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Unusual Things To Do In Cairns

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Wed 24 May 2023

Despite being a popular tourist destination, and the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, there are lots of unusual things to do in Cairns! Travelers from all over the globe head to Cairns for a number of reasons. Some of them include snorkeling or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, enjoying the city's vibrant nightlife, and exploring the rainforest

There are plenty of popular tourist attractions in Cairns that are worth visiting. But if you're looking to try something unique and unexpected, our list of the most unusual things to do in Cairns will get you out of your comfort zone for sure! Definitely make time for the classic tourist experiences; they are popular for a reason! But if you find yourself with some free time and you want to bust out of the normal tourist trail, here are 12 unusual things to do in Cairns!

fitzroy island cairns

12 Unusual Things To Do In Cairns

From swimming with minke whales and saltwater crocodiles, to canyoning or heli-golfing, there is more to Cairns than meets the eye! You can have some incredible and unexpected experiences here, so be sure to add some of these 12 unusual things to do in Cairns to your bucket list!

Cairns travel

Try Helmet Diving

So you've done the classic snorkeling and scuba diving tours. Want to get underwater in a unique way? Try helmet diving! Strap on a big glass helmet that resembles that of an astronaut. Descend to the ocean floor and walk around, exploring the coral reefs and smiling at the marine life. A tube with fresh air is connected to the helmet so you can breathe normally while walking around the ocean on foot. A great place to try this is on Green Island, where you can hang out with the sea turtles underwater!

Sea Turtle Green Island

Swim With Saltwater Crocodiles

Face your fears and swim alongside these mighty prehistoric predators! Tropical North Queensland is known for being a habitat for saltwater crocodiles, one of the world's largest and most terrifying reptiles. A river cruise is a popular way to see crocs, as is visiting a wildlife park. But to push your experience to a new level, try swimming with them! Wildlife Habitat's CrocArena allows you to snorkel underwater in a glass-enclosed viewing platform so you can safely swim with crocs and observe them below the surface. 

Croc Arena

Image Credit: Wildlife Habitat CrocArena

Fly A Helicopter To A Golf Course

Forget driving to a golf course like an average person. Imagine arriving at a pristine, luxury country club via helicopter! You can do so with Nautilus Aviation's HeliGolf! Hop on a helicopter in Cairns and fly 20 minutes north to Port Douglas, admiring the lush tropical scenery on the way. You'll arrive at the high-class Sheraton Mirage Country Club, where you can play 18 holes of golf and have lunch before flying back to Cairns in style. 

Cairns to Port Douglas Coastline

Swim, Kayak, Or Paddleboard In A Volcanic Crater

There are lots of gorgeous places to swim near Cairns, including Crystal Cascades, Babinda Boulders, Mossman Gorge, and more. But instead of swimming in a waterfall or stream, why not opt for a volcanic crater? Lake Eacham is a stunning freshwater lake located in a crater formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The lake's volcanic origins have left the water rich with minerals, so it shines a brilliant sapphire blue. You can get to Lake Eacham from Cairns in a rental car, or you can hop on a guided tour

Lake Eacham

Dive At Cod Hole

After exploring the Outer Reef amongst the other tourists, consider booking a tour to Cod Hole. This activity is only for certified or experienced divers, as you have to visit a remote corner of the reef. However, if you are a certified diver, one of the best unusual things to do in Cairns is going diving in Cod Hole! This reef site is named for its huge population of potato cod. These friendly, outgoing fish can grow up to 2 metres in length, and swimming amongst them is a thrilling experience!

Spirit of Freedom Cod Hole

Image Credit: Spirit of Freedom

Visit The Queensland Outback

Though many travelers dream of visiting the Australian Outback, most of them head to famous locations like Uluru, Kings Canyon, or other places in the Northern Territory. Few tourists actually explore Queensland's Outback! With Billy Tea Safaris, a beloved local tour company in Cairns, you can take a day trip to the Chillagoe Outback. Explore caves, see Aboriginal rock art, visit ghost towns and local villages, and see what real, rurual Queensland looks like!

Billy Tea Safaris

Image Credit: Billy Tea Safaris

Ride Over The Atherton Tablelands In A Hot Air Balloon

The Atherton Tablelands is a gorgeous rainforest area about an hour from Cairns. The most popular way to experience this magical place is by land on a guided day trip. You'll get to visit waterfalls, lakes, gorges, and small towns. Or you can see all this beauty from above! A hot air balloon ride over the Atherton Tablelands allows you to escape the crowds and admire the landscapes outside Cairns from a new perspective!

Cairns Hot Air Balloon

Image Credit: Cairns Classic Hot Air Balloon Experience

Go Canyoning

Get the adrenaline pumping with a canyoning adventure in Cairns! Instead of just driving to the most beautiful waterfalls around Cairns and taking photos of them, get right up in the canyons and gorges and go swimming, jumping, climbing, and sliding all over the place. Canyoning is an awesome adventure activity for dare devils who just want to have fun! You'll get to frolic in plunge pools, go zip lining, and slide down natural waterfalls with the instruction of an experienced guide of course. 

Canyoning Cairns

Dive With Minke Whales

Cairns is known for its incredible liveaboard tours where you can spend a few days on the Great Barrier Reef. Though every liveaboard is excellent in its own way, the Minke Encounter with Pro Dive takes you around the reef for 3 days in search of migrating minke whales. Though this tour is only available during whale season, and minke sightings are never guaranteed, the local experts will put you in the best possible position for diving alongside the majestic ocean giants. 


Visit A Butterfly Sanctuary

Butterflies are beautiful, beloved creatures. When you visit Cairns, you can see these precious insects up close at the Australia Butterfly Sanctuary! Located in the charming village of Kuranda, the sanctuary is home to over 1,500 butterflies of all different shapes and sizes. Feel them flutter around you and if you stay still enough, some of them might even land on you!

Butterfly Sanctuary

Spend The Day On A Pristine Sand Island

Another one of the best unusual things to do in Cairns is visit a cay, which is a low-lying sand island often surrounded by reef or rocks. Many travelers don't even know what a cay is, let alone that there are some epic day trips from Cairns where you can spend the day snorkeling, strolling, and soaking up the sun on a gorgeous sand cay. Michaelmas Cay, Vlasoff Cay, and Upolu Cay are two of the best day trips from Cairns. The sand is often filled with migrating seabirds, and the shallow waters are a great place to spot sea turtles!

Michaelmas Cay

Go Wildlife Spotting At Night

Not many travelers book tours at night. But if you're keen to spot some unique Cairns wildlife, exploring in the dark may be the best way! Hop on a Night Rainforest Wildlife Tour to go sightseeing with a local guide in the Atherton Tablelands. Running from 2pm to 10:30pm, you'll be out in the thick of the rainforest at dusk and after dark when animals such as platypus, possums, and tree kangaroos are at their most active. 

Rainforest Exploring

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