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Cairns and Far North Queensland Locality Guide

Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkelling from Cairns

There is no end of great things to see and do from Cairns. Whether you are looking for high adventure or exploring the wonders of our Great Barrier Reef, there is something to suit travelers of all ages, budgets and interests. Here are just a few ideas that we can help you with. If you are looking for something in particular, just let us know and we will be happy to assist you.

Reef Snorkelling

Even if you have never snorkeled before, most of the Day Boats also have options that will suit even the most nervous of first time snorkellers. If you would like to spend the day exploring our pristine Great Barrier Reef, there are a large number of Day Tour options available. It will only take between sixty minutes to an hour and a half aboard one on the many boats offering day trips before you find yourself swimming amongst the exotic fish and coral of The Great Barrier Reef. Most of the Day Vessels will offer you full snorkeling equipment and instruction, as well as included or optional ‘guided snorkeling tours’. For those who are non-confident swimmers, elderly or those traveling travelling with younger children, it is recommended that the ‘pontoon’ styled tours can be a good choice, at least for starters! The pontoon styled tours will allow for other options and activities by which you can view the Great Barrier Reef other than snorkeling. Once you realize how easy and how much fun snorkeling can be, then pretty much all options are available to you to try from here on in. The Outer Barrier Reef locations offer good coral viewing, clear water and a multitude of marine life viewing opportunities. Even though these reefs lay further out from the mainland than say for example, Green or Fitzroy Island – the extra traveling time to and from these Outer Reef locations is time and effort well spent!

Learn To Dive

If you want to Learn to Dive in Cairns, there are Dive Courses available of 4 or 5 days duration, which will give you an Open Water PADI or SSI Certification. Diver Training courses usually entail two days of theory (in the classroom and a diver training pool) and then 2 or 3 days out on the reef living aboard a Dive Boat. For the traveller on a budget or for those who already have pre-booked accommodation in Cairns; there are land based 4 Day Learn to Dive Courses (non-liveaboard course options). These courses will offer Pool and Theory for 2 Days on land and on Days 3 and 4 will then take you to The Great Barrier Reef for two separate Dive Boat day trips which will see you depart from Cairns each morning and return back into Cairns at the end of the day (approximately 5.00pm). The longer 5 Day Learn to Dive courses with a liveaboard 3 Day 2 Night sector are the most popular courses, as these courses offer up to 9 Dives on The Great Barrier Reef encompassing 4 training dives and 5 pleasure dives, including Night Diving! No matter which Dive Course you choose to do, you will be diving in the warm waters of our Great Barrier Reef a cause for celebration and enjoyment!

Reef Diving

Learn about our 7th Wonder of the World, The Great Barrier Reef, with its extraordinary beauty and rich bio-diversity. This amazing underwater world is filled with rainbows of colour, has over 1,500 species of fish and over 400 kinds of hard and soft corals. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of some 3,000 individual coral reefs and is the largest single reef system in the world. This impressive structure runs the north east coast of Australia for 2,500kms. Scattered throughout the fragile maze of reefs are unspoilt and uninhabited Coral Cays and Islands. There are a number of options available to divers from the ports of Cairns and Port Douglas; Day Dive Vessels, Sail, Dive and Snorkel Tours (for one or two night excursions) as well as Motorized Dive Boats which will cater for those who want to extend their pleasure and live-aboard on the Great Barrier Reef. You can dive as a Certified Diver (please bring your C Card or Log Book) with most vessels including Full Gear Hire in their pricing structures, or alternately if you do not have a license, you may be eligible to partake in an Introductory Dive, which is a fully guided dive under the watchful eye of a Dive Instructor. You will need to fill in a Medical Questionnaire given to you by the company you are diving with, and on completion of this questionnaire, you will be kitted up with gear requirements and start to go through your skills.

Experienced Divers/Live Aboard Dive Excursions

You may want to venture into the peerless depths of the Coral Sea renowned for its pristine reefs and unsurpassed visibility or perhaps you have heard about the Cod Hole where the graceful and majestic 'Potato Cod' are found. For the more fearless, the excursions, which offer ‘Shark Diving’, will get the adrenalin flowing! There is an array of Dive Boats that specialize in diving and have a number of different touring options to suit. Even if you are a newly certified diver and do not a great deal of experience, most of these excursions can offer Advance Dive Courses at a nominal price which you can do as part of the overall excursion.


