The best things to do with kids in Tropical North Queensland
Show the kids the real Jurrasic World, where two World Heritage-listed areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics – collide to create a tropical playground for the whole family in Tropical North Queensland.
There are so many things to discover around Cairns and Port Douglas, you could easily spend two weeks or more getting to all the activities that make kids cheer.
Here we’ve narrowed down the list of our faves to the best things to do with kids while you’re visiting the Tropical North.
1. Explore epic waterfalls
If you’re tired of chasing the kids around, try chasing waterfalls instead! There is an abundance of waterfalls with equally magnificent waterholes and heaps of creek beds to explore around Cairns where you can tire out little legs in no time.
Some are definitely better for young kids than others, so we’ve picked our favourite family-friendly spots to share with you. (Note: You’ll need your own set of wheels to get to any of these spots.)
Crystal Cascades: Close to Cairns, this family-friendly spot is a favourite year-round for good reason. Just like the name suggests, you’ll find fresh water cascading over boulders and settling into crystal-clear rock pools that beg you to cool off in their waters.
With public toilets in the car park and an easy, paved walking track all the way to the main waterfall (approx. 1.2km walk) it’s easily accessible for all ages.
Pack a picnic and set up at one of the tables for a nice afternoon in the rainforest. Tip: The rock pools closer to the car park are better swimming areas for small swimmers.
Stoney Creek Falls: A bit further off the beaten path than Crystal Cascades, this spot also has an easy to moderate walking trail and several spots to take a dip. Note: The trail gets trickier the farther along you go, so for small ones, stick to the waterholes closest to the car park.
And, if you’ve been there and done that already, have a look at our Top 10 waterfalls post for even more adventure.
2. Shrink next to a giant tree
Watch as your kids stare up in wonder at this magnificent specimen of hugeness. Not only is the curtain fig tree worth the drive to the Atherton Tablelands to see, it’s also worth the imaginative stories that might result from your visit (think: rainforest fairy houses and Avatar inspiration). Keep an eye out for the elusive tree kangaroo, too!
3. Soak up family time at the Cairns Lagoon
Cairns may not be a great place for beach swimming, but the Cairns Lagoon right on the Esplanade in the heart of town will make your water babies happy.
Shady palm trees, picnic spaces and Muddy’s Playground (complete with a splash park for tots) round this out as the perfect spot for a family day out.
4. Go cassowary spotting
If you want to see a cassowary in the wild, your best bet is around Mission Beach – otherwise known as the Cassowary Coast.
Djiru National Park has a dedicated children’s cassowary walk and an information shelter where you can learn all about these endangered birds.
If you’re not fortunate enough to find one in the wild, you can always spot the Big Cassowary in town!
5. Sightsee along the Great Tropical Drive
If your family enjoys a road trip, you can’t miss the Great Tropical Drive. From Cairns, to Palm Cove and up to Cape Tribulation, you’ll wind your way between two World Heritage-listed areas – the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef – with stunning, rainforest-dotted coastline and breathtaking lookouts.
Stop at the Rex Lookout for some great family photo opps and pack a picnic and stop at one of the many beaches along the way for some shell gathering and sand castle building.
6. Adventure around Kuranda
A destination in and of itself, be prepared to spend at least a whole day around Kuranda if you want to see everything. The most popular method of travel is to go up on the Scenic Railway, where you get the novelty of riding in a vintage steam train, and come back down via Skyrail, where you’ll experience the unique bird’s-eye view of the rainforest and get stunning views of the coastline too.
While you’re at the top, take your pick of activities ranging from a casual wander through the heritage markets, art galleries and other shops, to animal encounters like the Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld and the Koala Gardens.
7. Cuddle a koala
What child doesn’t like a zoo? But what about a ZOOM?
8. Lunch with some lorikeets
If you’re staying in Port Douglas, take the family for breakfast with the birds or lunch with the lorikeets at Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat.
Then spend the day enjoying the rest of their interactive environments like the wetlands, rainforest and grasslands, where you’ll find native creatures of all shapes and sizes.
9. Brave the mighty croc
If crocs are part of your Tropical North Queensland bucket list, get yourself to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, where you’ll spend the day learning about the evolution and conservation of these prehistoric giants and cruising through a lagoon with crocs up to five metres in length.
