Palm Cove, Queensland © Tourism and Events Queensland
6-day family adventure around Cairns
Wildlife, World Heritage wonders and ancient culture – here’s one family getaway that’ll never leave you.
By Amy Fraser
Every family needs one of those momentous holidays together, the kind that’s full of life-changing experiences, adrenaline-inducing activities and fond memories that are brought up at family get-togethers decades later. A trip to Cairns, in the north of Queensland will deliver just that. Think jumping crocodiles; the first time cuddling a koala; learning the art of boomerang throwing; swimming with turtles on the Great Barrier Reef; and exploring the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. Here is a six-day itinerary of epic adventure, natural wonders and magnificent wildlife. Cue family memories galore.
Day 1: Cairns
In the centre of Cairns you’ll find the Esplanade Lagoon, a safe saltwater pool surrounded by a sandy beach. It’s a great spot to cool-off and kick-back.
Your family adventure begins in Cairns, where the tropical rainforest meets the tranquil islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Located in the north of Queensland, Cairns is easily accessed from domestic and international airports and is bursting with family-friendly experiences that will last a lifetime.
On arrival, check into the BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut resort. Complete with playgrounds, waterslides, pedal cars and a swimming pool, it’s a kid’s paradise. After cooling off in the resort's splash park, continue your aquatic activities – this time from outside of the water – at Cairns Aquarium, located in the heart of the city. Walk through the blue passageways enveloped by marine creatures, including those from the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, spotting everything from manta rays and seahorses to clownfish (otherwise known as ‘nemos’ from Finding Nemo). And the show doesn’t stop there – head to the aquarium’s Dundee's Restaurant for lunch and gaze at a host of colourful fish and sharks while you munch on delicious modern Australian cuisine. Does mealtime entertainment get any better?
Refuelled and ready for adventure, walk five minutes to Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome where kids of all ages can climb, jump and even swing over crocodiles. But don’t worry, it’s not all heights and reptiles here. Shake off your adrenaline with a cute encounter with the dome’s furry residents, including koalas, wallabies and birds. For dinner, walk three minutes for Italian cuisine by the ocean at Vitalia’s.
Day 2: Exploring the Great Barrier Reef
After getting a taste of Queensland's incredible species at the aquarium, today is the day for diving in and exploring the world’s largest coral reef system itself. All packed with sunscreen, towels and a sense of adventure, depart the Cairns Marina at 8:30am with the epic Sunlover Reef Cruises for a day of exploring, snorkelling and plenty of excitement.
The Moore Reef day trip starts and ends at Fitzroy Island, where paper-white sand meets coral gardens and lush national park. In between, you’ll dock at the breathtaking Moore Reef, a crystal-clear snorkelling paradise one to four metres (three to 13 feet) deep, perfect for kids to jump in and experience the underwater world. Between whizzing down the boat’s waterslide, playing in the deck pool and spotting your favourite fish through the glass bottom boat, there’s plenty of other activities to keep the whole family entertained. Parents can sit back and relax on the sun deck while kids can keep busy with feeding fish and taking part in the touch tank presentation, where they’ll discover unique creatures in an interactive environment.
After a day full of long-lasting memories, head back to the resort for dinner and a good night's rest.
Day 3: Rainforest adventures in Kuranda
- Drive time: 20 minutes to Skyrail Smithfield Terminal and 15 minutes from Skyrail Smithfield Terminal to Palm Cove.
Rise and shine for a day in the tropics, starting with a short 20-minute drive to the Skyrail Smithfield Terminal where you’ll begin your journey into the ancient rainforest. Drift between the leafy canopy of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area before immersing yourself in Red Peak’s live museum of prehistoric plant life and wildlife, or continue on to the cascading Barron Falls, or ‘Din Din’, to the local Djabuganydji people. Your final stop on the Skyrail is Kuranda Village. This cool-climate utopia is a great place to escape the heat, and the town’s quirky colours and wonderful wildlife makes for a fun day out with the family.
Start with a stroll around the open-air Kuranda Heritage Markets, where you’ll find fresh produce, handmade souvenirs – including boomerangs and didgeridoos made by local Aboriginal people – and the odd fortune teller. Pick up mouth-watering French crêpes and a coffee at Petit Café in the market, before immersing yourself in the world’s oldest living culture at Rainforestation Nature Park, where ancient history meets cute creatures and action-adventure.
