Cairns is one of the many jewels of Australia. A popular tourist destination, the city offers visitors views of breathtaking beauty thanks to its tropical climate and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. It's also a city steeped in Australian history, with nine separate heritage-listed sites on its historic Abbott Street.
While the city proper enjoys a linear urban layout thanks to its provincial origins as a strategic port city on the Cape York Peninsula, the city has undergone constant growth at a surprising rate of 2.3% per year for at least the last decade – this makes it one of the fastest-growing cities in the region. This gives it a considerable suburban sprawl, turning what were once sugar plantations into newly developed residential areas.
Cairns features one of Australia's busiest luxury cruise ship terminals, and is home to the HMAS Cairns naval base. The city offers visitors a wide range of uniquely gorgeous natural scenery – from the Cairns Botanic Gardens and its 4,000 species of exotic tropical plants to the rugged bush hikes of the Mt. Whitfield Conservation Park. This city is a nature lover's paradise.
Since this city occupies the northern end of Australia, it experiences significant monsoonal rainfall and must occasionally brace itself against powerful cyclones. Monsoon season stretches from November to May, the hottest months of the year, while the dry season between June and October offers milder weather. This is a tropical climate, so be prepared for humidity.
If the Great Barrier Reef is your primary destination, you will find a plethora of sea and diving tours leaving Cairns port every day. Travel to the Esplanade and you won't be able to miss them – options include everything from short sailing trips to day-long snorkeling activities, glass-bottomed boat tours, and three-day long scuba diving adventures.
Simply head to central Cairns and explore the area starting from the Reef Fleet Terminal up north along the Esplanade towards historic Abbott Street and north Cairns. You'll find a wealth of tour operators offering trips for every budget.
Once you've spent enough time on the water, don't forget the rest of the region's beautiful natural scenery – the Crystal Cascades, Barron Falls, and the Kuranda State Forest all reward intrepid explorers who make the trip.
The primary gateway to Cairns is through the Cairns International Airport. It houses both a domestic terminal and an international terminal within walking distance of one another. The airport features regular flights to popular regional destinations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Auckland, Tokyo, and Port Moresby.
The airport features a broad range of useful amenities. One of the most useful services unique to Cairns airport are the Airport Ambassadors who roam its terminals seeking travelers in need of advice or directions. Because the greatest number of international tourists come from Japan and China, special Chinese and Japanese Liaison Officers serve these travelers' needs in their native languages.
The primary international lounge in Cairns Airport is the Reef Lounge. Open daily from 4:30 AM to 3:00 PM, the lounge offers productivity workstations, food and drink, shower facilities, and more.
Most tourists opt to use the widely available shuttle bus transfers Cairns Airport makes available. Single-passenger one-way trips to downtown Cairns cost between $15 and $17, and the busses depart hourly. Longer trips Palm Cove, White Rock, and many of the most popular beaches such as Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, and Holloways Beach cost between $25 and $50.
There are three airport shuttles available directly from the airport's international arrivals terminal:
If you wish to book your shuttle in advance, you may do so using Coral Sea Coaches' website.
Public transport to and from Cairns is also available through the city's Airport Connect service. This service, offered by Sun Palm Transport, costs $4 for a one-way trip. It connects travelers going northwards to Cairn's most popular beaches and the other direction, to Sheridan Street along the city's southern edge.
The Sun Palm buses are easily recognizable by their distinctive branding and the large Airport Connect logo located in the front window. To find these buses, look for the Sun Palm Transport desk in the Arrivals section of either terminal. Sun Palm staff will guide you to the nearest bus stop. For timetable information, consult the Sun Palm website.
Taxis are also a prevalent mode of transportation in Cairns. A typical taxi ride from the airport to the city center costs between $25 and $35. Once in Cairns, the city itself is small enough for tourists to get around on foot. Plenty of guided tours will take you beyond the city boundaries so there is little reason to rent a car unless you want to follow your own itinerary.