Families that love the outdoors can have a tonne of fun in Tropical North Queensland. And the good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy yourself up here. It does help if you like being outside though!
Here’s our top 8 free things to do as a family in TNQ.
1. Visit a Swimming Hole
Most families living in the Tropical North will rate this as their favourite family escape with the kids. There is a multitude of natural freshwater creeks (that are croc free) within a 10-15 minute drive of Cairns CBD.
The most popular swimming spots are located in and around Redlynch Valley and are easily accessible by car. Gomboorah Park and The Rocks suit families with young kids and Stoney Creek and Crystal Cascades are great for families whose kids are confident in the water and happy to walk a little.
If you desire to go a little further try Josephine Falls to the South, Lake Eacham or Davies Creek in the Atherton Tablelands, or Mossman River up north. All these spots cost zero dollars to visit, but I do recommend purchasing a couple of cheap inflatables for some added excitement.
NOTE: There’s a small charge if you decide to go swimming in Mossman Gorge.
2. Picnic in the Park
The Far North lends itself to outdoor dining, plus its cheaper and far less stress than trying to find a restaurant that caters for you all. The number one choice is to head to the nearest park and use one of the many free Barbecues that are scattered throughout the region.
Best spots for a family BBQ are anywhere along the Cairns Esplanade, up along Cairns’ northern beaches and at Rex Smeal Park in Port Douglas, where the views (and sunset) are to die for.
3. The Beaches
If its winter in the Tropical North you’ll find most locals down at the beach. The sea temperatures are just right, the sun not too hot and the breezes (particularly in the morning) are spot on.
For families with really young children Kewarra Beach, Holloways and Ellis Beach seem to be the most popular. As the kids get older, Trinity Beach and Palm Cove are good choices as there is also the option of watersport hire here.
Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas is a must for families staying further north and if you’re heading south, Mission Beach is definitely worth a visit. In fact, if you don’t need to be near shops or a lifesaver then you can pretty much pull over anywhere along the coast and enjoy a beach all to yourself.
4. Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, right in the heart of the CBD and situated on the picturesque esplanade, is a great option for families and once again, doesn’t cost a cent.
The lagoon is very family friendly, with lifeguards in attendance and plenty of shallow entry spots for the young ones. There’s also shade, a few fountains, a ‘beach’ and plenty of grass to throw your towel on – it’s a spot that keeps all age groups entertained.
5. Adventure Playgrounds
There’s nothing like taking the kids to a playground to burn off some of that limitless energy they always seem to have, and give yourself a bit of time out.
Best choices along the Cairns Esplanade are Muddies (great for all age groups) or the Treehouse, down by the Cairns Wharf. You’ll also find coffee and snacks available at both spots as well as plenty of free BBQs if you want to BYO.
Just north of Muddies is the Skate Park, which is a good alternative if your kids are a bit older and playgrounds are becoming a bit uncool (there’s even a small rock climbing wall nearby).
If you want to leave the city centre then head to Goomboora Park (10 minutes drive) and let the kids enjoy an adventure playground and flying fox. All along the Cairns Northern Beaches you’ll also find playgrounds to keep the young ones entertained.
6. The Cairns Esplanade
Another great thing to do as a family that costs nothing is to explore the Cairns Esplanade. It’s a 5 km round-trip with a cycle and walking path that runs the whole length.
Take the bikes, skates or scooter if the kids don’t want to walk the whole length. Or just stick to wandering along the wooden boardwalk between Muddies and the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. There is plenty of birdlife along the water’s edge and information stations recounting the history of Cairns (I know my kids love stopping and reading each one thoroughly).
7. More Boardwalks and Walking Adventures
If walking is your thing then go further afield to the Cairns Botanic Gardens (a 5 minute drive from the CBD) and check out the Mangrove Boardwalk and Centenary Lakes. The younger kids will love feeding the turtles and ducks down at the lake.
If you’re feeling energetic then head up the Red Arrow and check out the glimpses of Cairns and the views out towards the Northern Beaches.
It’s worth stopping at the Mardja Boardwalk if you’re heading further north to the Daintree. Here you can spend some time exploring the unique rainforest and mangrove environment. Make sure you pack your insect repellent on these walks – there may be nasties that bite!
8. Local Markets
Nothing beats seeing how the local community ticks by visiting their local produce and craft markets. You may even get your children sampling a new variety of food whilst they’re in town.
Rusty’s is right in the centre of Cairns and a popular spot for buying fresh local produce on the weekends. Go here for tropical fruits and a real taste of local flavour. The Tanks (at the Botanic Gardens) hold monthly markets and often have face painting and other kid-friendly activities happening. Port Douglas markets on a Sunday is worth a visit not only for its local crafts and its souvenirs but also for its setting, nestled amongst huge raintrees along the town’s waterfront.
Remember though that visits to the markets aren’t always that cheap, it just depends how generous your feeling on the day (and how deep your pockets are).