Here are a few ideas depending on how long you have to spend in Cairns:

If you only have 1 day

8:15am - get the Big Cat half day cruise to Green Island. You will have 2 hours to spend on Green Island snorkeling, swimming and exploring. Visit the Underwater Observatory to get a close up look of the reef without getting wet! Arrive back in Cairns at 12:45pm.

1:30pm - take the Kuranda Skyrail through the rainforest canopy up to the village town of Kuranda. The ride up will take about an hour and a half. Spend two hours in Kuranda and catch the Skyrail back, stopping at the rainforest platforms for a closer look. It is recommended that you book your Skyrail time early.

The above trip will cost around $145 for an adult (and that includes transfers to and from your accommodation).  

If you have a week or more.

Day Tours 

Choose any of these trips and combine them to suit your needs.

Great Barrier Reef - Spend all day on the Great Barrier Reef with one of the many tour operators departing from Cairns or Port Douglas. Try an introductory dive if you haven't before (you don't need any experience) or grab some fins and snorkel and get up close and personal with some fishy friends.

Daintree Rainforest - Travel north to the Daintree Rainforest and experience another World Heritage listed area.There are a number of day tours Daintree Cape Tribulation rainforest departing Port Douglas, Cairns and the northern beaches daily. Most also include a crocodile spotting cruise on the Daintree River. Try Trek North Safaris, Jungle Tours, or Tropical Horizons Tours.

Kuranda - Kuranda Skyrail and Rainforestation. The Kuranda Skyrail is an award-winning cable-car journey that will take you above the rainforest up to the village town of Kuranda. Rainforestation, will take you on a cruise through forest waterways on an amphibious army duck, let you meet some of Australia’s favourite animals and has traditional performances by the Pamagirri dance troupe. Combine this with a day exploring Kuranda and its markets, Bird World, Butterfly Sanctuary and Koala Gardens. There is also the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, at the coastal end of Skyrail.

Adventure! - Spend half the day white water rafting on the Barron River and then go Skydiving! If skydiving is a bit too extreme, you can also spend the other half of the day horse riding, or with a relaxing balloon ride. Alternatively, if you want to try something a bit more adventurous, go for a full day white water rafting on the Tully River.

Northern Beaches - Self drive northern beaches, Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge. Hire a car and travel north from Cairns along the coast road to Port Douglas. Stop at  Cairns Tropical Zoo on the way and then Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge. If you are starting from Port Douglas, spend the morning at Breakfast with the Birds at the Rainforest Habitat. It comes highly recommended as does the accompanying wildlife park. You could easily spend half a day here. If you miss Breakfast with the Birds, you can also try Lunch with the Lorikeets.

Atherton Tablelands - (Cairns Highlands) There are a number of coach tours to this area, departing every day , from Cairns and the Northern Beaches.  The newest type of tour, offered by Food Trail Tours, is a food and wine tasting tour. You meet locals, visit wineries, tour plantations and taste some excellent produce. There are also a number of tours that visit volcanic crater lakes for a cruise, then get into the rainforest and waterfalls, before heading down to Paronella Park, near Innisfail. Northern Experience Eco Tours is one of those operators. Tropic Wings Coach Tours offers a variation on this, travelling inland through the Gulf Savannah Plains of the outback to Woodleigh Cattle Station.


Self Drive Touring

Atherton Tablelands (Cairns Highlands) - Self drive Atherton Tablelands. Hire a car and travel from Cairns to Gordonvale, up the Gilles range to Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, then Yungaburra and the Curtain Fig Tree. From there, you can explore local towns like Atherton, Tolga and Kairi. Spend the night in Atherton or Yungaburra. The next morning, head along the road to Malanda. Stop off at Malanda falls, then continue on and follow the signs for The Crater and Dinner Falls. Round out the day doing the waterfall circuit around Millaa Millaa, then finishing by driving down through Innisfail and then back to Cairns. If you're not completely worn out by the end of this trip, you can stop off at the popular swimming hole The Boulders which is just outside of Babinda. 

This area is fast becoming the food and wine region of North Queensland. There are coffee plantation tours, tea plantation tours, tropical fruit wineries, and dairy farms with cheese factories, and one makes chocolates.

 

Undara Lava Tubes and Outback (2 days) - This is a great opportunity to sample the other side of Australian nature - the dry and dusty outback. Hire a car and drive yourself, or get an organised tour to the Undara Lava Tubes. They were formed around 190,000 years ago when a major volcano erupted. The outside hardened, but the interior allowed the molten lava to flow through. You can stay overnight in the unique carriage accommodation, or sleep on a swag outside under the stars. 

 

See Great Tropical Drives for a number of in-depth, self drive itineraries.