Bars, cane toads, night diving + more: 8 ways to experience Cairns’ nightlife

After a day of snorkelling, hiking and sightseeing around Tropical North Queensland, it’s time to check out Cairns‘ nightlife.

Whether you want to dine in style or go on a rugged bush adventure, there’s plenty to keep you occupied once the sun goes down.  

Dine in style at Flames of the Forest

Flames of the Forest | Cairns nightlifeLess than an hour’s drive from Cairns you can dine in the heart of Tropical North Queensland’s quintessential rainforest with a Flames of the Forest experience.

Towering trees become a magical fairyland as twinkling lights set the scene for a decadent feast.

You’ve got two options: a Rainforest Dining Experience that will take you through a six-course tropical tasting menu with live acoustic tunes, or Aboriginal Cultural Experience, with a didgeridoo performance and storytelling by local Indigenous tribes.

Get cultured with a Tjapukai Night Fire experience

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park | Cairns nightlifeLearn more about Australia’s Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai, where you can join Indigenous rainforest people in a traditional corroboree.

Have your face painted, learn about the Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal folklore, hear stories from the Dreamtime and watch a ceremonious ball of fire catapulted into the air.

Of course, there’s also plenty of chow on offer, including meat and seafood infused with native flavours of the Aussie bush.

Get behind a cane toad race in Port Douglas

The idea of watching what appear to be unsightly, oversized frogs for entertainment might make some squeamish, but cane toad races are a longstanding tradition at the IronBar in Port Douglas.

The pesky critters that typically run loose across Queensland are lined up every evening to the cheers of punters, who cajole their favourite toad along with party blowers. The debauchery at this bar tends to continue long into the night with live bands, karaoke and dancing.

Party the night away in the city

Gilligans | Cairns nightlifeCairns is a backpacker magnet and hence has earned itself a reputation for a cracking party scene.

One place firmly on Cairns’ nightlife map is Gilligan’s which has long been an institution for revelling locals and the holiday crowd, with a constant stream of performances and events. 

A block away is The Woolshed, but a word of warning folks – this place gets rowdy. In fact, patrons get so jolly they start swinging from the rafters (literally), as dancing on the tables is not only kosher but encouraged.

The city also loves a good Irish pub or two, which invariably equate to late night shenanigans.

For a more refined evening, head somewhere like Salt House or Three Wolves for a cocktail.  

Bush-bash with a Hummer 4WD Adventures Night Tour

Hummer Tour | Cairns nightlife

Strap yourselves in, because on this tour you’re going to careen through Australia’s rugged bushland in an American military H1 Hummer.

Get a feel for life in the Aussie outback with kangaroo sausages cooked over the fire, flaming marshmallows for dessert and a cup of steaming billy tea.

The clear night skies make for some amazing stargazing before you’ll twist and turn four-wheel-drive style to Granite Gorge, where a welcome party of adorable rock wallabies greet you. Although wild, these furry locals are easily lured with the promise of dinner and will eat from your hand and enjoy a pat.

Do a night dive on the Great Barrier Reef

Many people visiting Cairns are attracted to the incredible Great Barrier Reef. To take the experience of visiting this World Heritage site up a notch, book a night dive into the inky depths.

These tours shine a light on water-born creatures that tend to shy away during the day, such as slipper lobsters and reef sharks.

If you time your trip right, you may even get to see the incredible phenomena of coral spawning. This only happens once per year, usually between October and December.

Stroll the Cairns night markets

Cairns night markets | Cairns nightlife

Photo by Andrew Watson

After a sunset stroll along the Esplanade, pop into the Cairns Night Market which opens until 11pm.

Here there are more than 100 stallholders selling jewellery, craft, clothing and art. If you’ve had a big day of exploring you can wind down with a massage.

Otherwise, avoid the hangry phase. Hit the food court to satiate your meandering munchies, enjoy a glass of wine and watch the crowds.  

Join a nocturnal tour at the Wildlife Habitat

Some animals only come out to play when the sun goes down. Hence, Habitat in Port Douglas provides a glimpse into the night-time antics of some of Australia’s native wildlife with a nocturnal tour.

See kangaroos and wallabies come out to graze at dusk. As night falls the mahogany gliders and striped possums venture out to feed, and you may come face-to-face with a wide-eyed sooty owl.

Have you been to Cairns? What was your favourite thing to do at night?