11 reasons why Cairns is the best place to chase the sun with the whole family

Travel 14 May 24 By

Unlock the magic of Cairns, Queensland for families! From the Great Barrier Reef to lush rainforests, it’s a dream destination for family fun.

There’s a meme making the rounds that describes every Aussie family holidays as either, ‘Up the coast’, ‘Down the coast’ or ‘Bali‘. And it’s funny because it’s kind of true.

But this kind of thinking means that way too many of us are missing an experience that’s not only right here on our doorstep, but whose stunning landscapes and surrounds make it the stuff of our paradise holiday fantasies.

Cairns is paradise for families

Cairns, on the east coast of Far North Queensland, is the gateway to the incredible Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest and so much more.

Flying into Cairns over The Great Barrier Reef looks like you’re about to land in Hawaii, and within minutes of your arrival you certainly are aware that you’ve landed somewhere with magic in the air.

Oh and don’t be fooled by the natural wonders, because you’ll also find brilliant cafés, bustling markets and plenty of beaches on offer too.

If Cairns isn’t on your family holiday bucket list, you might want to think about changing that, because when it comes to memory making fun, Cairns has child-friendly adventure in spades.

Small girl in pink swimsuit snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef
Your kids really can ‘Find Nemo’ on a Cairns adventure (Image: Getty)

What time of the year is best to visit Cairns?

Cairns doesn’t get its lush, tropical reputation for no reason. There are two definite seasons when it comes to Cairns weather, summer and winter.

Summer (November to April) brings the wet season. The summer heat (25 – 30 degrees Celsius) coincides with some pretty impressive electrical thunder storms.

Meanwhile, in winter (May to October), you can expect plenty of sunshine and pleasant warm temperatures (around 17 – 25 degrees Celsius) with cool refreshing breezes and low rainfall.

However, locals say the best time of year falls in between the two, running from April to October. The bugs aren’t around yet, the water remains free from stingers and the weather is clear and calm and missing the humidity of summer.

Regardless, the tropical Cairns climate means it is always a good time to visit Cairns.

You should also know that stinger season stretches from around the first of November to May. In those months you might be sharing the ocean with some very tiny and very nasty creatures, so it’s recommended that you suit up in a full body ‘stinger suit’ if you’re planning to swim in the sea. But don’t let that scare you off, the stinger nets will be in the water as soon as there is any possible danger and local tour guides know all the ways to keep you safe.

Scroll on to see 13 things to do in Cairns with kids in the gallery below

But first, what’s new for families in Cairns in 2024?

  • Jump on a jetski and whizz around Pajinka, the northern-most tip of Australia, with a First Nations-led jetski tour launching on 25 May. Pafetai Morseau from Badu Island has founded Cape York Jetski Tours to showcase the remote region’s culture and history as part of an action-packed jetski tour that can also take in the Torres Strait islands. Fishing and trips to remote art centres are among the options for the tours departing from Seisa in Cape York Peninsula. 
  • Cuddling a koala and seeing woodland creatures while learning about conservation and sustainability can be done in less than half a day in the Cairns CBD with the opening of Cairns Koalas & Creatures. Cairns’ newest attraction opened on 3 May providing an educational and family-oriented attraction showcasing Tropical North Queensland’s diverse ecosystems from the Great Barrier Reef to the outback. 
  • Passions of Paradise has launched daily citizen science tours on the Great Barrier Reef for experienced divers departing from Cairns. Certified divers can now choose the Marine Biologist for a Day program on any day of the week and help to monitor coral planting undertaken through the Coral Nurture Program with the Passions crew who have planted more than 9000 corals on Hastings Reef off Cairns.
  • A private croc feeding experience and a private nocturnal tour have been introduced at Wildlife Habitat to give guests an intimate insight into animal behaviour and habitat conservation. A professional croc keeper guides the croc feeding experience and wildlife keepers lead the two-hour Your WildNIGHT Habitat offering encounters with elusive marsupials as they come to life in their natural habitats.
  • Embark on Wildside Adventures’ new ‘Get Dunk’ed’ tour on Dunk Island. Experience the adrenaline rush of speeding around this tropical paradise to explore sandy beaches, coral reefs, hiking trails, and secret caves against a stunning Jurassic backdrop, and snorkelling or relaxing at Coconut Bay. Limited to 10 people per journey, this 4-hour tour includes friendly guides, snorkelling gear, and refreshments. Departs twice daily from Mission Beach and is priced at $150.
  • Cairns Aquarium has been ranked the favourite experience for shore excursions worldwide by passengers on Viking Cruises. Staff from the Aquarium’s education team join passengers on their coach transfers to talk about the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics before they tour its 71 exhibits and hear from wildlife educators at each of the four amphitheatres.
Father and son enjoying swimming and having fun in the sea.
Explore family-friendly activities, from snorkelling to rainforest adventures, for an unforgettable holiday (Image: Getty)

Things to do with kids in Cairns

Small child plays at the facilities at Muddy's playground in Carins

Muddy’s Playground

Modern, fun, safe, accessible splash playground and parkland, Muddy’s Playground is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

It includes water play areas plus a flying fox, sound chimes, track ride, rope bridge, slides, mouse wheels, play houses, story telling areas, see-saw, trick track and puzzle games. You’ll find bathroom facilities and picnic areas, so you really can settle in for the day.

