With year-round sunshine, luscious produce and refreshingly laid-back vibes, the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region already has some pretty alluring drawcards. But this magical spot in Tropical North Queensland also has two of the most impressive natural attractions in the world up its sleeve, being the only spot where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet; namely, the mighty Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Wet Tropics Rainforest.
The ways in which you can explore and immerse yourself in these must-be-seen-to-be-believed marvels are epic in scope. So whether you base yourself in the centre of Cairns, or nearby Palm Cove or Port Douglas, here's a must-do list to help you plan the ultimate Aussie adventure.
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest in the world, measuring a staggering 2300 kilometres in length and 72 kilometres across at its widest point. The best way to understand the extent of this natural phenomena? Make like a rock star and charter a private helicopter. Nautilus Aviation will whisk you away from Cairns or Port Douglas for a unique birdseye view of this incredible feat of nature, before setting you down on an exclusive sand cay in the heart of the reef, where you can dip your toes in aqua waters for a spot of snorkelling, and then indulge in a gourmet hamper while relaxing on white sand that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Take to the seas
Ocean lovers will, of course, be in seventh heaven on a visit to the Great Barrier Reef and absolutely spoilt for choice with the region's premium waterbound operators. Step aboard a luxury sailing vessel with Sailaway Cruises, and sit back for first-class service while gliding towards the magnificent coral cays of Mackay Reef, where you can snorkel among the fringing coral reef. Head further with Quicksilver Group's Silversonic cruises to visit three incredible snorkel sites; witness spectacular coral formations and underwater gardens awash with vibrantly coloured marine creatures. An experience not easily forgotten.
Dive into it
It's time to take the plunge; learn how to scuba dive at Great Barrier Reef and you'll have the opportunity for unparalled access to all the underwater action. Of course, once you know how to do it, one day on the reef will never be enough. Luckily, there's the option for a liveaboard scuba dive trip where professionals will escort you to locations all selected for their extravagance of marine life and excellent visibility. Experiencing what rush hour traffic is like on the largest reef in the world is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Divers won't want to miss the opportunity either to get among the world's largest green turtle population. Right near the tip of Queensland lies Raine Island, where Mike Ball Dive Expeditions can introduce you to some delightfully cute turtle friends in the remote and rarely visited surrounding reef. Every year up to 100,000 green turtles lay their eggs in the sands on the uninhabited island.
Have a whale of a time
There's something special about seeing whales in the wild, so to have an encounter that is one of the most exclusive in the world is truly a spine-tingling moment. Every year during June and July dwarf minke whales frolic in the warm waters of Ribbon Reefs and the lucky few who book a liveaboard expedition may have the honour of coming face-to-face with these majestic giants, made all the more spectacular for the fact it is the only place in the world where you can do so. And giants they are; don't be fooled by the "dwarf" in their name, these beauties can weigh in at six tonnes and grow up to eight metres in length – that's nearly the length of a double decker bus.
WET TROPICS RAINFOREST
A river runs through it
Head into the ancient Daintree rainforest with Backcountry Bliss Adventures and you'll soon come across the cool, crystal clear meandering waters of the Mossman River. Find out what's beneath the surface with a snorkel tour and maybe you'll even encounter an elusive platypus along the way. Then you can lie back and soak up the serenity aboard your own river sled, watching the lush green canopy glide by at the kind of pace that allows you to inhale and exhale, fully, deeply.
There's magic in the Daintree Rainforest; learning of its cultural and historical significance from a local Indigenous guide is a meaningful way to contextualize the powerful feelings this place invokes. A Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk at the Mossman Gorge Centre lets the forest come alive through ancient stories and legends, as you're guided along private, gentle tracks, visiting special places and culturally significant sites, past traditional bark shelters and over winding rainforest streams.
Cruise through time
You'll be forgiven for wondering if you've slipped back through centuries of time on a tour of the Daintree Rainforest's Daintree River. This spectacular eco-system is home to rare wildlife and the world's most densely populated mangrove estuaries, where you'll likely spot prehistoric-looking saltwater crocodiles and a plethora of exotic bird life. At Cooper Creek sits the juncture of the region's two World Heritage sites; the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Yet another breathtaking spot to witness the world's oldest rainforest and its extraordinary biodiversity, seemingly untouched by modern life.
The perfect paddle
Waters steeped in turquoise palettes and rocks rippled with history; prepare to be amazed at the ancient geological landform of Cobbold Gorge. Unique for its narrow sandstone formations and jaw-dropping 30-foot cliffs, you'll want to take your time absorbing the scene with a gentle stand-up paddle board trip. On the Gorge Tour you'll also encounter Australia's first fully glass bridge – a gaspworthy experience which spans a 13-metre gap and looks down on a 19-metre drop to the cool, spring-fed waters below.
Secluded island style
If you've ever fancied having an luxury island idyll all to yourself, your dreams can come true. For AU$6800 a night, Haggerstone Island can be all yours. The beauty of the reef is yours to explore and each day three gourmet meals will fuel your excursions. Head out aboard a 45-foot jet boat, or take advantage of all the gear you'll ever need for every water fantasy imagineable: fishing, kayaking, snorkelling, spearfishing, wakeboarding and jet skiing. It's the opportunity of a lifetime to take a sneak peek into an exclusive lifestyle, at one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.
Did somebody say road trip? Cairns delivers again. Great Barrier Reef Drive is arguably one of Australia's best. Journey from Cairns to Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation along a remarkable piece of coastline that hugs both the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. Or, ignore the song, and definitely go chasing waterfalls: the Waterfall Circuit Drive delivers some of the best, including Millaa Millaa, surrounded by lush rainforest cascading into a pristine waterhole where you can enjoy a swim, Nandroya, with its awesome views from the top, and Josephine Falls, fed by rains falling on Queensland's highest park, Bartle Frere, which looms above. Take the time to stop for a refreshing dip at Babinda Boulders and marvel at the giant Curtain Fig Tree near Yungaburra.
If you want to completely spoil yourself, there are luxury accommodations in the Cairns and Great Barrier region that are destinations unto themselves, places so indulgent you could easily spend all your time at them were it not for all the incredibleness right on their doorstep. Daintree Eco Lodge is a stay right in the midst of the rainforest; Mount Mulligan Lodge is a luxury glimpse at country life in the Queensland Outback, Lizard Island Resort is tucked away on a secluded island one hour from Cairns; and Bedarra Island Resort offers the ultimate in barefoot luxury, comprised of just 10 private villas hidden among 45 hectares of tropical rainforest.