Here is a complete packing list for Cairns outlining all of the essential items that you need to pack for Cairns before your next trip to Australia’s adventure capital! A no-fuss list that includes all of the essentials items to bring, what not to bring and why!
When people hear Cairns, they often think of ancient rainforests, backpacker vibes, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. What if I told you it was so much more than that? Cairns is Australia’s adventure capital! It’s truly got everything you could ask of an awesome tropical travel destination.
So, what’s the first step in planning a trip to Cairns? If you’ve already booked your flight and accommodation, then you better start thinking about packing.
I’ve spent several months documenting and photographing all of the best Cairns adventure activities, waterfalls, hikes and more. I found it natural then, to help you formulate every part of your trip, even down to what to pack for Cairns!
Also, if you’re planning your visit to Cairns, don’t forget to read my comprehensive accommodation guide for where to stay too.
About This Cairns Packing List: When Are You Going & What Are You Planning?
These are the two main questions any traveller should ask themselves for any destination! If you’re reading this blog, then I assume you’re going to be keen on checking out some of the best adventure activities in Cairns like waterfall hikes, reef snorkelling/diving and maybe even bungy jumping or white water rafting!
This packing list for Cairns is designed for exactly that kind of traveller. One that doesn’t want to waste a trip by the hotel pool and one that would rather get out there and experience what this incredible destination has to offer.
Regardless, even if you do just want poolside sips (nothing wrong with that), then you will probably still get some benefit out of reading this list of what to pack for Cairns.
What to Pack for Cairns – The Essential Packing List
Cairns is located in Tropical Far North Queensland. In terms of clothes, pack lightweight garments for warm weather. Honestly, you won’t need a warm jumper or even a pair of jeans. Shirts, t-shirts, singlets, shorts and thongs are the go-to for Cairns locals because that’s what the weather calls for.
I’d also suggest packing clothes that dry quickly. This is especially a good idea if you plan to explore the rainforest and its many freshwater swimming holes and waterfalls.
Make sure also to pack swimmers, you’ll need them for any trip out to the Great Barrier Reef!
Clothes Packing List for Cairns Summary:
- Clothes to keep you cool (t-shirt and shorts/light dress/skirt)
- Hardshell jacket or light raincoat (for when it rains)
What shoes to pack for Cairns will depend on the activities you’re planning to embark on during your trip. I recommend packing some trail runners or running sneakers for any hikes, a pair of thongs and maybe a decent pair of sneakers or other suitable shoes for restaurants or pubs/clubs.
Don’t worry too much about packing big hiking boots. I always wear trail runners on even the steepest and longest hikes like Mount Bartle Frere (Queensland’s tallest mountain).
Also, don’t pack “reef shoes”. These things should be illegal. There’s no worse sight than watching tourists trample over the fragile reef ecosystems. Coral is sharp for a reason, to protect itself from harm, don’t step on them.
Shoes Packing List for Cairns Summary:
- Trail runners or joggers for hiking
- Pair of nice shoes for restaurants/town
Toiletries are always a personal item on any packing list of things to bring. However, below I’ll still jot down a few essentials to serve as a convenient reminder for your trip to Cairns
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Reef-safe sunscreen
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Hair brush
- Travel/ hiking first aid kit
Camera or Go Pro
For me, my camera is always my most important thing on my packing list for Cairns. I think it’s safe to say that everyone will want some sort of device to capture all of the epic memories on their Cairns trip.
Phone cameras are decent these days but I do recommend bringing at least a GoPro or Action Camera. That’s because so many of the activities in Cairns revolve around water. This is true from the reef to the rainforest, so it’s only common sense to bring something to take photos and videos where you’re not afraid of getting your device wet.
Summary of What to Pack for Cairns: Camera and Photography ideas:
- Go Pro
- Long selfy or action pole for your Go Pro
- A quality waterproof phone pouch that you can submerge underwater (buy one in advance, they charge close to $50 for these on the reef boats).
- DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
- Drone if you have one (I use the Mavic Pro 2)
A Good Day Bag
While you’re filling your backpack or suitcase with all of these essential things to pack for Cairns, you might easily forget to bring a small day bag. Having a small backpack that you can chuck your valuables or essentials in for a day trip to the reef or the rainforest is super handy.
I’d recommend looking for one around 15L or 20L so it’s easy to lug around and easy to keep on your lap on boats or public transport.
