While Cairns is best known for the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage rainforest, this tropical North Queensland city is also home to a string of beautiful golden beaches.
All ten of the beaches in Cairns are located to the north of the city in a string of coastal suburbs.
There aren’t any in a southerly direction because of the huge estuary of Trinity Inlet. The nearest beach to the south is Bramston Beach, which is about 80 kms away near Innisfail.
As you head north the first beach you come to is Machans Beach, the last one is Ellis Beach nealry 30 kms away.
Here’s our rundown of Cairns beaches starting closest to the city and driving north:
1. machans beach (12 kms north)
Driving north out of Cairns on the Bruce Highway, the first beach you come to is Machans Beach.
Machans is a quiet little seaside suburb with lots of 70’s style beach houses lining the beachfront.
It doesn’t have the best beach, mostly because it now has piles of huge grey rocks holding the banks up to prevent erosion.
However it does have a nice walk along the esplanade.
There are no resorts so the only option for travellers wanting to stay in Machans Beach is to rent private apartments or houses.
2. holloways beach
Holloways Beach is another quiet suburb with a strong community feel.
The beach is pretty popular and can get fairly busy at the weekends since there is a nice shady grassed area in front of the beach with BBQ’s.
If you want to avoid the crowds, head north, where the beach is empty, has beautiful fine white sand and plenty of shade.
Holloway’s is a bit bigger than Machans and there are a few accommodation options, including a resort, as well as a restaurant and café on the beachfront.
3. yorkeys knob
Once you’ve got over the hilarious name (named after a rocky outcrop) you’ll find this suburb of Cairns has a great beach that’s popular for kite surfing and wind surfing.
It also has a large marina and golf course.
There aren’t any hotels or resorts but there are a few luxury self-contained holiday apartments. Yorkey’s Knob Boat Club has a nice restaurant overlooking the waterfront and marina, which provides fairly good casual dining with a family friendly atmosphere.
4. trinity park beach
Trinity Park Beach is a bit of a locals favourite, particularly with dog owners.
Unfortunately the property developers have moved in over the last few years so there are some fairly major housing development’s going on but they are hidden from view on the beach due to a corridor of trees and mangroves.
Trinity Park is a fantastic beach but take care if you walk along the area opposite the marina at Yorkey’s Knob – estuaries are crocodile territory.
5. trinity beach (22 kms north of cairns)
Trinity Beach is definitely a locals’ favourite. It’s like Palm Cove was 20 years ago but it is steadily becoming developed.
So if you like somewhere a bit quieter but with a few different restaurants then Trinity Beach is a good option.
There are quite a few places to stay in Trinity Beach including several beachside apartments – Roydon Beachfront Apartments always comes highly recommended.
You can also rent houses if you’re travelling as a group.
6. kewarra beach
Kewarra Beach is a beautiful Cairns beach at the end of a bay with a long sweeping curve of beach that includes Clifton Beach and Palm Cove. It is quiet and often deserted.
Apart from the Kewarra Beach Resort, this suburb is largely residential, with some very plush beachfront properties.
7. clifton beach
Clifton Beach is a fairly large residential suburb with a few self-contained holiday apartments.
However. if you stay here you will definitely need a car because the closest shopping centre is back on the highway and there aren’t any restaurants.
One of the benefits of it being so residential is the relative lack of tourists so it’s nice and quiet, while being reasonably close to the action in Palm Cove.
Clifton Beach is long, wide and very beautiful beach with plenty of trees for shade. The walk along the beachfront is all shaded too so it makes for an enjoyable walk with the dog.
8. palm cove (27 kms north of cairns)
One of Australia’s foremost wedding destinations, the village of Palm Cove is chic and upmarket with several 4-5 star hotels and good restaurants.
The huge majestic Melaleuca trees (Paperbark Gums) are part of the attraction of Palm Cove. They add a picturesque feature and some much needed shade all along the esplanade.
These trees are protected so all the resorts have to build around them which sometimes makes for some interesting shapes for swimming pools!
9. buchans point
As you drive further north from Palm Cove you will pass a small beach at Buchans Point – this is the only nudist beach in Cairns and also popular with gay tourists.
It’s very easy to miss it so keep an eye out for it as you come round the bend from Palm Cove.
Pull over when you see the first car parking area.
10. ellis beach (28 kms north of cairns)
Then, a little further along you’ll come to the last of the Cairns northern beaches, Ellis Beach Qld.
There is very little here apart from a Surf Life Saving Club, Boat Club, campground and the Ellis Beach oceanfront cabins. It’s very popular with locals because it’s so quiet.
travel nq fast facts:
- Always swim between the flags on Cairns beaches and swim within the stinger nets during October-May
- North Queensland is crocodile country so avoid swimming in estuaries