Great Barrier Reef Island Resorts, Islands and Sand Cays

Can you picture yourself in total seclusion in beautiful surroundings where you can not hope to be found? If you can imagine a haven of natural wonders, clear warm waters and deserted white sand beaches, then you are imagining what it is like to visit one on the many tropical islands along the NE coast of Queensland. Green Island, Dunk Island, Bedara Island and Lizard Island are all easy to get to from Cairns – there are a number of packages available that might temp you to leave the world behind and spend your days relaxing on a tropical island paradise! There are a range of options on visiting the many coloured islands that dot the waters of The Great Barrier Reef - stretching from the remote tip of the Eastern Australia, Cairns, Port Douglas, Mission Beach and Cardwell. Our Island Day Tours offer you a wide variety of choices and options with regards to your ideal island getaway. Here you can indulge in pleasurable activities such as snorkelling, diving, hiking, sightseeing and most importantly of all, relaxing in the sun!

Bedarra Island

Covering 100 Hectares, Bedarra Island is part of the Family Group of Islands, located off the tropical North Queensland coast, midway between Townsville and Cairns and neighbouring Dunk Island. Bedarra Island boasts a magnificent luxurious and exclusive resort. At Bedarra, guests can do as they wish, when they wish. A maximum of just 32 guests are accommodated in 16 secluded Villas, each hidden in the rainforest, only minutes from the beach. The resort accommodation is superbly appointed, each Villa has a separate living area, spacious bathroom and king size bed. On private balconies, guests can relax and contemplate the beauty and calm of this elegant retreat. While the focus on Bedarra Island is on peace and relaxation, there are also many activities to enjoy, such as catamaran sailing, paddle-skiing, fishing, snorkelling and diving day trips to the Great Barrier Reef, as well as motorised dinghies for exploring the island's picturesque, private beaches.

Dunk Island

Dunk Island is part of the Family Group of Islands, located off the tropical North Queensland coast, midway between Townsville and Cairns and neighbouring Bedara Island. Dunk Island is known as one of Australia's most beautiful tropical rainforest islands. This offers an amazing variety of activities, facilities and experiences including horse riding, archery, mountain bike riding, and a selection of watersports as well. Offering excellent bushwalking opportunities. Thirteen kilometres of walking tracks allow exploration of the island's famed natural history and rediscovery of its fascinating past. Take an easy stroll through the rainforest or embark on an island circuit of several hours, enjoying scenic views from the summit of Mount Kootaloo along the way. There is no reef around Dunk Island, however if staying at the Island Resort – an activities coordinator can recommend and organize reef tours, which can collect guests from the island and carry them to The Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkeling and diving.

Lizard Island

Lizard Island National Park is the only continental island group close to the outer barrier reef. The stark, rugged beauty of Lizard Island contrasts sharply with the sparkling blue waters and luxuriant fringing reefs, which surround the island group. Lizard Island is hosts Australia's northern most island resort, located 240 kilometres north of Cairns and 27 kilometres off the coast of North Queensland. It is a National Park covering 1,013 hectares with 24 sandy beaches and a lagoon. The island’s resort is located right on the spectacular Great Barrier Reef, fringed with colourful coral reefs and boast access to 24 powdery white beaches. It is little wonder that this tranquil escape has won a host of prestigious national and international awards for excellence. Lizard truly is one of a kind. Sensational diving and snorkeling opportunities abound around this Marine National Park, the reef grows right up to the shore around the island. Because of the island’s remote location, you will find that the coral reef is in pristine condition. The most popular location for snorkelling is the Clam Gardens in Watson’s Bay. Giant clams, some up to 2m in length, live amongst a picturesque array of hard and soft corals. The best time to snorkel is during high tide, accessing the reef from the shore at the southern end of the beach in front of the track leading to Watson’s Cottage. The clear waters of Blue Lagoon also invite exploration. Corals in these shallow, sheltered waters form a layered mosaic with many delicate branching and leaf-like colonies in patches interspersed with areas of clean sand. Activities on Lizard Island may include, snorkeling, diving, glass bottom boat tours, fishing, hiking and exploration.

