11 ways to explore two World Heritage sites from Cairns
Cairns is a bucket list destination for many, with its gourmet foodie spots, adrenaline-filled adventures and relaxed lifestyle. Venture out of the city though, and you are presented with not only one, but two, World Heritage sites to explore. Talk about spoiled!
These two World Heritage sites are areas of captivating natural beauty, each renowned for different features, both equally remarkable.
With reef cruises and rainforest expeditions both departing from Cairns daily, take your pick from our favourites to create your own unique adventure.
WET TROPICS WONDERLAND
Sir David Attenborough described the Wet Tropics as “the most extraordinary place on earth”. Not only is it blooming ginormous, covering 894,420ha, it’s also the oldest and most biologically diverse tropical rainforest in the world.
The Wet Tropics is a representation of the major stages of Earth’s history, with 700 endemic plant species flourishing across its timeline of 150 million years. Its very age and diversity makes it the closest modern-day counterpart for ancient Gondwana forests.
Unique wildlife to match the habitat? Wet Tropics has got ‘em, with 113 reptile species and 51 amphibian species calling this area home. Don’t worry; it’s not just Australia’s snakes and crocs found here! The Wet Tropics is also home to one-third of Australia’s 315 mammal species, 13 of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Still not enough animals? There are also 307 different species of birds flitting about—including the almighty cassowary (less flitting, more pre-historic strutting)—all just waiting to be admired.
THE GORGEOUS GREAT BARRIER REEF
Running parallel to the Wet Tropics, is the Great Barrier Reef, stretching over 2,300kms—from Bundaberg to the tippy-top of Queensland’s coast. Every inch is beautiful, with a rainbow of coral reefs, brilliant blue waters and stunning marine life.
And we mean marine life: more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, 1,625 species of fish, 33 species of sharks and rays, and 600 types of hard and soft coral call this wondrous water-world home.
Not only is the Great Barrier Reef listed as one of the World Heritage sites thanks to its on-going ecological and biological evolution, but also—quite simply—because of its exceptional natural beauty. The aesthetic (and environmental) importance of the Great Barrier Reef, and its size and grandeur, guaranteed its place as one of the original eight wonders of the world! And it holds the unique honour of being the first reef awarded World Heritage status. How’s that for spesh?
The importance of these two World Heritage sites must be seen to be fully believed and there’s no better place to get busy exploring from, than Cairns.
1. RIDE HIGH ABOVE THE RAINFOREST
Want a rainforest tour like no other? Then head to the Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours where your feet never touch the ground. Seated comfortably in full body harnesses (none of those harness wedgies, à la high school camp, we swear!), fly through the trees on flying-fox zip lines.
The zip lines stop at six eco-friendly tree platforms to take in spectacular bird’s-eye views over the treetops, down to cascading streams, and out to the Great Barrier Reef. With abseiling and scientist guides, this tour is the perfect mix of exhilaration and education.
There are courtesy pick-ups from all local accommodation for those staying overnight in Cape Tribulation, otherwise it’s a three hour drive north from Cairns.
2. ALL ABOARD TO THE RAINFORESTATION
To gain a deep understanding of the fauna and flora of the Wet Tropics, a day trip to the Rainforestation Nature Park is a must. Only 30 minutes by bus from Cairns, this centre covers it all.
There is an amphibious World War II Army Duck that provides guided rainforest tours on both land and water. Along the way, learn about the fascinating plants and wildlife that you pass.
Rainforestation Nature Park recognises the importance of preserving and sharing the unique Indigenous culture of Australia. Local Indigenous Pamagirri guides conduct Dreamtime tours, which include boomerang throwing, spear-throwing and didgeridoo playing.
With a proper understanding of the fauna and flora and its cultural significance, it’s now time to meet them for yourself at the Koala and Wildlife Park. The park contains many Australian species like crocodiles, dingoes, snakes, lizards, cassowaries and Tasmanian devils.
To make the trip to Rainforestation even more memorable, hop on a return journey on the scenic Kuranda Rail—which winds past picturesque waterfalls—and Skyrail, the cable car that floats high above and through the World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests.
3. FEAST AMONGST THE FLAMES
Getting sweaty in the centre of the rainforest is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to experience the beauty like a boss.
Enter Flames of the Forest, a dining experience that’s as unique as it is classy. With the thick rainforest as the backdrop, chill and indulge, luxe-style.
