Welcome to the next instalment in a series of articles from Cruise Advice in which we showcase some of the best cruise destinations around the world. Here, we will share some information about where you can cruise if joining a ship from these ports. As well, you’ll find some recommendations on how to spend a few days seeing the sights before heading to the port or after you get back.
Dubbed “the beating heart” of Far North Queensland, Cairns is well established as the capital of the region. It’s quite a unique place – large enough to cater to a strong population but still able to offer that small town feel. One long main street acts as the city’s spine and serves as the main strip from which much of the rest of Cairns branches.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Cairns, with the city providing a multitude of options for exploring both the Great Barrier Reef to the east & the dense, tropical Daintree Rainforest to the north. In fact, over 600 tours operate from the city every day. The laid-back lifestyle exuded by the locals gels with the year-round warm weather, popular sporting events and regular festivals keeping Cairns firmly on Queensland’s tourism radar.
How can I get to Cairns?
Cairns is well served by international, domestic, regional and rural airlines and is the major gateway of Far North Queensland. Direct flights operate daily into the city from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and a wide range of regional centres nearby, while travellers from Adelaide, Perth, Gold Coast and New Zealand can also directly fly into the city, albeit on a slightly less frequent basis.
The regional accessibility of Cairns to rural Queenslanders has opened up the cruising industry to a whole host of towns and centres nearby who no longer have to venture to Brisbane or Sydney to begin their sea holiday.
Visitors from several points in Asia (Hong Kong, Manila and others) can also easily reach Far North Queensland without first having to travel via one of the major capital cities.
Where can I cruise from here?
Despite the year-round warm weather, Cairns doesn’t currently have a cruise market that can sufficiently sustain a year-round presence from one or more of the major mass-market cruise lines. That said, ships regularly base themselves in the city for parts of the year and call in for a visit on other cruise itineraries throughout the year.
While in town, P&O Cruises operates cruises to the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and into Asia from its temporary base in Cairns. In PNG, travellers are whisked off to island destinations including Alotau, Kitava, Kiriwina Island, Rabaul, Gizo Island, Kawanasausau, the Conflict Islands and Honiara, among many others.
The smaller adventure line Coral Expeditions has the Great Barrier Reef firmly entrenched in its DNA and operates its multi-day cruises around the islands for a longer part of the year.
For international cruise lines visiting Australia during brief sojourns during the summer peak season, such as Silversea Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Ponant and others, Cairns will often serve as the final stop on repositioning voyages from Asia and then in turn, the start of the voyage further down the east coast to Sydney and New Zealand.
Which ships will I find sailing from Cairns?
Cairns will welcome P&O Cruises for a brief season later this year when Pacific Eden comes to town for its round-trip voyages to PNG and the South Pacific. The aforementioned adventure cruise line Coral Expeditions has its small ship Coral Expeditions II cruising to the smaller islands of the region for large parts of the year. From time to time, it is joined by fellow expedition vessels True North and L’Austral from the Ponant stable.
Where is the best place to stay in Cairns?
Much of Cairns is centred around the main thoroughfare – Abbott Street – which is one street back from the Esplanade. Many of the world’s largest hotel brands have a presence here, and with tourism being such an important part of the local economy, the array of competition in the area works well for tourists by ensuring a great deal can be had any time of the year across any of more than 7,000 rooms available to book.
While transport is plentiful and traffic is rarely congested, if you’re flying in to Cairns with a view to taking a cruise and wish to stay near the port, head to the southern end of Abbott St.
Outside of the Cairns CBD, some of the region’s more luxurious resorts can be found in Trinity Beach or Palm Cove or even further north in Port Douglas. A number of eco-lodges can also be found perched within the Daintree Rainforest itself, along with farm stays on the Atherton Tablelands and even accommodation on local farms.
What can I see and do before boarding my ship?
There’s enough to do in Cairns to last four or five days prior to embarking your cruise ship, with the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest both able to capture your attention for at least two full days each.
Both are located very close to Cairns itself and welcome tourists for day visits pretty much every day of the year. In the rainforest, the Kuranda Scenic Railway travels for 90 minutes to reach the Kuranda Falls, while the Skyrail (around the same duration) provides panoramic views over a spectacularly picturesque gorge and the Daintree Rainforest. Many travellers experience both by travelling one way on each.
Out at sea, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most famous wonders for a reason and can be seen from the water and above in the air. There’s no shortage of cruise operators taking tourists out to the most popular parts of the area for a day in the sun, swimming, snorkelling and enjoying a gourmet lunch. In some cases, you can even make it a two-day experience and spend the whole night literally in the middle of the reef. Google ‘Reefsleep’.
Being Far North Queensland, there are also an array of crocodile experiences for visitors to enjoy including cruises along inland rivers where crocs of all sizes can be seen and fed.
What can I expect in the cruise terminal itself?
For arriving passengers visiting for the day or ending their cruise in Cairns, the terminal’s management recently introduced a team of Cruise Ship Ambassadors – essentially a team of volunteers who happily devote their spare time whenever a ship is in town. They welcome guests to the city with a smile on their face, make them feel at home, find out what they want to see and do and point them in the right direction to get there.
It’s a kind of feel-good welcoming party which is well received by tourists from around the world and indicative of the friendly and charming demeanour many locals share with visitors every day. The Ambassadors can be easily spotted in their purple shirts waiting on the dock.
For those joining their ship, the terminal is efficient and modern, with signs and queues set up to get guests (the ones arriving at their scheduled time and prepared for embarkation anyway) through and onto their ship quickly and with little fuss. It is largely an open-air facility with enough space to get the job done each time.