13 reasons why Cairns is the best place to chase the sun with the whole family
It's paradise, and you don't even need a passport!
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, 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.
Your kids really can ‘Find Nemo’ on a Cairns adventure.
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 2022?
Launched at the end of April, the Wunyami Cultural Walking Tour offers a guided journey around Wunyami, Green Island, an ancient coral cay with an equally fascinating ancient cultural history. Led by Indigenous guides, guests will hear how the island is connected to an ancient journey of two ancestorial story-time beings, learn about the cultural ceremonies of the GuruGulu Gungganji and Gimuy Yidinji tribes and discover the connectivity of this iconic island to the ancient seascape.
Visit the Torres Strait in just one day on a flight from Cairns or stay longer and discover Ailan (island) life, history and culture. Strait Experience curates small group tours of Thursday Island and visits other Torres Strait islands that lie between the northern-most tip of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Exploring Cape York is now easier with Far North Escapes, specialising in premium private and small 4×4 group tours. Offering half day, full day and multiday customisable itineraries covering a range of locations, guests can choose from experiences such as the bucket-list trip to The Tip, crocodile tours, horse-riding tours and even helicopter tours.
Snorkellers and divers are exploring the Great Barrier Reef from the new Reef Magic pontoon, which uses the wind and sun for power and has a dedicated laboratory for marine scientists. Reef Magic worked closely with local Traditional Owner groups to incorporate their culture and knowledge of the reef into their site stewardship.
The $1.2 million Gateway to Cape York has opened at Lakeland with a traveller information centre, rest stop and interactive sculpture park showcasing Cape York communities. Welcoming visitors to Cape York, the tourism infrastructure showcases the history and ecology of the area and 16 artworks created by communities from across Cape York Peninsula.
100% Indigenous owned and operated, Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours, has launched its first scheduled tours for independent travellers. The tours, taking place on Mandingalbay Yidinji Country, a short 15-minute boat ride from Cairns CBD, include experiences such as an eco-cultural walk, camping on country and a monthly Full Moon Dinner.
Tourism Port Douglas Daintree have released their new Discover Paradise brochure, covering all the great things to see and do in the region. Showcasing local restaurants, shops, tours, and events, the brochure also contains suggested holiday itineraries to make the most of your trip up north.
13 things to do with kids in Cairns
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).
Sections of Muddy’s are closed for maintenance on Tuesday and/or Thursday mornings until noon. Even when maintenance works are being carried out, Council aims to have at least half the playground available for use.
Location, location, location!
Aside from the incredible facilities and service on offer, Shangri-La Cairns’ location makes it perfect for families wanting to visit the area.
Situated right on the Marina, and just a few minutes stroll to Cairns Esplanade, The Lagoon and Muddy’s Playground as well as the town centre where you’ll find adventure at the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife dome.
Shangri-La Cairns offers everything you need to get the full experience of Cairns right at your doorstep.
The staff are passionate about Cairns and are more than willing to share that passion with you to ensure your family get the full experience of child-friendly Cairns during your stay.
Oh, and the breakfast buffet is A+!
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.
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!
If you stroll along the Marina end of The Esplanade there’s a good chance you’ll follow your nose to the mouth-watering scents emanating from new toy of Executive Chef Aaron Habgood at the Shangri-la Cairns.
And the treats slowly cooking away in the brand new smoker at The Backyard Deck aren’t the only reason you’ll want to pay a visit either!
The perfect spot to while away an afternoon or evening, while enjoying uninterrupted views of the waterfront and taking in the gorgeous marina views and mountain range beyond. The relaxed vibe makes it a perfect spot for a family meal and the option to order a selection of small plates from the delicious menu means there’s bound to be something that everyone likes.
The Backyard is open every day for an A la Carte Café Style Breakfast from 7am to 11am, and all day dining runs from 11am to 9.30pm. Reservations are advised so you can grab prime position.
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!
On five beautiful hectares of rainforest right beside Mena Creek Falls José Paronella built his dream castle.
Opened to the public back in 1935, this little slice of paradise has a picnic area by the falls, tennis courts, bridges, a tunnel, and we mentioned the rainforest, right?
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
This article first appeared on Now to Love and has been updated and reshaped here with permission.