Planning to take your teenage offspring for an adventurous holiday up to Cairns and Port Douglas? Very wise. Then you will be needing my family list of the top things to do in Cairns and Port Douglas with teenagers!
There are dozens and dozens of things to do in Cairns and in Port Douglas with your teenagers, indeed with kids of all ages. Here’s a list of the things our family has enjoyed on a couple of different holidays in Far North Queensland.
Book all your Cairns activities in one handy location on Get Your Guide.
The Lagoon at Cairns Esplanade
The Lagoon at Cairns Esplanade is a popular attraction for kids and families located in the heart of Cairns right on the waterfront. It is a large saltwater swimming pool that covers an area of approximately 4,800 square meters, with a maximum depth of 1.5 meters.The Lagoon was built in 2003 as part of a major redevelopment of the Cairns waterfront area.
The Lagoon is surrounded by sandy beach and grassy areas where visitors can relax and soak up the sun.
The Lagoon is open to the public 7 days a week, from 6am to 9pm.
Entry is free, and there are lifeguards on duty during opening hours to ensure the safety of swimmers.
The Lagoon is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, and it offers a great place to cool off and enjoy the tropical climate of Cairns.
Address: Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, Esplanade, Cairns City QLD 4870,
Cairns Reef Tours
Taking a full-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef is a must-do with your teenagers. I recommend choosing a visit to the outer reef rather than to one of the closer islands.
Many teens will love to do a scuba experience or even to do their basic PADI course whilst on holiday in Cairns or Port Douglas. I watched my two big boys slip down the anchor line with a scuba instructor and felt pretty nervous for them. They adored it! And the next year they did learn to scuba dive properly.
Check out a detailed post on Cairns Reef Tours for Families here.
River Tubing Down The Mulgrave River
‘Welcome to my office,’ said Mikey, our main guide for the morning.
You know in life there are guides and guides and some are keen and fresh and enthusiastic, and others a bit jaded. Well, Mikey was just terrific, full of beans, funny, dead keen and great with the kids. He kept up very amused as well as safe and sound. There was jumping off bridges, racing up and down rapids and lots of gentle bobbing along.
Wear: swimmers and shorts and t-shirts than can get wet. You can hire crocs if you don’t have your own waterproof shoes.
Take towels and dry clothes to change into afterwards
We went with Foaming Fury, but I do recommend checking out a wide range of river tubing and whitewater tours, see the Get Your Guide images below whitewater rafting. That way you are more likely to find on which will suit your own teenagers.
My older teenagers went whitewater rafting on their own and they just loved it. Whitewater rafting is, in general, much more of a challenge than the river tubing that the younger kids and I enjoyed. The teens loved the challenge of a roaring river and of learning to assist in steering the raft.
From Cairns, whitewater rafting trips head out to the Barron River, the Tully River and the Russell River. You can do half-day trips and full-day trips and my teens would definitely recommend the full-day. They came back full of tales of rushing down rivers through the rainforest, of relentless rapids, and a lot of adrenaline thrills.
There are many different tours, in general kids need to be 12 + to participate. Some family tours also run on less adventurous stretches of the rivers.
Find terrific whitewater rafting and river tubing tours below.
If you are driving yourself then you can brave the winding roads from Cairns up to the Atherton Tablelands to explore this lush foodbowl with its rushing waterfalls and rivers. Myself, I was very happy to be taken on a day tour which meant I could visit a lot of places in one long day.
Visiting food producers like Skybury who farm coffee and papaya was really fascinating. Being taken to shops and local cafes to try out pastries and cheese was yummy too!
We were also taken to Australian Platypus Park to see the platypus in the pond. They are very shy and terrifically hard to photograph, so this is the best shot I got. But we did see several scooting about.
I’d happily recommend Brett’s Outback Tasting Tours.
Browse more tours of the Atherton Tablelands here.
Visiting Kuranda Village
Just 25 km to the northwest of Cairns is the mountain village of Kuranda, known as ‘the village in the rainforest.’ It’s easy to spend a day wandering about this pretty village with its interesting shops and lovely wildlife. Many people choose to stay up here for a weekend, there’s plenty to see and do. You can self-drive if you have a car but can I highly recommend visiting the way that I did. I took the Cairns Skyrail on the way up and returned to Cairns on the trains called the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Both journeys were absolutely stunning and would be hugely enjoyed by teenagers. Mine were not with me when I did this Kuranda adventure as I was on a press trip. Next time, they will come too!
