Cairns is the most important tourist hub in Far North Queensland, thanks to its proximity to the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest. This small city receives almost two million tourists annually, but the majority of these visitors plan their trip to avoid the region's wild weather during the wet season.
If you too want to take advantage of the dry season and absence of marine stingers, the best time to visit Cairns is between June and October. However, if your priorities are cheap flights, fewer crowds and tour deals, you can also take a chance on traveling in the shoulder season (April/May or September/October). Read on for all the information you'll need to decide when to visit Cairns.
Also known as the green season, Far North Queensland's wet season brings humidity and afternoon showers to Cairns from November to April, plus the chance of a hurricane towards the end of the season. Occasional flash flooding can also result in road closures up and down the coast.
Prices are lower across the board during the wet season, from domestic flights to hotels and day trips. At the Daintree Rainforest, rivers and waterfalls flow freely and the lush vegetation is at its most vibrant. If you choose to visit during this time of the year, you'll need to pack a top-quality rain jacket, and be prepared to be flexible with your plans.
The beaches in and around Cairns are just what you would imagine in a tropical paradise, with one exception: the deadly jellyfish that appear along the coast between November and May.
Box and Irukandji jellyfish (known locally as stingers) have extremely potent venom that can be fatal to humans. The stings can also cause symptoms like pain, headaches, vomiting, and respiratory distress that can take 20 to 40 minutes to develop, so they are definitely best avoided during your trip.
Many people use full-body stinger suits as protection, as well as swimming nets, which are set up at most popular beaches in Far North Queensland. During stinger season, you should only swim when protected by a net or a stinger suit and obey all advice from local authorities. As always, never swim alone.
These dangerous jellyfish are more common in shallow water, so you probably won't encounter them when snorkeling or diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Almost all tour operators will have full-body stinger suits on board, just to be on the safe side.
Cairns is busy throughout the dry season (April to November), with increased activity during the Australian school vacations at Easter and in early July. At these times, we recommend booking accommodation and domestic flights well in advance as the city's options can fill up quickly.
If you are hoping for some alone time on the reef or one of the many beautiful islands, look for a tour that offers an early morning start. Tours usually only need to be reserved a couple of days in advance; your hotel will be able to help with recommendations. Restaurants and museums are open all year round in Cairns, but may shorten their opening hours during the off-season.
For more detailed information about when to visit the Great Barrier Reef in particular, check out our guide.
Popular Events in Cairns
Cairns is not known for big events, as most people briefly stop by the city on their way to the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef and the population fluctuates dramatically throughout the year. However, there are a couple of fun events to keep an eye out for:
Summer in Cairns
Summer in the Southern Hemisphere runs from December to February. In Cairns, this means the height of the wet season. The climate is hot and humid, with temperatures hitting 85 degrees and rain almost every day.
You will find few fellow travelers and cheaper prices across Far North Queensland during these months, with the exception of a slight increase in demand over Christmas and New Year. Stingers are present off the coast and the rain can impede visibility for snorkelers, but divers will be treated to an uninterrupted view of the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.
Fall in Cairns
The rain and humidity of the wet season continue from summer into fall, becoming less of an issue for travelers by late May. If you choose to travel during this time, you will be able to make the most of dry mornings and slightly lower temperatures while sightseeing.
Crowd levels spike over Easter with families and backpackers on the hunt for bargain deals, but the city remains much quieter than during the dry season. Be aware that jellyfish season can continue until the end of May—check with local authorities for updates.
Winter in Cairns
As the dry season begins in June, visitors flock to the region to soak up the sunshine. Snorkelers and divers will notice cooler water temperatures and more wind, but the clear days are ideal for most outdoor activities. Local beaches are stinger-free and temperatures hover just under 80 degrees during the day.
Price levels are generally higher, and tours and accommodations are in demand, especially in July. The dwarf minke whale migration passes by Cairns during June and July, and the humpback whales can be spotted between August and September with dedicated whale-watching tours available.
Spring in Cairns
Spring is a great time to visit Cairns, as vacationers and snowbirds head back south, and prices and crowd levels are reduced. The months of September, October, and November remain dry in the city, and water temperatures begin to increase out on the reef, creating perfect diving and snorkeling conditions. Nature lovers shouldn't miss the annual synchronized coral spawning, which usually happens in November. Stingers also return to the coast in November.