Green IslandM

Green Island is a tiny coral cay that lays about 50 kilometres off the coast of Cairns and only 12 hectares in area. Green Island features spectacular rainforest, as well as beautiful coral beaches. It also lies upon 710 hectares of reef, making it a fantastic diving and snorkelling location. Green Island started its development around 6000 years ago, as the waves swept the loose debris from the reef into a large pile. This eventually emerged from the water, at which time vegetation began to grow as seeds were blown or carried by migratory sea birds onto the cay. Green Island is the one of the most popular destinations on the Great Barrier Reef, as it is easily accessed from Cairns and is only a short ferry ride away. The island is covered in tropical vine forest, which supports a diversity of birds and insects. The surrounding coral reef is home to many kinds of corals, clams, fish, stingrays and other reef life. Green and hawksbill turtles are seen offshore. Activities may include snorkeling, diving, glass bottom boat tours; beach hire including paddle-skis; canoes and windsurfers as well as the nature walk along Green Island’s timber boardwalk.

Fitzroy Island

Close to the north Queensland mainland and City of Cairns, Fitzroy Island National Park is rugged and diverse with granite outcrops, open woodlands, rainforest, mangroves and coral beaches. This high continental island was once connected to the mainland before sea levels rose. The fringing reef just off the beach of Fitzroy Island reveals the diversity of marine life in these waters. A variety of reef fish, hard and soft corals and other marine animals can be seen. Activities on Fitzroy Island may include hiking and bushwalking, snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours and sunbaking.

Michalemas Cay

Unlike nearby Green Island, Michaelmas Cay is a small, low sand cay covered just by grasses and low-growing plants which provide an ideal habitat for thousands of ground-nesting seabirds. At least 14 species of seabirds have been recorded on Michaelmas Cay. Nesting peaks in summer when more than 30,000 birds have been observed. Sooty terns, common noddies and crested terns are the main nesting species. The surrounding waters of Michaelmas Cay are Marine Park and part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. All visitors to Michaelmas Cay are asked to stay on the beach to avoid disturbing the nesting seabirds. When agitated, the adults fly off, leaving their chicks and eggs unprotected. Chicks are prey to scavenging silver gulls, and embryos can die from exposure. Enjoy birdwatching, but never handle or disturb any of the seabird or their eggs. Look for black-naped terns, reef herons, roseate terns, ruddy turnstones and little terns. Go snorkelling in the beautiful reefs around the island, the reef grows up to the shore line of Michaelmas Cay itself and is home to many vibrant coloured fishes, giant clams and a variety of corals. Activities may include marine naturalist guided cay tours, snorkelling, diving, semi-submersible submarine tours and glass bottom boat tours.

Upolu Cay

An uninhabited, naturally formed sand island situated 29 kilometres off the coast of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef. The surrounding coral gardens of Upolu Cay play host to a myriad of marine life. Dugongs are often seen raising their calves throughout the year in the protected waters around the cay. Activities on Upolu Cay include snorkelling, diving and sunbaking.

Frankland Islands Located

The Frankland Islands are located about 10 kilometres offshore, 45km south of Cairns. The Frankland Islands are Outcrops of weathered and eroded green and white metamorphic rock, the islands are part of the coastal mountain range separated from the mainland by a rise in sea level. The vegetation on the Frankland Islands is varied and includes patches of lush dense rainforest, coastal plant communities and mangrove swamps. The Frankland Islands support a large array of bird life including numerous sea birds as well as pied imperial-pigeons, fruit doves, varied honeyeaters and white-breasted wood swallows. The fringing reefs surrounding the Frankland Islands support a diversity of reef life including various fish, sea stars, clams, shells and both hard and soft corals.

Low Isles

The Low Isles consists of two islands, Woody Island an uninhabited coral/mangrove island, but the main attraction is Low Isle - which is a smaller vegetated, sandy, coral cay coral cay surrounded by 55 acres of reef, - a typical tropical island. The Low Islets are a Marine National Park Zone. Day visitors come to the island on a daily basis via a number of commercial operators. There is a lagoon where private vessel scan moor or anchor overnight, but there is no overnight accommodation on the island. There is a weather station, a lighthouse and the University of Queensland have a research station on the Low Isles. No fishing is allowed in the lagoon or within a buffer zone around the Low Isles, the main activity is snorkelling and diving as the coral is excellent.