It’s just about as close to their natural habitat as you can get without the fear factor. If you’re feeling extra cheeky, sign up for the Big Croc Experience, where you can pole-feed a croc yourself – this is only for the big kids though – children under 16 are not allowed.
10. Explore the Great Barrier Reef
You can’t visit the Tropical North without spending time on the Great Barrier Reef. There are dozens of different ways to experience the reef, but with a young family, it can be difficult to know which operators are the best to escort you.
We prepared this blog post earlier to help.
11. See some bling at The Crystal Caves
Enter a personal collection of crystals, gemstones, minerals and fossils that consists of over 600 pieces and winds through 250 square metres of purpose-built tunnels.
Purplelicious fans will want to make a beeline for The Empress of Uruguay – the largest Amethyst geode in the world – standing over three metres high.
And you don’t have to worry about saying “look with your eyes not your hands”, because at The Crystal Caves, kids are free to touch and feel to their hearts’ content.
12. Take a peek at Paronella Park
Transport your little tourists to another time and place at Paronella Park, the living remains of Spanish migrant Jose Paronella’s dream.
Here, you can explore 13 acres of fairytale-worthy gardens, fountains, bridges, and even a castle.
A café on site means you don’t need to bring a thing, except your imagination.
13. Discover the Daintree
Introduce your kids to the real land before time – part of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics – the Daintree Rainforest.
And, where better to start than the Daintree Discovery Centre in Cape Tribulation, where you can experience every level of the rainforest from the forest floor to the top of the canopy via an aerial walkway and 23m tower.
The centre includes interactive games and videos, as well as a creek ecology display that has living turtles, frogs and other reptiles.
14. Immerse them in culture
Spending a few days at the biennial Laura Dance Festival will teach your little ones more about Australia’s Indigenous history and culture than they could hope to learn in the classroom.
15. You’ll lava this experience
Head west to the Gulf Savannah to give your kids a history lesson and walk inside giant remnants of prehistoric volcanoes. The Undara Lava Experience will take you through one of the most well-preserved lava tube systems on Earth.
Extra bonus: Accommodation options include turn-of-the-century railway carriages, which is sure to ignite adventurous imaginations.
*Note: November through January is ‘green season’ when this area gets almost all their annual rainfall. Some tours and experiences may not be available during this season so plan accordingly.
16. Catch a crab (or a fish)
If the kids don’t have you feeling crabby, hand them over to Cairns Catcha Crab Tours. Owner Tony takes visitors of all ages out to explore the pristine waterways around Cairns to spot wildlife in their natural habitat and cast for mud crabs and barramundi.
17. Get marooned on Fitzroy Island
Take one of the ferries over to Fitzroy Island (they leave every day from Cairns Marina) and spend the day snorkelling right off the beach, kayaking, hiking or just lazing around.
The various operators have options that range from all-inclusive packages (read: travel, lunch and activities included) to just transfers, so choose the boat company that best suits your family. However you get there, we’re pretty sure your beach babies will thank you!
18. Feel the magic at Mossman Gorge
While you’re in Tropical North Queensland, it would be a shame not to learn about the cultural heritage of the Indigenous owners that have inhabited the land for centuries. The Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks from the Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre are pure magic.
Probably best for families with kids at least primary school age (so they understand what is being shared), the walk through the rainforest to Mossman River is short and interactive so even little minds won’t wander.
If you’re visiting Mossman Gorge just for the nature, walking around the park is 100% free. It’s the Dreamtime walks that cost, but are totally worth it.
19. Enjoy hammock heaven
Palm Cove, aka the charming beach town is right off the main Captain Cook Highway, feels worlds away from reality. Settle into one of the many resort-style and family-friendly accommodation options in the cove then take the kids for a swim and nap in a hammock under the sway of the palm trees in the ocean breeze.
Spend the afternoon wandering through the village where your hardest decision will be where to stop for an afternoon gelato or ice-cream.
20. Bring your appetite to Coffeeworks
If you venture to Mareeba in the Atherton Tablelands, stopping here is a must. Parents can refuel with a proper espresso (the coffee is grown and roasted here onsite!) while the kids eat their weight in homemade chocolate.
Entry to the vibrant café is free, but we don’t think you’ll make it out of there without stocking up on some treats for the road.
If you’re a coffee aficionado you might want to stay for the Coffeeworld tour too, but, after all the chocolate, we can’t guarantee the kids will remain well behaved.