Ella visited Cairns during the tropical wet season in January for about a week. Here’s her guide, and a few tips and tricks, for making the most of a (possibly wild and wet) tropical Cairns holiday.


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Gimuy-walubarra yidi people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Quick Overview

In addition to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is surrounded by the historic Daintree National Park, with rainforests mountains and beaches, as well as the enigmatic Atherton Tablelands with plentiful rainforest walks and waterfalls. 

About Cairns

Cairns is most known for its access to the Great Barrier Reef, but also for its almost-untouched surrounding regions; the Atherton Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest. Because of this, millions of tourists flock to Cairns each year to explore these natural wonders, making the city a popular tourist hot spot.

As Cairns is in the tropics, it’s also known for its hot summers and mild winters. It has two distinct seasons – the dry season, from April to October, and the wet season from November to March.

The wet season coincides with stinger season when Box jellyfish are most prevalent in the warm, tropical waters.



Despite the weather, there’s lots to do in Cairns during the wet season. You could easily spend a lifetime exploring Cairns and its surroundings, but if you’re pressed for time, the most beautiful attractions Cairns has to offer can be explored in a week.

Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather

Cairns History

Prior to European presence from the late 1860s, Cairns was inhabited by the Gimuy-walubarra yidi, the Traditional Custodians of the land, who continue to practice and share their traditions and culture.

You’ll see throughout the Cairns region glimpses into the First Nations culture and heritage.

Cairns was named after Sir William Wellington Cairns, the Governor of Queensland during the late 1870s.

It was also at the forefront of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the general Pacific offensive during World War II.

After World War II, the city gradually developed into its now-known bustling hub of tourism, with the opening of an international airport making it popular for overseas travellers too.

Cairns’ surrounds remain a step-back-in-time, with significant cultural notes from the First Nations people.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

How to Get to Cairns

Due to its remoteness, Cairns is best accessed via plane. Non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne (Tullamarine) are available and take approximately three to three and a half hours, while a direct flight from Brisbane takes two hours and fifteen minutes.

Where to Stay in Cairns

Due to the lively tourism, Cairns isn’t short of accommodation choices. There are a variety of hostels for the budget traveller, or on the other side of the spectrum, there are luxury hotels, if you’re into that sort of stuff.

If you’re travelling solo and want to meet likeminded people, and/or you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend staying in a hostel.

There are a variety inland from the waterfront near the fruit and veg markets and shops, or there are a few on the esplanade, near the waterfront where there are many bars and restaurants. Gilligan’s, Mad Monkey Central, and Mumma’s Hostel are just a few great options.

If you want a more secluded and luxury stay, you can opt for a hotel, of which there are many at different price ranges. There’s everything from the Shangri-La right down to the Bohemia Resort.

Where to Eat in Cairns

Cairns has diverse food choices and visitors can find a wide range of cuisines to suit their preference.

Rusty’s Markets is a must visit if you’re into the fruit and veg market scene. A small but extremely popular juice stall at the entrance of Rusty’s Markets (called P.T.N Sugarcane juice & Coconut on Google Maps) sells ice cold sugarcane juice concoctions.

I had the sugarcane and cumquat juice which was heavenly and refreshing in such humid conditions.

I also became a regular customer at Pho Viet Vietnamese Noodle Bar near the Cairns Night Markets, which was amongst the large Asian food scene in Cairns.

The Cairns Sweet Tea outside the night markets is also an underrated spot for boba tea and fruit smoothies. I’m a boba tea connoisseur and am certain that the Taro Milk Tea Boba here was the best I’ve ever had.

In addition to the large dominance of Asian cuisine in Cairns, you’ll also find Modern Australian and Italian eateries spread out in the city.

Outside of Cairns city there are also food areas scattered around the region.

Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery in Mareeba, a small town in the Atherton Tablelands region stocks local ice cream and sorbet flavours. I had the papaya sorbet which was heavenly on a hot, humid day.

North of Cairns ‘Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures’ offers the chance to taste various crocodile dishes, which is really interesting and worth trying if you’ve never tasted crocodile meat.

Things to do in Cairns

1. Explore the Reef by Charter

Cairns is best known for the Great Barrier Reef, and as it’s so close, you can spend the whole day out there.

There are many different charter companies that you can choose from to take you out to the reef, all of which offer different experiences.

Think snorkelling, scuba diving, glass-floor boat trips, trips to islands, fishing, and even helicopter flights.



As these charters often take all day, meals are usually supplied.

Depending on what kind of experience you want, it’s worth researching these charters online and seeing what they offer before you arrive to Cairns.

Otherwise, information centres scattered around the city can help you decide how you want to explore the reef.

It doesn’t matter if a tropical downpour approaches as the waters on the reef generally remain calm during the wet season.

