THE LOVE FOR TRAVELLING, THE PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY (MADE IN MELBOURNE AND AROUND THE GLOBE)

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Top Cairns beaches including swimming holes [for wet and dry season]

Top 13 Cairns beaches including swimming holes [for wet and dry season]

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Let’s start straight away with what may surprise you: there are, basically, no real Cairns beaches. I mean there is not really a beach in town you would call back home about.

So, why is Cairns such a famous Queensland destination? 

There are a few great reasons.

Most importantly you will have easy access to lots of great beaches around, either by public transportation or with your vehicle, this could be a bicycle, a bike, a car or a boat.

Cairns is also the only town of a considerable size in this part of Australia, a place offering anything you need, any type of accommodation, any kind of food and, most important, even an international airport.

Attached at the end of this post you will also find a map with all the beaches of Cairns and around

There is definitely a great vibe with lovely markets, nice cafes’ and a fantastic free for all super large swimming pool, the aggregation point for everyone in town. The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon pool that can be used in any season, even when most of the Cairns beaches are closed due to the large amount of jelly fish or the stinger season itself.

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, right in the centre of town

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, right in the centre of town

I always like to mention that all photos are mine. I have made them through the last 10 years. I have used multiple cameras and lenses, as part of my photography gear review. By the way, you may read more on the best cameras for travel photography, updated nearly on a monthly basis.

Are cairns beaches safe?

This is a question I get asked a ton of times on other posts that I have on this area of Australia, like the drive from Cairns to Port Douglas and the Daintree river.

Can you swim in Cairns beaches?

My first and foremost suggestion is to check the daily updated Beach report run by the Life Saving Club.

Now, the question you may have is : why are Cairns beaches closed?

Because of different conditions as the presence of :

  • marine stingers
  • box jellyfish
  • Irukandji jellyfish

Although you can find any of the above on every day of the year it rarely happens during the dry season, June to September, however it is more frequent during October to May, also sometime referred as the stinger season.

Do not rely of particular signs too. Actually most of the beaches has warning signs which are valid for any day of the year. 

Even when a beach is open for swimming I always suggest to stay at a patrolled area. The Surf Life Saving Clubs usually install red and yellow flags on the beach that delimit the monitored area.

Swim between the red and yellow flags for a safer experience

Swim between the red and yellow flags for a safer experience

Nets are installed in the sea during the wet season. They create an enclosed area, like a pool, where you can swim. In saying that, in rare cases jellyfish may go in. If you enter in contact with anything, go straight to the Saving Club.

This is not to say you should not visit any beach, just play safe. I have always enjoyed my time at the beach, so pristine, a heaven on earth with a unique turquoise water.

I probably need to mention the last scaring animal: the crocodile.

Cairns beaches and crocodiles are not two things you would associate. I had a few visits around the Daintree River and some interesting chats with the local experts. For your information, the Daintree River, around 100km north of Cairns,  has lots of crocodiles and that is why it is such a popular place to spot safely crocs with local accredited tour operators.

I understood that crocodiles prefer to stay along the rivers, close to the estuary where there is more food. In saying that, being wild animals, they may actually swim in the sea and approach beaches too, although rarely. Being Cairns around 100km from the Daintree River, the percentage of having a croc on a beach around town is very very small.

There are however some amazing beaches around the Daintree River. In that case I would pay more attention and I would probably not swim at all. 

I do not want to scare anyone of course, you should be aware that crocodiles exist and they can be around as this news from January 2017 was mentioning (worth a read)

I still remember one sign I read on a beach close to Darwin, in the Northern Territory. It was saying something like “do not fall in sleep on the beach as crocodiles may walk up from the sea”. Beautiful area of the world but I swam only in the pools LOL

I like to close here saying that there are no rules when you have wild animals around and you should always play safe and pay attention around you.

There is however an alternative, especially in the wet season when jellyfish are more likely to be around: visit a waterhole.

Waterholes are natural swimming pools that create between waterfalls in the amazing tropical forest. There are a few around Cairns and they are listed here below after the beaches. You can easily spend days visiting all or part of them. Some are easily accessible, even with kids, meanwhile others require a bit of trekking.

Cairns city beach

As I said, there is no real beach in Cairns city. The water is very shallow and in low tide you will have in front of your eyes a never ending muddy field.

It’s not an attractive place to have a walk however this may be absolutely different if you have kids with you as they love to run and roll over this immense natural playground.

