Cairns has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time and is now one of the most popular travel destinations in Far North Queensland. Here we discuss the best time to pay a visit to this popular location.
It seems that year by year, what was once a little, isolated town up in Australia’s tropical north has grown to become one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in the country.
All it takes is a short visit to the region to understand why – Cairns offers an absolute smorgasbord of things to see and do, with a riches of natural attractions and beautiful scenery to explore in almost every direction.
The most obvious of these is the unmissable natural wonder, and only living organism visible from outer space, the Great Barrier Reef. With an incredible range of things to see and do, the reef alone is more than enough to justify a trip to Cairns. Looking inland and the impressive ecosystem of the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation also beckons, providing one of the most diverse natural environments to explore within easy reach of a major tourist hub.
Cairns itself also offers a reasonable amount of things to see and do. The city features a vibrant, energetic nightlife, multiple levels of accommodation facilities ranging from budget backpackers up to 5-star resorts, and plenty of great local eateries to grab a bite to eat.
Cairns’ tropical climate, in particular, makes it a favourite destination of those looking to escape to warmer weather either from colder states down south or for those travelling from the northern hemisphere. Although it sees heavy rainfall at times, there are certain times of the year where you’ll be able to experience consistently blue skies and comfortable temperatures.
You’ll likely want to time your trip to coincide with these periods as best as possible, given that the vast majority of entertainment in Cairns is outdoor-focused, making travelling with enjoyable weather a high priority.
So when, exactly, is the best time to visit Cairns? We asked regional tourism organisations and travel operators who helped us come up with August as the best time of year to visit Cairns. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what makes August a great time to visit.
A brief summary of this article:
- August dubbed the best time of year to visit Cairns
- Average temperatures during this period: Max – 26.5°C (79.7°F), Min – 17.4°C (63.3°F)
- Travel in this period means avoiding school holidays
- Essential spots to visit while you’re there: Green Island, Mossman Gorge, the Outer Reef, Fitzroy Island, Daintree Rainforest, Kuranda (via Skyrail)
Why Cairns in August?
As mentioned above, Cairns shines in August for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most obvious of which is the weather. While it’s technically in the peak of winter, this season is drastically different in Australia’s tropical north.
Temperatures are almost universally comfortably warm, with only the occasional cool night coming close to what anyone would likely consider cold.
Daily average maximum temperatures in Cairns during August typically hover around the 26.5°C (79.7°F), making it an exceedingly popular destination for those from southern states looking to escape the winter chill.
Couple the warm weather with a lower humidity level and the lowest amount of rainfall in any month of the year, and you have yourself a far greater chance of sunny days on which the majority of things to do in Cairns are so reliant.
These weather factors don’t come without negatives, however, as it’s the coolest time of the year, many will find that water temperatures are too low for swimming or snorkelling without a wetsuit unless you’ve got a high tolerance for cool water conditions. Fortunately, most tour companies will provide wetsuits as part of their package upon request and there are numerous facilities in and around Cairns and the surrounding islands that offer wetsuit hire.
August also brings with it the added benefit of falling outside Australia’s school holiday season, meaning that while prices may still be fairly high given the area’s popularity during this time, you won’t have to contend with an extra factor that can make booking accommodation otherwise more difficult.
Along the same theme, August generally also avoids the bulk of the overseas peak season which typically occurs around June and July. It’s a good thing the weather is pristine during this time too, as there’s a tonne to do once you’re in Cairns.
After settling in most people turn their eyes towards the Great Barrier Reef, and with good cause as the range of stunning islands, wildlife-rich coral cays and prime diving and snorkelling sites located close by are alluring. Your initial choice will most likely come down to choosing between visiting one of the nearby islands or making the greater trek out to the Outer Great Barrier Reef.
Generally speaking, the islands make for a better target for those operating on a limited schedule or who are prone to seasickness. On the other hand, the Outer Reef is perhaps the ideal vision of the reef that most people will have, however, it requires a little extra effort and investment of time and money.