Daintree and Cape Tribulation Rainforests

The 135-million year old rainforest of the Cape Tribulation section of the Daintree is the most ancient and primitive in the world. Many species originated when Australia was part of Gondwana, more than 120 million years ago. Although Australia contains less than one thousandth of the world's tropical rainforests, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation Rainforest are amongst some of the most significant ecosystems on the planet. These rainforests have been inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988 in recognition of their universal natural values as:

  • An outstanding example of the major stages in the earth's evolutionary history;
  • An outstanding example of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes;
  • An example of superlative natural phenomena; and
  • As containing important and significant habitats for conservation of biological diversity

One can take a Day Four Wheel Drive Safari to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation Rainforests or overnight at accommodation on one of our Overnight Rainforest Packages. Whether you choose to see this natural wonder in a day or overnight you will be impressed by this area!


Atherton Tablelands Rainforests, Wildlife Viewing & Waterfall Circuit

The Atherton Tableland is a blend of the best attractions of the tropics; a combination of nature and lifestyle at its finest. Among the World Heritage listed rainforests, national parks, mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls are some of Australia's richest agricultural lands and charming small townships.

For visitors, the Atherton Tablelands present opportunities for bush walking, bird watching, a wildlife cruise, marsupial spotting, hot air ballooning and water sports as diverse as fishing and white water rafting. Winding roads lead to spectacular lookouts and waterfalls, and highlights include Australia's widest waterfall, Millstream Falls and many others flowing all year round, the deep blue waters of extinct volcano crater lakes, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, the ancient Bromfield Swamp near Malanda and the Hypipamee National Park and crater near Herberton.

Wildlife is abundant on the Atherton Tablelands, as a night time wildlife spotlighting tour will show. There are possibilities of seeing shy tree kangaroos and perhaps even a reclusive platypus scurrying along a cool riverbank.


Kuranda Train and Skyrail Rainforest and Village Tours

Kuranda is a picturesque little village hidden in the rainforest of Tropical North Queensland and is accessible on a daily basis by Queensland Rail's 'Kuranda Heritage Train' and 'Skyrail.'. The Queensland Rail 'Kuranda Heritage Train' journey takes 1 ½ to complete and has full commentary on the history of the region and the railway with a souvenir booklet included. The train route winds along the Kuranda Range and takes in the spectacular scenery of The Barron Falls.

On the return journey via Skyrail (the tour can also be done in the reverse order) you will be carried over and through of the rainforest canopy with superb views and sights that can only be imagined. The Skyrail journey takes approximately 1 12/2 hours from top to bottom and includes two stops, Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station, where friendly Skyrail Staff will help you disembark your Gondola to enjoy the spectacular and scenic Rainforest Boardwalks, Rainforest Touch Tables and CSIRO Rainforest Interpretive Displays.

Kuranda Village is famous for arts & crafts and indigenous artefacts and the excellent attractions of the Butterfly Sanctuary, Koala Gardens, Birdworld and the Aviary, to name but a few.

The original Kuranda Village markets are held Wednesdays, Thursdays, Friday and Sunday. The Kuranda Heritage markets are open daily.


Cape York & Cooktown

Cape York Peninsula, one of the world’s last accessible wilderness areas, remains a land of few people and prolific wildlife living in rugged mountains, woodlands, grasslands, swamps and mighty rivers. Its 11 million hectares extends 1000 kilometres north of Cairns to the tip of the peninsula. Beyond Cooktown, most residents live in Aboriginal and cattle station communities and in small mining towns dotted along borders of large national parks. Care must be taken when planning how to get there as road access is limited at certain times of the year.

The Cape begins at Cooktown, which is easily accessible by air, sea or road from Cairns. The route from Port Douglas climbs the range through Julatten’s farmlets to Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine. The peninsula’s huge cattle stations start here and the panoramic views on the Desailly Range take on the aspect of the true outback with eucalypt forests and sandstone escarpments.

