Things To Do In Cairns With Kids

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Our family holiday to Far North Queensland a couple of years ago was our toughest trip to date. Even though we loved the area, I came home exhausted, stressed and angry. The trip was over my birthday, and my parents flew up from Brisbane to spend some time with us. So, what was the reason I had such a terrible time?

I had a two year old.

I am not going to write in this post about how tough it is travelling with a two year old. You can read all about that here. Rather, I will focus on what we did and what there is to see in the area.

Clifton Beach – in the thick of it.

We rented an apartment in Clifton Beach for a week. It was the perfect spot – located across the road from the beach so we could hear the waves break against the shore as we slept. Clifton beach is one of Cairn’s northern suburbs. 25 minutes from the centre of Cairns, 5 minutes from Palm Cove and about half an hour away from Port Douglas. It was the perfect location to explore the greater area. We hired a car for the trip so it was easy to get around.

Our apartment was lovely. When I showed my colleague where we were going (google palm cove images) and showed her the apartment, she promptly booked herself and her family a holiday there as well! It was 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms with an amazing well stocked kitchen and storage cupboard filled with toys and beach toys. It was the perfect place for us to stay and was ideal for more than one family.

A week was definitely not long enough. We like to take our time when we travel, and on this trip my mum and step dad had flown up from Brisbane to spend the week with us, so it was not only about seeing the sights, but also spending time with them.

The Great Barrier Reef

We decided that we had to see the Great Barrier Reef while we were in the area so we did a half day trip to Green Island. There are so many other tour options but as we had our 2 year old daughter with us we felt this was the only option for us. At Green Island Rick could go snorkelling, and Em and I could still see some of the reef on a glass bottom boat. Probably the best thing about Green Island was – we were finally able to have a swim in the ocean!!!! – Crocodiles didn’t seem to be a problem at Green Island. (At least not one that they told us about. K)

 In all honesty I still don’t feel like I can tick the Great Barrier Reef off the list of places to go and see. Travelling with a child in this instance was too restrictive and a half day was not long enough. Rick got to do a bit of snorkelling and we went on a glass bottom boat but it was not an awe inspiring – Oh My God there is another world down there experience (like snorkelling should be). The tour meant we didn’t even have time to relax and enjoy the beach. After we were dropped off by the boat we did our glass bottom boat tour and after that we only had about 45 minutes to play on the beach before we had to return to the boat for the trip back. We did not even have the time to walk around the island – which I would have loved to do.

If we had our time again, and if we were travelling with a small child I would think about staying at the resort on the island or I would skip it altogether and return when my child was old enough to snorkel and/or didn’t need an afternoon sleep. We are still glad we did it though because at the time we didn’t know when we would return and I have the feeling that if we hadn’t have done it we would be worrying that we had missed out on a great experience.

Our Daintree Fail

Another thing that was a must do on my list was a trip out to the Daintree. This was another  fail because we hadn’t done our research. We ended up in the car for most of the day, didn’t see that much and were all a bit grumpy in the end. The only bonus was that Em had a good sleep in the car!

We drove straight through Mossman, up to Daintree village. Had a little look around the town, picked up a couple of tourist brochures and then started the drive to Cape Tribulation, but turned around at the ferry because it was getting late. Later that evening, after a bit more googling, I realised that we should have entered the Daintree through Mossman. So that would be my recommendation to you.

Or we could have done a boat tour in Daintree, but once again we were thwarted by our two year old (I mean, we could have done the tour, but I would have been hanging on to her for dear life, and she would have been wriggling around like crazy trying to get free, and it wasn’t worth the stress).

Port Douglas

The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is spectacular along the coast and is definitely worth doing for the views alone. Port Douglas itself is a lovely little resort town. We stopped there for lunch and found a great spot in a pub overlooking the water. After our lunch we had a little walk down the street and browsed in the shops. I am not usually a big shopper and find I get bored shopping, but the stores were quite interesting and varied and I did enjoy a good hour of browsing.


Cairns itself was a pretty small town. The restaurants along the foreshore looked nice but expensive. We didn’t eat at any of them but we did stop at the ice cream shop one afternoon. The lagoon was Cairn’s main attraction and Em had a great time splashing around in the water. Be aware that they close the Lagoon every Wednesday morning for cleaning so only head over after 12pm on a Wednesday.

Seafood Feast

We were there over my birthday and everyone else suggested going out for dinner. Sometimes it is too stressful eating in restaurants with a small child, and Em always seems to want me. That didn’t sound like a lot of fun for my birthday so I suggested we cook a seafood feast in our lovely apartment and relax at home with a bottle of wine.

We spent a few hours driving around Cairns searching for fresh mud crabs (I really wanted chilli crabs) but they were all already cooked. We went to three fish mongers and ended up with prawns and snapper. My step dad made ‘Coconut Prawns’ and my mum made ‘Grilled Snapper with Caper and Parsley Cream Sauce’. I did some roast vegetables and salad and Rick drank beer and relaxed (Ahem, whose birthday was it again?). The meal was delicious, and we ate it sat out on our balcony surrounded by colourful tropical plants.


My favourite spot for the trip was Kuranda, which is a little town in the rainforest, at the start of the Atherton tablelands. There is a cable car that you can take up to it and a scenic train ride on the way back down. I am sure it has stunning views of the rainforest and the coast but we decided that the $100 tickets were a bit much for our budget on this trip.

We drove to the town instead and we loved having a look around the markets. Rick bought a couple of new shirts and Em asked for everything that she saw. In the end we got her a cute little tye-dyed hippie dress which she looks super cute in. Rick paid a small donation to take Em into the Dinosaur museum which they both enjoyed and we ate a picnic lunch in the park across the road. We also drove out to Barron Gorge and did the short walk to view the waterfall.

Final Thoughts

All in all, we did not have enough time in the area and travelling with a two year old meant that we had to make some sacrifices. This was the hardest trip that we have done as a family. It was difficult to relax while having to watch a toddler the whole time.

I could never fully relax in croc country. Em was still waking us up in the night so I was tired and she always wants me. She was also in the midst of her tantrum stage and there were a couple of doozys. Including Meltdown of the Century because she wanted to put her own seat belt on in the car (and she wanted to take about half an hour to do it – Yeah, I know you all know what I’m talking about).

The plane ride home was also the worst flight of my life but thank god, I laugh about it now when I think back on it.

When we return to FNQ I would like to spend a week in the Daintree and a little more time in Port Douglas. I also think that the Atherton tablelands should be the first road trip, as that is where the majority of Queensland’s produce is grown and produced. I love fresh and local wholefood and I love to cook so I would suggest doing that daytrip on first day so you can stock up on local delicious produce to enjoy for the duration of your stay.

Winter is the best time for a holiday there. Summer is hot and sticky and is also their wet season. I believe summer is also stinger season which makes swimming in the ocean even more dangerous! If you are coming up from the south of the country it provides enough sunshine and heat to get you through the rest of winter.

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