In terms of islands to explore near Cairns, two of the most popular and easily accessible are Green Island and Fitzroy Island. Both lie just off the coast of Cairns yet still offer spectacular reef experiences.
Your choice between these two islands will also come down to what you’re looking for from an island environment. Green Island tends to be more touristy, which can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes while Fitzroy Island is more of a destination of preference for the locals.
Green Island can be reached from Cairns within around 45 minutes to an hour and offers a number of great snorkelling opportunities in its surrounding waters. This ability to snorkel almost directly off the beach is a major benefit of choosing Green Island for your trip.
If you’re not much of a swimmer, glass bottom boat tours are also popular as they allow you to get a glimpse of the marine life below while staying dry.
In addition, one of the most popular activities on Green Island is its Seawalker diving experience that allows you to walk directly on the sea floor, taking in all the marine life without having to either be a strong swimmer. It’s suitable for kids as well, so if you’re travelling as a family it can be a highly enjoyable way to enjoy the crystal-clear waters and colourful marine life of the reef.
There are various facilities such as pools and underwater viewing areas to enjoy, while the simple act of relaxing on its pristine beaches and soaking in the sunshine can be entertainment enough in itself.
Fitzroy Island, on the other hand, is a destination focused a little more towards relaxation as opposed to the active side of things, although there are plenty of activities to take part in if you’re seeking them.
According to Tim Moloney of Fitzroy Island Resort, its Western-facing Bay makes Fitzroy “the ideal reef destination even in poorer weather – this is something Green Island cannot offer due to its lack of mountainous land formations”, which is undoubtedly an asset in the cooler months of the year such as August.
Fitzroy Island also has its own turtle rehabilitation centre with daily educational tours and talks for the public, so if you’re interested in gaining some extra insight to these gentle and graceful marine inhabitants, it’s a great place to do so.
Crowding on Fitzroy Island tends to be less common than at some of the busier destinations in the area, so if you’re looking for slightly more seclusion then it may be the location of choice to suit you.
Looking inland away from the water, you’ll most likely want to visit Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest. As one of the largest rainforests, the Daintree has plenty to offer for those who appreciate the greener side of things, and the trip to Mossman Gorge contained within is widely acclaimed as one of the most beautiful and relaxing on offer in Tropical North QLD.
The gorge and its clear fresh water is a sight to behold, and the lushness of the rainforest adds to the atmosphere. While the water is swimmable at other times throughout the year, you’ll likely want to miss taking a dip in August as the water is quite cold and can be dangerous as a result of recent rainfall.
The Mossman Gorge area also features a walking circuit that takes you into the heart of the rainforest, with plenty of side paths that allow you to get up close with any plant life or other points of interest that may take your fancy. The main walk stretches for around 2km and can be slippery at times so be sure to bring proper walking shoes with you.
A Daintree River cruise is a popular experience for visitors, as winding your way through the heart of the rainforest is quite enjoyable. The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is another popular experience that rises over the rainforest to provide impressive views stretching out as far as the eye can see.
Add all these factors and travel options together and it’s not hard to see why most in the know feel that August is the best time of year to visit Cairns.
Can I experience Cairns in one weekend?
You can, but you won’t see all of the region’s best attractions. You’d be much better advised to take at least one extra day off and turn it into a long weekend. However, if you’re limited to two days, it’s advised you split your itinerary into two parts, reef and rainforest.
If you’re pressed for time, this is the case where you will likely want to book a few tours to ensure you get the most out of your journey. The majority of tour operators understand that many who visit are short on time and have designed compact and informative itineraries in order to help maximise this.
Numerous packages are available that provide reasonable discounts on experiences. Bear in mind, however, that if you go this route you’ll likely have little down time to simply relax and enjoy Cairns and its offerings other than at night.
In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around Cairns including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!