346km (215 miles) N of Townsville; 1,807km (1,120 miles) N of Brisbane
This part of Queensland is the only place in the world where two World Heritage-listed sites -- the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest -- lie side by side. In parts of the far north, the rainforest touches the Reef, reaching right down to sandy beaches from which you can snorkel the Reef. Cairns is the gateway to these natural attractions, as well as man-made tourist destinations such as the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. It's also a stepping stone to islands of the Great Barrier Reef and the grasslands of the Gulf Savannah.
When international tourism to the Great Barrier Reef boomed a decade or two ago, the small sugar-farming town of Cairns boomed along with it. The town now boasts outstanding hotels, offshore island resorts, big Reef-cruise catamarans in the harbor, and too many souvenir shops. The only beach right in town is a man-made 4,000-sq.-m (43,000-sq.-ft.) saltwater lagoon and artificial beach on the Esplanade, which opened in early 2003 as part of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the city and port.
The 110-million-year-old rainforest, the Daintree, where plants that are fossils elsewhere in the world exist in living color, is just a couple of hours north of Cairns. The Daintree is part of the Wet Tropics, a World Heritage-listed area that stretches from north of Townsville to south of Cooktown, beyond Cairns, and houses half of Australia's animal and plant species.
If you are spending more than a day or two in the area, consider basing yourself on the city's pretty northern beaches, in Kuranda, or in Port DouglasFind: . Although prices will be higher in the peak season (Australian winter and early spring, July-Oct), affordable accommodations are available year-round.