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  • M. Jennings

Travel Guide: Down Under With The Great Barrier Reef - Cairns, Australia

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Please note all photos in this post were taken by me...if used, credit Kita the Explorer!

Hey Explorers! As you may know, I recently traveled to Australia and one of my first stops was in Alice Springs. After leaving Alice Springs, I took my adventure to Cairns (pronounced Cans), Australia! Cairns is most familiar with seeing and exploring the Great Barrier Reef - something that was on my bucket list! Today, I am going to tell you all about my exploration in Cairns discussing activities, accommodations, costs, and lessons learned. I will also provide some additional activities I was unable to do as I had to work remotely for a half day (major sad face).

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Things To Do

Kita the Explorer Looking out to see waiting for the next reef stop

Tour the Great Barrier Reef with Down Under Dives: This was an all day tour where I went snorkeling (or you could go diving or take a helicopter ride) to see the Great Barrier Reef. As I was staying further out, I arranged with Down Under Dives to transport me to and from my resort for an additional fee. So my day started a little early at 6:50AM as I was the first pickup. Once arrived at the dock, you check in at a desk to receive your assigned number and inform you of the boat's location. When I arrived at the boat, one of the workers walked me to a seat, explained that the number equals your cubbie number to store your snorkel gear, and you sign off on a waiver. Before we got started, another worker walked around explaining the waves were at 20 knots that day and they were selling motion sickness pills just in case. They were only $2 AUD and it was really important as a lot of people ended up with motion sickness. The reef was about an 1.5 hour ride out in outstanding weather. The first stop was at Saxon Reef and the second stop was at North Hastings Reef which were both magnificent! Here are some of the amenities aboard the boat:

  • Multiple bathrooms (a wet and dry bathroom)

  • A place to buy snacks

  • Buffet lunch

  • Multiple levels to sit and relax (inside and outside)

  • Snorkeling equipment is provided (fins and snorkel mask - I'm not sure about the diving gear but I believe it is)

  • Safety briefing

  • Noodles, wet suits, and safety vests provided per request

  • Ability to purchase cameras and/or a personal guide

  • Ability to ask questions about the ecosystem

  • And they are concerned about the health and safety of the reef!

If you want to see the reef, this is great way to go! Check them out!

Visit Kuranda: This and the next two things I was not able to see as I had to work remotely...womp womp womp! But I heard from my friend Will from high school these are a must! You can combine this and the next two things into one trip!

As for Kuranda...Kuranda holds Australia's rainforest! Per their website, it is a village in the rainforest! You can shop at markets, walk the rainforest, enjoy bird watching, feed kangaroos and wallabies, etc. Check out more details about Kuranda here:!

Scenic Train Ride: This is a great way to get to Kuranda. Will spoke so highly of this that I'm completely upset I did not make it onto this train! On the train you will get fabulous views of the rainforest. The train ride is a little under 2 hours from the Cairns station. The train only has specific times of departure, so be sure to plan ahead for your trip! Learn more about the train ride here:!

Skyrail: Another great way to get to and from Kuranda is the Skyrail! It operates from 9:00AM to 5:15PM daily. I did see the Skyrail while I was there and it looks like it had amazing views as you glide above the rainforest. Be sure to plan ahead on their website here:!


For my time in the Cairns area, I stayed at the Paradise Palms Resort which is located in one of the Northern Beaches of Cairns. I was lucky to book this resort through a Cyber Monday deal with Priceline. Here are the pros and cons of staying at this resort:


Picture of the private pool at the Paradise Palms Resort by Kita the Explorer
  • There is a golf course on site, for those interested.

  • The have a restaurant on site with a pretty extensive menu with indoor and outdoor seating.

  • They have three types of rooms you can rent. I stayed in the resort room but they also have 1 and 2 bedroom apartments with a kitchen. Those look really nice and are great when you have a family or multiple friends with you.

  • The resort has two for the public and one private for the guests.

  • There is a playground available for children.

  • The resort also can provide you options for different tours and you can even book tours through them.


  • You can only access wifi in the lobby! Mind you I had to work remotely soooo Internet was critical here! I sat in the lobby for an hour before trying to speak to the receptionist again about the need of Internet. Eventually she was like ooo you have a computer and gives me an Ethernet cord. The first cord I received had a glitch in it and the Internet would go in and out. She blamed it on my computer being "American" but in all actuality it was the cord.

  • I had ants in my bathroom.

  • The reception closes at night, so if you have an issue be sure to get an emergency number from them as that was not provided to me.

  • While I was there, the restaurant was open but there was a sign posted that the restaurant is closed at certain points of the week. This is an issue when there isn't anything near the resort and you don't have a car...oh and the reception is closed.

  • The gates going back to my hotel room from the restaurant closes at 9pm. And the signage to get to back to the room was great until it told you to go to the parking lot. Not being from the area made me feel very uncomfortable walking around outside at night trying to figure out how to get back. I eventually found the parking garage I could enter to get back to my room. (Side note: anyone can enter the resort from the parking I don't understand the other security purposes I just went through).

How Much I Spent

Flights: I flew to Cairns (CNS) from Alice Springs (ASP) on Qantas and left Cairns for Sydney (SYD) on Virgin Australia. The total price for me was $299 USD! The flight leaving Cairns was $0 USD for me as I used Chase reward points. I booked the flight to Cairns through SmartFares.

Baggage Fees: Both airlines had a $0 USD baggage allowance for the first checked bag.

Photo of the reef above water by Kita the Explorer

Stay Accommodations: I stayed at the Paradise Palms Resort (as mentioned above) for a total of $160 USD.

Tours: My Great Barrier Reef excursion cost me $127 USD in which this included the snorkeling gear and buffet lunch! Oh and of course the boat ride to the reef!

Souvenirs: I did buy a few souvenirs in Cairns for $27 USD.

Airport Transports: I used Sun Transport to get me to and from the airport. This cost me a total of $39 USD.

Food: I had to buy dinner twice at the resort and I don't believe I bought any other meal. This cost me $52 USD.

Miscellaneous: I also bought motion sickness pills on the boat for $1.50 USD.

Total amount spent for my Cairns excursion was $706 USD! This wasn't as expensive as my Alice Springs excursion but it was still quite costly. As mentioned in my Alice Springs Guide, flights to and from there are quite costly. So if looking to venture to The Outback be prepared to be hit with costly flights.

Lessons Learned

  • Sun Transport is the company I used for transit to and from the airport. They had me worried as they originally said they would pick me up from the airport at 4:30PM even though my flight landed at 2:20PM. Their shuttles run every two hours. Luckily my flight got in a few minutes early from Alice Springs and I was able to catch the 2:30PM shuttle. **Please note: you must call 24 hours in advance to confirm your arrival and departure times.**

  • Stay in Cairns to reach the dock easier for the Great Barrier Reef or stay out in Port Douglas.

  • Add an additional day to the agenda to be able to experience the Kuranda rainforest.

  • If you would like to stay in the Northern Beaches, Paradise Palms wouldn't be my first choice.

Have you ever went to the Great Barrier Reef? How did you like it? Comment any of your thoughts and questions below!

Would you like my EXACT Australian itinerary which includes this and other cities? If so, download a copy for ONLY $1.00 today from my site! Check it out here:!

If you would like for me to help you create a more personalized Australian itinerary, please visit here:!

Watch my excursion to The Great Barrier Reef below!

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Thank you for reading!

- Kita the Explorer


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