There are beautiful walks at Kuranda, you can go on river cruises too. The village itself is easy to walk around, do not miss Birdworld and the Australian Butterlfly Sanctuary.
Check out everything to do at Kuranda here.
I got a ticket which sent me up to Kuranda using the Cairns Skyrail and returned me to Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic railway. This made for a truly magnificent day out.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Gliding over the rainforest, smooth as you rise higher and higher is a remarkable, and pretty exciting, way to travel to Kuranda. You pass by thundering waterfalls, and you can stop off and visit interesting places then hop back onto the next Skyrail car to continue your journey. I loved my guided walks through the rainforest. But even more, I loved looking down as the rainforest whooshed past below for 7.5 glorious kilometres.
The Skyrail journey starts at Smithfield, a northern suburb of Cainr,s easily accessed by taxi or bus from the city centre. You can buy combined Scenic Railway/Skyrail tickets, as I did. Or you can buy one-way tickets or return tickets.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
I do not think there could be a better way to descend from Kuranda than on the Scenic Railway. This marvellous railway line was opened in 1891 and you can feel the history from the time you set foot in the station. The journey between cairns and Kuranda takes a little under two breathtaking hours. You will marvel at the engineering feat and the efforts of the railway workers who completed this line through tick rainforest and around hairpin bends and steep-sided mountains.
The station in Cairns is very central so easy to get too and from.
You can find out all the practical information you need on the Kuranda Scenic Railway website here.
Below I will link to some Get Your Guide options for tours and combined tickets.
Click these images below to explore ticket options and other tours at Kuranda.
Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome
This is a terrific spot for teenagers. It’s basically a zipline course through a wildlife park – what more could you want? This fun place for teens is in Cairns city centre so easily walkable from central Cairns family accommodation.
Location: On top of The Reef Hotel Casino. Entry to the Casino lobby is via either Abbott or Wharf Street. Access to the Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome is via the lifts located in the casino foyer.
Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome website: https://cairnszoom.com.au/
Get to know the Great Barrier Reef before you visit it by checking out the excellent exhibits at Cairns Aquarium. There are 11 zones to explore featuring 9 ecosystems, you’ll learn heaps about the rainforest as well as the reef. Check out the website to learn more about feeding times, talks and the special activities you can enjoy at the aquarium.
Address: 5 Florence Street, Cairns City Cairns,
Cairns Aquarium website: https://www.cairnsaquarium.com.au/
Cairns Night Markets + Food Court
This is where your teenagers will want to eat out in Cairns and also to shop til they drop. The Food Court actually opens at 10am daily but the Night Markets only start at 4.30pm. There are dozens and dozens of stalls selling all sorts of things as well as plenty of food stalls. Cairns Night Markets are in the centre of town so very easy to get to. The whole family will enjoy a visit!
Address: 54 – 60 Abbott Street, Cairns City Centre
Cairns Night Markets website: https://www.nightmarkets.com.au/
Visit Palm Cove + Beaches
Just a 30-minute drive north of Cairns city centre is the small beach resort village of Palm Cove. Lots of families do like to stay here at resorts like the gorgeous Alamanda Palm Cove and Peppers beach Club. But it’s also worth popping in for a visit and a play at the beach and a meal at one of the lovely cafes which have great views over the water.
Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures
Address: Captain Cook Highway, Wangetti, QLD 4877
Myself and my kids adored visiting this animal centre, featuring crocodiles but with plenty other Australian wildlife to observe. We popped in when we were driving from Cairns to Port Douglas. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is located about 40 minutes to the north of Cairns and 25 minutes south of Port Douglas.
This venue has been open since 1934, it started as a tea room. Hartleys’ was the first place to breed crocodiles in captivity in Australia.
There are regular activities throughout the day like a tour of the whole place, cassowary feeding, a snake show, crocodile feeding and a talk about koalas. You will find all the Aussie animals you love as you explore the 2500 metres of pathways and boardwalks through some lovely bushland. You can also do a boat tour to spot crocodiles. We highly recommend a visit!
Mossman Gorge and its remarkable First Nations-run Mossman Gorge Cultural centre is an absolute must-vist when you stay at Port Douglas with teenagers. Do not miss!
Myself and my kids did one of the Dreamtime Walks led by an Indigenous ranger and we learned so much about the rainforest and about the culture of the local people. This was an amazing privilege and we would not have missed it for the world. You can also do self-guided walks as an addition. And spend ages at the Cultural centre.
