The islands, beaches and rainforests that surround Cairns make it world famous – an essential stop on any trans-Australian itinerary. It's the most popular base for diving or snorkelling over the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, but you might struggle to fit that in around the bungee jumping, hot-air ballooning, skydiving, fishing, white-water rafting and horse riding. You can take tours to the World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, or ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail at Kuranda in the Atherton Tableland. Animal sanctuaries are plentiful, so you're certain to indulge your koala-cuddling fetish, and there are miles of eco-friendly boardwalks that penetrate deep into the rainforest. Then there's the nightlife – enough clubs to sate your bump 'n' grindin' requirements. Cairns has a squillion tour operators, and here are some of the best:
Take a full-day tour that combines the best of Cairns, Kuranda and their environs. The Kuranda Scenic Railway will take you to Kuranda to enjoy the village and Kuranda markets. The breathtaking Skyrail rides high above the rainforest canopy, before a 30-minute helicopter ride to a helipad on the Outer Great Barrier Reef. From there it’s a cruizy ride back to Cairns aboard the Osprey V. There's also a half-day cruise-fly tour.
Maybe you'd prefer an early morning hot air balloon ride that and also takes in the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park theatres and museums? This also includes the Skyrail Cablecar gondola ride and an eco-systems guided tour.
If heights, pre-dawn starts and champagne at breakfast makes you feel queasy, try an all-day 4WD Daintree and Cape Tribulation Tour that will keep you on terra firma. Morning tea is taken at the Daintree River, and then you go deep into the world's oldest rainforest. Idyllic Cape Tribulation Beach is next, where you can walk along the pristine sands.
Once your day-tour is over, head down to the Aussie BBQ at Cairns Night Zoo, which features steak, seafood and vegetarian options served with fresh salads and drinks. After 'grub' you'll seek out owls by torchlight (flashlight), pat possums and koalas, and enjoy a traditional bush dance.
The SeaQuest ADV Discover Diving Program takes beginners and experienced divers to the Outer Barrier Reef 63 kilometres (40 miles) from Cairns for a day-long PADI-certificate course over the remarkable reef. Snorkellers are welcome too and there's a smorgasbord lunch included. The Osprey V is a speedy vessel and guarantees small-group diving and snorkelling tours to the Outer Barrier Reef.
A hot air ballooning and Barron River rafting package takes up most of the day, but gives you a unique double perspective on this naturally beautiful region. Vertigo sufferers can opt out of ballooning and do the white-water rafting on either the Tully River for a full day or the Barron River for a half day.
If that's too sedate, try the Tarzan-inspired Minjin Jungle Swing or (you know you want to …) bungee jump off a 50 meter (164 feet) tower – photos and DVDs can be purchased to show your friends what fear and trembling looks like on your face.
Are you just too tough for bungee jumping? Does white-water rafting make you yawn? Try firing yourself out of a canon or, better, skydiving. This tour combines solo and tandem skydives with lunch (not simultaneously) and later snorkelling and reef-viewing in a glass-bottom boat.
Once your pulse has normalized and the burnt-orange hues of day's end begin to glow in the late-afternoon sky, it's time to think about dinner. How about a four-course dinner cruise on the Ocean Spirit IV in placid Trinity Inlet? With a gentle sea breeze, a rainforest mountain backdrop and a glass of champagne, the setting is perfect for a gourmet meal and a twirl on the rosewood dance floor.
So you've played hard during the day and partied hard at night, and now you need a more restful day. Cairns has a lovely foreshore pedestrian promenade and a 4800-sq-kilometre saltwater swimming lagoon. There are some terrific museums like Cairns Museum , and galleries like the Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns Regional Gallery and Centre of Contemporary Arts, cafes and restaurants, and botanical gardens and walking trails.
You could sign up for the day-long Mareeba Food Trail Tour in the hinterlands behind Cairns. It tours banana, macadamia and coffee plantations, before taking in a gourmet lunch of fresh barramundi and local produce. The tour finishes with a winery visit and later home-made tropical ice-creams. Or you might prefer to organise your own day closer to base.
Feeding time at the Cairns Tropical Zoo includes breakfast at the Koala Café and an informative talk by the wildlife keeper. You'll meet pandas, snakes, koalas and wombats and, finally, it's the frenzied feeding time for the huge saltwater crocodiles.
Showcasing new Australian cuisine is Red Ochre Grill Restaurant , the spot for lunch, featuring native berries and fruits, kangaroo, emu and crocodile, fish and seafood. Red Ochre's chefs will cook up a meal that'll captivate even the most world-weary palate. Ostrich fillet with riberry glaze? Or prawns and crocodile with Vietnamese pickles and Lemon aspen sambal? Never smile at a crocodile …
Aboriginal people have inhabited the Australian continent for at least 40,000 years. Witness Dreamtime storytelling and performance with the Flames of the Forest Dining Experience in a secret forest clearing as dusk settles and the stars come out. A full three-course meal comprising high-end cuisine, bush ingredients and superb boutique wines accompanies an Aboriginal dance-and-music show.
This is just a sample of the oodles of things to see and do in this traveler's paradise – browse our complete list of Cairns tours and activities.