In the event that the weather is too severe, the charter company will contact you to reschedule. Besides, you’ll be spending most of your time in the water anyway, so what’s a little rain?

2. Indulge in the Atherton Tablelands

The Atherton Tablelands is a vast highland region south of Cairns. You could spend a whole week exploring the numerous waterfalls and walks these tablelands have to offer.

However, if you’re short on time, I’d recommend devoting at least one full day exploring this region. There are tours available, or you can rent a car to explore this region at your own pace.

Millaa Millaa Falls is a heritage-listed waterfall that’s a must see in the Atherton Tablelands. The 18.3 metre falls forms a pool suitable for swimming at the base. It’s considered Australia’s most photographed waterfall, and definitely worth the visit.


Millaa Millaa Falls


Crystal Cascades is a secluded swimming hole in the tablelands that’s also worth visiting if you’re into the freshwater swimming scene.

Make sure you’re a good swimmer if you choose to go for a paddle. Unlike Millaa Millaa Falls, there are many currents and submerged rocks at this waterhole, due to the way the water flows from the falls.


Crystal Cascades

3. Adventuring Through the Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is a 1.5 hour drive north of Cairns and makes up a whopping 1,200 square kilometres of rainforest. The Daintree Rainforest gets so much hype as it’s a remnant of what used to cover the entirety of the Australian continent.

It’s been estimated to be at least 130 million years old and existed while the Australian continent was still attached to the already-splitting Gondwanaland, making it a rare survivor of millions of years of changing climate conditions.



Because of this, the Daintree Rainforest is also a diverse ecosystem for many unique and vulnerable plant and animal species.

If you’re taking the car from Cairns, you’ll have to cross the Daintree River using the Daintree River Ferry.

There’s a minimal wait, but double check the operating times before you go so you guarantee your trip back to Cairns from the Daintree. 

If driving to the Daintree and back sounds like a bit much in a day, there are plenty of accommodation options in the Daintree area to break up your trip. 

In the Daintree you’ll find numerous walks of various fitness levels. You may find yourself meandering through mangrove forests, which make up some of Australia’s most important coastal ecosystems. You might even run into a wild Cassowary like I did!

In the event that you come into contact with a Cassowary, ensure that you keep your distance and back away slowly, allowing the animal to feel safe and not under threat.


A wild Cassowary blocks the way


Crocodiles are also present in the Daintree area so keep updated with the warnings and be cautious where necessary.

Read more: How To Stay Safe in Croc Country

4. In the City

On days where the downpour is too heavy to get outside, or you just want a break from the elements, there are a variety of indoor activities available around Cairns.

The Cairns Aquarium is a popular attraction that showcases the incredible marine life in the region. Visitors can walk through the different exhibits and even participate in interactive experiences like a behind-the-scenes tour or a touch tank.

Cairns has a range of undercover shopping options including the Cairns Night Markets, Rusty’s Market, and other boutique shops in the city centre.

The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is also free, open to the public, and remains open until late at night.


Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Essential Gear During Cairns Wet Season

  • Lightweight, breathable clothing
  • Rain gear
  • Insect repellent clothing/roll-on
  • Waterproof hiking shoes
  • Swimwear
  • Sun protection
  • Drink bottle

Read more: What to Pack in Your Hiking First Aid Kit

Tips for Visiting Cairns During the Wet Season

1. Rent a hire car – I highly recommend renting a car for at least a couple days during your stay in Cairns. I hired a car for three days which is a good amount of time to explore the outer areas of Cairns, which are otherwise not very accessible

2. Stay hydrated – With the humidity and high temperatures, staying hydrated is important. Drink plenty of water throughout the day

3. Plan ahead – Check the weather ahead of time and plan your activities accordingly. During heavy downpours you can explore indoor or undercover activities around Cairns

4. Be flexible – Outdoor activities such as hiking, exploring the reef and waterholes, and snorkelling are all possible during downpours. However if an aggressive storm front approaches, these activities may be best saved for later

Read more: How To Stay Safe in Croc Country

FAQs Cairns in the Wet Season

Where is Cairns located?

Cairns is located in on the East Coast of the Cape York Peninsula on a coastal strip between the Coral Sea and the Great Dividing Range.

How to get to Cairns?

Cairns is best accessed by plane.

When’s the best time of year to visit Cairns?

All year round! Many people visit Cairns during the dry season (April to October) when the weather is dry. But many people also visit during the wet season when the weather is more humid yet rivers, waterfalls, and waterholes are full.

How many days should I spend in Cairns?

You could easily spend a lifetime in Cairns but I’d recommend at least a week to explore the city and surrounding regions.

What is Cairns known for?

Cairns is known to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tablelands, and the Daintree Rainforest.