Choose the unique Army Duck tour to explore the rainforest and its wildlife aboard a World War II Army Duck vessel or absorb Aboriginal culture on a Pamagirri Rainforest Walkabout tour, where you’ll learn ancient traditions, from boomerang throwing to surviving in the wild. But don’t leave without a visit to the Koala and Wildlife Park. Here, you can hand-feed kangaroos, cuddle koalas and meet all kinds of iconic Australian wildlife. And if that’s not enough cuteness for one day, glide over to Birdworld Kuranda and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary to see their fluffy residents and a rainbow of butterflies take flight.
Grab a bite at Frogs Restaurant and finish the day with a refreshing treat at Kuranda Homemade Tropical Ice Cream before hopping back on the Skyrail to Cairns. Drive 15 minutes north to your accommodation for the night, Alamanda Palm Cove.
Day 4: Unwind in Palm Cove
Look out for designated swimming areas on the beaches, where you can swim safely in the ocean.
If boutique hotels, turquoise waters and serene spas are at the top of your list, you’ve come to the right place. The dreamy Palm Cove, located between Port Douglas and Cairns on the Coral Sea, is a picture-perfect getaway for families looking to relax in the sunshine. Start your day at the resort’s Nu Nu Restaurant for an a la carte breakfast by the ocean (kids under ten eat for free), before jumping into a kayak with Palm Cove Water Sports. Over the two hours you’ll spot sea turtles and stingrays gliding through the ocean, visit nearby islands (known to accommodate various celebrities) and taste Aboriginal bush foods from the plant life next to shore.
Back on land, grab a burger from Jack and Shannan’s before hitting the beach to cool-off in the aquamarine water. For little ones with more energy, the Palm Cove beach playground is a great place to run around while parents can keep a close eye on the action at the nearby picnic tables. In the late afternoon, walk around the boutique shops, or while the kids are playing in the resort’s game room, wind down in the spa with a purifying marine body wrap made with avocado smoothie – just what the doctor ordered.
Spend the evening at Kewarra Beach Resort’s Beach Shack watching the sun melt over the horizon. Live music, wood fired pizza, family and spectacular views. What’s not to like?
Day 5: Palm Cove to Port Douglas
Drive time: about 45 minutes in total.
After a relaxing stay in Palm Cove, it’s time to take the adventure up a notch. Check out of the Alamanda and drive 20 minutes to breakfast with a difference at Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, where you’ll tuck into a scrumptious Aussie feast overlooking the croc lagoon. Oh, and did we mention the koala that will be dining with you? With full bellies (and cameras), check out the park’s wildlife displays before cruising through the croc-infested lagoon. Just wait to see your kids faces when the crocs start jumping (safely of course).
From here it’s a 25-minute drive to Port Douglas, the only place on Earth where two World Heritage-listed sites meet (the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef). Make a beeline for the golden sands of Four Mile Beach and enjoy an afternoon of snoozing under the palms or splashing in the crystal-clear water.
Head into town to try out local foodie favourites, including one of the Daintree Ice Cream Co’s famous exotic cones. Get your hands dirty with colour at the Janbal Aboriginal Art Gallery where the whole family can join an art painting workshop hosted by local Aboriginal artist Brian “Binna” Swindley, where you’ll hear Dreamtime stories about the Kuku Yalanji culture.
Spend the evening dining at Salsa Bar & Grill for exquisite food and a vibrant atmosphere. Then sleep the night away in one of Cayman Villa’s family apartments.
Day 6: The Daintree Rainforest
- Drive time: one-hour from Port Douglas to Cairns.
Get ready to step into another world. Today you’ll venture deep into the world’s oldest rainforest. Home to spectacular waterfalls, freshwater swimming holes, ancient history and a plethora of wildlife and plant species – the Daintree Rainforest is one of the Earth’s greatest natural wonders.
Join Walkabout Cultural Adventures on a half-day tour to discover its beauty and the ancient culture of the Kuku Yalanji people, the traditional owners of the land. Watch as your kids master boomerang throwing, catch mud crabs and slip into the refreshing mint green waters of the Mossman Gorge. You’ll be pleased to join them in this tranquil haven, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of wildlife rustling in the trees. But it’s not just the natural wonders that makes this tour so special. Listen to the Indigenous narrative of the rainforest while you walk through sacred spots and learn about the connection of the people to the land – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Back in Port Douglas, grab a bite to eat and a coffee, then set off on your journey back to Cairns.