Scuba diving near Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
Go on an unforgettable adventure. See colourful coral reefs, primeval rainforest and unique Australian wildlife, all in spectacular tropical north Queensland.
By Mal Chenu
What to expect
- Dive or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef
- Explore the natural beauty of the world's oldest living rainforest, the World Heritage-listed Daintree
- Eat superb seafood and try traditional Aboriginal food, known as bush tucker
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 115 kilometres (71 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Cairns
- Price: $$$$
On this 10-day adventure itinerary you'll travel north from the tropical city of Cairns to the stylish beach villages of Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Along the way you'll discover the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, spot huge crocodiles, try big game fishing, go white water rafting through World Heritage-listed wilderness, dare to bungy jump and even go skydiving. You'll also taste some beautifully cooked, fresh-caught seafood along the way.
Day 1: Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef
The tropical city of Cairns is the launchpad for many Great Barrier Reef tour boats, which take passengers from the shore out to the Great Barrier Reef, around 90 minutes away. Today you're departing on an Great Barrier Reef experience with Silverswift to the outer reef, where the deeper water is home to magnificent coral formations and a wide variety of marine life. All day tours depart to the reef depart from the Reef Fleet Terminal (on Cairns' main strip, The Esplanade), so check in here at approximately 7:30am for your 8:30am departure. Over the course of today you'll go to three different snorkelling sites on the Great Barrier Reef, where you'll see sights such as clownfish, sea turtles, humphead Maori wrasse (an enormous, large-lipped fish that's very friendly), soft and hard corals in colours such as turquoise, neon pink, soft purple and bright orange, schools of parrot fish, reef crabs, barracudas, painted lobsters, Gorgonian fans, giant clams and maybe even a reef shark or two - don't worry, they're harmless. A full tropical buffet of hot and cold food will be provided on the boat; you'll return to Cairns at 4:30pm. Tonight, dine at Salt House, an upmarket restaurant and bar on the Cairns waterfront serving contemporary Australian fare.
Day 2: Vlasoff Cay
Vlasoff Cay is made for Instagram. This private, sandy islet, surrounded by clear aquamarine water, is only accessible by helicopter or boat, so when you take a helicopter picnic tour here, you're virtually guaranteed to have it all to yourself. Enjoy breakfast at your hotel before your transfer picks you up and whisks you to your helicopter, which will depart for Vlasoff Cay at 8.30am. After a gorgeous 20-minute scenic flight over the reef, you'll stay on Vlasoff Cay for 90 minutes and enjoy a gourmet picnic brunch. You can snorkel right off the beach, go beachcombing on the fine white sand or just relax on a deck chair. You'll be back in Cairns around lunchtime and spend the afternoon discovering ancient Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, just a 15-minute drive from Cairns. Tjupukai showcases the 40,000 year old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with engaging performances, dance, food and arts. Watch a corroboree, throw a spear and a boomerang and learn about the complex techniques of playing a didgeridoo. Tjapukai offers a morning, afternoon, and evening shuttle transfer service to and from your Cairns accommodation.
Day 3: Cairns
Get your adrenalin pumping at AJ Hackett bungy jumping, 20 minutes from central Cairns. A return shuttle from your hotel is included when you book a jump. Choose from 16 jump styles, including riding a BMX, and bungy from a 50-metre-high tower. AJ Hackett is also the home of the Minjin Jungle Swing, which launches one, two or three people into the air at the same time, bundled together in a giant swing. Afterwards, head back to Cairns and browse the shops along the Esplanade and at The Pier for Aboriginal art and Australian gemstones. You can celebrate your bungy bravery at Tha Fish seafood restaurant at The Pier, a shopping centre and waterfront dining boardwalk.
Day 4: Tully River
The Tully River is one of Australia’s best white water rafting and kayaking venues, and the Tully River Raging Thunder white water rafting tour is a local highlight. You'll be picked up from your hotel in Cairns at 6.30am for the two-hour drive to the Tully River, and hop into an inflatable raft and be guided through a World Heritage-listed rainforest. A trained instructor will be on hand to help as you navigate white water bumps, dips and even waterfalls, admiring beautiful scenery and exploring the area over a day that's adventurous and a whole lot of fun. You’ll return to Cairns at 6pm just in time for dinner at Splash Seafood Restaurant on the Esplanade, with front-row views of the ocean.
