How to explore Cairns in a week

It’s no secret I have a soft spot for Tropical North Queensland. After visiting Trinity Beach in 2016 and Palm Cove in 2017, I felt well overdue a visit – especially after promoting so many incredible places and experiences there through work. 

This time, we booked to stay for a whole week, staying in Palm Cove once again. However, we ventured further afield more to explore what else this region has to offer.

Palm Cove

On my last trip to Palm Cove, we stayed in an Airbnb a 10-minute walk away from the main strip, which was lovely and roomy, but on this holiday I wanted to enjoy the proximity to the beach and cafes. Melaleuca Resort (named after the Melaleuca trees that line the esplanade) was the accommodation winner – it’s not overly fancy, but it’s affordable, in a great location on Williams Esplanade, and has a sea view. With a pool and tropical garden on-site, it was just the right amount of comfort, especially if you’re out and about on most days like we were.

Palm Cove

Palm Cove is described as a ‘tropical village by the sea’ which is exactly what you’ll find when you go for a wander. There are plenty of resorts, restaurants, little shops, and spas along the esplanade, which makes it easy to quickly acquaint yourself with a routine. With its beachfront position and beautifully presented food, breakfast at Chill Cafe Palm Cove was a favourite of ours, or a stroll up to Espresso and Co for a takeaway ice coffee was a regular occurrence. For dinner options, O’Donnells Irish Bar and Grill has a fun vibe and hearty meals (the Irish stew was delicious) and a visit to Palm Cove isn’t complete without a meal at Nu Nu Restaurant. Framed by the palm trees, this establishment is situated right on the beach so you can imagine the view – I regret dining here at night instead of at lunchtime!

Chill Cafe Palm Cove

With the aim to see and do more around Cairn during the week, we embarked on the following local adventures:

Day Trips around Cairns

Fitzroy Island: Only a 45-minute ferry ride away from Marlin Marina is Fitzroy Island which is perfect for a day of unspoiled natural paradise. With a unique mix of beach, rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef, there’s plenty to fill your time here. After lunch at Foxy’s Bar and Grill (situated right on the beachfront overlooking Welcome Bay), we hired stinger suits and snorkeling gear for the afternoon and hiked the 1.3km Nudey Beach Trail through the rainforest to Nudey Beach. Recently named as the most beautiful beach in Australia, I was eager to see it and while it is beautiful, I felt a bit disappointed in all honesty. It’s a lot smaller than I imagined! Luckily it was very quiet when we visited but I imagine it gets rather busy there during peak periods. The entire beach is also made up of old coral instead of sand, so it’s not quite the relaxing afternoon you think. However, there’s a well-preserved coral reef just steps away from the water’s edge to snorkel on top of. Back at the main beach adjacent to the ferry terminal (but a bit of a walk away), we had just enough time to snorkel the reef flat there. I’m rubbish at snorkeling as I get all flustered but Joe’s a natural so he saw a bunch of marine life in that location.

Nudey Beach

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway: For a unique perspective of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest (Daintree Rainforest), this 90 minute Skyrail experience is a must-do. Boarding at Skyrail’s Smithfield Terminal, glide metres above the trees before descending to explore the rainforest up-close. Checkpoint one is at Red Peak where you’ll find a lush green rainforest boardwalk loop and scenic lookout. The second stop is at Barron Falls where you can enjoy a panoramic gorge and waterfall views.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway: Red Peak

The third and final stop is the mountain village of Kuranda. This retreat town packs a punch when it comes to scenery, adventure activities, and cultural immersion. We spent some time shopping at the local markets before grabbing lunch at Kuranda Hotel. To get back to your car at Smithfield Terminal, you can either ride the Skyrail back (and not bother stopping along the way) OR you can choose to ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway. I would have loved to do this but unfortunately, it was sold out that day. However, we did wander around Kuranda Station which is world-renowned for its tropical gardens and historic significance. There’s also a cute tea room at the station for souvenirs and refreshments.

Kuranda Station

Daintree River Cruise: Now we had explored the Daintree from above, it was time to view it from below on the Daintree River Cruise. With a downpour of a rainy day to fill, we did the Ultimate Wildlife Experience Cruise which takes you on a 90-minute journey along the Daintree River. After a free cup of tea and biscuits, we got absolutely soaked walking down to the boat but the weather pleasantly added a nice touch to the rainforest experience. The local guide on-board shared his knowledge about the tropical ecosystem and pointed out the Estuarine Crocodiles in their natural habitat when we passed them. Afterward, we visited Daintree Tea House Restaurant for a bit of lunch and I loved the tranquil, alfresco rainforest vibe there. With the rain drizzling around us (we were sat undercover), I was getting fond flashbacks of my Girl Guide camping days and remembered how much I enjoy being out in nature.

Daintree River Cruise

Cairns Esplanade: Personally, I’m not a big fan of Cairns city centre as it feels empty of character and there’s not much to do. However, the esplanade is lovely and an area we enjoyed exploring. While Joe got a tattoo, I spent some time wandering around the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon which is extremely family-friendly and reminds me of Streets Beach at Brisbane’s South Bank. The boardwalk here along the waterfront is a lovely stroll, hosting many bars and restaurants. We stopped in at Dundee’s Waterfront Dining for cocktails before heading over to Marlin Marina to enjoy dinner at floating trawler restaurant Prawn Star. If you like seafood, then you can’t get much fresher than this unless you catch it yourself! I was so excited for this meal as we advertise it all the time at work and while I did thoroughly enjoy the experience, it took me a few minutes to get past the rocking of the boat. You’re seated with other guests at large tables so with the twinkling lights and old tunes playing, there was a real community feel to the evening. With the large platter for two between us and a couple of ciders, we had a great evening. Afterwards, we popped next door to Salt House for a nightcap.

Prawn Star

Trinity Beach: What’s a trip to Cairns without visiting our first love, Trinity Beach? It was a short and sweet stop but we wanted to have a quick wander for old time’s sake. While we were there, we stopped for lunch at L’Unico Trattoria Italiano – I love a balcony seat looking out over the beach!

Trinity Beach

Port Douglas: Known for being a little more hip and cool than its beach cousins Trinity and Palm Cove, Port Douglas has plenty of bars and restaurants to stop in at, as well as boutique shopping with a tropical twist. We stopped in for a stroll along Four Mile Beach and an espresso martini at The Courthouse Hotel.

And that’s a wrap on our week in Cairns! Next time I’d like to add some Indigenous experiences to the itinerary and maybe travel further west to the Atherton Tablelands or even Undara.

1 week in Cairns

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