The Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

While Australia is a world of countless awe-inspiring natural wonders, the famous Great Barrier Reef is something that takes beauty and awe to a whole new level. And while there are plenty of places to soak up this artistic craft of nature, Cairns is one of the most popular destinations. Of course, there are other beautiful places to discover this natural leviathan. One of them is Port Douglas, 41 miles from Cairns to the north sides – an attractive, laid-back small town – and which has beautiful, pristine beaches with stunning views stretching to the horizon.


Then there are the Whitsundays, numerous islands and a dozen other places located on the 2,300 kilometers of the largest reef system on the planet. However, few places can rival Cairns, the traditional gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Here is a travel guide that will make your trip to Cairns a breeze.

How to get to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef

First, it would be good to map the location of Cairns. The city of Cairns is in the state of Queensland, one of the six Australian states and the second after Western Australia. While the capital of Australia is Canberra, an independent enclave within the state of New South Wales, the capital of Queensland is Brisbane. More than 80% of Queenslanders live in the towns and villages that line the coastal strip east of the Sunshine State. The rest are spread over an incredibly vast outback dotted with spectacular scenery that is equally incredibly attractive. Cairns itself is a beautiful, sprawling city, 863 miles from Brisbane, and about 1,500 miles from Sydney, Australia’s most famous and populous city. The city of Cairns is located on a peninsula between a towering mountain range to the west and the endless blue of the Coral Sea to the east.


Related: Great Barrier Reef: 25 little-known things that will make us want to visit

Cairns’ remote location means one thing: unless someone is highly motivated and has the energy – and of course, the weather, getting to Cairns from one of the major cities is an energy-intensive affair. It will take 27 hours from Sydney and a good 30 hours from Melbourne. While there are plenty of awesome things to see and do in Australia, to meaningfully explore such a vast country will take more than a few days or weeks. Now comes the best and quickest way to get to Cairns: fly direct to Cairns International (CNS), a busy international airport just 10 minutes north of Cairns city. The airport offers domestic flights to all major Australian cities. On the international front, it offers direct flights to Papua New Guinea, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, via Darwin.


Currently, there are no direct flights from the United States or Europe to Cairns. If traveling from London, Singapore Airlines seems like a good option as there is only one stopover. Of course, there are direct flights from the United States to Cairns but with one or more stopovers. Those planning to travel should check Skyscanner for some of the cheapest flight deals. And while one can take a chance on a $478 flight, the average cost from the US to Cairns is $1,540, according to popular flight search engine Kayak.

Once a person lands at Cairns Airport, they can easily get to the city center using a taxi or carpool. It should be between $18 and $22, or AUD (25-30). Apart from a taxi or carpool, there are also shuttle services that one can use. There are plenty of luxury (and not-so-luxury) accommodations in and around Cairns city. These range from high-end hotels and lodges to budget hostels and campsites. Bookings.com is a perfect site for discovering hotels while Hostelworld.com does it for more affordable hostels. For a beach experience, many gorgeous islands dot the coastline lavishly. The north sides of Cairns are particularly a waterside treasure. Palm Cove, just 15 miles to the north, is a brilliant place on earth. But Cairns city center is still perfect since the central location puts travelers at the heart of all the action. And nearly all Great Barrier Reef tours depart from Cairns Marina located in the city’s central business district.


  • When is the best time to travel to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef: The Great Barrier Reef is not just seen but experienced, and the best time for this is during the dry season which runs from May to October.

Related: 5 reasons why Melbourne is the best city in Australia (and 5 why Sydney is)

Staying in Cairns? Check out these money-saving tips

Here is the truth. Australia is not a cheap destination. According NationMaster, restaurant prices are 27% higher than in the United States. Therefore, you should rarely eat in restaurants. A great option is to head to Woolworths or any other supermarket for a delicious snack, sandwich or other simple meal. And in addition to the Great Barrier Reef, there are a few other free but interesting things to do in the city, such as a visit to the Cairns Art Gallery.


The Great Barrier Reef is one of nature’s most beautiful scriptures. And if Cairns is the gateway, a travel guide should be a close companion.


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