The Cooktown Development Road leads down to Black Mountain, named by the local indigenous people ‘Place of Spears’. This mysterious pyramid of stones is a natural geological formation thought to be 150 million years old. The ‘black’ colouring comes from the lichen that covers the thousands of stones making up the mountain. Cooktown, undoubtedly Australia’s most historic town, sits on the Endeavour River between the outback and the sea. Early pioneering history is reflected in the Cooktown Cemetery and Chinese Shrine on McIvor Road, and the James Cook Museum, which features the original anchor and a cannon from the ‘Endeavour’, Captain Cook’s famous barque. Fishing is a way of life here, and you are welcome to join the local anglers in their regular tournaments.

There are many walking trails around Cooktown’s scenic rim – one of the most popular is the road to Grassy Hill, a popular spot for shutterbugs because of its 360 degree views. A coastal road (four wheel drive only) links Cape Tribulation to Cooktown, presenting a highly scenic alternate route for this section. Just before Cooktown is the well known ‘watering hole’ of the Lion’s Den Hotel. A relic of gold mining days when pubs mushroomed in the town, the Lion’s Den is over 100 years old. You can enter the vast Lakefield National Park by continuing north from Cooktown past the Endeavour Falls on Battle Camp Road. Camping permits and information about the park can be obtained from rangers at New Laura, Lakefield or Bizant Ranger Stations.

Lakefield is Queensland’s second largest national park and includes a vast wetlands area. Barramundi fishing is permitted and the maze of creeks and rivers that drain into nearby Princess Charlotte Bay is a fishing paradise. There is a fishing-closure from November to February each year, but for the rest of the year the limit is five barramundi per person. Lotus Bird Lodge is midway towards Musgrave Station, and perches on a lagoon where birds of a feather are known to gather nightly. Musgrave is the site of the old Telegraph Station, which still stands today as a historic building. An alternative route, (instead of bisecting the Lakefield National Park), is to go from Lakeland to Laura, home of many famous Aboriginal rock sites. Laura has accommodation, camping, postal services, meals, and a ranger station.

Another excellent interpretive site is nearby Jowalbinna Bush Camp, which has tented accommodation, camping facilities and regular guided tours of some of the finest accessible rock art. This region is known as Quinkan Country after the local Aboriginal devil spirits. From Laura, the highway continues to the town of Coen, a regional centre for the cattle industry. There are camping grounds in town and on the Coen River two kilometres further north. If you’re hungry, stop for an ‘Archerburger’ at the Archer River Roadhouse. The next fork in the road is a key one – west takes you to Weipa, the biggest town in the Cape, and north continues along the Old Telegraph Road to … the tip.

At Weipa, take a tour through the town’s mainstay, the bauxite mine, and enjoy a long overdue sight of the ocean. Inland, the Wenlock River crossing heralds true Cape adventure. The Telegraph Track continues to the Jardine River vehicular ferry, however a popular detour (and an extremely rewarding one) is to the delightful swimming spots of Fruit Bat Falls and further on to Eliot Falls, which is in fact two waterfalls; one on Eliot Creek and one on Canal Creek. The ferry charge includes a camping access fee for the surrounding Injinoo lands. On the eastern side of Telegraph Road, guarding the pristine wetlands of the Jardine River system is the Jardine River National Park.

Bamaga, the region’s service town has Injinoo Airport, a hospital, and postal services. From here, camping and fishing at the highly regarded sites of Umagico, Loyalty Beach and Seisia are highly recommended, while Punsand Bay and Pajinka resorts make excellent bases for such activities. The top of Australia beckons. It’s only one hour away, as the cockatoo flies. Punsand Bay Safari and Fishing Lodge is right on the beach and has guided fishing tours, a licensed bar and swimming pool, all day four wheel drive safaris of the region, tented accommodation, camping, airconditioned cabins and restaurant dining. At the very tip lies Pajinka Wilderness Lodge. From here it’s an easy stroll across the grounds to the short walkway leading to the rocky outcrop where the seaspray touches a sign proclaiming to the unsure "You are now standing at the end of the Australian continent’.

