Discover Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

by Narelle Webber on Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Great Barrier Reef, home of the giant clam and orange-lined triggerfish (c) Trys Eddy (ISV Tour Leader, Australia)

Cairns in northern Queensland is a highlight of ISV’s Australian Adventure Tour (May to August only). Cairns is known as the Adventure Capital of Australia and is the gateway to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef as well as the Wet Tropical Rainforests.

A few of ISV’s Australian Volunteer Projects are located within a few hours of Cairns. The ISV Australia Adventure Tour is jam-packed full of great activities in and around Cairns such as whitewater rafting the Tully River, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with scuba options at an additional cost and Reef Teach, a fun and informative educational talk about the Reef. In addition, the ISV Optional Activity Package includes a visit to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park where participants can learn about the local aboriginal Tjapukai people’s history and culture. The tour also includes some free time for allow our participants to explore the area (we spend 5 nights in total in this small city).

Below is some information about Cairns. Ask your ISV Leader or visit the Gilligan’s Hostel Tour Desk for advice if you require further info or suggestions. To plan for Cairns activities or events, the Cairns City Councils website may be useful

Rafting doesn’t get much better than the Tully River with Raging Thunder, our preferred rafting operator (c) Raging Thunder Adventures


Cairns has a tropical climate year round. The average temperatures throughout these months range from 18 to 26°C (64-79°F). In the evenings it can occasionally get cool and a jacket or jumper can be useful. It rarely rains in the winter months, with monthly rainfall as low as 27-50mm (1.1-2 inches). Even though it is winter in the months you will be visiting, make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn.

You can’t miss visiting Tjapukai as part of the ISV Optional Activity Package (c) Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Things to see and do:

You will have approximately one and a half free days in Cairns and some of the most popular activities to experience during your free time include (prices in AUD):

  1. Bungy Jumping: 50 m (80 ft) high Cairns Bungy Tower is situated 15 km (9 miles) north of Cairns and is surrounded by lush tropical rainforest with panoramic views out to The Great Barrier Reef. (From $125).
  2.  Skydiving: One of the most popular free day options from previous years! Choose from an 11,000 ft jump (40 second free fall) or 14,000 ft jump (60 second free fall) over Cairns with views of the water and surrounding mountains. From $295.
  3. A day excursion to Cape Tribulation (where the rainforest meets the Reef): For around $170 many operators run day trips out of Cairns to explore this beautiful part of Australia where two world heritage areas meet.
  4. In Cairns you can go jump out of a plane for fun!

    A day excursion to nearby Fitzroy or Green Islands: You may choose to visit nearby islands on a day trip which can be organised by the tour desk at Gilligan’s, (our accommodation in Cairns).

  5. Taking the Sky Rail to Kuranda Cultural Rainforest Village: Take a gondola ride just meters above the canopy of the ancient tropical rainforest. There are stops along the way to explore the sights and smells of the forest before ending in the popular tourist town of Kuranda.
  6. Horse Riding: A number of operators can organise a trail ride. Ask the friendly staff at the Gilligan’s Tour desk (our accommodation in Cairns) for more details.
  7. Souvenir Shopping: Cairns is great for souvenir shopping and is generally less expensive than CAIRNS. Visit the local street markets or the Night Markets often stay open late for those last minute gifts!
  8. Visit the “Lagoon”: Enjoy a swim in the “lagoon” for free and take a walk along the esplanade. The lagoon is a lovely man made swimming area by the marina, a focal point for visitors to Cairns. Perfect for relaxing!
  9. Try scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef! (c) Trys Eddy, ISV Tour Leader Australia

    Botanic Gardens: Only 5 km from the heart of Cairns City, the Flecker Botanical Gardens are a tropical oasis. Thirty eight hectares of native Australian gardens are maintained to lush standards, and many plants found here cannot be seen elsewhere. Entry is free; however, donations are gratefully accepted.

  10. Tjapukai By Night: On one of your free nights you may wish to visit “Tjapukai By Night” an outdoor cultural performance by Tjapukai Aboriginal performers including singing, dance, ritual and spectacular fire displays as well as a huge buffet dinner. Price $90.
  11. Night Life: Cairns also has a great nightlife with travellers from all over the world who come to see the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding areas. There are a large number of pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes to choose from to suit all tastes.

Most ISV participants would agree, the nightlife is also a Cairns highlight. The Ultimate Party bus is a favourite of many ISV participants.

Public Transport/Getting Around:

The best way to get around Cairns is by foot. The areas that you will be interested in visiting are not spread out and are mostly confined within the main part of town. The main streets of town are easy to navigate and run parallel and perpendicular to the esplanade. If you do not want to walk, taxis are easy to locate and quite a good way to travel short distances. For those wanting to travel a little further out of the main part of town, public buses are convenient. The local bus services are run by Sun Bus. These local buses can be caught from the central area of town or at any of the many Sun Bus stops. For further information on the routes and stops check the website

If you’re lucky you might see one of these guys as you explore the Great Barrier Reef (c) Trys Eddy

Make the most of your time in tropical Cairns. We know you’ll love it!

To learn more about ISV’s Volunteer and Travel Program visit our website:

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