Cairns is a popular jumping off point to explore the Great Barrier Reef. There are many free things to do in Cairns, we’ll even give you some tips on how you can scuba for free.
Since Australia is so expensive, you have to take advantage of “free.” Here is a short list of free adventures I went on while living in Cairns recently. Most of these trips can be done in a day or two.
Visit the Botanic Gardens in Edge Hill
The Botanic Gardens are located in Edge Hill, a leafy, quiet suburb of Cairns. Collins Street, where the Gardens are located, is known as one of the prettiest streets in Cairns. Have a wander in the Botanic Gardens and marvel at all the different exotic flowers. If you can, visit early morning or late afternoon to get the best lighting for photographs and to beat the heat.
Take a stroll on the Esplanade
The Esplanade is one of the nicest I’ve seen anywhere to relax and unwind in Cairns. Take a walk along the beachfront and admire the contrast between rainforest, mountains and sandy mudflats. There are many bbq areas here (although use of the grills costs a few bucks) so bring some friends and food for a relaxing picnic under a shady tree. There are showers, exercise areas, and a lagoon filled with fresh water so you can take a dip and cool off after all that sunbathing.
Are you into exercise classes? The esplanade is host to a variety of free classes including Beach Volleyball, Pilates, Yoga & Zumba- one night while we were eating dinner we watched over 100 people participate in a Zumba class! Classes are day and night so there is a time that will suit everyone! All you have to do is show up.
Go for a hike up Mount Whitfield
The Mt. Whitfield Conservation Park is located just behind the Botanic Gardens. The entrance is clearly marked on Collins Avenue. Choose from 2 hikes that will leave your heart pumping: The Red Arrow trail, which is a little over 1k and has some steep parts with rewarding views, or the Blue Arrow trail, which is 5.5k and takes about 4-5 hours to complete. Watch out for the snakes and wild turkeys! Pause at the top of your Red Arrow climb and admire the sweeping ocean views.
Take a culinary journey through Rusty’s Markets
Every Friday thru Sunday off of Grafton Street in the heart of downtown visit Rusty’s, a wet market. With over 180 bustling stalls, Rusty’s has extensive displays of exotic fruits and veggies, organic and allergy- free products, and a wide mix of Asian veggies. Visit the cheese stall for some free samples. A particular favorite is the stall that sells local honey and fresh pizza dough. Explore the variety of products and if you can’t help yourself, splurge on a samosa from the a stall in the back next to the coffee shop, which sells Spinach & Cheese or Veggie Samosas. A special treat that usually sells out by noon! *Double splurge- get the refreshing lemon, lime and mint juice made fresh. Try not to gulp it down all at once.
Get a temp job on a reef boat and go diving for free on the Great Barrier Reef
You read that right. We’ve had a few couchsurfers stay with us in Cairns and they’ve done it, so it’s not so much a secret as it is about timing and luck. Head down to your nearest dive shop or the marina and ask for work as a “hostie”- you work a few hours on a boat in exchange for 1-2 dives out on the reef. The work is pretty easy and you get to dive for free! Some dive shops are making hosties buy a $25 t-shirt from the dive company, but $25 bucks for food and a few days of diving sounds like a bargain to me. Make sure to check that out ahead of time.
About guest writer Mica:
Mica has been traveling solo since 2005 and together with her partner Mike since 2007. Together they’ve been living on the road for the last 3 years. Working as a Chef by trade, Mica blogs about food and adventure travel. Obsessions include fried plantains, cameras, cheese, and Pisco. Follow her blog at: Travel This Earth Facebook: TravelThisEarth Twitter: MicaIvealis