For some travelers, Cairns is the starting point of a trip down the coast. For other's, it's the end of an epic trip north from Melbourne or Sydney.
It's a small town, and during the wet season (November to April), beach lounging may not be the way to spend a day. Travelers should also know that from November to early June, the ocean is off limits in northern Queensland because of deadly marine stingers (jellyfish).
So where does that leave visitors to Cairns?
Fortunately, there are tons of ways to pass time here.
Cairns is a jumping-off point to the famous Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. No guidebook will neglect to mention the beautiful old-growth tropical rainforest that sprawls along the shoreline about 140km north of Cairns. It is here where the rainforest meets the reef, and where ancient trees have been spared by loggers.
Many companies offer day or overnight tours to Cape Trib at a variety of price ranges.
For budget travelers, Cape Trib Connections is a great option, because it offers a packed day (with tea and lunch included) at a reasonably wallet-friendly price. The website advertises this day tour at $119AUD + a $5 levy which is contributed to the national park. Many local travel agents can bump that price down if you book through them - we paid $109 using a travel agent and were given an hour free internet access as a bonus.
It's an early start, with pickups before 8:00am, but the drive north takes about an hour. The tour includes Mossman Gorge, a trip to a wildlife sanctuary with crocodiles, wallabies and cassowaries, lunch on the beach at Cape Tribulation and a cruise down the Daintree River in search of crocs in the wild. Our guide was passionate about the rainforest and was able to answer any question posed to him by our group. And that's another great thing about the Cape Trib Connections tour: the group.
Skip the jam-packed tour bus - our group had only 11 people, all laid-back and friendly. Plus you'll be back in Cairns by 6:30pm, with plenty of time to check out the town.
After winding down from the tour, head over to the fantastic Cairns Night Market on The Esplanade, across from the lagoon. This is no dinky craft fair - after 4pm, the lights go on and the tons of vendors open their stalls to the public. You can find just about anything here, from tacky tourist crap, to wonderful ethnic food, to massages, to beautiful hand-carved keepsakes.
Highlights for us included the snake man, who let us hold his friendly snakes. We also found a lovely local wine vendor, Cairns Tropical Wines, where we bought a sweet, light lychee wine. Our only regret was not buying 3 bottles.
For a place to bed down for the night, I highly recommend Calypso Backpackers Resort - pool, outdoor undercover bar, pub trivia nights, friendly staff and affordable private double rooms.
If a day and a night is all the time you can spend in Cairns, it's definitely possible to pack the best parts in!
Written and contributed by TeijaBeck