Upulo Cay

3-day itinerary: Dip a toe into the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns

Short on time? In just three days, you can dive the outer Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, sail the turquoise Coral Sea, and wine and dine in award-winning restaurants in Palm Cove and Port Douglas.

What are you waiting for? Follow this super short and sweet itinerary (ex Brisbane) for a long-weekend escape.

DAY ONE

9AM: WELCOME TO THE TROPICS

Spot the impressive mountains of the Great Dividing Range and World Heritage-listed rainforest as you land on an early-bird flight into Cairns.

10AM: TAKE ADVENTURE TO NEW HEIGHTS

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Photo by @jarradseng

Hire a car and head 10 minutes north to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for views out to the reef and a walk through the rainforest. Take the historic Kuranda Scenic Railway back at 2pm.

3:30pm: SET SAIL IN PORT DOUGLAS

Jump in the car and head 50 minutes north on the Captain Cook Highway along the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival cycle route to Port Douglas.

Arrive just in time for a 1.5-hour sunset tour with Aquarius Luxury Sailing and you’ll definitely be living the #luxelife.

7pm: EAT, DRINK AND REPEAT

Rock up to Salsa Bar and Grill for an a la carte dinner or keep it casual with a counter meal at The Court House Hotel on Macrossan Street.

Looking to splash out? Book ahead for a six-course Flames of the Forest meal and show in the Daintree Rainforest canopy by candlelight – yes, it’s too good to be true (but it is).

DAY TWO

AM: NOW STOP. REEF TIME!

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns

A trip to Cairns is not complete without visiting the iconic Great Barrier Reef.

Head out for a full day on the Outer Reef with Quicksilver Cruises or Calypso Reef Charters. Complete an introductory dive, snorkel ‘til you’re pruny or just ogle the marine world through the underwater viewing platform. Alternatively, step aboard a full-day or half-day sail to Low Isles with Sailaway.

PM: TIME TO REFUEL

Feed George (the resident grouper) who comes in for dinner right on happy hour at On The Inlet, then stay to wine and dine yourself.

DAY THREE: BYE FOR NOW, BUT NOT FOREVER

AM: FIT(NESS) A WHOLE LOT IN

Four Mile Beach Port Douglas

Photo by Max Coquard

Get outta bed on the right side this morning because it’s time for the last hoorah.

Make the most of it by jogging along Four Mile Beach with other fitness buffs before breakfast, or tee off early for nine holes of golf at the Palmer Sea Reef.

MIDDAY: FUEL UP BEFORE JETTING HOME

Drive 40 minutes south to Palm Cove for lunch at the award-winning Nu Nu.

Once the food settles, get wet on a Hobie cat, paddle wheel bike or jet-ski, or just stroll the palm-lined beach before heading back to Cairns for your flight home.

We guarantee you’ll be back to Cairns quicker then you can say Tropical North Queensland.

Have we missed something? What else would you squeeze in with 3 days in Cairns?

This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated on 13 March 2018.