Since I travel with a lot of camera gear, my “day bag” is a huge 50L camera bag. Don’t be like me, check out one like this instead. Or, check out these useful day bags that fold down to the size of a coke can.
GOING TO PORT DOUGLAS TOO? READ: Where to Stay in Port Douglas
Other Cairns Packing Essentials
Now that we have the more “common sense” things to pack for Cairns downpat, here are some more essentials that you might not have thought of.
- Good water bottle – I use a Grayl water purifying bottle everywhere I go in the world
- Insect repellent. -mosquitos, ticks and leeches are no joke in the tropics
- Good power bank
- Dry-bag for your gear
- Packing cubes
- Quick-dry towel
- Mask and snorkel – most tours supply these
- Stinger suit – reef tour boats usually supply these too but understandably, some people would want their own
I’ve been travelling full-time now for around 4 years and I always swear by travel insurance. This is especially true for adventure destinations like Cairns. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many insurance companies have stopped offering insurance for cancellations.
However, there are still two companies. that offer it, even during the pandemic. World Nomads and Safetywing. Unfortunately, SafetyWing doesn’t currently offer coverage for Australia, but World Nomads do.
What not to Pack for Cairns
There we have it, That should cover most people asking the question “What do I pack for Cairns?“. Now, what about the things you should leave a home?
- Reef shoes
- Super warm jumpers or jackets
- Lots of food (there’s food here too, you know)
- Non-reef-safe sunscreen with Oxybenzone or octinoxate in it
- Excessive amounts of denim
What Is The Best Time to Visit Cairns
Cairns is located in Tropical Far North Queensland. The keyword there for planning your trip is of course “tropical”. The weather here varies from the rest of Australia. To explain, Cairns has two primary seasons: the dry season and the wet season. Clearly, the seasons will determine what you will need to include in your packing list for Cairns. Or does it?
The dry season runs from approximately April to October, and the wet from November through to March. Since it’s the tropics, the dry season (technically Aussie winter) can still be pleasantly warm. Expect days of 26-30 degrees celsius to be normal in the dry season.
In fact, the temperature doesn’t vary too much through the seasons. What you’ll need to know though is that the humidity does. Cairns wet season can get very hot, sticky and muggy. However, in saying that, Cairns is well-known as a place to travel to all-year-round!
Still, if I had to pick the best time of year to visit Cairns, I’d say between April and May, when weather is starting to cool down but the mountains are still green and rich.
What to do in Cairns
As I mentioned above, I’ve written extensively about all of the best things to do in Cairns. Make sure to check out some of the longer articles below when planning your trip.
Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay
Planning a trip to Cairns and wondering where to base yourself? Below I’ve listed some of the best options near Cairns Esplanade. I’ve also written a comprehensive accommodation guide to Cairns, so make sure to check that out too before you book! Also, if you’re looking to stay in Port Douglas, I’ve got some tips on finding great accommodation deals there too.
LUXURY RESORT WITHOUT THE PRICE TAG – Rydges Resort
This hotel offers the best bang-for-buck. In terms of an epic stay for a decent price! The location is perfect, close to the esplanade and features include three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a jacuzzi, a fitness centre and even an award-winning restaurant.
BEST 5-STAR LUXURY HOTEL: Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
If luxury and location are what you’re after, you can’t beat the Pullman. It’s rated Cairns’ best hotel and features restaurants, a pool, live music gigs and even a casino! If nightlife is your thing, don’t go past this one.
STAY ON THE ISLANDS: Fitzroy Island Resort
If you’d rather sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands, look no further than the Fitzroy Island Resort. While you can get out here on a day trip, I highly recommend spending the night so you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.
BEST BUDGET HOSTEL WITH A POOL – Gilligan’s Backpackers
The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns is Gilligan’s Backpackers. This one has a swimming pool, AC, a complete kitchen and a great common area to meet other travellers.
Fill Your Itinerary With These Free Cairns Adventure Travel Guides
So, you’ve organised your packing list for Cairns— time to get planning! I’ve spent several months exploring every corner of Cairns and the surrounding Tropical North region, documenting and photographing the best hikes, best waterfalls and best attractions and must-dos. If you’re still in the planning stages of your Cairns trip, then sure to check out some of my other articles too!
Also, if you can think of anything that you feel should be included on a list of what to pack for Cairns, make sure to drop a comment below!