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Cairns Packing List: What to Pack & What to Leave at Home

Cairns Packing List: What to Pack & What to Leave at Home

A no-fuss Cairns packing list including all the essential items to bring, what not to bring, and why!

Travellers planning a trip to Cairns picture hiking in the ancient Daintree Rainforest, boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef, and of course, warm tropical weather. When visiting Cairns, I recommend packing for the season, preparing for adventures in the outdoors, and embracing the local, laid-back culture in town.

I’ve made dozens of trips to Cairns over the years and have published over 100 travel guides to the Far North Queensland region on this blog. In the process, I’ve refined exactly what to bring on my trips, and what I can safely leave behind (yeah, you won’t need a big puffer jacket)! In this guide, I’ll help you with your packing essentials and include some unique items that you might have missed!

Sailing boat cairns tour

Packing List Overview

Cairns, a gateway to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, offers travelers a unique blend of tropical climate, lush rainforests, and vibrant marine life.

Climate: With temperatures ranging from 23°C to 31°C year-round, Cairns experiences two main seasons: the wet season (November to May), characterized by higher humidity and rainfall, which is great for rainforest and waterfall adventures, and the dry season (June to October), known for cooler, more comfortable weather that is still warm for swimming and snorkelling!

Packing considerations: This destination is ideal for adventurers and nature lovers, offering activities from snorkeling and scuba diving to hiking in the ancient Daintree Rainforest. The city itself exudes a laid-back, friendly atmosphere, with bustling markets, cafes, and beachfront boardwalks and most locals get around in a t-shirt, shorts, and thongs year round.

Useful Things to Pack for Cairns

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 useful water bottle filter.

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. I bring this on all my adventures in Cairns and it lets me get safe, clean drinking water out of any stream!

Grayl ultrapress filter bottle for travel
Drink fresh water anywhere with my Grayl water filter bottle

2. Insect Repellent

This is a must-have item when traveling to Cairns, especially 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.

Bushman deet cream

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 try to take a photo of a wild cassowary or when you need to upload your latest Instagram picture from Fitzroy Island Resort.

I have found the Anker 737 Power Bank to be the most reliable when traveling and this is the one I use to charge my phone, camera, and laptop on the go.

Anker powercore battery bank for digital nomads

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.

Sea to summit dry bag for cairns adventures

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.

Kindle ereader

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 more easily.

Read: Travel Gift Ideas

Nomatic packing cubes

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.

Travel towels are lightweight and with the Cairns heat they dry very quickly! Moreover, if you're traveling to Cairns in the wet season, you'll be glad you brought a towel like this because you'll be using it a lot!

Portable microfiber travel towel

8. Dive or 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.

When choosing a mask, I highly recommend trying it on before buying. I used to work as a dive master and always told my customers that the best mask is the mask that fits. Generally, I have found the Mini Shadow and Oceanic Shadow Mask to be a great travel mask that fits most faces.

Oceanic mask blue

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.

Man in stinger suit at fitzroy island
Turtle on fitzroy island cairns
Turtle on fitzroy island

10. Travel Insurance

I've been traveling full-time now for close to 6 years and I always purchase cheap travel insurance for every single country I visit, including trips around Australia and Queensland. In fact, 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!

Essential Things to Pack for Cairns

1. Clothes

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 at any time of year. 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)
  • Swimmers
  • A hardshell jacket or light raincoat (for when it rains)
  • Socks (hiking socks, ankle socks)
  • Hat
  • Quick dry underwear

Tip: If you're planning to visit the waterfalls and natural attractions in the Atherton Tablelands on a day trip, then it's a good idea to bring at least one set of warm clothes. This region is 700-900 meters higher than Cairns and the weather can be slightly cooler.

Lady with white dress and hat at waterfall in cairns
Crystal Cascades Waterfall

2. Shoes

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.

Summary:

  • Trail runners or joggers for hiking
  • Thongs
  • Pair of nice shoes for restaurants/town
Tully gorge lookout
Tully Gorge

3. Toiletries

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.

Summary:

Nandroya waterfall photography
Nandroya Falls

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.

Summary:

Lady holding camera at cairns waterfall

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.

Osprey day bag for hiking
Devils thumb walking track
Devil's Thumb Trail

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 at home?

  • Reef shoes - so many tourists stand on corals that many islands and tours don't allow you to wear them. Of course, you can wear these kinds of waterproof shoes at swimming holes and waterfalls like the Crystal Cascades and Stoney Creek.
  • Very warm jumpers or large 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 - it's hot!
Top tips for cairns and packing list

What Is The Best Time to Visit Cairns

Cairns is located in Tropical Far North Queensland. The most important word there for planning your packing list is of course "tropical". The weather here varies from the rest of Australia. I briefly explained Cairns' two primary seasons above: the dry season and the wet season.

Clearly, the seasons will determine what you will need to include in your packing list for Cairns.

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.

Cairns fitzroy island drone photography

Packing for Cairns' Dry Season (June to October)

Practicality and comfort are the most important when packing for a visit during Cairns' dry season. Light layers accommodate the daytime warmth and cooler evenings, while sun protection is crucial for outdoor activities.

  1. Light Layers: A combination of short-sleeved shirts and a couple of long-sleeved tops for cooler evenings. Example: Breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics are ideal for daytime warmth and evening chill.
  2. Sun Protection: Despite cooler temperatures, the sun is still strong. Pack a high-SPF sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. Example: A UPF 50+ sun hat offers added protection against UV rays.
  3. Light Jacket or Sweater: Essential for evening activities or when visiting higher altitudes. Example: A compact, wind-resistant jacket provides versatility without taking up much space.
Hiker at the summit of fitzroy island near cairns
The dry season is a great time for hiking!

Packing for the Wet Season

  1. Waterproof Jacket or Poncho: Sudden downpours are common and usually happen in the evenings after a long, hot day. Example: A lightweight, breathable waterproof jacket that keeps you dry but not sweaty.
  2. Quick-Dry Clothing: Humidity and wet conditions mean clothes may not dry as quickly. Example: LIght, synthetic fabrics dry fast and help keep you cool.
  3. Umbrella: Choose one that is compact and easy to carry, and that is useful during unpredictable showers.
  4. Mosquito Repellent: There are more mosquitoes in the wet season. Get some DEET-based or natural citronella repellents to protect against bites.
  5. Waterproof Bag: Protects electronics and important documents during rain. This is good to have in your backpack or day bag to prevent moisture damage to phones, cameras, etc.
Woman on at barron falls boardwalk in far north queensland
The rainforest really comes to life in the Wet Season!

Where to Stay In Cairns

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.

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairns

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.

Fitzroy island wharf

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.

Gilligans backpacker resort

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.

Peppers beach club four mile beach port douglas

4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove

Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!

More Cairns Travel Blogs

These are the two main questions any traveler should ask themselves when planning a trip to Cairns! 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. I hope it has helped you pack and prepare for your adventure!

For more inspiration and ideas, check out some of my other travel guides below. Also, if you can think of anything that you feel should be included on a list of what to pack for Cairns, drop a comment below!

Pinterest pin packing list for cairns
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you.

Hannah

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

Hi, Do you guys do books on what to do around cairns ?

Olly Gaspar

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

Hi Hannah!

thanks for the interest but the best source currently is this blog (it's free as well). This post: https://www.weseektravel.com/things-to-do-in-cairns-australia/

is pretty much a book, with 60+ tips on what to do.

Enjoy