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Any activity involving water is always a hot favourite in the humid summer months in Cairns. And, while a trip to the Great Barrier Reef is always a top priority, there are lots of other options for cooling off. 

Cairns is a coastal town and promoted as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef so not surprisingly there is a plethora of activities on offer that allow you to enjoy and explore the reef, islands and beaches of Far North Queensland.

However, when it comes to the summer most of the locals head off to the beautiful waterfalls, creek and freshwater swim holes.

Here’s our list of 50 favourite water-based activities in Cairns:

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]islands & reef[/headline]

Green Island Queensland

1. Green Island – Green Island is only 45 minutes by boat from Cairns and a great destination for a variety of water-based activities including snorkeling, scuba diving, seawalking, glass-bottomed boat tours or semi-sub tours of the coral reef surrounding the island.

2. Fitzroy Island – Fitzroy Island is bigger than Green Island and there are lots more things to do including various watersports and jumping on the ocean trampoline.

3. Low Isles – If you’re staying in Port Douglas a snorkeling daytrip to the Low Isles is a must-do.

4. Frankland Islands – These gorgeous little islands are off the coast of Deeral, south of Cairns. Perfect if you want that Robinson Crusoe experience for the day.

5. Dunk Island – Located off Mission Beach, you can get across to Dunk Island in a water taxi or by kayak if you’re feeling active.

6. Great Barrier Reef – There are literally heaps of trips to choose from depending on your budget, how long you want to go and whether or not you want to learn to scuba dive.

7. Sailing trip to the reef – For something a little bit special why not take a relaxing sailing boat cruise to the reef?

8. Reef Sprinter – For those that prefer to get out to the reef quickly there is also the option of taking a fast boat, but don’t go on a rough day if you’re prone to seasickness

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]lakes, creeks and swimholes[/headline]

picture of lake eacham

9. Lake Eacham – The volcanic lake at Lake Eacham in the Cairns Tablelands is a popular place to swim. There are even steps into the water to make it easy to get in so take a picnic and a few inflatables and dive in for a cool off.

10. Lake Barrine – This is also a beautiful volcanic lake although it is not so well set up for swimming so there aren’t steps to help you climb in.

11. Canyoning at Behana Gorge – This is one of the local’s favourite spots for a hot summertime dip. You can go on your own, it is about a 40 minute walk from the car park, or take a canyoning daytrip with Behana Days

12. Crystal Cascades – This is probably the best known freshwater swimhole in Cairns. You can also do a canyoning tour here too.

13. River kayakingIngan Tours do fantastic kayaking daytrips down Bulgan Creek in Tully

14. White Water Rafting – There are several rafting tours available in FNQ including a daytrip on the Tully River or shorter daytrips and half day trips on the Barron River in Cairns. If you haven’t done it before, it is highly recommended as an exhilarating way to enjoy the rivers of the Wet Tropics.

15. Rapid Boarding – Another way to enjoy the Tully River river is to try Rapid Boarding, a relatively new activity that involves being in the water.

16. Babinda Boulders – This is a beautiful spot south of Cairns where you can enjoy swimming

17. Mossman RiverStand-up paddle boarding down the Mossman River is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend a day

18. River tubing Either grab your own inflatables and head down to a creek or join a tour on the Mulgrave River

19. Copperlode Dam – Stand Up Paddle Boards and kayaks are available for rent at this beautiful dam up behind Cairns

20. Waterfalls circuit – Exploring the many waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands is a daytrip all in itself and many have areas where you can swim

21. Drift snorkeling – For something a little bit different, Backcountry Bliss offer drift snorkeling along the Mossman River

22. Rock sliding – Probably the best places for sliding through rock pools are Josephine Falls, Crystal Cascades and Behana Gorge.

