Sunday may be renowned as the day of rest, but you’re in a tropical paradise with a free schedule and an appetite to get out and about. Here’s how to make the most of your Sunday fun day in Cairns.
Market to Market
To market, to market, to buy a fat… mango? But there’s no rush to head home after stepping into these markets. Towers of succulent tropical fruit, colourful vegetables and herbs greet you with the aroma of baked goods and coffee interrupting the fragrance of the fresh produce. Vendors cries punctuate the air imploring you to try their samples or to buy their cheap lychees, avocados and mangosteens. It’s sensory overload but in the best way possible. Welcome to Rusty’s Markets.
Stop by an ATM before embarking on your market journey – Rusty’s is largely cash-based and you will feel the pangs of regret if you don’t have the coins to buy a samosa, almond croissant or sugarcane juice (pressed while you wait). Many locals and tourists alike congregate here each week for their fix of tasty treats or to stock up on their weekly groceries. Any food left at the end of trade on Sunday is donated to OzHarvest for food rescue and preventing hunger in Tropical North Queensland.
Tip: Bring your own bags and travel cup or mug
Details: Sunday 5am–3pm, Cairns CBD between Grafton and Sheridan Streets
Take a dip
Framing Cairns is the Great Dividing Range where pristine waters flow through valleys and gullies into waterholes hidden by the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest. Whilst the range may divide Cairns from the Atherton Tablelands, the only thing you’ll be divided about is which swimming hole to choose.
Crystal Cascades and Stoney Creek are both short drives from the city and offer a series of freshwater pools each culminating in a waterfall at the end of their walking tracks. If you don’t have a car, Raging Thunder offer canyoning tours to Crystal Cascades for an adrenaline-filled half-day of abseiling, cliff jumping, rock sliding and ziplining.
If you’re after more chill, less thrill, the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon provides the perfect environment in Cairns CBD, with plenty of space to spread out across the green lawns or sandy beach that fringes the lagoon.
Explore walking trails
Tropical North Queensland has a reputation as a bushwalking mecca. Infinite trails carve through the mountains and foothills of Cairns with some, such as the Arrow Walking Trails of Mount Whitfield Conservation Park, just minutes from the CBD. Beginning in the leafy inner suburb of Edge Hill, the most popular trail, the Red Arrow Circuit, climbs uphill for views over Cairns then loops back down passing through rainforest and a thicket of bamboo. Locals will often do the Red Arrow either before or after work when the weather is cooler, many doing several laps of the 1.5km circuit. The other tracks vary from 1.9km to 6km in distance.
How to get there: Car, regular bus service to Edge Hill, or a short 10-15min cycle via a marked bike path.
Best time of day: Early morning or late afternoon
Cairns Botanic Gardens
Many botanic gardens fake their tropical environments, whether they’re housed in greenhouses or only display the most sturdy of tropical plants to withstand their cooler climates. The Cairns Botanic Gardens is the real deal and renowned as one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants in Australia. You’ll discover weird and wonderful local and exotic plant species, including highlights such as the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden which gives insights into uses of the native flora, or the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory which houses the garden’s most unique and valuable plants.
On the last Sunday of every month between April and November, Sunday Markets begin at the Botanic Gardens extending down through the Tanks Art Centre showcasing local handicrafts, food and performances.
Open: Every day from 7.30am–5.30pm
The beauty of brunch is that you can eat twice as much you’re combining two meals into one. A popular place to brunch in Cairns is along Grafton Street in the CBD. Here you’ll find a number of cafes in succession, each with their own unique menu style like The Lillipad Cafe, famous for its huge servings and extensive vegetarian/ vegan offerings, arty and locally focused Caffiend or health food cafe Pantry 15. Just around the corner are other popular eateries, The Chambers cafe, restaurant & bar and Bang & Grind both guaranteeing great food and coffee.
Sunday Lunch Cruise
Waterfront views are so last season, now it’s all about panoramic views onboard the Spirit of Cairns’ Sunday Lunch Cruise. Departing each Sunday, this gentle sailing cruise in Trinity Inlet serves up a three-course hot and cold buffet. Keep an eye out for local wildlife in the mangroves from the outer decks as you travel upriver moving into the air-conditioned cabin when lunch is served.
Where: Departs Cairns Marlin Marina
Details: Sunday, boarding 12pm for 12.30pm departure
The first thing that will strike you about the Cairns Art Gallery is its beautiful exterior. The columns of this heritage building are often decorated in sleeves featuring graphics from the latest exhibition on show, making it stand out against its city surrounds. Many of the exhibitions here showcase artists from across the region or life in the Tropical North. The gallery is free to enter and the gift shop is a great place to stock up on unique and thoughtful souvenirs.
Open: Sunday 10am–2pm
Dine with the best views in Cairns for next to nothing while cooking up your own feast at one of the many free barbecues throughout the city and surrounds. Cairns Esplanade itself features a dozen separate barbecue areas and most of Cairns’ beaches include beachfront “barbies” to while away your afternoon or evening.
Top tip: Create a checklist of the items you need beforehand – it’s always frustrating when you forget a necessity like oil or tongs.
Don’t forget: Clean up the barbecues after you’ve finished so other people can enjoy them afterwards.
The Beach Shack
Look up, you’ll see twinkling fairy lights strung between coconut trees; look down, there’ll be sand between your toes; to your front, you’ll see the ocean and just behind you, a small shack with thatched coconut frond roof serving cocktails and drinks. You’ve just discovered Cairns’ worst kept secret, The Beach Shack.
This absolute beachfront bar fires up its oven every Sunday afternoon dishing up homemade, wood-fired pizzas. It’s the kind of place that exists in movies so naturally, booking a table here is essential. Shoes are optional, even discouraged, so leave the heels at home and enjoy some barefoot fun.
Where: Kewarra Beach Resort + Spa, Kewarra Beach
Details: Sunday 3-8pm with pizza and live music (May to December)
$1 Dollar Oysters
You’re in the tropics and nothing quite beats a chilled oyster on a balmy afternoon. It gets even better when they’re only $1. Swing past any of these restaurants on a Sunday to fulfil your oyster fantasies:
Mondo on the Waterfront
Details: Saturday & Sunday 3-5pm with live shucking station
Details: Sunday 11.30am-3pm
Lime & Pepper
Where: Palm Cove
Details: Sunday 3-6pm
Ellis Beach Bar & Grill
Where: Ellis Beach
Details: Sunday 1-4pm with live music
Yorkeys Knob Boating Club
Where: Yorkeys Knob
Details: Sunday 3-6pm with live music
Say goodbye to the week that’s been with a cold drink and live music at one of Cairns’ many vibrant bars. Find a lounge at Salthouse on their open-air deck for front row seats to the afternoon’s entertainment on Sundays from 5pm; head sky-high to Rocco, Cairns’ only rooftop bar offering panoramic vistas over the city and Coral Sea; or party from noon around the pool at Gilligan’s Wet Day Club with live DJs, games, Aqua Huts (aka cabanas) for hire and some serious summer vibes.