There are lots of reasons to visit Cairns – the climate (Cairns gets 300 days of sunshine a year), the plethora of shopping, restaurants and entertainment facilities; and above all, the location to the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns is considered its International Gateway.)
The Esplanade is a happening place, full of shops, restaurants and beautiful views. Why wouldn’t you stay along it? Some of the many hotels include the Shangri-La and the Hilton. If you are looking for an apartment style room (we find having a kitchen preferable when traveling with a kiddo) we liked the location of the Cairns Harbour Lights.
Shangri-La: Pier Point Rd, Cairns +61 7 4031 1411 | Hilton: 34 Esplanade, Cairns +61 7 4031 1411 | Cairns Harbour Lights: 1 Esplanade, Corner Marlin Parade, +61 7 4057 0800
Note: The city offers a huge array of accommodation; a quick online search can help you find something within your budget.
The Great Barrier Reef! We enjoyed the Big Cat Green island Reef Cruise. We chose this specific tour company because they offer a semi-submarine tour, a great way for a toddler to view the reef up close. (Note: not for the easily seasick!) The half-day trip takes a 45-minute boat ride out to the island, and gives you 2 hours on the island (Check out Cassius, the largest crocodile in captivity on the islands Crocodile Farm.) The semi-submarine tour leaves from the pier.
Big Cat Tours | Reef Fleet Terminal/1 Spence St, Cairns | +61 7 4051 0444 | http://www.greenisland.com.au
The Cairns Tropical Zoo! This zoo has the largest wildlife collection in Tropical North Queensland and is a great spot to seek out Australian wildlife such as koala bears, wombats, kookaburra, dingoes, crocodiles and kangaroos.
Captain Cook Highway, Palm Cove | +61 7 4055 3669 | http://www.cairnstropicalzoo.com.au
If Palm Cove seems like too much of a trek, you can spot koalas, crocodiles and kookaburra in the less impressive Wildlife Dome, located on top of the Reef Hotel Casino near the Esplanade. If your kids are past the toddler stage, they may enjoy The Cairns ZOOm, a challenge ropes course with 50+ elements of crossings and zip lines.
6 Wharf St, Cairns | +61 7 4031 7250
The Lagoon! Cairns has no sandy beach to laze on, but the city has made up for it with a free, man-made swimming lagoon filled edged with sandy shores. The saltwater pool is filtered directly from Trinity Inlet, and the grass surrounding the lagoon is a great sun soaking spot. Lifeguards are on duty during opening hours, and there is no worry of crocodiles or stinging sea creatures disrupting your swim. (Phew!)
Trinity Harbour | Hours: Th to Tu, 6am-9pm; Wed, midday-9pm; Public holidays, 6am-9pm
The Saturday Market! Each Saturday, between 8am and 4pm, the Saturday market sets up to showcase items crafted by the people who sell them, including jewelry, paintings, clothing and skin care items; definitely worth a wander. Follow this with a visit to Muddy’s, a 10-and-under play space with playgrounds divided by age appropriateness, and water spray features.
Esplanade | Saturday 8 am – 4 pm
Salt House was our favorite dining spot; it’s not exactly a family establishment so go during off-peak hours if you’re worried about your toddler’s restaurant etiquette. (Fewer people to offend.) Salt House is located next to the Cairns Yacht Club, and offers an awesome view of the harbor and marina and Cairns waterfront. It offers a restaurant area with an open kitchen as well as an outdoor cocktail bar in front that hosts live music 4 nights a week.
6/2 Pier Point Rd, Cairns | +61 7 4041 7733
The Bavarian Beerhouse isn’t what you normally think of when you think of Australia, but it’s location and huge selection of imported beers makes for a great people watching spot. B loved the flammkuchen (resembles pizza) and live accordion.
1-77 Esplanade | +61 7 4041 1551
Meldrum’s Pies in Paradise If you’re going to have a meat pie in Cairns make sure you get it at award-winning Meldrum’s. Their menu is extensive and includes gluten free options. We particularly enjoyed the beef and bacon, and curry chicken cashew options.
97 Grafton St, Cairns | +61 7 4051 8333
Dundee’s Don’t come expecting some kitschy Crocodile Dundee inspired dining experience; Dundee’s doesn’t come close to that. Located right on the waterfront boardwalk, this place is informal but has great seafood, steaks and wine.
1 Marlin Parade, Cairns | +61 7 4051 0399 | http://www.dundees.com.au