Cairns area and Great Barrier Reef in 5 days
February 5, 2018 9:39 PM   Subscribe

We're planning to spend 5 days around Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in August. What should we do? (followup to this question)

We are planning to fly into Cairns and we'll have 5 days before we head to Sydney. There are two adults and 13-year-old boy. Obviously, we want to see the GBR, so we'll spend at least one day on a boat trip. And we'd like go to the Daintree.

Various ideas:
• Rent a car and drive up to Cape Tribulation and back over the five days.
• Going on cruise for a few days.
• Use Port Douglas as a base, and make trips from there.
• Stay at a resort for a couple of days.
• Find a five-day tour.

Tell me about any ideas or previous experiences you'd recommend.
posted by ShooBoo to Travel & Transportation around Australia (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mossman gorge. Low Isles and snorkelling (from Port - as the locals call it). Kuranda rail trip.
posted by b33j at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

When we visited last August we rented a car in Cairns and drove to Port Douglas and stayed there for three or so days. We stayed a little bit out of town, and though our accommodation was okay, the local food was great. I can't recommend highly enough the reef tour with Wavelengths. The snorkelling was great, the whole day was just amazing.
We drove to Atherton, visited lots of rainforests -- so south not north. I'm sure what you suggest is doable -- though I was exhausted after the day on the reef and needed a very slow day (next to the pool!).
You'll have a great time! O, and the people were all so lovely.
posted by bwonder2 at 12:20 AM on February 6, 2018

I quite liked Cape Tribulation, and Mossman gorge. A snorkelling/diving trip would be fun too.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:15 AM on February 6, 2018

We hired a car in Cairns and drove up to Port Douglas which is smaller and much nicer and made a good base for day trips Mossman Gorge, the Daintree platform walk, Cape Tribulation, exploring inland around Kuranda, and a snorkelling trip to the reef. We went with a great company called Calypso which is probably similar in size to Wavelengths. Call them on the day you arrive in town and they can suggest which day of your stay might be best to go out based on the weather forecast. If you have non-swimmers in your group there is a large boat called Quicksilver which moors at a pontoon on the reef and has options for non-swimmers.

If it is your first time in Australia, expect everything to be expensive, and service will be....laid back.

You'll have a great time!
posted by Naanwhal at 3:51 AM on February 6, 2018

When we did a similar visit we did two nights in Port Douglas and three in Cairns, which worked well for us. Both are nice places to be in the evening -- lots of shops and restaurants and people walking around until late.

To be honest I thought the Daintree/Cape Trib was the least exciting thing we did. You just sort of drove up, walked around on a beach a bit, and then drove back and did some short boardwalk nature walks. It was cool, but I wouldn't go out of my way.

Mossman Gorge was great and had some nice hiking. Kuranda was really fun, though expensive (definitely do the cable car up and the railway back). The best place we went: the Atherton Tablelands, which were so achingly beautiful that it was hard to believe they were real. The landscape is incredible. There are all these waterfalls and giant strangler figs and pretty old towns (Yungaburra was my favorite, go to the bookstore!). I wish we'd had longer to explore and drive around out there. It's bucolic to the max, and I'm from Wisconsin.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:59 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I spent about the same length of time in Cairns 2 years ago. I was by myself, but I did a couple of things that might fit well for you:

I rented a car and drove out to spend one night here: but in retrospect, should have stayed two. I had a wallaby visit me while I was on the deck of my tent, and unexpectedly met a family of five emus on my way to the lodge the next morning. I had been warned there was one nosy one. Found out before the owners that he had a new family! Great hiking there, and I was able to take the truck safari and the boat ride too.

The drive was pretty awesome in that I got to swing through the Daintree forest and stop at some scenic sights on the way, so I got beach, rainforest and almost desert all in one day which was pretty cool.

I didn't get all the way out on the reef, but did do a snorkeling/sea kayaking trip that gave me a bit of a taste. I think it was this one: (Fun fact: Nudey Beach is not a nude beach.) There is also a resort on Fitzroy Island that looked pretty cool. I stayed in Cairns, but if I might have opted for that had I known.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:04 AM on February 6, 2018

Kuranda Rainforest Skyrail and Train - my wife and I did this 2 years ago and loved it. link The skyrail itself was pretty spectacular - you stop at stations along the way to explore parts of the UNESCO world heritage site you're travelling through/over, Kuranda village itself is a neat mix of of touristy shops, and has a pretty cool butterfly sanctuary. The vintage train trip back (wiki) was a lot of fun too - we took it the whole way back to Cairns at the end of our day and then walked to our hotel. Overall an enjoyable day, I'd do it again.

(memail me if I can answer any questions!)
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:35 AM on February 7, 2018

We ended up renting a car at the Cairns airport and staying in Port Douglas for five days. Things we did on various days:
1) Beach and relax
2) GBR snorkeling with Calypso
3) Kuranda
4) Mossman Gorge and Daintree (didn't go all the way to Cape Tribulation, went as far as the Daintree Ice Cream Company)

I added more details in my comment on my previous question about the the entire Australia trip.
posted by ShooBoo at 5:50 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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