Founded to serve miners during a 19th-century gold rush, Cairns is now the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the largest marine preserve on earth and the only living organism visible from space. This huge coral reef, alive with more than 1,500 species of fish, stretches over 1,400 miles just off the Queensland coast from Cairns. The city is one of the world’s top destinations for snorkeling and scuba diving -- you can also explore the reefs without getting wet from underwater observatories or glass-bottomed boats. Cairns is a busy hub, and at night, after everyone has returned from a day on the reef, the beach-front bars offer lively entertainment.
Look at the online guides to Cairns and you'll note one thing: Every tourist activity is outside. Every one of them. From white water rafting to deep sea diving to exploring the rainforest. Who would want to go inside in a place like this?
Cairns is surrounded on three sides by rainforest and on the fourth by the Coral Sea, and it's the jumping off point to the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest. It is in northern Queensland, the place that dubs itself the Sunshine State. So perhaps the Cairns Web site that declares "Welcome to Paradise" isn't too far off base.
Some details: Much of the natural world surrounding Cairns is dense and diverse. The Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest was set aside as a world heritage area for its scientific and cultural importance and its natural beauty. The hundreds of miles of rainforest contains the most complete and diverse record of plant evolution. It is home to dozens of rare or unique plant and animal species.
The forest has also been home to aboriginals for tens of thousands of years. Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders culture has been captured in part for the tourist trade. You can take in the Aboriginal Dance Theatre, learn how to throw a boomerang or spend days in the forest with an aboriginal guide.