Cairns Cruise Port (Australia), Things to Do, Shore Excursions

Yorkeys Knob Boating Club

Welcome to Cairns cruise port, Queensland, Australia!

Nestled on the northeast coast of Far North Queensland, Cairns is Queensland’s fifth most populous city and Australia’s fourth largest cruise port after Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Cairns is a popular tourist destination renowned as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system, and Wet Tropics Rainforest, a natural attraction and a World Heritage Site. In this article, read about:

  • Cairns cruise port (Cairns cruise terminal, getting around)
  • Top 7 things to do in Cairns and the best Cairns shore excursions

Visit also our cruise port guides to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Esperance, Darwin, and New Zealand cruise ports

Cairns Cruise Port Info

The majority of the cruise ships dock at Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal (aka Trinity Wharf), located within a short walking distance from Cairns downtown (also referred to as Cairns CBD – Cairns’ central business district). The port of Cairns has 595 meters (1952 ft) long quay line with two berths dedicated to cruise vessels (Wharves 1 and 5) and two ships that can dock simultaneously. The dedicated cruise terminal building is located on Wharf 2/3. See the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal on Google maps

Due to the Entrance Channel restrictions, some large cruise liners may anchor at Trinity Bay in the open sea, from where the tender boats are used to transfer passengers to Yorkeys Knob Cruise Tender Terminal, located next to the Half Moon Bay Marina in Yorkeys Knob, Cairns’ northern coastal suburb. From there, passengers can take the shuttle bus to Cairns CBD, which is located around 17 km/10.5 miles (less than a 20-minute drive) to the southeast. Shuttle buses may be free of charge, however, check this with your cruise ship in advance. See the Yorkeys Knob wharf on Google maps

Yorkeys Knob Boating Club Cairns
Yorkeys Knob cruise tender terminal is located next to the Yorkeys Knob Boating Club. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Cairns port also serves reef passenger ferries offering daily boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef from Reef Fleet Terminal, located 650 meters away from the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal. Reef Fleet Terminal is housed in a modern, 2-level terminal building filled with shops, cafes, and eateries, and is located next to Cairns Marlin Marina, an upscale marina with berths that can accommodate a variety of cruising vessels, including superyachts up to 140 meters long.

Useful info:

  • Ports North operates the port of Cairns. Check out the port authorities’ official website for cruise schedules and additional information https://www.portsnorth.com.au/
  • The city of Cairns is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated place with plenty of shopping and dining options located a stone’s throw from Cairns cruise terminal and the marina. The waterfront walkway connects Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal and Cairns Marlin Marina and is a nice place for a walk. The city is flat, with a great infrastructure, and very convenient for people with walking difficulties and wheelchair users. It is also suitable for biking and cycling activities.
  • A long-term cruise car parking is available at the Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal for a cost of $10 per day for up to 10 days (ticket machines take both credit cards and cash).
  • The currency in Australia is the Australian Dollar (AUD). 1 AUD equals approximately 0.70 USD. Credit cards and cash are widely accepted. Tipping is not common in Australia. See the currency converter
  • Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal is easily accessible by taxi, rideshare (Uber and Ola), private car, bus, or airport shuttle.
  • Cairns Airport (CNS) is located 7 km/4.3 miles (a 10-minute drive) northwest of Cairns cruise terminal.
  • You can easily explore the main Cairns city attractions on foot, however, a public bus is also available if you wish to move through and outside the city. There are two major bus terminals: Cairns Central bus station (only for departures, located next to the Cairns Central Shopping Center) and Cairns City bus station. There are several bus routes and the majority of them depart from Cairns Central bus station, located next to the Cairns Central Shopping Center (aka Cairns City Mall) on Spence Street, around a 15-minute walk from the cruise port. Cairns Central Terminus (arrivals) is located a 5-minute walk from there, at the side of the shopping mall on Bunda Street. Alternatively, another transit hub is the Cairns City bus station which is located on Lake Street, a 10-minute walk from the Cairns cruise terminal.
  • All public buses are operated by Sunbus company, a transfer partner of Translink (public transit agency for Queensland) and they serve the city and the suburbs, including popular beaches and shopping malls. You can check the fares, bus route maps, and timetables on https://www.sunbus.com.au/cairns and https://translink.com.au/
  • Cairns Central Shopping Center is Cairns’s shopping hub and the biggest shopping center in the city, located in Cairns downtown (Cairns CBD), a 10-15 minute walk from the cruise terminal. It ranks among the state’s top shopping centers and was built over the Cairns Railway Station. Cairns Central bus station, one of the two major bus terminals, is situated in front of the shopping center on Spence Street.
  • Cairns Railway Station is incorporated with the Cairns Central Shopping Center and is located next to the Cairns Central Terminus. Cairns Railway Station is the northern terminus for the Spirit of Queensland long-distance rail service to Brisbane and the starting station for the Kuranda Scenic Railway and The Savannahlander.
  • Another popular shopping location is Stockland Cairns Shopping Center (aka Earlville Shopping Town), located in the suburb of Earlville, 6 km/3.7 miles (a 10-minute drive) from the cruise terminal.
  • If you are looking to spend a day at the beach, you should head to one of the gorgeous beaches in the north, such as Palm Cove Beach (a 30-minute drive from Cairns CBD), Ellis Beach (a 30-minute drive), Clifton Beach (a 30-minute drive), Trinity Beach (a 25-minute drive), Holloways Beach (a 15-minute drive) and Machans Beach (a 10-minute drive). All these beaches are relatively near Yorkeys Knob Tender Cruise Terminal and there is a beach at Yorkeys Knob as well.
  • Due to its tropical climate, the weather in Cairns changes frequently and it often rains, so make sure you bring suitable clothes. Related article: What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials
  • Check out the best hotels in Cairns

