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 essential 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 Australia is the country’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!
- About This Cairns Packing List: When Are You Going & What Are You Planning?
- Useful Things to Pack for Cairns
- More Essential Things to Pack for Cairns
- What not to Pack for Cairns
- What Is The Best Time to Visit Cairns
- What to do in Cairns
- Fill Your Itinerary With These Free Cairns Adventure Travel Guides
Tip, if you're planning your visit to Cairns, don't forget to read my Cairns accommodation guide for where to stay too.
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
About This Cairns Packing List: When Are You Going & What Are You Planning?
These are the two main questions any traveler 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 snorkeling/diving and maybe even bungy jumping or white water rafting!
This packing list for Cairns is designed for exactly that kind of traveler. 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!
Useful Things to Pack for Cairns
Now that we have the more "common sense" things to pack for Cairns down pat, here are some more essentials that you might not have thought of.
1. Grayl Water Purifying Bottle
For those wanting to explore the waterfalls and hikes that Cairns has to offer do not forget to pack a self-filtering water bottle.
My go-to bottle is the Grayl water purifying bottle as it allows you to filter water from anywhere and reduces the risk of becoming dehydrated in the cairns heat.
2. Insect Repellent
This is a must-have item when traveling to Cairns during the wet season. Mosquitos, march flies, ticks, and leeches are no joke in the tropics and they can become quite agitating on hikes or waterfall adventures.
I have found the Bushman Ultra Heavy Deet to be the best for keeping away these pesky insects.
3. A Reliable Power Bank
Having a reliable power bank is important for your travels in Cairns. The last thing you need is to have your phone with 0% battery when you spot a wild cassowary or when you need to upload your latest Instagram picture from Fitzroy Island Resort.
We have found the Anker 737 Power Bank to be the most reliable when traveling.
4. A Dry bag
Whether you have a waterfall adventure or a packed day on the reef a dry bag is a must to ensure your valuable items stay safe and dry! The best part is they come in a range of sizes to make it easier to pack into your luggage or day bag.
Many say to skip a dry bag but there have been many instances where this bag has saved an iPhone, passport, and DSLR camera from being destroyed.
5. Kindle or eReader
The kindle is another item that should be packed in your day bag for those days that you will be relaxing by the ocean at Fitzroy Island or for those hikes when you're waiting for the sun to rise. I carry my kindle around the world and find it very handy when lines are long or you're waiting for the ferry to arrive.
6. Packing Cubes - Travel Packing Essential
Have you ever needed to find something in your suitcase and it ends with your clothes all over the hotel floor? The Nomatic packing cubes are a great way to stay organized on your travels. These come in a range of sizes and allow for your bag/suitcase to be packed easier.
7. A Quick-dry Towel
Another item that should not be missed is a quick-dry travel towel. The quick-dry towel is a great addition for those wanting to adventure to waterfalls, snorkel on the reef or relax on the beach at Green Island. They're lightweight and with the Cairns heat they dry very quickly.
8. Dive/Snorkel Mask
The last thing you want on your dive or snorkeling trip on the reef is to have a secondhand leaking mask! Bringing your own mask to Cairns is a must as many tours or secondhand masks leak and can be a real pain when you're trying to enjoy a snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
I have found the Mini Shadow and Oceanic Shadow Mask to be a great travel mask with a good general fit.
Tip: Try the mask before your travels to ensure it fits correctly.
9. Stinger Suit
Traveling to Cairns during the months from November until May you might want to invest in a stinger suit. During these months there is an increase in harmful marine jellyfish near Cairns and its surrounding islands. Although these can be hired from the tour boats and Islands some may find it more comfortable (and hygienic) to have their own.
These lightweight stinger suits are a great addition to your must-bring items as it could potentially save your life.
10. Travel Insurance
I've been traveling full-time now for around 5 years and I always purchase travel insurance for every single country. This is especially true for adventure destinations like Cairns, where I do a lot of hiking and outdoor adventure activities.
If you're planning a trip to Cairns from within Australia, then HeyMondo offers easy travel insurance at good rates. These guys cover pretty much everything and are one of the cheaper options. They also have an excellent app that makes managing claims stress-free on the go.
Plus, We Seek Travel readers get 5% OFF HeyMondo travel insurance!
More Essential Things to Pack for Cairns
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!
Here's a summary:
- Clothes to keep you cool (t-shirt and shorts/light dress/skirt)
- Hardshell jacket or light raincoat (for when it rains)
- Socks (hiking socks, ankle socks)
- Quick dry underwear
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.
- 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.
- Electric Travel Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Reef-safe sunscreen
- Travel Shampoo and conditioner
- Hair brush
- Travel/ hiking first aid kit
- Light makeup - Remembering Cairns can be very humid and makeup will be sweating off very quickly.
Related: The Best Cairns Tours & Experiences
4. Camera or Go Pro
For me, my camera is always the 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 the epic memories of 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.
- Go Pro Hero 11
- 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 3)
5. 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.
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's 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 the 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
Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.
Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.
1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury
If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.
2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range
Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.
3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget
The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.
4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove
Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!
Fill Your Itinerary With These Free Cairns Adventure Travel Guides
So, you've organized 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. If you're still in the planning stages of your Cairns trip, then sure to check out some of my other articles too!
- 60+ Things to do in Cairns - my ultimate Cairns and FNQ travel resource covering the best activities, hidden gems, and unmissable experiences.
- Cairns Tours - my roundup of the best tours you can book in Cairns and FNQ, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Daintree Rainforest.
- Cairns Packing List - tips on what to pack for a trip to Far North Queensland.
- Top Things to Do in Port Douglas - a comprehensive guide to the sleepy Far North Queensland town of Port Douglas.
- Epic 5-Day Cairns Itinerary - my suggested adventure itinerary if you only have 5 days to spend in Cairns.
- Cape Tribulation Travel Guide - discover where the rainforest meets the reef at one of my favourite places in Australia.
- Cairns Hiking Guide - a huge list of epic rainforest, waterfall, and lookout hikes in Cairns.
- Cairns Waterfalls - a huge list of epic waterfalls that I've visited in Cairns and the surrounding tropics.
- Cairns Islands - discover my favorite Great Barrier Reef islands near Cairns and Port Douglas.
- Magnetic Island Travel Guide - your ultimate resource for visiting "Maggie" near Townsville.
- Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands - my guide to one of Far North Queensland's most underrated adventure destinations.
- Accommodation Resources: Discover where to stay in Cairns, the best hotels in Port Douglas and my Cape Tribulation accommodation guide.
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!