Muddy’s Playground is open every day of the year from 9.00am to 7.00pm (including public holidays and weekends).

Families enjoy Cairns Lagoon

Cairns Lagoon

As beautiful as the ocean is around Cairns, at certain times of year it’s probably not the safest for swimming. Fear not, there’s a happy alternative situated at Cairns Esplanade, not too far from Muddy’s Playground.

The Lagoon is a 4800sqm salt water swimming facility that offers an all-year round, safe, swimming location without the stingers and crocodiles!

Completely free to access, The Lagoon is filled with salt water from the Trinity Inlet which is filtered through a state-of-the-art filtration system.

Lifeguards are on duty while the Lagoon is open, and wheelchair access to the Lagoon is also available. The Lagoon is open for business Thursday to Tuesday 6.00am to 9.00pm, Wednesday 12.00pm to 9.00pm (closed for weekly maintenance until midday) and public holidays 6.00am to 9.00pm.

Clown fish on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef

Cairns is a popular spot to launch off for your Barrier Reef adventure.

If you’re looking for a reputable tour operator to take your family on a Great Barrier Reef adventure, Down Under Cruise and Dive should be your first port of call.

Passionate about the reef and your safety, these guys ensure you have the best possible experience. Snorkelling, diving or catching a chopper ride from a nearby pontoon, you’ll see the reef in ways you’ve only dreamed about.

And the lunch onboard is pretty ace too. To really live it up, you should definitely check out the Gold Class option!

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome

Got an adventurer in your midst? Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome is the world’s first challenge ropes course in a wildlife park!

Situated right in the heart of the Cairns CBD, there’s something for every member of the family, no matter their level of adventure seeking. You could cuddle a koala, enjoy interactive Australian wildlife presentations or get real brave and try one of the three graded ziplines – one of which takes participants directly over Goliath, a four-metre saltwater crocodile!

Paronella Park

Paronella Park

On five beautiful hectares of rainforest right beside Mena Creek Falls José Paronella built his dream castle.

Opened to the public back in 1935, Paronella Park – this little slice of paradise has a picnic area by the falls, tennis courts, bridges, a tunnel, and we mentioned the rainforest, right?

Cairns esplanade in the evening with ferris wheel lit up

Cairns Esplanade

With Muddy’s Playground, The Lagoon and the Marina … Cairns Esplanade never disappoints.

Expect live entertainment, public art, markets, wide pathways and plenty of dining nearby. Staying in Cairns nearby or on The Esplanade guarantees you won’t be hearing many “I’m boreds” on this family holiday.

Koalas at Kuranda Koala Gardens

Kuranda Koala Gardens

For a dose of wildlife fun, Kuranda Koala Gardens is the place to be. Crocodiles, kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, lizards, monitors bird shows and of course, beautiful koalas!

Green island cairns

Green Island

World famous, Green Island is a beautiful 6000-year-old coral cay located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

At just 27km offshore from Cairns it’s a fast catamaran trip to Green Island, making it the perfect destination for for a great day out or convenient half day experience for your family.

Once on the island you’ll find snorkel hire, glass bottom boat or semi-submarine tours, Sea walker, introductory or certified dives, parasailing, underwater observatory, entry to Marine Melanesia, canoe, windsurf and ski hire.

Inside a cave at Chillagoe Caves Tour

Chillagoe Caves Tour 

Millions of years in the making, the limestone formations and caves are nothing short of spectacular.

This fully guided tour explains that the Chillagoe Caves area was once the inland sea. You have to see the fossilised remains of the ancient coral reefs some 400 – 420 million years old!

The kids will also get a chance to see many different species of bush birds, including emus, wedge tail eagles, squatter pigeons as well as kangaroos and frilled neck lizards on the way out to Chillagoe … and of course, taste some genuine billy tea!

Turtle at Cairns aquarium

Cairns Aquarium

Located in the heart of Cairns, this iconic three level land mark attraction showcases the unique animals, plants and habitats of the only two adjoining World Heritage protected areas – The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. You and your family can learn about the conservation happening in the area and what everyone can do to keep these ecosystems alive and well at Cairns Aquarium.

Family enjoy The Skyrail Cable Car in Cairns

The Skyrail Cable Car

For those not too keen on zip lining, there’s another option for seeing Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest from above.

Consistently voted as one of the best things to do in Cairns, The Skyrail Cable Car allows you to glide just metres above the pristine rainforest canopy before descending to explore the forest floor at the Red Peak and Barron Falls.

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