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From rainforest to reef in Cairns, Australia

Natural beauty is abundant in Cairns, where tumbling mountains and lush rainforest give way to turquoise ocean and the technicolour forms of the Great Barrier Reef. Add to that a tropical climate with bouts of glorious sunshine and there’s just no excuse not to explore.

Here are our top activity picks to help you experience Cairns’ bountiful landscape at its pure natural best.

The verdant vegetation of the Daintree Rainforest

The verdant vegetation of the Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is home to the highest number of rare or endangered plants and animals anywhere in the world. Verdant trees grow right down to the shores of Cape Tribulation – some of them primitive species over a hundred million years old. One of these species – the comically named Idiot Fruit – was pivotal to securing the area’s World Heritage status.

There are many guided tours available, from reef and rainforest combo trips to horse treks and wildlife-spotting excursions. On a Bama Way Aboriginal Tour you’ll have the opportunity to see the rainforest through the eyes of the local Bama people, who retrace the steps of their ancestors.

Barron Falls near the town of Kuranda

Barron Falls near the town of Kuranda

Barron Gorge National Park

The Barron Gorge National Park is home to vast rocky chasms and thundering falls. The Barron River carves its way through the Tableland here and plunges 250 metres into the gorge below. Standing on the lookout point, you’ll feel swathes of mist on your skin as the ground itself seems to rumble.

You can also take to the skies for a ride on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or strike out on a hike. Visit on a rainy day for some truly spectacular natural entertainment, as the river swells and crashes evermore dramatically to earth.

One of the world's great wonders, The Great Barrier Reef

One of the world's great wonders, The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef needs no hyperbolic introduction. This 2,000-kilometre stretch of coral skirts the Australian coast, teeming with a variety of sea creatures from skittering crustaceans to spiny urchins, sea turtles, jewel-coloured shoals and even sharks.

If you want to dive this world-famous phenomenon, locations don’t get better than Cairns – nicknamed ‘The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’. Various dive spots are within easy reach, from the beginner-friendly anemones of Ribbon Reef, to Cod Hole, where the easygoing Potato Cod make great swimming companions.

Admire ancient native art at Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park

Admire ancient native art at Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park transports visitors back to the birth of Australia, more than 40,000 years ago. The majority of performers, artists and guides here are Indigenous Djabugay and Torres Strait Islander people, who know the land inside out.

You’ll learn age-old hunting methods and bush cooking techniques, discover the medicinal properties of native plant life, and try your hand at throwing a spear and boomerang – all from traditional owners themselves. You can also take part in a Dreamtime ceremony, listening to stories that echo down through the millennia.

Precious species of butterfly at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

Precious species of butterfly at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary

The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is the largest butterfly aviary in the country, aflutter with more than 2,000 of the colourful insects. Many species are indigenous to the rainforest here, including the distinctive Cairns Birdwing and electric blue Ulysses – not to mention the largest moth in the world, the hand-sized Hercules Moth.

Situated in the Kuranda rainforest village, the sanctuary not only educates people about the behaviours and lifecycles of the butterflies but also about their ties to local Aboriginal people and the myths, legends, and Dreamtime stories they inspired.

The paradisiacal Kuranda Scenic Railway

The paradisiacal Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda Scenic Railway

The Kuranda Scenic Railway stretches from Cairns to Kuranda rainforest village, journeying through all kinds of paradise along the way. An antique train whisks passengers up Macalister Ridge and out into breathtaking Barron Gorge, passing thunderous waterfalls before heading into the shelter of the trees.

All carriages come with an audio explanation, providing interesting commentary on the natural landmarks you’ll see through the window. And just like other trains, you can choose between standard or first class, known as ‘Heritage’ and ‘Gold’ at Kuranda. The travel company also offers several packages, so you can combine your trip with a ride on the Skyrail, a Tjapukai Dreamtime experience, or a visit to the Rainforestation.

Hotel Pullman Cairns International is ideally situated for boat tours, right by the waterfront and just a short distance from the terminal.

The leafy green grounds of Cascade Gardens are found a 15-minute walk from the Cairns Swimming Lagoon and Wildlife Dome.

Located steps from the beach, the Rydges Esplanade Resort offers a panoramic selection of city, mountain and sea views. Take your pick!

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