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What Animals Will I See In Cairns?

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Mon 14 Aug 2023

Wondering what animals you can see in Cairns? Though Cairns itself is a big city, wild animals thrive in the wilderness just outside the metropolis. Sandwiched in between the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tablelands, and the Daintree Rainforest, Cairns is literally surrounded by nature that is packed with wildlife. Whether you're lucky enough to spot a unique Australian creature in the wild, or you visit a local wildlife park, here are some of the incredible animals you may see in Cairns!

Sea turtle Cairns

What Animals Will I See In Cairns?

There is a huge list of animal species that live in the wilderness around CairnsThough it would take ages to list and describe all of them, we'll give a brief overview of some of the more notable species. Australia is known for its unique wildlife, so many travellers Down Under are excited to spot some of the country's most famous creatures. From reptiles, to birds, to marsupials, and more, here are some of the fascinating Australian animals that you might see around Cairns!

Cairns Zoo Wildlife Dome


Kangaroos may be Australia's most famous animal! These bouncy marsupials live all over Australia and are pretty easy to spot if you head out to rural areas. Even up in the tropics around Cairns, kangaroos do live in the wilderness outside the city. The Daintree Rainforest is also famous for its population of tree kangaroos, a unique type of kangaroo that has adapted to life up in the trees!

Driving around rural areas at sunrise is a great way to try and find kangaroos near Cairns. Remember to drive carefully because sometimes they hop across the road and you don't want any accidents! Or you can visit any wildlife park near Cairns and most of them have kangaroos there. 



The platypus is an incredibly unique and elusive Australian animal. They live in bodies of water all along eastern Australia, but they are nocturnal, shy, and solitary, which makes them very hard to find in the wild. The Atherton Tablelands near Cairns is famous for having places where you can spot platypus, including a platypus-viewing platform in Yungaburra. Consider going on a night rainforest tour with a local guide, as their insider knowledge may give you an extra edge if you're trying to find platypus in the wild!

Atherton Tablelands

Sea Turtles

Turtles are one of the sea's most beloved creatures. Also an abundant creature in Australia, there is a chance you may see turtles in many places along the country's coastline. However, the best way to get up close with some adorable sea turtles is by snorkelling to scuba diving off the coast of Cairns! From a trip to the Outer Reef, to visiting islands like Green Island or Fitzroy Island, you can often swim alongside sea turtles when you spend a day in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. 

Another place to see sea turtles in Cairns is the Cairns Aquarium. Here, they even have a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre where they focus on nurturing and protecting rescued sea turtles. This is a nonprofit organisation that promotes conservation and education. You can tour the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre daily at 11:30 am or 12:30 pm, and all proceeds go directly to the care of the turtles!

Green Island turtle


Another one of the most iconic Australian animals you may see in Cairns is the koala. These fuzzy gray creatures are notoriously hard to spot in the wild, mainly because they dwell high up in the trees, are camouflaged with their environment, and sleep for most of the day. If you want to see koalas in Cairns, your best option is to visit a wildlife park. Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas is a great option, as are the Koala Gardens in Kuranda!

Koalas Cairns

Saltwater Crocodiles

These mighty reptiles have been around since ancient times, yet saltwater crocodiles are now almost synonymous with Tropical North Queensland! Saltwater crocodiles tend to live in the murky creeks and river mouths where the freshwater meets the sea. Saltwater crocodiles can be spotted all over northern Queensland, and there are often warning signs in place when you visit a croc hotspot.

Saltwater crocodiles are not animals you'd want to find in the wild! But never fear, there are plenty of freshwater swimming spots around Cairns where you can swim without crocodiles. If you do want to see a croc in the wild, The Daintree River and Cooper Creek are great places to go on a river cruise and see crocodiles in their natural habitat from the safety of a tour boat. You can also view crocodiles at wildlife sanctuaries, with Hartley's Crocodile Adventures being the best place! They do a live croc feed so you can see these massive beasts in action.

Saltwater crocodile


Another one of the most interesting Australian animals you can see in Cairns is the cassowary. This giant, ostrich-like bird has a fuzzy black body, a sapphire-blue head and neck, and a hefty horn sitting atop its head. They are crazy looking, but they are incredibly beautiful. Cassowaries are quite rare to see in the wild outside Cairns, but if you spend some time in the remote jungles of the Daintree you may see one wandering around the landscape. Hartley's Crocodile Adventures and Bird World in Kuranda also have cassowary enclosures where you are guaranteed to see one of these amazing birds. 

