Consider using the money you’ve saved on half-price flights to Cairns to splash out on one of these fun family experiences in the region, FIONA HARPER writes
1. Great Barrier Reef cruise
What’s not to love about a waterborne adventure on the Great Barrier Reef? Spend a day at Sunlover Reef Cruises floating pontoon, where the kids will be hard pressed to decide what to do first. There’s a wading depth ocean pool where inquisitive yellow-tail fusiliers hang out, a touch tank to get up close and personal with marine life in safety, snorkel tours and cruises over the reef in a glass-walled semi-submersible boat. But, undoubtedly, the best activity is the waterslide, guaranteed to exhaust the kids while creating lasting family memories.
2. Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
Around three hours west of Cairns, Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park features dramatic limestone caves and significant Aboriginal rock art galleries. Mammoth stalactites drape the cave ceilings while stalagmites rise like sentinels from a lost world. From the township of Chillagoe, book a ranger-guided tour to explore a fascinating underground world through caverns and secret passages concealed within Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch Caves.
3. River tubing with Aussie Drifterz Tubing Tours
There are few easier ways to view lushly vegetated rainforest than floating gently down a river in an inflatable tube. Families with children aged five and older can journey along forest-lined Behana Gorge or the Mulgrave River, depending on conditions on the day, with Aussie Drifterz Tubing Tours (part of Cairns Adventure Group). With an experienced guide to point out highlights, wildlife and to ensure a safe experience, the tour takes a couple of hours and may include some small, easy rapids in between long, lazy drifts downstream.
4. Undara Lava Tubes
Below the rolling savannah plains west of the Cairns and the Great Dividing Range, you’ll find Undara Lava Tubes. The Undara Experience was created by the pioneering Collins family, who have grazed cattle on Rosella Plains Station for over 150 years, and is much more than a geological wonder that has evolved over millions of years. Take a guided tour through the cave system and enjoy vivid sunsets and starlit skies that Outback Australia is renowned for, amidst native wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies and micro-bats. Stay overnight in the homestead or restored railway carriages, or roll out a swag and sleep beneath the stars.
5. Stand-up paddleboarding in Cobbold Gorge
In the heart of Gulf Savannah country, the near-vertical sandstone walls of Cobbold Gorge are etched with glorious patterns and rugged formations carved by the elements. Take a guided boat tour along the waterway, or glide across the still waters on a SUP while learning about the evolution of this ancient landscape. Gliding gently through the gorge, you’ll witness nature in all its glory – from delicate fern fronds dancing in the breeze to birdcalls high above the escarpment.
6. Walkabout Cultural Adventures
Explore Kuku Yalanji country with Aboriginal guides whose ancestors hail from the world’s oldest living culture. Learn about Indigenous cultural connections to Mossman Gorge, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and all the creatures that live here. A hands-on experience perfect for small family groups, you will also learn about bush medicine and tucker, try your hand at boomerang and spear throwing and maybe even catch a mud crab. It’s a great chance to experience authentic Aboriginal culture on country, where tradition and connections remain as strong as they were tens of thousands of years ago.
7. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Saltwater crocodiles are the superstars at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, but there are so many fascinating creatures on show you could easily spend half a day here and not see them all. Time your visit to take in one of the shows, which are not only informative but also often hilariously entertaining, including the Crocodile Attack Show (don’t be alarmed, no one is harmed). Take a cruise on the billabong, breakfast with koalas and see cassowaries, kangaroos and other reptiles such as snakes, tortoises and lizards.
8. Cairns Aquarium
The easiest way to get up close and personal with the creatures that inhabit the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns Aquarium is home to around 16,000 critters from diverse Tropical North Queensland habitats and eco-systems including creeks, billabongs, rivers, mangrove forests and the ocean. Touch and Talk sessions offer an intimate insight into the creatures’ behaviours, while the touch tank allows visitors to handle sea stars, cucumbers and other delicate marine life. But the big attraction is the main aquarium, where colourful tropical fish dart amongst coral reefs, while sawfish and large rays glide overhead.
9. Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
With more than 1,500 butterflies, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is Australia’s largest butterfly aviary. Located in Kuranda village, it showcases native species including the spectacular green and yellow Cairns Birdwing, cobalt blue Ulysses and Monarch butterflies and lesser-known species. Learn all about the butterfly life cycle through immersive exhibits, educational experiences and guided walks, or wander at leisure through the aviaries to simply admire the gentle flutter of butterflies.
10. Paronella Park
If all of that is not enough to pack into a Cairns & Great Barrier Reef family holiday, drive two hours south, where you’ll find 5ha of magnificent parklands and historic Spanish-style architecture at Paronella Park. Nestled amongst the rainforest on the banks of Mena Creek, the attraction was the dream of José Paronella, who arrived in Australia from Catalonia in 1913.
11. Frankland Islands Reef Cruise
Beginning with a rainforest river cruise, followed by the shortest open water crossing of any of the Cairns day tour boats, this tour takes you to Normanby Island in the Frankland Islands National Park island group. During the adventure snorkel safari you will see extraordinary coral cover, including massive boulder corals and widespread anemone gardens (and maybe even find Nemo!). You have up to four hours to explore and enjoy this natural paradise, above and below the water.
In partnership with Cairns & Great Barrier Reef