The muddy beach on the Cairns esplanade

The muddy beach on the esplanade – Photo made with a Panasonic GX8 and a Leica lens 12mm f/1.4 [read more on my review for the best lenses for travel photography]

The Esplanade has however lots of appeal, especially if you love to practice sports. First of all it is the best location for a nice walk with a bit of sea breeze. There is a very long footpath, meters from the beach, and a bicycle path where you can ride your bike or skateboard.

Right in the middle of the esplanade there is a skatepark, a few basketball courts as well as soccer and rugby fields beside some tennis courts too. Plenty of options, mostly with free access.

If you have kids go to the Muddy’s Cafe for one of the most beautiful public playgrounds I have ever seen, including water features for the hot days.

To overcome the lack of a tropical beach head straight to the Esplanade Lagoon, a beautiful gigantic pool located almost at the beginning of the Esplanade, in the town centre, open to the public (free) and so much better than most of the pools in the resorts. You can also cook your meat and veggies at the barbecue area. Do you really need more than that?

Holloways Beach

This is the first beach north of Cairns. You can easily drive there in around 15 minutes or ride you bicycle in about half an hour. Alternatively take the bus #120 from the Smithfield Shopping Centre, the ride takes 30 minutes.

Holloways is a nice little village with a long strand of beach that connects to Machans Beach. It’s very quiet and therefore more popular with families and kids.

It’s mostly based on small houses, villas and boutique resorts. 

There is a stinger net for the wet season which makes it a great spot for a swim.

The beach itself is only few meters wide however a great location for a walk, some jogging or just a swim. 

It is not my favourite beach I must say, maybe because too quiet for my like, however it is really subjective. I suggest a visit and remember to leave your feedback in the comments section below.

The net is ready for the wet season in Holloway Beach

The net is ready for the wet season in Holloway Beach

 Machans Beach is even closer to Cairns however, due to the erosion has a smaller beach nowadays.

Yorkeys Knob

On the other side of the Barron river, from the Holloways and Machans Beach, you will find Yorkeys Knob. You can drive there in about 20 minutes from Cairns or around 40 minutes by bicycle. Take bus #113 from Smithfield.

This is the beach dedicated to the wind addicted. Stay on the north side and it is calm and perfect for some sun bathing. Go south and somehow the wind increases considerably. This is the area for kitesurfing.

There is also a kite centre where you can rent your gear or take an introduction course.

I am a big fan of this beach because I love any kind of wind sports and it’s also perfect for couples when one of the partners prefers some quiet time. Both options are there

If you are after some surfing, this is the most likely place to find some waves, although very small. 

Kitesurfers in Yorkeys Knob

Kitesurfers in Yorkeys Knob

Trinity beach

Trinity is probably my favourite beach close to Cairns. You can drive there in about half an hour or by bus in around 1 hour (#111 leaving from Smithfield). It is around 20Km from town, quite flat, therefore cycling is also another option.

The village is growing very fast and there is a good reason for that, the beautiful beach. You will arrive most likely right in the centre of it, where you will find an organised water centre to rent any water toy you like. It’s fun and kids love it.

It is most definitely one of the best swimming beaches in Cairns

Walk south to the beautiful cliff. You will have a spectacular view from there. 

During the wet season this beach has a stinger net for a safe swimming.

View to the beautiful Trinity Beach from the cliff.

View to the beautiful Trinity Beach from the cliff.

Kewarra Beach

Kewarra is just on the other side of the promontory that divide it from Trinity Beach. It has a similar distance however, if you take the public transportation, look for the bus #111.

This is my place-to-go for a long day at the beach. Why? Because the beach offers awesome walks and, most important, there are great barbecue facilities.

Think the beach as a long strand of sand with palms tree all around, basically a small paradise.

There is a public toilette and a playground area for kids as well, which makes it easier for families.

Clifton Beach

It is hard to say where Kewarra finishes and Clifton Beach starts. Again similar distance to Cairns as the two previous villages. In this case take bus #110.

I find Clifton probably more local and less resorts oriented. Same great beach.

The water net is there for the stinger season

Palm Cove Beach

Palm Cove has changed dramatically in the last 10 years or so, becoming a town on its own with a wide selection of accommodations, resorts and restaurants.

The beach itself is beautiful as well as the walk along it. Think of palms and a characteristic pier at the end of town.

It will take half an hour by car from Cairns, or 1 hour with the #110 bus, the same that goes to Clifton Beach. By bicycle it starts being a bit harder with a distance approaching 30km.

Palm Cove Beach is probably the most touristic area between Cairns and Port Douglas

Palm Cove Pier on a windy day

Palm Cove Pier on a windy day

Ellis Beach

Ellis is a lovely tropical beach after Palm Cove. It can be easily visited on a day trip or you can plan it as a stop over to Port Douglas or the Daintree River.

