Whether you’re chasing air-conditioning or water fun, we’ve got you covered with these ways to beat the heat in Cairns.
There are a lot of things to love about summer – gushing waterfalls, lush rainforest, a box of mangoes for $2 from the markets (or better yet, collecting free mangoes from the tree) and a cooling rain shower that awakens the soul.
But for happy travellers, we acknowledge that the weather can be a little warmer than you’re used to. Fret not! Cairns locals have perfected the art of escaping the heat – here are some ways you can too.
As always in the tropics, don’t forget to be sun safe and slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.
Swim in the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed the 4,800m² sparkling lagoon on the Cairns Esplanade. If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, or you simply want a change of scenery, find yourself a patch of shade to park yourself between swims. There are free barbecues stationed around the lagoon too with Woolworths only a short walk to stock up on supplies.
The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is open and patrolled every day from 6am to 9pm, except Wednesday mornings which is open 12pm to 9pm (closed in the morning for cleaning).
Tip: There are free Aqua Zumba classes every Wednesday from 5.30pm to 6.30pm and Saturday 9am to 10am, so you can stay cool and keep fit!
Make every day sundae funday
You’re on holiday and it’s completely acceptable to have at least* two ice creams every day – you’ll need to if you plan on sampling all the ice creameries in the city. Covering them all below would take far too long so here are some highlights.
- For local scoops try The Dairy by the famous Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy. Their famously creamy Atherton Tablelands milk translates to even more creamy ice cream.
- Gelocchio is a long-standing local favourite, with a range of mouthwatering traditional gelatos, dairy-free sorbets and icy poles utilising locally-grown fruit including soursop, lychee and dragonfruit.
- For a treat that’s as satisfying as it is healthy, pick up chocolate-coated frozen Feel Good Banana – made and grown locally in Mission Beach. You can find these at the cafe Aqua right next to the lagoon and throughout various stockists in the region.
- Other trusty favourites include Ben & Jerry’s, Devine Gelato and Yo My Goodness for fro-yo lovers.
*We take no responsibility for the overconsumption of ice cream.
Head underwater at Cairns Aquarium
While you’ll be staying dry, you’ll definitely be staying cool at the air-conditioned Cairns Aquarium. This living museum begins in the Wet Tropics rainforest (featuring Australia’s largest freshwater aquarium) and makes its way down the river systems to coastal and mangrove environments, and then out to the Great Barrier Reef.
You’ll learn loads from the information boards in each exhibit, but we highly recommend attending as many of the daily presentations as you can – the Wildlife Educators are full of interesting and educational facts that will keep you enthralled.
Optional add-on experiences include Aquarium by Twilight, with an exclusive after-hours guided tour and three-course dinner at Dundee’s to boot; Marine Life Encounter, a back-of-house and Turtle Hospital Tour and hand-feeding cownose rays; or Turtle Rehabilitation Centre Tours.
Play in the water at Muddy’s Playground
We promise you that Muddy’s Playground isn’t just for kids – in fact, the cafe here is a regular haunt for locals, particularly for taco Tuesdays and fish and chip Fridays. Located along the Cairns Esplanade, the sea breeze will you cool while your kids splash around in the water play areas. Muddy’s Cafe has an ample supply of freshly squeezed juices, coffee (iced, of course) and food to keep you fed and watered while your kids burn off energy.
Have old-school fun at a games arcade
Seek air-conditioned comfort and fun at Time Zone, located one block back from the Cairns Esplanade. It’s open till late every day and is great for both kids and adults, with arcade games, dodgem cars, prizes and more.
Empire Alternacade, is an alternative games arcade and bar aimed at adults. This city venue features classic games including ping pong, air hockey, pinball, retro consoles and over 100 board games. Expect themed cocktails (and mocktails) and an extensive American diner-style menu, with the likes of foot-long hot dogs, loaded fries and chicken wings.
The Downunder bar in the city has 10 state-of-the-art pool tables (the most in the region) with free pool all night, every night. Food is also available till midnight so it’s a great place to head if you’re feeling that late night hunger.
Get your arts & culture fix
Within walking distance you’ll find an array of air-conditioned art galleries in the heart of the city Cairns Art Gallery is a three-story public gallery based in a heritage building with ever-evolving exhibitions from contemporary through to classic styles. Right next door, you’ll find another historical building recently refurbished and repurposed into The Court House Art Gallery. Both galleries are free of charge.
Owned an operated by Cairns Historical Society, Cairns Museum offers a fascinating insight into the history of the region, including First Nations, tourism, farming, fashion and more. Nearby, Bulmba-Ja Arts Centre features a contemporary art gallery and gift shop, workshops, performances and more.
There are heaps of places in the city you can catch live music, workshops and shows. Tanks Arts Centre (which also features a gallery) and Cairns Performing Arts Centre both have regular events in air-conditioned venues. For more events in the region, check our what’s on page.
Go shopping in air-conditioned comfort
Head over to our local shopping guide for a wrap-up of some of Cairns’ top independent shops, including quirky gift shops, vintage boutiques and more.
