Cairns is the sweltering gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia's second-largest tourist attraction (after Uluru) and the largest living thing in the world. Most people who visit here do so fleetingly, in order to take boat trips to the Reef. This is a shame since Cairns itself is a thriving tourist center that marks the entrance to the far north tropics of Australia.
Known as a huge center of Japanese tourism in the 1980s, Cairns is now a favorite destination for intrepid travelers from all over the world and also Australian holiday-makers from the southern cities. The nearby Daintree rainforest and its shimmering wealth of natural attractions waits in the west and a number of gentle nearby towns brim with charms.
Because it has welcomed so many millions of visitors over the past few decades, Cairns boasts a restaurant and nightlife scene that would be the envy of cities ten times its size. Visitors to Cairns are spoilt for choice, though one thing that never changes here is the weather. Sticky humidity and high heat is the rule, every day of the year.
The historical center of Cairns is The Esplanade, where all community events and meetings are held. Young people particularly flock to the area for its skateboard ramps and other visitors enjoy the thriving restaurant culture that has grown up around this part of Cairns.
Downtown Cairns is a readily navigable set of streets that fan out around major landmarks like the Reef Casino. Bars, hotels, restaurants and tourism facilities like tour groups, information centers and travel agencies are all located here, as are all the major shopping malls.
Giant sea turtles, fish of all colors and the world's largest living thing, all located off the shore of Cairns, in the Coral Sea. The Reef is the main draw card for visitors to Cairns and boat journeys and guided tours take place all day, every day. Visitors should be mindful that the Reef is a protected national park and is quite fragile.
This lush tropical rainforest begins north of Cairns and journeys of an hour or more are required in order to reach it. There are limited facilities and conveniences at park entrances and all visitors are reminded that they need to respect the park's pristine natural heritage and also, that wandering off alone is potentially dangerous.
This is where Cairns comes to party. Spence Street is the nightlife strip of Cairns and so after dark, partygoers from all over the world meet, greet and mingle at the many fabulous bars and clubs that occupy every other shop front on Spence Street, which runs near the center of downtown.