The six-course tropical tasting menu, with matched wines to boot, is perfect for honeymooners, birthdays or anyone on a mission to spoil themselves. You can even organise return transfers from Cairns for the ultimate switch-off, stress-free night.
Mossman Gorge is one of the most renowned spots in the Wet Tropics, where the Mossman River tumbles over huge granite boulders into clear, freshwater swimming holes.
Organized tours depart daily from Cairns, which travel along the Great Tropical Drive, taking in the gorgeous views along the coast of the tropical seaside rainforest.
An elevated board walk makes for an easy stroll through the lower rainforest canopy, with several small lookouts along the way. For the more adventurous, a 2.4 kilometre circuit track winds through lush rainforest and along the riverside track. Keep an eye out for bright butterflies and the well-camouflaged Boyd’s forest dragons.
5. RELAX IN THE RAINFOREST
Immerse yourself in the rainforest at Silky Oaks Lodge on the Mossman River.
Feel the aura of the Daintree as you relax and escape from everyday life.
Blending casual and contemporary design, the Lodge offers intimate rooms where your only neighbour is the rainforest.
Up the uber-special factor with a meal at the open-sided Treehouse Restaurant, one of Northern Queensland’s most exclusive dining experiences with a menu showcasing local produce and fine Australian wines.
6. WHERE TWO WORLDS COLLIDE
Spend some time camping at Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the reef.
Halfway between Cairns and Cooktown, this campground is an exquisite location where you can step off the beach into the Coral Sea and snorkel the fringing reef.
Not only are there safari tents, powered sites, hot showers, internet and a licensed café but the campsite also offers sea kayaking tours, reef trips, horse riding, jungle surfing, guided day and night walks, exotic fruit tasting and more. This is seriously next-level camping!
Don’t leave Cape Tribulation without checking out the ice cream company that uses locally sourced ingredients to craft gorgeous tropics-inspired flavours you won’t find anywhere else.
7. FROM HIKING BOOTS TO FLIPPERS
Before heading out to the reef, gain a proper understanding of the marine life that call it home.
Reef Teach is a Marine Education Centre in Cairns that showcases the Great Barrier Reef. Incredibly entertaining and inspirational, you can learn about the coral and fish species found on the reef and how to identify them.
It also addresses the importance of cleaning stations and conservation issues so students walk away with an enhanced appreciation for the reef.
Now that you know what to keep an eye out for, it’s time to head out to the water!
There are a variety of cruises to choose from that will let you get up close and personal with the fishies and their home.
Meet the Great Eight while you’re down there, and depending on the season you can glide with the manta rays at Lady Elliot Island, speak whale like Dory during their migration, swim alongside huge turtles, or cower in fear from the rush of a live shark feed!
8. I HEART HELICOPTERS
What better way to fully capture the beauty of the reef than with an aerial view? Take a chopper flight over the water and make sure you fly over the iconic Heart Reef!
If you’d prefer to explore the reef without getting wet, get on board with more options.
9. REEL IN A CATCH
All this exercise surrounded by such bountiful produce is bound to increase your appetite!
Spend a day catching crabs at Cairns. The best bit? Once you’ve hauled in crab pots you can sit back, and relax with a reel in hand as the crew cook up a delicious, fresh mud crab lunch.
Or, go on a fishing and photography tour along the Daintree River. Take in the green surrounds and keep an ear out for birdsong whilst fishing for coral trout, barramundi, Spanish mackerel and other favourites.
10. SLEEP UNDER THE STARS
Let the sound of the sea send you off to sleep on the Sunlover by Starlight experience, where you can enjoy two days on the reef, comfy swags and million-star-views at night – a very special experience reserved for a maximum of 18 guests at any one time.
At 26 nautical miles from Cairns in this protected World Heritage site, you won’t be able to avoid the serenity.
By day, enjoy all the activities available on the 45-metre long pontoon moored at Moore Reef such as snorkelling, swimming, semi-sub rides and sunbathing on deck and come 3:30pm when the day guests depart, the reef will be all yours. After a three-course BBQ dinner, watch the night-time marine life presentation in the underwater observatory then simply lie back and take in the millions of stars above.
You’ll even be able to sneak in a guided snorkel the next morning before the day trippers arrive. #VIP
11. NOTHING SMALL ABOUT THESE BEAUTIES
Get up close and personal with one of the most unique species of whales—the dwarf minke—a curious species that was first identified in the late 1980s.
This experience is set in the gorgeous Ribbon Reefs off Tropical North Queensland. July to September is the peak season to swim with these naturally inquisitive, gentle giants.