For a cheeky holiday splurge, head down to DFS Galleria which the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Marc Jacobs and loads of other luxury brands.
If you’re chasing a shopping centre, Cairns Central is, unsurprisingly, “central” and features department stores including Myer, Kmart and Target, a food court, supermarkets, and dozens of other retailers.
Treat yourself with a spa day
The ultimate way to keep cool, calm and collected is by booking yourself a spa treatment or massage at one of the day spas the city has on offer. Our top picks are Vie Spa at Pullman Cairns International and Eléme Day Spa at Crystalbrook Riley. Both day spas offer a range of treatments sure to leave you feeling 1000x better than when you walked in.
Alternatively, if you’d like to make a day of it, get out of the city and make your way to one of these sensational Palm Cove spas.
Get cool at the ultimate pool party
Gilligan’s is synonymous with great times but the fun doesn’t just start when the sun goes down. From Friday to Sunday, the party kicks off at noon with DJs, cocktails and cabanas the pool with their Wet Club Pool Party. Pool party aside, the pool is open 7 days a week from 8am so you’ll always find a good time at “Gillies”.
Slide into Sugarworld Adventure Park
This one ventures a little south of the Cairns City to the southern suburb of Edmonton. Sugarworld has legendary status among Cairns locals, many of whom have frequented the park since childhood (albeit, the park has gone through extensive renovations since then). The park features a splash park, pool, mini golf, and three Super Slides – a 74m, four person Mat Racer Waterslide, a 100m Super Jet Waterslide and a 120m Tandem Tube Raft Waterslide.
Peacocks strut through the surrounding parklands (free entry) which are shaded by towering raintrees and tropical fruit orchards with exotic fruits including Jaboticaba, Miracle Fruit (which turns sour into sweet), Mangosteen and Breadfruit to name a few, with relics from the suburb’s former sugar mill are scattered throughout providing an interesting insight into the history of the area.
Getting here: There is a public bus service that can take you here (Route 142) otherwise it’s approximately 25mins drive from the city.
Get adventurous at Cairns Wake Park
Located 20mins north of the city in Smithfield, Cairns Wake Park is also a great spot to visit if you’re staying either in the city or at the beaches (including Palm Cove).
This adventure park features Cairns’ only cable-ski park, catering to all abilities – from beginners to those hitting jumps and ramps. Kneeboards, wakeboards and wakeskates are available for hire on-site. It’s suitable for ages 10+ however, there are Kids Club sessions on Saturdays and in school holidays available for kids from 6-12.
Cairns Aqua Park is an adjoining inflatable floating playground and is suitable for ages 6+.
Feel fresh in freshwater swimming holes
You don’t have to go far to find yourself in a freshwater swimming hole next to a cascading waterfall. Crystal Cascades and Stoney Creek are both 20-25mins drive from the CBD and feature a series of pools where you can park yourself for the day. Fairy Falls is approximately 15mins walk starting from the left side of the Crystal Cascades car park.
For a more adventurous spin, book a tour with Cairns Canyoning where you can zipline, slide, and jump your way down either Crystal Cascades or Behana Gorge. If canyoning is a bit too wild for you, try the milder but equally fun river tubing with Cairns Adventure Group, or rainforest SUP with What’SUP.
Please be respectful when visiting these beautiful places. If you’re bringing a picnic, ensure you pack out any rubbish with you and avoid bringing any glass to avoid accidental breakages.
Ride the rapids
How many cities can launch a raft on grade 2 and 3 rapids only 20mins from the CBD? Meet the turbulent torrents of the Barron River with Foaming Fury’s half-day rafting tour. It’s a place of raw natural beauty with the gorge, cloaked in World Heritage rainforest, towering either side of you as you paddle – sometimes furiously, sometimes leisurely – your way down the river.
Foaming Fury also offers a similar family rafting tour, designed for those with children aged 6-11 years, with smaller rafts and operating on the lower section of the Barron Gorge.
Kayak down crystal clear waters
If you prefer relaxed to rushed, set your own pace and glide along the crystal clear creek of Babinda with Babinda Kayaking. Choose between a kayak or stand-up paddle-board, and wind your way between Queensland’s two highest mountains alongside fish and turtles.
Pack lunch or snacks to enjoy at your leisure on sandy banks along the way – we recommend packing into a dry bag to avoid your food getting soggy.
Babinda is approximately an hour south of Cairns. While here, you can also go for a swim in the famous Babinda Boulders and walk down to Devils Pool and Boulders Gorge lookouts to see the smooth granite carved out by millions of years of water flowing over.
Please only swim in the designated swimming areas of Babinda Boulders.
Dive into the Great Barrier Reef
We can’t really say we’ve saved the best till last (we love them all), but the Great Barrier Reef holds a special place in the heart of every Tropical North Queenslander. There is a multitude of different ways to explore this wonder, from liveaboards, pontoons, islands, fishing charters, sailing boats or catamarans. It doesn’t matter which you choose – you’re bound to be blown away by each and every one.
It’s a little-known fact that summer is also many locals’ favourite time to visit the reef with often calmer seas and incredible clarity.