Day 1: Arrival, Welcome Orientation and Sunset Cruise.
After transferring from the Cairns airport, we settle into our accommodation at The Hotel Cairns. Our 4-star hotel is in the heart of the city, only a block from the ocean, and is surrounded by lush foliage and swaying palms.
We gather in the afternoon for a welcome orientation over drinks and tapas with our guide who will accompany us the whole trip. Then we board a sunset boat cruise on Trinity Inlet—a perfect introduction to Cairns and its harbor. Afterwards we enjoy an elegant meal at one of Cairns restaurants in the heart of the city, where we have an opportunity to sample classic Australian cuisine.
Day 2: Aboriginal-Guided Hike, Daintree Rainforest, Rainforest Habitat and Port Douglas.
Considered one of the most scenic drives in Australia, the Captain Cook Highway winds north from Cairns and treats us to views of golden beaches and the translucent sea. Traveling inland, we are welcomed by an aboriginal guide for a hike to see the rainforest through the eyes of the indigenous Kuku Yalanji. We discover how these aboriginals found their way through dense rainforest and learn what native plants were used for food, medicine, and even soap. We listen for the call of the wild cockatoo or the laughing kookaburra, and perhaps paint our faces with traditional ochre rock paint. Our guide recounts stories from the aboriginal Dreamtime, and a sonorous didgeridoo demonstration completes our morning.
In the afternoon we visit the Rainforest Habitat, a refuge for Australian animals such as the endangered cassowary, crocodiles, kangaroos, koalas, and countless exotic birds. Our guide educates us about these different species, and we have an opportunity to interact with the animals up close, whether it’s holding a python, feeding a lorikeet or meeting a mother kangaroo and her joey. This evening we have time for a stroll and a savory seaside dinner in the charming town of Port Douglas before returning to Cairns.
Day 3: Sailing to the Great Barrier Reef, Snorkeling or SCUBA Diving.
Found perhaps on every traveler’s “must-see” checklist, The Great Barrier Reef—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—lies just off Cairns’ coast, luring snorkelers and divers alike to its underwater universe. Early this morning we set sail for the outer Great Barrier Reef on the Vagabond, a 65-foot yacht with a crew dedicated solely to our group of 10 people. Our group size allows for intimacy, flexibility, and personal service not available on larger boats. We can take the opportunity to trim the sails, learn to jibe, and steer the vessel or instead simply soak up the sun on deck.
When we arrive at the reef, snorkelers will delight in viewing the incredible array of life and colors that exist just below the surface. Snorkelers can also take advantage of the chance to try an introductory Scuba dive—or several intro dives if they wish. SCUBA divers can log up to 6 dives during these two days, including a phenomenal night dive on the reef. In the evening our crew offers up a hearty meal, good conversation, and perhaps a round of karaoke. Boat accommodation is single beds and shared bathrooms, and we have the option of sleeping on deck under the stars.
Day 4: Great Barrier Reef Sailing, Snorkeling and/or Scuba Diving
Today we spend another day exploring the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. A roving marine park permit allows us the flexibility of choosing different sites at which to snorkel or dive, most of which are exclusive to us. We can expect to see a thousand shades of hard and soft corals, angelfish and “Nemos” in anemones, elusive white-tipped reef sharks, and giant turtles. We learn about different coral species, the unusual mating habits of some undersea animals, and the conservation issues facing the reef today.
On the sail back to civilization, we are likely to see dolphins swimming and playing alongside us, while in the winter season both humpback and minke whales may make an appearance. We have this evening free to explore Cairns and the Cairns Esplanade waterfront only steps from our hotel.
Day 5: Hiking to Nandroya Falls and Josephine Falls, The Waterfalls Circuit.
Wooroonooran National Park hosts some of the oldest continually surviving rainforest in the world, and the park reaches its highest diversity in the area of today’s hike. We hike to the enchanting Nandroya Falls, where Douglas Creek drops in a narrow, uninterrupted, 50 meter fall from a basalt parapet. This magical section of the park also has a special connection to the Wari and Dulgubara aboriginals who once lived here.
Next we explore the Waterfalls Circuit: a series of three grand waterfalls under which we can swim or view from above. Our guide educates us about Australia’s unique rainforest species like the brilliant blue Ulysses Butterfly, the giant tree frog, and the musky rat kangaroo, which we may spot along the way.
Finally we take a short hike through the jungle to Josephine Falls—where the triple tiered cascades end with a natural waterslide and a refreshing swimming hole. In the late afternoon we travel to Mission Beach, home of at least 33 rare and threatened plants, including endangered ferns, orchids and flowering plants. Nestled in the rainforest, our stylish eco-lodge boasts private nature trails, views to the Coral Sea and delicious meals al fresco.
Day 6: Whitewater Rafting the Tully River
The Tully River ranks high with rafting enthusiasts around the globe for its stunning course through national parklands, thrilling Class III-IV rapids, and its reliable year-round flows. First timers and experienced rafters alike will be spoiled by the Tully’s non-stop action and gorgeous pristine wilderness.
From our eco-lodge we travel a short distance to our put-in at Tully Gorge National Park. There we are fitted with life jackets and helmets and after a safety briefing we are on the water. We raft through UNESCO World Heritage rainforest and below waterfalls that tumble from the walls of the gorge. Rousing rapids with evocative names like The Staircase, Corkscrew and Alarm Clock mark the start of our day, after which we paddle through another 41 rapids, stopping midway for a riverside BBQ. We return to our eco-lodge in the evening where we can listen to the sounds of the rainforest or learn more about the rainforest ecology.
Day 7: Mountain Biking the Little Mulgrave Valley
Mountain biking in Cairns is a biker’s dream: mild to challenging single track, fun rolling terrain, gorgeous vistas and little-seen wilderness areas. We are fitted to superbly crafted Canadian Norco mountain bikes, and mountain biking basics are reviewed for the first-time biker or the more timid. Each person can choose from one of two options: a thrilling single track circuit through the Little Mulgrave Valley, or a more relaxed scenic route. Either path rewards us with a gorgeous ride ending at a refreshing swimming hole. Not to miss Australia’s other watering hole, we stop for “a stubbie” at a classic Aussie pub at the route’s end. This evening we return to Cairns for a celebratory dinner and a recounting of our group’s adventures over the past week.
Day 8: Free Day, Trip Conclusion or Extension
After breakfast, we prepare for our journey home or enjoy a few optional activities such as the Kuranda Skyrail, a sunrise balloon flight or a scenic helicopter tour.
Also see tour packages in:
Australia and Oceania Australia Nature & Wildlife Ecotourism Multi-activity
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