We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

Which Cairns hotels are on sale?
dd/mm/yyyy dd/mm/yyyy
See hotels
Bacup, United...
Level Contributor
21 posts
91 reviews
Save Topic
What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

We are coming to Cairns for 5 days in late January, we are well traveled, now just retired and first time in Australia and have a number of questions


1. We arrive at Cairns Airport mid morning and are staying at the Holiday Inn, what will it cost for a taxi, and are they readily available? Would you recommend trying to book one in advance?

2. We regularly travel by public transport (UK, Europe, Tunisia, Singapore etc.,) and find we see more of the people, life, and the countryside. Is it practical to visit the likes of Port Douglas, Daintree and the Mossman Gorge under our own steam using public transport. Where else would you suggest for scenery, flora and fauna?

We intend to spend one day on the reefs but are confused by the many companies and offers. The outer reefs seem to have more to offer, prices advertised here in the UK vary considerably for 5 hrs on the outer reef from around GBP80 to GBP150. Am I better booking before we go or is it possible (and maybe cheaper) if I book locally when we arrive. I want to snorkel!

All and any advice appreciated.

Save Reply
1. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

Lucky you!

A taxi from the airport to the Holiday Inn is cheap and quick (no need to pre-book). You'll pay about 20-30AU.

To get around, rent a car - a mini moke (a mini jeep) is a cheap and easy option for the short distances.

As for the reef, you get what you pay for. The more expensive tours (ie quicksilver) have bigger boats and go to the continental shelf, so snorkelling is better. There are cheaper options, but as the reef is a "bucket list" experience, I wouldn't scrimp too much!

Level Contributor
2,456 posts
26 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

There is a local town bus service in Cairns. You can use it to get to the sandy beaches north and south of the town (Cairns itself just has mud-flats), however, it won't get you as far as any of the destinations you have mentioned.

There are shuttles and transfers available, but no scheduled route services. And I think you'll find quickly that these services will be more expensive and less flexible than driving.

I'm also not sure you can actually hire a mini-moke in Cairns? Anyway, even if you can I wouldn't. Just hire a normal car, with modern safety features, which you should have driving on the main roads around Cairns.

Sydney, Australia
Level Contributor
14 posts
33 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.


We booked a shuttle service from the Cairns airport to Holiday Inn and cost us $20pp one way through sun palm transport, they have desks at the airport, drop you off at the door of the hotel, and pick up on time for your flight. Holiday Inn is perfect location, only couple minutes walk to the CBD!

We normally hire a vehicle to drive around ourselves, the roads in Cairns are very easy to navigate with a map and even easier with a GPS, A normal sedan will do.

I reckon book a few tours to visit the Daintree rainforest, Cape Tribulation because I don't think public transport will get you there. I also highly recommend the Milla Milla water falls and the crater lakes around there (some tours will take you to the waterfalls and let you swim, if not, all these waterfalls and crater lakes are drive-able distances at the atherton tablelands and makes a great day out for bush walking/ picnicing).

IMO I reckon on some of these tours, you'd meet a lot of great ppl passionate about the work they do everyday. We booked through 'raging thunder' located in Cairns CBD and did the fitzroy island great barrier reef day tour, it is the best and snorkelling is GREAT there! I recommend against the 'passions of paradise' tour, just that the area they take you to isn't as beautiful IMO.

You should also visit Kuranda via the scenic railway which departs from the station behind the 'Cairns Central' Mall. This is do-able in a day as well, alternatively driving there is also just as easy. Don't forget to try their locally produced mango wines, if wine is your thing.

I love Cairns, been there twice and would definitely go back again!!

Nanaimo, Canada
Level Contributor
23,106 posts
73 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

I would wait until you are in Cairns to book your trip to the reef. You are going to be there during the "wet" season with the possibility of cyclones. So wait, and then you can check the weather for the best day possible. It won't be a busy time that time of year, so you shouldn't have a problem booking a day or two out.

Hartley's Crocodile Farm was a great day for us.

The public bus doesn't go any further north than Palm Cove, so renting a car is indeed the best option. Make sure you check out the information about renting cars before you sign up.

Level Contributor
519 posts
34 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.


I would hire a car it will make things a lot easier to get to , you can organize your days and see lots of things that you would not see if your were on the bus

I hope you have a lovely trip in our part of the world

Regards mosiewigs

Cairns, Australia
Level Contributor
345 posts
82 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

Yes I agree that a hire care (airport pickup) would suit you and allow you to see a great deal of our region.

If you chose to take a shuttle with Sun Palm from the airport I would not buy a return ticket as I am hearing from credible sources within the tourism industry that the pick up service from town is unreliable even if you book a pick up. They appear to be very reliable when taking your money to get into the city but not so reliable when it comes to honouring the return ticket.

Cairns, Australia
Level Contributor
288 posts
134 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

Sun Palm is indeed VERY unreliable. I used to randomly book them for clients and after 3 missed/late pick ups I refused to ever use them again. They also used to totally mess up locations as well......Taxi or rental car from the airport is a much better idea.

The local bus service is not very good either....most locals avoid it if they can!!

For bookings for the reef trip, that time of year you would be fine to book here or look at actual companies websites for good prices. I second the Passions of Paradise trip over the big corporate boats such as Quicksilver or Sunlover (these boats will have 100's of Chinese on at that time of year as Cairns gets swamped with Asian visitors for chinese new year).

I was on Passions last week again and it was a great trip (as usual)

Another suggestion is the Tablelands region. The crater lakes are beautiful and you can hire a boat at Lake Tinneroo and go barramundi fishing : )

Bacup, United...
Level Contributor
21 posts
91 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

just to update this and thank the contributors who offered advice.

We have just returned.

We used a taxi from the airport. Our flight was delayed and it was around midnight when we arrived, the taxi was picked up at the rank outside the airport cost 22 dollars.

We booked the Reef trip online three or four days before our arrival after checking weather reports. We went with Reef Magic to a pontoon on the outer reef , and it was magic!

We booked car hire at the same time. There were so many scare stories onthis and similar sites about the activities of some of the smaller hire companies ee decided to go with Avis. Two days with full waiver insurance cost around 160 dollars.

Sydney, Australia
Destination Expert
for Sydney, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Business Travel, New South Wales
Level Contributor
29,854 posts
1,348 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

Thanks for getting back to us Bob... its always fabulous to get feedback on companies etc !

Wairoa, New Zealand
Level Contributor
7 posts
85 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: What to do in Cairns and how to travel around.

We arrived last week and used Cairns Airport Shuttle (Don Devon) (Tel: 0432 488 783), and it cost $10 (in total for two people, plus masses of baggage) to go from the airport to Minnie Street (about the same distance as the Holiday Inn), so it appears you can do it for substantially less than your 'standard taxi'. Stay in the terminal air con and call the shuttle office first before going outside (if you have not already been met at the baggage pick-up area by the driver). The van may be 10 minutes or so late, and better to wait inside than in stifling heat......

Even though Cairns is quite small, our driver didn't know where our accommodation was, so bring a map (or GPS) if you are staying at other than a well-known hotel etc, to avoid any problems.