Top 7 Things to Do in Cairns Cruise Port

Before I share with you the best things to do in the port of Cairns, I invite you to sign up below and get my exclusive, insider SHORE EXCURSION GUIDE for FREE!

1. Cairns Esplanade

Located next to Cairns Marlin Marina and only a 10-minute walk from Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal, this scenic public area is one of the tourist hotspots in the city and one of its top attractions. The scenic Esplanade stretches for 2.5 km/1.5 miles along the waterfront and features beautiful wooden boardwalks, parks, public artworks, playgrounds, picnic and BBQ areas, fitness and sports facilities, toilets, showers, shops, restaurants and cafes. On Saturdays, the Esplanade turns into a lively marketplace filled with market stalls lining the waterfront selling homemade goods, unique handcrafts and locally brewed coffee.

Its top attraction is the Esplanade Lagoon, a 4800 square meters saltwater swimming pool open all year round, monitored by lifeguards and for free use. The lagoon is wheelchair-accessible.

Explore Cairns Esplanade tours and activities

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

2. Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome

This extraordinary wildlife park is located on top of the Reef Hotel Casino on the Cairns waterfront, next to Cairns Marina and only a 5-minute walk from the cruise terminal. This incredible place offers exhilarating experiences such as ziplining directly over the crocodile, rope climbing, dome climbing, koala feeding, wildlife encounters and interactive animal shows. It is highly recommended for families and adventure seekers looking to spend a fun day and meet the local wildlife! Get more information on https://cairnszoom.com.au/

Check out Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome tours and activities

3. Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and dotted with almost 900 islands and coral cays (small sandy isles) stretching for over 2300 km/ 1430 miles along the coast of Queensland in the Coral Sea.

The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is separated from the Australian mainland by a 160 km/100 miles wide and over 60 meters (200 ft) deep channel. There are numerous cruises and boat tours departing daily from the Cairns Marina (Reef Fleet Terminal), offering activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, submarines, and glass bottom boat rides in the Great Barrier Reef. Some tour operators also offer helicopter flight tours, allowing the visitors to admire the magnificent panoramic views of the reef and islands.

Because of its wide diversity of sea life and incredible natural treasures, the Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Explore the Great Barrier Reef tours and activities

Great Barrier Reef Cairns, Queensland, Australia
The view of the Great Barrier Reef from the helicopter. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

4. Kuranda Scenic Railway

Kuranda is Tropical North Queensland’s picturesque rainforest village situated in the heart of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforests, around 27 km/17 miles from Cairns.

