy with recent rain, inside the oldest tropical rainforest on Earth or you’re face-to-face with an inquisitive sea turtle as you snorkel sunken coral gardens on the world’s largest reef – you won’t find anywhere on Earth like Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.
Take a hot-air balloon above it all, or a rafting trip down its swollen rivers, or an adventure with Indigenous guides sampling local bush tucker – whatever you do, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Tropical North Queensland is home to 11 distinct destinations, with hundreds of places to see and thousands of experiences – it would take you years to see what’s on offer. There are even regions that look like Europe, with gently rolling green hills and dairy farms where you’ll need to warm up by log fires at night. The Atherton Tablelands are just an hour’s drive from Cairns, but are a kilometre above sea level, making them seven degrees cooler on average.
Nowhere else offers this diversity of landscape, and experience – from an ancient outback full of Indigenous artefacts to kilometre-high forest-covered mountains by its coastline, and an endless string of islands and cays just off its beaches – all part of the Great Barrier Reef (one of the natural wonders of the world).
The environment combines to produce the most diverse offering of fruit species in any tropical zone on the planet; nowhere else can you find these exotic foods in a First World country. And guess what: most of them are ripening in these months after summer.
Summer lives on here long after the rains stop – the landscape bursts with colour and teems with new life; even the outback (just beyond the rainforests of the coast) turns green, and the animals that live in it enjoy prime feeding season (come and watch them, it’s like a mini-African safari).
You can walk on country with Indigenous guides as they reveal the stories of their ancestors, evidenced in ancient rock art sites very few visitors have seen. And don’t forget Cairns and Port Douglas – two of Australia’s most cosmopolitan, and exciting coastal towns – with restaurants and bars on the sea, and activities and adventures on every corner.
Find a waterfall…
You’re going to love the ‘green season’. The months after summer’s rain is the best time to experience Tropical North Queensland’s stunning network of waterholes, creeks and rivers. And with all that rushing water, there’s no better time to chase waterfalls.
Some of Australia’s most iconic waterfalls are here (many of them aren’t even very far from Cairns). Swim in pools beneath raging waterfalls surrounded by fist-sized, electric-blue Ulysses butterflies – or just watch them cascade from inside World Heritage-listed ancient rainforest for pinch-me moments that’ll make your whole holiday.
Take a Waterfall Wanderers Day Tour, or find them yourselves. Drive the Waterfall Circuit from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands, a 100-kilometre route that takes in some of Australia’s best-known falls – including Millaa Millaa, Australia’s most photographed waterfall, and Ellinjaa Falls, where if you’re lucky (and quiet) you might find platypuses swimming. There’s plenty of rare creatures to be found in the region, like the endangered Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, the smallest of all tree-kangaroos.
Or cool down in a cloud of mist at Barron Falls, 40 minutes’ drive north-west of Cairns. Ride a gondola on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or take the Kuranda Scenic Railway through World Heritage rainforest to the base of these 125-metre-high falls – after the wet season they thunder down with Niagara-like force.
With all this rushing water, you have to go white-water rafting. You barely need leave Cairns either, take a half-day white-water rafting tour between towering gorges down the Barron River. Or ride the Tully River – it is 2.5-hours’ drive south of Cairns, and is home to some of Australia’s most challenging rapids. Or ditch the raft and opt to float gently under the trees of a rainforest down small rapids on a tube with Aussie Drifterz.
Don’t forget Tropical North Queensland’s global Instagram sensation either – Cardwell Spa Pool, near the tiny fishing town of Cardwell, two-and-a-half hours’ drive south of Cairns. Get there after summer, when water flowing from within rocks inside the earth produce a geological wonder in the pools beyond – the water an Avatar-blue shade that’s altogether other-worldly. Spend your day soaking – wondering how it got that colour.
One of the world’s great paradises
There are stunning landscapes all over the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region – but you simply won’t be able to comprehend what you’ll discover on the other side of the Daintree River, just an hour’s drive north of Port Douglas.
Take a car ferry ride across a croc-infested river to one of the world’s most pristine wildernesses, especially in these months following the wet season. There’s only one road through the Daintree – the world’s oldest surviving rainforest – and it is flanked by kilometre-high mountains, and offers views across the Great Barrier Reef. Watch for two-metre-high southern cassowaries – some of the planet’s rarest creatures.
The bitumen ends at Cape Tribulation. Stay in an eco-retreat deep in the Daintree, or a campsite by a lonely beach. Take a horse ride along the sand, or a mountain bike ride amongst the trees, or a walk to find a secret beach entirely for yourselves. And be sure to take a boat ride to tiny islands and vibrant coral reef close to shore. Cape Tribulation is where the Daintree meets the Great Barrier Reef – the only place on Earth where two World-Heritage sites connect.
Submerge yourself on the world’s great wonder
Summer and the months following are the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
It is before the trade winds blow, and the water clarity is at its best: you can see for
30 metres underwater.
The world’s largest, most spectacular coral reef system lies just beyond the coast. The easiest way to access it is from Cairns or Port Douglas, where over 30 boat tours leave each day. You won’t find coral reef anything like this anywhere else.
Take an outer reef cruise with Quicksilver Outer Reef Cruise or Great Adventures to see the underwater world of Tropical North Queensland – home to over 6000 species of flora and fauna, including 1500 types of fish.
You don’t even have to go far out to experience the wonder. Snorkel or dive at Fitzroy or Green Island (both are just a 45-minute boat transfer from Cairns) and you’ll find rare marine species straight off the beach protected within a marine park. Or take a cruise to the Low Isles, an hour from Port Douglas. The islands have wide sandy beaches in a Great Barrier Reef lagoon where you can swim in coral gardens with fish off the beach, then relax under a palm-thatched umbrella.
Take me there
Fly: Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas fly direct to Cairns from Australia’s east coast daily.
Stay: Base yourself in Cairns or Port Douglas, or try both urban centres – there’s everything from budget, family-friendly accommodation to luxury hotels, with prices ranging from $150 per night to $1500. Stay longer, and visit Cape Tribulation, the Atherton Tablelands or head into the outback.
Explore more: vivaholidays.com.au/packages/summer-lives-on-cairns-gbr