A local’s guide to discovering Cairns with kids
People always ask what makes bringing kids up in Cairns so special. You only have to look around to see why – we don’t need playgrounds, waterparks, or cinemas – we have a real jungle so we aren’t stuck in a concrete one.
If you’re looking for us on a weekend or school holidays, you won’t find us at home. We’ll be swimming in waterfalls, exploring the Daintree, snorkelling the reef and hiking Queensland’s tallest mountain – AKA exploring what lies on Cairns’ doorstep.
We are adventurers at heart, and that’s why I started my blog, Adventure Mumma – to share our family adventures with the world. Life is too short to be stuck inside and glued to the screen.
Step outside your comfort zone, bring the family to the tropics and let me show you the best things to do with kids and some of my local favourites.
With two high-energy kids, choosing a place to eat that will buy you a little bit of P & Q is worth it.
Check out Wharf One for great casual dining that not only looks over the marina but a treehouse-inspired playground built into a fig tree that looks like it’s from the set of Avatar.
Our kids are at an age now (11, 13) where they can play on the playground while we watch from afar – but even if your kids are little, you can grab your coffee to go and still feel like you’re having a break for yourself at this waterfront spot.
Mondos Cafe in front of Hilton is equally a great lunch spot with kids because you have a large grassy area out the front and their staff is accepting of the thrills (and spills) of dining with kids.
After something that screams the tropics? Visit Prawn Star, the floating fresh seafood trawler in the Cairns Marina, which has recently been transformed into a restaurant with a difference.
Kids love the novelty of eating with their fingers and we love a great, fresh seafood feed and house-made craft beers. It’s also the best spot to see those famous pastel North Queensland sunsets, dine outdoors and just do something a bit different.
Of course, if the kids are with babysitters, that’s worthy of another local’s guide.
Cairns has a great coffee scene, but I choose my venue of choice depending on whether I have the kids in tow or not.
When they’re not hanging off me, I go to Blackbird, Caffiend or Chill Cafe in Palm Cove, which are a little more sedate and have less space for the kids to run around.
As for after-5 drinks? Head to The Esplanade for a taste of the Cairns nightlife. If it’s date night, we’ll head to Vine Room underneath the Double Tree by Hilton Cairns because it has relaxed vibes and lovely cool breezes off the water.
It’s all about wine here and they’ve even salvaged wine barrels which they use as tables at this little bar. You can buy drinks by the glass or the bottle.
The beauty of this bar is that it also doubles as a bottle shop, so you’ll pay bottle shop prices rather that boutique bar markups on every drop.
For a true Tropical North Queensland experience, we recommend you go island-side. My pick would be Green Island or Fitzroy Island for their convenience with resorts and accessibility to the mainland. They also do great family rates so it doesn’t have to cost you a packet to get there.
There’s no shortage of places to stay on the mainland either. With kids, opt for apartment-style self-contained living to make things easier for all involved.
Or, if you really want to take a break – Pullman Reef Hotel Casino does an all inclusive rate, which gives peace of mind if travelling with kids, knowing your bill isn’t going to go up-and-up-and-up.
For something budget friendly, there’s no shortage of backpacker accommodation and most even have family-friendly rooms.
There are so many natural escapes from Cairns – you’ve got rainforest, beaches, freshwater creeks and the rolling hills of the Tablelands within 20 minutes’ drive of each other. With landscapes so diverse, you have to get amongst it.
In fact, in summer we didn’t even use our pool because we were always at the local Cairns waterfalls. If you want to cool off naturally, jump into Crystal Creek or Stoney Creek Falls. They’re only 15 minutes out of the city and a really easy walk to find. Stoney Creek has a great rock swing – great even for beginners or kids.
Plan your day around where you want to be for sunrise and sunset. It might be because I’m a photographer, but I think ours are some of the best in the world. In Cairns, sunrises come straight up off the sea, sunsets drop behind the mountains, turning the city into a sea of pink and purple.
I catch sunrise every morning in the cane fields – for a moment the sun looks trapped between the ocean and Cairns’ fringing mountain ranges, which make this place so special.
The best thing about the tropics is the tropical fruits that are grown up here. Rusty’s Markets, which are open Friday to Sunday, serves the freshest fruit and veggies from the local area. You can be assured they are local producers because when we get cyclones, you won’t see bananas at Rusty’s for the months.
I never leave without turmeric products. I’m mad keen on natural medicines and you can find them all here in Rusty’s when you know what to look for.
If you’re looking for something more substantial than a piece of fruit to eat – their hawker style Asian food stalls serve up the best lunch.
To drink, it’s all authentic too. There’s even Vietnamese Coffee, a man who cuts the top off whole coconuts so you can have fresh coconut juice, and people making slushies from cane juice.
The island camping off Cairns is a hidden secret – shhhh, don’t tell!
Russell Island in the Frankland Islands Group is our favourite but it’s a bush camping, BYO-everything kind of destination right down to the water you have to drink, so understandably, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
For something a bit easier, we’ll often jump across to Fitzroy Island for a camping holiday. The perk here is that it’s camping with the benefit of resort facilities on your doorstep. Anyone who has camped with kids will completely understand the appeal there – when you just can’t face the camp oven and washing up bucket for one more night.
Fitzroy Island is just a 40-minute journey from the mainland and from the minute you arrive, you can snorkel right off the beach.
When to go
Cairns is best experienced in winter because we’re still wearing shorts and a T-shirt while the rest of the country is in jackets. Where else can you do that?