The village is known for its artistic and musical legacy, colorful markets and amazing wildlife parks including the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Birdworld, Koala Gardens and Rainforestation Nature Park. Kuranda has many nature tracks allowing visitors to enjoy the village’s natural treasures, such as the spectacular Barron Falls, a steep, 125 m tiered waterfall that plunges out of the rainforest. You can download the map of the village and learn about the attractions and activities at https://www.kuranda.org/

Surrounded by the world’s oldest living tropical rainforest adjacent to the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, Kuranda is a perfect getaway for nature lovers. Its biggest attraction is Kuranda Scenic Railway, a 37 km/23 miles long scenic tourist railway journey through the Barron Gorge National Park from the Cairns railway station to Kuranda railway station. It is an incredible journey through the ancient rainforests, dramatic gorges, and World Heritage listed-natural landscapes including stunning waterfalls, hand-carved tunnels, steep ravines and bridges. The train journey takes about a 1-hour and 45 minutes and departs twice daily from Cairns Railway Station. Check the timetables and fares on https://www.ksr.com.au/

Check out Kuranda Scenic Railway tours and activities

Kuranda Scenic Railway
Kuranda Scenic Railway. Source: Creative Commons/photo modified

5. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Soaring through the treetops of Barron Gorge National Park in a 7.5 km/4.7 miles long scenic tourist cable way is another spectacular way of discovering the tropical north Queensland’s rainforests and natural wonders. The journey takes several hours and includes two rainforest stations: Red Peak and Barron Falls, which allow visitors to explore and learn more about this breathtaking World Heritage area.

The cable car operates from the Smithfield Terminal in Cairns to the Kuranda terminal in the highland region of Atherton Tablelands. Smithfield Terminal is located a 20-minute drive northwest of Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal and a 10-minute drive from Yorkeys Knob Cruise Tender Terminal. Some tours combine both Skyrail Rainforest cable car and Kuranda Scenic Railway. Find more information on https://www.skyrail.com.au/

Explore Skyrail Rainforest Cableway tours and activities

6. Atherton Tablelands

Atherton Tableland is a highland region known for its sweeping plateaus, idyllic waterfalls surrounded by lush rainforests, wetlands, mountain lakes, unique wildlife and other geological wonders. The region has become the ultimate cycling destination in the past few years with the growing popularity of the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park, a network of single-track trails purpose-built for mountain bike riding.

Besides biking and cycling, here you can go hiking, wildlife spotting, visit some cultural attractions and so much more. One of the major natural attractions is Millaa Millaa Waterfall, a beautiful 18-meter-high waterfall plunging into a swimming hole surrounded by tropical greenery. Atherton, the main town of the region, is located a 1-hour 20-minute drive southwest of the Cairns CBD and the cruise terminal. Get more information on Atherton experiences and activities at https://www.athertontablelands.com.au/

Check out Atherton Tablelands tours and activities

7. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park offers an incredible insight into Australia’s diverse Aboriginal heritage and 40,000-year-old history of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The park is located in Smithfield, at the base of the Skyrail cableway, a 20-minute drive northwest of Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal and less than a 10-minute drive southwest of the Yorkeys Knob Cruise Tender Terminal.

The Tjapukai people (aka Djabugay people, meaning the “People of the Rainforest”) are a group of Australian Aboriginal people who inhabited the tropic region that extends from Cairns to Port Douglas and inland to Kuranda. Set on 25 acres, this cultural park features a museum, a gallery, the Creation and History Theatre with live performances, activities and interactive experiences allowing visitors to discover Tjapukai people’s arts, traditions, and foods.

Explore Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park tours and activities

To Wrap Up

Whether you decide to explore the city attractions, the marine wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, take a beach break or discover the natural treasures and World Heritage Sites, the port of Cairns offers many choices for everyone’s taste! Make sure you plan your day ahead to get the most out of this amazing port of call!

Visit also our cruise port guides to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Esperance, Darwin, and New Zealand cruise ports


You May Also Like:

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What to Pack for a Cruise – Top 50 Cruise Essentials

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Australia & New Zealand Cruise Port Guides

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