Top 10 reasons you can't stay away from Tropical North Queensland
When you're planning a trip to north Queensland, remember that Air New Zealand operates a non-stop seasonal service from Auckland to Cairns between April and October.
With its gorgeous tropical climate and huge range of attractions, it's easy to see why so many Kiwis just can't stay away from this handy part of the world.
1. Cool off at Cardwell Spa Pool
A couple of hours south of Cairns by car, the Cardwell Forest Drive leads to an exceptional blue natural pool made famous on social media. One of several sightseeing attractions on the drive, the best time to visit is from May to September. There are no facilities here, just a perfect pool in the wild.
2. Find an island
Just off the Cairns coast, Green Island and Fitzroy Island are two of the most popular Great Barrier Reef islands and easily accessible as a day trip. Grab a snorkel and dive right in with sheltered snorkelling right off the beach. For the ultimate in pristine islands, Lizard Island is a spectacular haven of seclusion and relaxation. Stay at the ultra-luxe Lizard Island Resort with its 24 private beaches, plus direct access to some of the Great Barrier Reef's most epic snorkelling and diving sites.
3. Take a trip to the Tablelands
Inland from Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands is an area where the locals go to picnic, camp, swim and bushwalk. You'll find waterfalls, volcanic lakes, rock wallabies, wetlands, historic villages and maybe even a platypus or two. Plan your day around a tasty lunch at Lake Barrine, Mareeba or Yungaburra. You can also glide meters above the rainforest canopy on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway up to the Tablelands town of Kuranda.
4. Explore Paronella Park
Created in 1935 and listed as a National Trust treasure, Paronella Park is a place to let your imagination run wild. Staged within 13 acres of lush rainforest, it has meandering walkways that lead to bridges and mossy staircases, ponds and secret gardens, rustic structures, waterfalls and the ruins of a Spanish castle.
5. Peel a prawn at the marina
For a Cairns seafood restaurant with a difference, leave dry land and get on board Prawn Star at the marina. Open every day of the week, this re-purposed fishing trawler is an inspired spot for a seafood platter. Prawn Star's reviews are reliably five star.
6. Escape to Vlassof Cay
A pristine desert island paradise on the Outer Barrier Reef, Vlassof Cay is made of the purest white sand and framed by a clear turquoise lagoon. A little further out there are areas of coral for snorkelling. You can reach this exquisite sandbar by helicopter.
7. Shop at Rusty's Markets
Visiting Rusty's Markets is one of the best things to do in Cairns. Born in the flower power days of 1975, this famous hawker-style market runs from Friday to Sunday. With close to 200 stalls, it's easy to pick up essential provisions for your Tropical North Queensland holiday - tropical fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, seafood and chocolate. You'll also find tasty street food, including steaming dim sum, Vietnamese iced coffee and fresh drinking coconuts. Rusty's is right in the city, a couple of blocks back from the southeast end of Grafton and Sheridan Streets.
8. Experience the Daintree
Step way, way back in time on a guided walk through the world's oldest continually-surviving rainforest. At the Mossman Gorge Centre you can book one of the award-winning Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks with the Kuku Yalanji people, the gorge's original owners. It's an experience that will stay with you forever. And so will the flavour of an ice cream from the Daintree Ice Cream Company, an hour's drive to the north. These frozen delights are made with delicious tropical fruit grown in the company's own orchard.
9. Chill out at the Babinda Boulders
Just an hour south of Cairns you can stretch out on giant boulders set in an emerald green river surrounded by towering rainforest. If you fancy a cool freshwater swim in the arms of nature, this spot has it all. It's clean, green and totally serene. Look for the designated swimming spots to avoid potentially dangerous currents. If you don't have a car, you can book one of the rainforest tours to this area.
10. Visit the Great Barrier Reef
There are many ways to explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef including options that don't involve getting wet. The Ribbon Reefs is a top snorkelling and diving spot only a 1.5 hour cruise from Port Douglas. The reefs are known for shallow lagoons, huge potato cod and clear, deep drop-offs. In June and July you might even get to swim with dwarf minke whales. Family-friendly cruises from Port Douglas head to enormous moored pontoons with easy snorkelling platforms, as well as semi-submersibles, glass bottom boats and underwater observatories. There's even a guided snorkel tour with marine biologists. Other pontoon operators offer overnight stays, so you can linger-longer to experience the star-filled night sky. If boats aren't your thing, check out a helicopter tour from Cairns or Port Douglas for spectacular reef views and the chance to picnic on an isolated coral cay.