The South Sea Islands become part of Australia just kilometres from the tip with the coral cays and atolls of the Torres Strait Islands, scattered like pearls across the water which separates Australia from its continental neighbour, New Guinea. The islands and seas of the Endeavour Strait around Cape York are home to the Kaurareg, a seafaring Aboriginal people and nearest neighbours to the Torres Strait Islanders whose domain extends through to Papua New Guinea. Mother of pearl was the first industry here, and the islands retain a laid back style reminiscent of the South Seas of old. Ferries cross regularly between Cape York and Thursday Island, the Strait’s administrative centre, where you can catch a taste of culture and the Coming of the Light Festivities each July.


The Gulf Savannah & Undarra Lava Tubes

The Gulf Savannah is an example of the ‘last frontier’ style of touring with the main attractions / characteristics being:

  • Outback experiences (gravel, dirt and bitumen roads; small towns; mostly camping and caravan, pubs and motel accommodation; long distances, open spaces; limited contact / interaction)
  • Natural attractions (Gorges, waterholes, rugged landscape, birds, star gazing etc)
  • Heritage / Culture (Indigenous, European – mining, agriculture, exploration)
  • Adventure (distances from urban areas, fishing, hunting, survival, 4WD)

Major towns on the Savannah Way are Cairns, Atherton Tablelands, Ravenshoe, Mt. Garnet, Mt. Surprise, Georgetown, Croydon Normanton and west to the NT Border. From the Savannah Way you can access the towns of Einasleigh and Forsayth. Once you reach Normanton you can drive north to Karumba to watch the spectacular sunset while enjoying a cool one at the Tavern.

Continue west along the Savannah Way from Normanton is Burketown, the barramundi capital of Australia situated on the Albert River. Situated south of Burketown is Lawn Hill National Park and the World Heritage listed Riversleigh Fossil Field.

For the 4WD-adventure market the Savannah Way is about the wild rugged terrain and the unique opportunity to get off the beaten track.

High in the Great Dividing Range on the eastern edge of the Gulf Savannah is the 5 ½ thousand square kilometre McBride Volcanic Province that commenced erupting some 8 million years ago and continued with increasing regularity until less than 100,000 years ago.

The McBride system of volcanoes has some 164 craters and around 190,000 years ago the main Undara crater, the highest and most dominant vent, produced a geological phenomenon that is rare, and in a word, fascinating, the Undara lava tubes within the Undara Volcanic National Park. These dramatic lava tubes wind for in excess of 90 km underground, along an ancient stream bed and are now recorded as the most dramatic representation of this geological peculiarity on Earth.

Undara Volcanic National Park is one of Australia's greatest geological wonders. The park is located 275 km south west of Cairns and boasts the best preserved and largest lava tube system on Earth, offering an unforgettable experience in the Australian Outback and satisfying the appetites of both adventurer and eco-traveller.

Undara is an Aboriginal word meaning "a long way". Its story began some 190,000 years ago, when it erupted and the fiery molten lava flowed into a nearby dry riverbed. The external lava quickly cooled and crusted, but underneath, a fiery flow snaked it's way through, leaving a drained, hardened exterior to create long, dark, hollow tubes.

Ancient roof collapses have since created fertile pockets where rainforest plants, insect and animal species now live. The lava tubes lie hidden beneath their own lush canopies of rainforest, incongruous with the surrounding woodlands. The vegetation has evolved from the time of Gondwana and is only found in a few rainforests throughout the world (Madagascar, for example). Just as the lava tubes are reliant on this ancient vegetation for protection, so too is the forest dependent on the tubes to shelter it from wind and fire and to provide rich lava nutrient and moisture.

Undara spewed out over 23 cubic km of molten lava, enough liquid to fill Sydney Harbour 3-4 times. One flow from Undara travelled in a Northwest direction for 164 km and is considered to be the longest single lava flow from one vent in the world in modern geological time.

Several of the tubes, or "caves" as they are often called, are open to the public (others are still the subject of scientific research) but only on guided tours conducted by highly trained and knowledgeable Savannah Guides who are all members of the Multi-award winning Savannah Guides Organisation. Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides with in depth collective knowledge of the natural and cultural assets of the Tropical Savannahs of Northern Australia. Besides being interpreters with an intimate knowledge of their specific environments, they are also protectors of their specific locations