What I like the most of this beach is the sense of remoteness. I actually find quite strange that I hardly see anyone when I stop here. The photo below says more than a 1,000 words. 

Not to be missed

Ellis Beach, as isolated as beautiful

Ellis Beach, as isolated as beautiful

Green Island

This is the easiest of the excursions from Cairns. You can book your boat ticket and in 1 hour you will be there. Usually the price includes also a glass bottom boat visit to the reef around the island, absolutely a great value excursion. I was able to spot a sea turtle meters from me. 

Green island is very small and you can easily walk around it and enjoy the never ending beach surrounded by coral reef, a real heaven for an easy day of snorkelling.

It is a must day trip, also as a first step to the Great Barrier Reef.

There is a luxury resort in the island, in case you would like to spend one or more nights on it.

My personal suggestion, in case you are in town during the wet season, is to wait till the last minute before booking (just show up at the pier). If it rains you will not probably enjoy it, just postpone it to another day.

Fitzroy Island

This is one of the most underestimated island with few beautiful beaches, all just a stone away from the coast.

You can easily access the island with a day trip by boat, leaving from the city harbour. It is less busy than Green Island however it is still a popular destination.

The top beach is Nudey Beach. You will experience a lovely white sand together with some dead coral (mostly closer to the water). 

From the ferry arrival station you need to take a 20 minutes comfortable walk (around 1.5km) through the rain forest, which is an experience by itself.

I am still not sure if the beach is called Nudey because people can sunbath without clothes, I could not see anyone nude when I was there.

The beach on the reef

When you book a trip to the Great Barrier Reef you may also ask for a stop-over to one of the few small islands at the reef. Some tour operators do stop meanwhile others don’t. 

You can only imagine the water colours and the beauty of the environment. Hard to explain if not with a photo.

I love these small islands on the reef, however try to make it early in the morning, less crowded

I love these small islands on the reef, however try to make it early in the morning, less crowded

This is an experience I highly suggest, being really unique. The only drawback is that you may share it with lots of people, based on the time of the day. Luckily I left when two big boats arrived and a big crowd was just waiting to come on land.

Crystal Cascades

Such a beautiful place to visit. By car you can drive there in about half an hour. By bicycle it will take just a touch more than 1 hour, however keep in mind that there is a bit of a climb. The road itself is spectacular, in the middle of the rain forest, almost with no traffic.

Park the car. or the bicycle, and walk up to the main cascade in about 30 minutes. 

This is an easy walk, accessible also to families with a pram, easy. 

The main cascade is spectacular and such a lovely spot to have a swim too. Love it!

Try to make it in the early part of the day, around 9-9:30am as it can be quite popular around midday.

Barron Gorge waterhole

The trip to Barrone Gorge is as beautiful as the final destination, the Hydroelectric Power Station Lookout nested between two steep mountains.

The Barron river is a popular spot during the wet season, being also so close to Cairns.

There are a few spots where you can stop for a swim, it all depends on the seasonal conditions.

For your reference, the photo below was take in August, right in the middle of the dry season. Expect much more water between December and April

At the bottom of the Gorge you will see the Placid Lake. The signs were controversial in my last visit and I would not exclude the presence of crocs (just ask either the local camping or the bar/restaurant at the end of the road, where you can park your car). Better be safe 😉

Cairns beaches map

Map of the beaches in Cairns and around

Map of the beaches in Cairns and around

Click here for the Google interactive version.

Final thoughts

The lack of a Cairns city beach has created plenty of alternative and options just a stone away.

What is my favourite spot?

The weather in Cairns drives my decision on where to go. There is quite a difference between the dry and wet season. This is not to say you should visit this part of Australia only between June and September. I am just saying that it is different. 

In saying that, the Crystal Cascades are my top spot in the wet season. Usually the sea is a bit murky in this time of the year and the waterfalls are the best bet. Otherwise have a trip to Green Island or the Great Barrier Reef where you will have higher probability to experience a beautiful turquoise sea.

In the dry season I love Trinity Beach for its beautiful sand and walks. Kewarra is my favourite location for a long and easy day with barbecue and family (great facilities).

In any season I love a walk at the city esplanade and a swim in the amazing Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.

Enjoy your trip in Northern Queensland 🙂

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Stefano Ferro
Photographer
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o

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  1. Reply

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.

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Stefano Ferro
Photographer
Stefano is a cycling, movie and life style photographer with a big love for landscape & travel photography. When in Melbourne, his hometown, you will see him cycling around at sunset or sunrise looking for the best spot for a photo of this beautiful city. It is quite amazing how much photography gear he can pack on his bike :o