23. Swimming holes – There are lots of freshwater swimholes throughout the Wet Tropics area where you can swim in clear refreshing water and enjoy the rainforest around you.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]boat cruises & on-water fun[/headline]

cairns bad fishy jet boating

24. Jet boatingBad Fishy runs fast and furious boat rides up Trinity Inlet. A great way to blow the cobwebs away.

25. Sea Kayaking – There are a few different places where you can take sea kayaking tours. There’s one that goes out to Snapper Island off Cape Kimberley, another one operates from Mission Beach or you can go over to Double Island from Palm Cove.

26. Barron River Boat Cruise – A fairly short, very affordable and enjoyable way to enjoy the natural surrounds of Kuranda

27. Mareeba Wetlands – Up on the Tablelands near Mareeba, this is a birdwatchers paradise and you can take boat cruises. Best time of day is sunrise or sunset.

28. Cairns Sunset Harbour Cruise – This is a wonderful short cruise down Trinity Inlet in Cairns that you can do before going out for dinner

29. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures – Why not make your boat cruise extra interesting by having a croc jump at you?!

30. Sailing – Big Mama do a sailing trip to the reef from Mission Beach

31. Croc spotting cruises – There are two operators in the Daintree area, Solar Whispers and Cape Tribulation Crocodile Tours.

32. Lake Barrine – This is a popular spot to stop for Devonshire Tea but there’s also a walking track around the lake and a boat cruise you can take.

33. Lady Douglas – This old paddle steamer goes along Dickson Inlet from Port Douglas marina and it a wonderful way to view the mangroves

34. Cairns Harbour Cruise – Trinity Inlet is a huge mangrove area behind Cairns that is rarely explored by anybody other than fishers but it’s beautiful and worth seeing on this boat cruise.

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]water attractions and beach activities[/headline]

stand up paddle boading mossman river daintree rainforest

35. Cairns Cable Ski Park – Learn to kneeboard, wakeboard or waterski

36. Esplanade Lagoon – Enjoy the free facilities at the Esplanade Lagoon

37. Jet skiing – There are a few different places where you can go jet skiing including down Trinity Inlet, Palm Cove and Port Douglas

38. Sugarworld Water Park – A popular day out for local kids in Edmonton. It’s not the Gold Coast but it still has some fun water slides.

39. Sea kayaking – If you just want to have a go at sea kayaking off the beach without joining a tour there are a few places where you can so this including Fitzroy Island and Palm Cove.

40. Kite Surfing – There are kite surfing schools in Palm Cove, Yorkey’s Knob and Port Douglas.

41. Stand Up Paddle Boarding – SUP’s are available to rent off a few beaches and also at Copperlode Dam. If you want to join a tour check out Windswell’s tour’s. 

42. Wave Riding – The Tobruk Swimming Centre has a wave rider for those who are missing the surf down south.

43. Riding in an Army Duck at Rainforestation – One of the activities available at this attraction just outside Kuranda involves driving around the rainforest in an Army Duck, which can also move through water.

44. Flyboarding – An activity that probably more suited to extreme adventure enthusiasts who’ve already been dipped into the water at AJ Hackett.

45. Muddy’s Playground – If you’ve got young kids they will not want to leave the water fountains at Muddy’s Playground

46. Seabob – These underwater jets are great fun for whizzing around above and below the water. They are available to rent at Fitzroy Island.

47. Cairns Bumper Tube ride – NQ Watersports offer 4-person rides in a bumper tube, which is great if you’re looking for a fun family activity. They also do parasailing.

48. Spearfishing – There are a number of companies offering spearfishing charters out of Cairns.

49. Aboriginal Spearfishing – If you want to learn how to do spearfishing the cultural way, there are a couple of tour operators offering this as an activity

50. Lazing on the beach – There are plenty of beaches to choose from in FNQ but be aware of crocs and stinger season

[headline size=”small” align=”left”]travel nq fast facts:[/headline]

  • Additional water activities in Cairns are available on the main tourist beaches
  • Be croc-wise – always avoid swimming in estuaries (freshwater swimholes are generally safe but if you’re not sure ask a local)
  • Stinger season in North Queensland is Oct-April/May – wear stinger suits if swimming on beaches during these months or swim inside the nets