Cassowary Cairns


Whales live in the oceans all over the globe, but Australia's East Coast is one of the best places to see these gentle giants. Every winter between June and September, you have a great chance of seeing whales off the coast of Tropical North Queensland! Whales migrate north from Antarctica so they can mate, breed, and nurture their young in the warm waters of the tropics, with humpback whales being the most commonly spotted. 

So while going on a boat tour or a Great Barrier Reef adventure from Cairns, you may see whales during the winter months! If you're dying to see whales, book a Minke Encounter liveaboard where you can spend a few days at sea. You'll sail to known whale hotspots where you may have the chance to scuba dive or snorkel near a minke whale



Australia's only carnivorous mammal, the dingo, is another cool animal you may get to see in Cairns. These medium-sized, sandy brown dogs do roam the rural landscapes outside Cairns, and dingoes have been spotted on the edge of the Captain Cook Highway from time to time. However, the best place to see dingoes in the wild is K'gari (Fraser Island) in southern Queensland. But if you do want to see dingoes while you're in Cairns, visit the Rainforestation Nature Park in Kuranda!

Dingo on Fraser Island

Tropical Birds

In addition to the cassowary, Cairns is home to a wide variety of exotic rainforest birds. From cockatoos to kookaburras to parrots of varying shapes, sizes, and colours, bird lovers will have a blast spotting unique creatures flying around Cairns. Even in the midst of downtown Cairns, you can see common Australian birds like rainbow lorikeets and sulfur-crested cockatoos. 

But if you want to get up close and personal with some cool birds, Kuranda's Bird World is the best place to go! This sanctuary is home to about 60 species of fabulous rainforest birds, and you can have interactive experiences here like feeding and holding the birds.

Rainforest birds Cairns  

Tropical Fish

Just off the coast of Cairns lies the flourishing underwater coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. Whether you go for a quick day trip here, or you choose to spend multiple days on the reef with an immersive liveaboard, you will almost definitely see plenty of amazing tropical fish while exploring the reef. Snorkelling or scuba diving allows you to get up close to plenty of unique fish species, from the rainbow parrot fish to the iconic clownfish to the friendly potato cod to the hefty Maori Wrasse. You can also visit the Cairns Aquarium to see some cool fish while you're on land!

Clownfish Cairns


Another one of Australia's most adorable marsupials is the wallaby. Similar to a kangaroo but a bit smaller, wallabies are commonly found hopping around the bushlands and remote areas of Eastern Australia. If you're road-tripping around Queensland or spending some time exploring more rural towns, there is a good chance you'll spot a wallaby or two in the bush. 

To see wallabies while you're in Cairns, visit one of the wildlife parks where you can also see kangaroos (mentioned earlier). Because kangaroos and wallabies are quite similar, many wildlife parks put them in the same enclosure, so you can see both species at once!



Last but not least on our list of animals you can see in Cairns: sharksAs seriously misunderstood creatures, sharks may seem scary but they are vital to the health of the underwater ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkelling or scuba diving out here gives you the chance to see these mysterious and beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. 

Common sharks to see on the Great Barrier Reef include lemon sharks, white tip reef sharks, and whale sharks, all of which are usually harmless if you leave them alone. If you are determined to see sharks on the reef, and you're an experienced scuba diver, join a shark diving expedition where you can spend 3 days and 3 nights diving on the reef in search of sharks! You'll head to shark hotspots and get to see them in action with the help of your experienced local dive masters. 

Shark Great Barrier Reef

Where To See Wildlife In Cairns

If you really want to see some of these animals in Cairns, your best bet is to visit a local wildlife park. Places like Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, Rainforestation or Koala Gardens in Kuranda, or Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas all have most of these animals on display in their sanctuaries. These are guaranteed locations where you can see animals in Cairns!

If you go exploring in the rainforest or diving in the Great Barrier Reef, there is a large chance you will spot some of these animals in their natural habitat. This is a truly magical experience, and definitely more rewarding than seeing animals at a wildlife park. However, wildlife sightings are never guaranteed. Nature is unpredictable, so you can't be disappointed if you don't find animals in the wild outside Cairns. Just have realistic expectations, try to go with a local guide who knows the area, and if you are lucky enough to see animals in the wild, make sure you respect their space and admire them from afar only. 

Kangaroos Australia

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