Day 5: Palm Cove
Even adventurers need downtime, and Palm Cove is the perfect place to recharge. So pack your bags and jump on a shuttle bus. Shuttles depart from Cairns city (and many hotels) every hour or so for the 45-minute trip north to Palm Cove, a gorgeous beachfront village home to top-end hotels, fine-dining restaurants, boutique shopping and numerous top-quality day spas. You can enjoy a spa treatment that uses native Australian botanicals, soft coral scrubs or local Aboriginal therapies. Many of the spas here offer these kinds of treatments, including Peppers Beach Club Spa and Reef House Resort & Spa. Finish the day with dinner at Nu Nu restaurant, where you can try a Queensland mud crab and Moreton Bay bugs (succulent Australian shellfish) before relaxing in your hotel. There are several lovely accommodation options here, many of them directly opposite the beach.
Day 6: Port Douglas area
Catch the 7.30am shuttle bus for the 50-minute drive north to the beautiful seaside town of Port Douglas, renowned for its beach and restaurants. You’ll have booked your whale tour online with Eye to Eye Marine Encounters and will arrive just in time to drop your bags to your hotel and make your 9am departure from the marina. Cruises to see humpback whales and dwarf minke whales run daily from June to September. In June and July you can also swim with dwarf minke whales (pictured). You’ll return at about 4.30pm, just in time to freshen up and enjoy dinner outdoors at one of the fine local restaurants, such as Nautilus.
Day 7: Port Douglas area
Port Douglas is one of the best game fishing venues in the world, and day tours depart from the Reef Marina on Wharf Street at 8.30am, returning by 5.30pm. Light-tackle game fishing on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef (60 minutes by boat) is available all year round, and you will be trying to hook small black marlin, sailfish, wahoo, tuna and dolphin fish. Serious game fishers come here to take on giant black marlin from September to late December in deeper waters (about 90 minutes by boat). Overnight and extended tours are also available. This is a 'catch and release' fishing experience and you'll pose for a photo with your prize before throwing it back and watching it swim away.
Day 8: Daintree Rainforest
Tours of the oldest rainforest on earth, the Daintree, leave Port Douglas at about 7.30am (most will pick you up from your accommodation), or you can hire a car in town and drive yourself. Within an hour you'll be admiring this 135-million-year-old, World Heritage-listed natural wonder, to the sound of exotic birdlife. You'll see ancient Mossman Gorge and its spearmint coloured water, and take a cruise along the Daintree River, where lurking crocodiles can be spotted. Depending on the tour, you may also see scenic Wujal Wujal Falls and Cassowary Falls, or learn about bush tucker (Aboriginal food) with an Aboriginal guide. If you drive yourself, check out the thrilling Jungle Surfing Canopy at Cape Tribulation, a zip-line tour between six tree canopy platforms. Tours return to Port Douglas at about 4.30pm, just in time for a sunset drink and dinner at Central Hotel, on the main strip (Macrossan Street).
Day 9: Port Douglas area
Start the day with a leisurely morning walk along the beach and find a nice place on the main strip in Port Douglas, Macrossan Street, for breakfast. Catch a taxi (or book a coach transfer) to Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, a 10-hectare (25-acre) Australian wildlife park 25 minutes from the Port Douglas town centre. You'll see crocodiles leap out of the water to feed, take a wetlands lagoon cruise and visit the crocodile farm where they live in their hundreds. There are also two kilometres (1.2 miles) of boardwalks and pathways. You'll encounter Australian snakes, cassowaries, koalas, quolls, tropical birds, reptiles and insects. Pick up some crocodile leather souvenirs and return to Port Douglas for an appropriate dinner of kangaroo fillet and bush plums at Harrison's restaurant.
Day 10: Port Douglas to Cairns
Today you return to Cairns for arguably the greatest adventure of the trip: skydiving. Catch the shuttle bus back to Cairns Airport, where your pre-booked light plane and instructor will be waiting. Your plane will climb to about 4300 metres (14,000 feet) and you'll freefall for up to 60 seconds over one of the most picturesque jump sites in the world. If your eyes are open, you'll take one last, and thrillingly unique, look at the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and Cairns city before landing safely on the ground, tandem-style, with your experienced skydive instructor.
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