Mossman Gorge website: https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/
Location: Mossman Gorge is 20km north of Port Douglas, just 2km from the little town of Mossman. You can self drive, in which case book tickets direct on the website. Or join a tour and travel in style, see below.
Find a tour of Mossman Gorge by clicking below.
Daintree Day Tour
We joined a day trip into the Daintree National Park and found this an exceptional way to get a feel for the whole place. The day was action-packed with wildlife viewing, beach walks, amazing views, ice cream tasting, bush walks, a boat trip to spot crocodiles and a swim in a (croc-free) rainforest river. Our guide was fantastic and really worked hard to make sure the teenagers enjoyed his stories.
Find a Daintree day tour here.
Grub’s Trike Tours
My two teenagers took a ride with Grub’s Trike Tours and they really loved it. They were regaled with stories as they whizzed along, a thrill ride as well as interesting for the history and local area facts. They were mad for this and asked to go again.
Grub’s Trike Tours website: https://www.triketours.com.au/
Water Sports + Reef Tours From Port Douglas
My two teenagers loved hiring a jetski and whizzing around the safe harbour areas. I found this rather nerve-wracking to watch!
Many families like to take a reef trip from Port Douglas rather than Cairns as the reef is closer to shore so there is less travel time. Have a look at the options below to see if this might be the case for your family.
Check out adventures from Port Douglas here.
Where to stay
Check out our article on the Top 5 Family Resorts in Cairns here.
Cairns Port Douglas Packing Lists
Here’s a list of what we took with us on our visit. There’s a printable list there for you too.
f you’d like to download a printable copy of these lists, just click on the link below.
Cairns + Port Douglas Tourism Websites
Check out the official tourism websites for both Cairns and Port Douglas below. Better still, have your teenagers check them out and see if they can find something else they’d love to do.
Do we need to book activities ahead?
We do! Booking the things that you really want to do ahead will mean there will be no regrets!
Book all your Cairns activities in one handy location on Get Your Guide.
Flying into Cairns
Cairns Airport is pretty small, you tend to exit the aircraft onto the tarmac…and be hit by a wave of tropical heat.
The airport is 6km from the city so it’s a quick trip. We used a taxi to get into the city, then arranged to drop our rental car off there. You can also book airport shuttles, try www.sunpalmtransport.com.au or phone (07) 4099 1191. Many hotels arrange pickups from the airport.
We chose to stay right in the centre of Cairns so that we could walk to all the central locations. The tours we did when staying at the Novotel picked us up at the door.
We then hired a car (big enough for five of us, five big bags and a guitar – expensive!) and drove to Port Douglas. This was handy for stopping off on the way and for driving around Port Douglas and beyond. Next time I will aim to have a car for a few days in Cairns and explore further afield.
When to visit Cairns and Port Douglas
Ah well, that depends on what you are looking for. In Australia, we often think the best time to go is the winter school holidays time, around June – September as the weather is so much better in north Queensland than it is in the southern states. Also, the stinger season, when you need to swim on netted parts of the coastal beaches, is from around November to May. Now that doesn’t affect your time on the Great Barrier Reef though as they aren’t found there.
I like the hotter months as I love snorkelling and diving with no wetsuit which you can really only do when it’s very hot, over the Aussie summer. School holidays in summer will always be busy, best bargains to be found in February/March.
We went this time in late September and early October, we did need wetsuits on the reef. The daytime top temperatures were 25 – 30 degrees C which was very pleasant, and a lovely change to Sydney’s weather.
October – December is described as the best time to visit the GBR as the wind tends to be low then which means for smoother seas and less seasickness. Works for me.
The wettest time of year in December – March, but it often rains at night and there’s still heaps of good stuff to do even when it’s wet.
What I say is… go when you can, when it suits you, when you can get away, when the price is right… there’s no best time.
Weather Charts for Cairns + Port Douglas
Lovely – very tropical! Here’s the annual summary from the Bureau of Meteorology.
Keep your eye on the weather before you go at Weatherzone Cairns Weather.
Is that everything? What else might you need to know about Fun Things To Do in Cairns + Port Douglas With Teenagers??
If you have any questions – please do ask them in the comments below!
Myself and the four kids have had the most fantastic holidays up at Cairns and Port Douglas. For adventure and for relaxation too, you cannot beat a family holiday to far North Queensland.