You know what rates as highly as the reef and rainforest on visitor’s to-do-lists when they come to Cairns? Having a wildlife encounter.
From the furry and friendly to those with a bit more bite, there’s no shortage of iconic Australian natives to meet during your next Cairns visit. If you’re looking for the ultimate wildlife experience, we’ve prepared this handy guide for where to have a guaranteed animal encounter near Cairns.
For an array of Aussie Icons, Rainforestation Nature Park
If you’re wanting to tick off Australia’s most iconic mammals during your visit to Tropical North Queensland, you’ll want to head to Kuranda’s hills. Set amongst leafy rainforest, you’ll find Rainforestation Nature Park, a wildlife sanctuary with an awards trophy cabinet that affirms why this park should sit atop your Cairns to-do list.
This park is the ultimate collection of Australian animals, with everything from koalas, dingoes, crocodile, wallabies and kangaroos to the more unusual, like their two Tasmanian devils, koala joeys and Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, animals who you won’t get to find at any old wildlife sanctuary. You won’t have to worry about working up your step count exploring this parks’ sprawling 40 hectares, Rainforestation runs amphibious World War II Army Duck tours across the property.
Rainforestation’s connection to land and country, goes further than the animals found here. You can discover the world’s oldest surviving culture with the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, which celebrates Aboriginal culture through a traditional dance show, spear presentation and didgeridoo performance. You can even learn to throw a boomerang here.
For endemic species to Tropical North Queensland, Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas
There’s only one problem with spotting Tropical North Queensland’s most famous faces in the wild – they can be elusive. If you don’t see a legendary Southern Cassowary or Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo in the wild, stack the odds in your favour, with a visit to Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas where you can see both, guaranteed. In fact, Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is only one of the two zoos in the world who breed the Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo in captivity.
This isn’t your average wildlife sanctuary – Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas is an immersion exhibit – split across five areas which reflect landscapes within a 500km radius of Port Douglas – woodlands, savannah, wetlands, rainforest and nocturnal. Everything about this park speaks to its philosophy of observation, appreciation, and conservation. It’s even home to an onsite care centre for sick and injured animals, the Tropical Animal Rehabilitation Centre, where locals regularly drop off rescued animals in need of rehabilitation.
Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas’ role in conservation means you can holiday with a heart, knowing you’re contributing to helping injured animals on their road to recovery.
For a wildlife experience with a dose of adrenalin, Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome
Not all animal sanctuaries will have you ziplining over a 4.5m saltwater crocodile but Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome isn’t your average wildlife experience. For a start, you’ll find it on the rooftop of The Reef Hotel Casino, smack bang in the middle of Cairns CBD.
Although Goliath, the saltwater crocodile who lives at these lofty heights, steals most of the show, he’s not the only famous face within this wildlife haven. You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for Snowy, the rare white kookaburra who now lives a life of leisure without the threat of being preyed upon with his distinctive feathers.
When you’re not in a harness seeing the sanctuary while scooting along a zip line above, you can cuddle a koala with your feet on firmly on the ground for the ultimate ‘I’ve been to Cairns’ souvenir photo. Speaking of photo opportunities – for the best view of Cairns you’ll want to save time for the Dome Climb. It’s a walk around the perimeter of the building, at 30m high, it’s got views out to Trinity Inlet, the Coral Sea, across Cairns CBD and north to its beaches. You’ll be safely harnessed as you walk this 60cm-wide platform, so you can keep both hands free for photos as you go.
For butterflies, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
There’s more to do on your visit to Kuranda than shop up a storm at the rainforest markets. This rainforest village is home to the largest butterfly aviary in Australia, the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. With 12 different native species and over 1500 butterflies within its dome, you’re guaranteed an experience with the region’s most famous winged creatures – the Ulysses and Cairns Birdwing.
If your understanding of the lifecycle of a butterfly extends to what you learnt in the famous children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, get ready for a crash course in insect reproduction. The team at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary are so committed to butterfly conservation, they breed all the butterflies onsite and help educate people to ensure the future of Tropical North Queensland’s most colourful locals. Their role is important to ensuring the sustainability of the species, on a visit you will learn about which host foodplants to grow in order to help native butterfly species grow in the wild, which is the most effective way of conserving all of our species. Learn how you can do your part with a tour of the laboratory where butterflies are raised before their release.
For more animal action while exploring Kuranda, you’ll want to ensure you save time for Rainforestation, the first entry on this list.