a guide to cairns & the great barrier reef

I cannot stop daydreaming about how pretty the Great Barrier Reef is. Our trip to the GBR was definitely one of my highlights from my time in Australia so far. You can literally see it from space -- think about how crazy that is. It's THAT big. This article will explain how I'd recommend you going about seeing the reef and what to do in Cairns on your way in and out of the reef!

Fun Fact #1: it's pronounced "canns", not with an R like it's spelled... typical aussies.

Photo from our trip by: Scubabo

When I said I was heading to the Great Barrier Reef for the weekend, I got a lot of snoody comments around how it's not that great anymore because it's dying from a variety of people... however; if you have never seen the great barrier reef, you have no expectations to compare it against. I found it absolutely stunning!

Fun fact #2: Queensland is one of the 2 states in Australia where it's legal to hold koalas? (South Australia being the other.)

Photo from our trip by: Scubabo

We recently got our diving certifications (which I highly recommend!) and so wanted to see the reef via scuba. Whether you scuba or just snorkel, I definitely recommend doing an overnight liveaboard cruise, because with the day trip you only make it out to the inner reef. With the overnight trip, you get to see the outer reef as well, which is even more untouched and preserved.

Photo from our trip by: Scubabo

I am so happy we decided to do the Reef Encounter liveaboard dive trip, which consisted of 6 dives over the course of 2 days/1 night. You can do snorkel trips with Reef Encounter too. For our dive trip, the cost was around $400 aussie dollars per person, so not cheap, but then again diving is expensive no matter what (typically $100 for 2 dives), so at 6 dives + an overnight stay and food, it's actually a really great deal!

We even did a night dive (with sharks!) and I never thought I would do something like that. Now I already can't wait to do another liveaboard, it was such an amazing experience. The food was pretty good and staff was awesome. It's also great to go with guides since there are deadly jellyfish in QLD - they provide all the gear for you, including stinger suits like the dorky blue ones we are photographed in above, which will prevent you from getting stung! Not to mention, since you're on a boat the whole time, you are with the same people day and night and we made some pretty cool people that we will likely keep in touch with! It's awesome to expand our footprint of friends around the world.

Cairns, in my opinion, was nothing to write home about, although you do have to fly in and out to see the reef and get to Port Douglas There are some cool rainforests you can visit and waterfall bush walks, but overall the city itself was hot, humid, and pretty baron. More reason to spend your time in Queensland actually ON the reef. FYI outside of Cairns, you can also board boats to see the reef from the Whitsundays and Port Douglas too. Cairns has a lot more options though! If you do decide to explore around Cairns, you will definitely need to rent a car, and make sure you do so in advance - it's a small town!

Fun Fact #3: did you know koalas aren't bears, but marsupials? Why do we commonly refer to them as "koala bears"?! Either way they're cute to boot.

As a recap of our itinerary, we spent 1 day in Cairns, 2 days on the reef, and 2 days in Port Douglas. This is the perfect itinerary to spread out your time and see everything within 4-5 days. More on Port Douglas in a post coming soon -- stay tuned!

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The Urbanite Insight's



  • Most obviously, you HAVE to see the Great Barrier Reef when you go to Cairns - as I mentioned it's the most iconic attraction not only in Cairns, but in all of Australia! Plus, you need to see it while it's still alive and lush. There are various ways to experience it... more to come on that in a follow up post!

  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway - a 7.5 km scenic cableway running above the Barron Gorge National Park

  • Hang out in the sun at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon - a public pool right near the water

  • Walk around the Cairns Night Market - local artisans selling their goods!

  • Waterfall hikes - there are plenty of these near Cairns! I'm sharing my recommendations in a post coming soon.

  • Hold a koala at Kuranda Koala Gardens, an aussie wildlife park

  • Go on a crocodile adventure


*seafood is a MUST in Cairns - they are known for their fresh fish!

  • Frame - cute breakfast cafe with the best coffee in Cairns (gluten-free and vegan friendly)

  • Imprezzed Juice - acai & bowls for brekky

  • Mama Coco - the best spot for lunch!

  • Dundee's - fresh seafood, check it out for lunch or dinner

  • Boatshed - super cute & colorful waterfront tapas restaurant with yummy cocktails (much needed because it's hotter than hell)

  • Salt House - modern Australian restaurant that's more upscale, one of the best in town! Right on the water as well.

  • Fisherman boats - near the Salt House, you'll see tons of fisherman's boats that you can go eat and drink directly on. A pretty unique experience and doesn't get fresher than that!

  • Gelocchio - amazing gelato. Enough said.

#australia #oceania #travel


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