Cairns: top 10 adventure activities for backpackers

September 19, 2019

by Ariane Poulon

Cairns is the perfect place to stay if you’re keen on exploring everything North Tropical Queensland has to offer: the Daintree Rainforest with its waterfalls and tree canopies, the Great Barrier Reef with its lagoons and amazing sea life, the tropical beaches with their palm trees and white sand. There are plenty of adventurous things to do for backpackers around Cairns, here are my top 10:

1. Dive in the Great Barrier Reef

The most popular way to see the legendary Great Barrier Reef is to go on a boat trip (Ocean Freedom, Passion of Paradise or Divers Den) but make sure it’s Advanced Eco-certified! The one-hour cruise to the reef can be really rough so I recommend bringing sea-sickness tablets. Once you get to the outer reef, you can dive into the crystal-clear water and discover the magical submarine life: coral, colourful fish, sea turtles, reef sharks and barracudas. Snorkelling is amazing there, but scuba diving will take you to a whole new level! If you’re keen on becoming a qualified diver, you can take a 4-day course to get a PADI Open Water certificate.

2. Go chase waterfalls in the lush tropical rainforest

Rent a car or join a tour (Waterfall wanderers or Uncle Brian’s) and head to the Atherton Tablelands area. Go for a dip in the cold waters of Babinda Boulders and visit the Devil’s Pool, slide down the rocks of Josephine Falls and take a hair flick picture at the Millaa Millaa Falls. Then, get ready to run into cassowaries or tree kangaroos while visiting Mount Hypipame and see the impressive Curtain Fig Tree (watch out for leeches when walking in the grass). Try to spot platypuses at Yungaburra and swim in Lake Eacham: a lake formed in a volcanic crater (despite the harmless freshwater crocodile living there).

3. Extreme rafting on the Tully River

Book a full day tour (Raging Thunder) and pick the extreme one, if not it’s not worth going! After a 2-hour ride, you’ll get to Australia’s premier rafting location to spend the day white-water rafting with an experienced instructor. You’ll also experience swimming in grade 3&4 rapids and jumping from the rocks. The spectacular scenery as you go down the Tully through the World Heritage Rainforest will blow your mind. Once you get to the downstream part of the river, you’ll start seeing crocodile warning signs but don’t worry, that’s when the tour stops!

4. Cable car above the Daintree Rainforest

Get on a cable car from Smithfield (Rainforest Skyrail) and relax while enjoying the endless view over the pristine canopy forest from a unique perspective! You’ll hop off at the Red Peak Station to explore the forest floor where a ranger will show you around and at Barron Falls Station to check out the impressive Barron Gorge National Park. Once you get to Kuranda, you can hop on the 2 pm train for a scenic journey back to Cairns.

5. Bungee jump from the only bungee tower of Australia

Choose from one of the 16 different jump styles (AJ Hackett): swan dive, water touch, tandem, blindfold, bar drop or BMX. Get ready to feel the adrenaline pumping when standing on the edge of the 50-metre platform. If you’re too scared of throwing yourself into the void (like me) go for the jungle swing, it’s (slightly) less terrifying!

6. Skydive from 15,000 feet above the reef

Gather your courage, take the plunge and go for a tandem skydive over Cairns and tropical North Queensland (Skydive Australia). I know jumping out of a plane sounds insane, but you’ll never forget this once in a lifetime experience! Feel like a bird while enjoying the amazing views of the Great Barrier Reef, the World Heritage Rainforest and Trinity Inlet. Make sure to book the 15,000 feet jump (the 7,000 feet jump will leave you frustrated as you’ll reach the ground in no time at all) and definitely pay the extra for the video, the laugh you’ll have at seeing your petrified face disfigured by the wind is so worth it.

7. Explore the tropical paradise of Fitzroy Island

Board a fast catamaran heading to the magical Fitzroy Island (Raging Thunder), located 45 minutes off the coast from Cairns. Grab your mask and fins and go snorkelling in the waters of Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach. Admire the clownfish, manta rays and green sea turtles living in the coral reef. Other water activities are offered: sea kayak, paddle ski, stand up paddle board and ocean-trampoline. Go for a walk through the rainforest and check out the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

8. Spot crocodiles in Cape Tribulation

Rent a car or book a day trip (Uncle Brian’s or Active Tropics) and head to this unique place where the world’s oldest rainforest meets the world’s greatest reef. You can stop on the way at Mossman Gorge for a swim in the cascading waters. Then, get to Alexandra Range Lookout for great views, do the Marrdja Botanical walk through the mangroves and join a river cruise to see crocodiles in their natural habitat but be careful, don’t put your arm out of the boat when snapping your next Instagram hit!

9. Zip-line through the Daintree Rainforest

If you want to see the rainforest from the inside, go for this exhilarating experience (Jungle Surfing), you’ll glide during 2 hours from one tree platform to another up to 16 metres above the ground. Enjoy the 360 degrees panorama over the treetops, the waterfalls and the reef. You can even reach a speed of 45 km/h on the racing zip lines so be careful to not drop your camera!

10. Hand glide over Port Douglas

If skydiving really isn’t your thing, give hand gliding a try (Updraught), so you can feel free like a bird without free-falling from a plane. Just hold on to your instructor, relax and watch the ground fly beneath you! Spend the rest of day unwinding under a palm tree on the sublime Four Mile beach, near Port Douglas.

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