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Cairns Connect Overview
Cairns is a small city by international standards. Located by the sea it boasts a good balance of laid back tropical lifestyle and the excitement of a major tourist destination with lots to see and do. There is an excellent range of shopping and dining and it is an easy city to spend a casual day or two exploring. There are literally hundreds of day touring options and tourists are very well catered for. For those who enjoy some night life there are numerous bars and nightclubs to keep you entertained. Many people use Cairns as their base to branch out and explore the rest of North Queensland. The international airport is only about 6km from the heart of town.

The Cairns Hilton and The Reef Hotel Casino

Approximately 120,000

Distance from closest major city
Cairns is located approximately 1729 km north of Brisbane.

Captain James Cook was the first known European to visit the site where Cairns is located, arriving on Trinity Sunday 1770 and naming the area Trinity Bay. Cairns took quite a while to be developed, being passed over by Smithfield and Cooktown as the real frontier towns servicing the gold rush late in the 19th Century. Cairns looked like passing into obscurity until it was chosen as the starting point for a railway line that serviced the Atherton Tablelands taking up workers and supplies and bringing back tin and timber. Sugar Cane farms were developed close to Cairns as there was now access to transport the cane to Southern Mills. Cairns began to gain a reputation as a tourist destination throughout the 1970s. In 1984 an international airport opened and a major tourism boom began which converted Cairns from a sleepy regional town to a thriving city.

» Learn more about the history of Cairns

Main Industry
Without a doubt tourism is the number one industry in Cairns. Industries that service tourism have grown proportionally over the years with the most notable being the building industry. Cairns is home to a large commercial fishing fleet that catch prawns in the rich waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and Torres Strait.

Feel of the town
Cairns is a very green city built on the banks of the Trinity Inlet. There are parks and gardens throughout the town, large shopping centres and a few high rise buildings in the CBD. Cairns is surrounded by high forested ranges that provide a very lush backdrop to the city. The Esplanade is the area of most activity. This is a waterfront parkland where tourists and locals alike tend to congregate to relax and enjoy the views. The Pier Marketplace is a feature on the Esplanade. It is a great place to visit for excellent shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Cairns is easy to find your way around, people are friendly and helpful and happy to offer a suggestion on what to see and do.

Things to see
Following is an outline of the major sights to see during a visit to Cairns: Botanical Gardens - whilst they are only small the Flecker Botanical Gardens are beautiful, very well maintained and interesting. There is a good cafe in the middle of the Gardens and both the Cafe and the Gardens are open every day.

The Pier Marketplace

The Pier Marketplace is a large speciality retail and entertainment centre on the Cairns waterfront. It boasts a diverse range of shopping, including major international labels, restaurants an international foodcourt, tour booking lounge and much more. It is also the home of the famous weekend Mud Markets. The Pier Marketplace is open every day from 9am to 9pm.

Cairns Central is the largest shopping centre in Cairns. Located a few minutes walk from the heart of the CBD it is a popular destination for people looking for a shopping experience. It also has a cinema complex in the centre with plenty of restaurants and larger grocery stores.

Undersea World Aquarium is located on the ground floor at the Pier Marketplace. This aquarium features very well presented tanks show casing tropical fish life. The main tank features divers hand feeding sharks and other large reef fish.

Cairns Regional Gallery - Located in the Cairns CBD, the Regional Gallery features predominantly local artists work which reflects the variety of cultures found in North Queensland. There are a number of other high quality photographic and art galleries in and around Cairns.

Centenary Lakes - located adjacent to the Botanical Gardens the Centenary Lakes are a tranquil parkland area featuring Billabong style lakes covered in water lilies. This is a good location for bird watchers.

Freshwater Connection is a charming train station found nestled amongst cane fields in Freshwater. The Kuranda train stops at Freshwater Connection. This is a nice place to stop for afternoon tea.

Crystal Cascades are located at the end of the Redlynch Valley. The Cascades are popular with locals as a good place to cool off in the warmer summer months. There is a good walking track alongside the Cascades (in recent times there have been problems with cars being broken into at Crystal Cascades making it important to take all valuables with you).

The Esplanade - Cairns main parkland and recreation area is a haven for joggers, bike riders, bird watchers, kite flyers and picnics. The Esplanade has recently undergone a major redevelopment that has seen the inclusion of a large swimming lagoon, kids’ playground, family picnic areas and an outdoor auditorium.

The Reef Casino by Night - Photo By Peter Lik (click here)

The Reef Hotel Casino hosts a good range of restaurants and entertainment. The Casino is popular with both visitors and tourists alike.

Royal Flying Doctor Service - located close to the Botanical Gardens, this attraction highlights the world famous Royal Flying Doctor, a service that provides medical attention to isolated outback communities.

Rusty's Markets - open every Friday and Saturday in Grafton St, Rustys Markets are an establishment to the people of Cairns. It is a popular place to buy the weekly fruit and vegetables as well as a variety of other produce. There are normally quite a few interesting characters trying to sell anything and everything at the markets.

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - Photo By Peter Lik (click here)

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park - also located at Smithfield this unique attraction highlights the culture and lifestyle of a local Aboriginal Tribe, the Tjapukai. There is a museum, live theatre (which has some stunning special effects) and an Aboriginal Camp set up to show visitors bush food and medicine, how to light fires, throw boomerangs and spears and play didgeridoos. Once again there is nothing like this park anywhere in Australia.

Lake Morris and Copperlode Dam - finding the turn off to Copperlode Dam can be tricky but it is worth making the effort - follow your map to Kamerunga Rd. The actual turn off is well sign posted and leads to a very windy 16km scenic drive (this road is not suitable for buses or caravans). At the top of the Range is Lake Morris and Copperlode Dam. There is a beautiful picnic and BBQ area overlooking the lake and a small kiosk serving a good range of light refreshments. There are also a number of walking tracks in the area. This recreation area closes at 6.00pm. Very few people know about this fabulous spot, making it one of the few places that you can visit without the crowds.

Cruise Liners at Trinity Wharf

Things to do
The Great Barrier Reef is easily the number one attraction in Cairns. There are a number of excellent operators that specialise in providing both day tours and overnight trips to The Great Barrier Reef, where you can swim, snorkel, dive or simply sit back and relax. There are literally hundreds of day touring options available in Cairns. At times the sheer abundance of promotional material can prove confusing. The range of activities available is really quite amazing and it would not be an understatement to suggest that whatever your interest Cairns can accommodate you. It is a good idea to gather information on your first day, talk to other travellers and then plan your day tours and activities from there. Most hotels have excellent tour desk and booking facilities and there are a number of specialist tour booking companies in Cairns.

» Visit Tours To Go’s extensive range of Cairns tours and Great Barrier Reef tours

When booking tours make sure that you have all inclusions detailed and write down the pick up times and the company that you have booked the tour with. Between 7.30am and 9.00am the foyers of most hotels are packed with tour operators doing their daily pick-ups and it can be quite confusing. Being on time helps to keep the system flowing and the buses moving.

Cairns is an excellent place to hire a car and drive yourself. It is a matter of deciding whether you want to sit back and let a local guide show you the sights on tour or if you prefer, to go exploring by yourself. Both options will be very enjoyable and the best compromise is to do a few day tours and perhaps hire a car for a few days as well.

Cairns is the home of SCUBA Diving in Australia. There are a number of companies offering dive trips and dive courses. Dive Courses in Cairns are excellent value and the best operators can be found on the Cairns Connect site.

» Browse our SCUBA Diving tour operators

Cairns has all of the services a traveller requires.

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