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Packing List for Cairns: Essential List of What to Pack for Cairns & Why

Packing List for Cairns: Essential List of What to Pack for Cairns & Why

Here is a complete packing list for Cairns outlining all of the essential items that you need to pack for Cairns before your next trip to Australia’s adventure capital! A no-fuss list that includes all of the essentials items to bring, what not to bring and why!

When people hear Cairns, they often think of ancient rainforests, backpacker vibes, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef. What if I told you it was so much more than that? Cairns Australia is the country’s adventure capital! It’s truly got everything you could ask of an awesome tropical travel destination.

So, what’s the first step in planning a trip to Cairns? If you’ve already booked your flight and accommodation, then you better start thinking about packing.

I’ve spent several months documenting and photographing all of the best Cairns adventure activities, waterfalls, hikes and more. I found it natural then, to help you formulate every part of your trip, even down to what to pack for Cairns!

Also, if you’re planning your visit to Cairns, don’t forget to read my Cairns accommodation guide for where to stay too.

About This Cairns Packing List: When Are You Going & What Are You Planning?

These are the two main questions any traveller should ask themselves for any destination! 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 snorkelling/diving and maybe even bungy jumping or white water rafting!

This packing list for Cairns is designed for exactly that kind of traveller. 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.

Regardless, even if you do just want poolside sips (nothing wrong with that), then you will probably still get some benefit out of reading this list of what to pack for Cairns.

What to Pack for Cairns – The Essential Packing List


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. 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!

Clothes Packing List for Cairns Summary:

  • Clothes to keep you cool (t-shirt and shorts/light dress/skirt)
  • Thongs
  • Swimmers
  • Hardshell jacket or light raincoat (for when it rains)
Ellis Beach


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.

Shoes Packing List for Cairns Summary:

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


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

Nandroya Falls

Related: The 10 Best Cairns Tours & Experiences

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 all of the epic memories on 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 of What to Pack for Cairns: Camera and Photography ideas:

Sandy Cay off Cairns on a Plane Flight

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.

Devil’s Thumb Trail
Luxury resort in Port Douglas, Australia

Stay in Port Douglas!

Port Douglas, just a short hop from Cairns makes for an ideal alternative (or addition) with great accommodation options such as:

Other Cairns Packing Essentials

Now that we have the more “common sense” things to pack for Cairns down pat, here are some more essentials that you might not have thought of.

Fresh water anywhere with my Grayl water filter bottle
Turtle on Fitzroy Island

Related: 15 Essential Items for Digital Nomads

Travel Insurance

I’ve been travelling full-time now for around 4 years and I always swear by travel insurance. This is especially true for adventure destinations like Cairns. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many insurance companies have stopped offering insurance for cancellations.

However, there are still two companies. that offer it, even during the pandemic. World Nomads and Safetywing. Unfortunately, SafetyWing doesn’t currently offer coverage for Australia, but World Nomads do.

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 a home?

  • Reef shoes
  • Super warm jumpers or 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

What Is The Best Time to Visit Cairns

Cairns is located in Tropical Far North Queensland. The keyword there for planning your trip is of course “tropical”. The weather here varies from the rest of Australia. To explain, Cairns has two primary seasons: the dry season and the wet season. Clearly, the seasons will determine what you will need to include in your packing list for Cairns. Or does it?

The dry season runs from approximately April to October and the wet from November through to March. Since it’s the tropics, the dry season (technically Aussie winter) can still be pleasantly warm. Expect days of 26-30 degrees celsius to be normal in the dry season.

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.


What to do in Cairns

As I mentioned above, I’ve written extensively about all of the best things to do in Cairns. Make sure to check out some of the longer articles below when planning your trip.

Best Things to do in Cairns

Waterfalls in Cairns

Best Hikes in Cairns

Best Beaches in Cairns

Islands off Cairns

Best Great Barrier Reef Tour

Best Scenic Flight Tour Over the Great Barrier Reef

Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay

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.

  • Crystalbrook Riley – If luxury and location are what you’re after, you can’t beat the Crystalbrook Riley. This is the best 5-star resort in Cairns and features absolutely everything you’d expect from a Crystalbrook resort.
  • Fitzroy Island Resort – Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands at Fitzroy Island Resort. Spending the night on the island can work out cheaper than staying in town and means you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.
  • Gilligan’s Backpackers – The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers and has facilities including a pool. air-con, a huge shared kitchen, and a great common area!
  • Pepper’s Beach Club – stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on the Cairns Northern Beaches!

For a bigger list, don’t miss my Cairns accommodation guide or as an alternative stay in FNQ, read my Port Douglas Accommodation guide too.

Girl sunbathing at Crystalbrook Riley resort in Cairns
Backpacker hostel in Cairns, Australia

Fill Your Itinerary With These Free Cairns Adventure Travel Guides

So, you’ve organised your packing list for Cairns— time to get planning! I’ve spent several months exploring every corner of Cairns and the surrounding Tropical North region, documenting and photographing the best hikes, best waterfalls and best attractions and must-dos. If you’re still in the planning stages of your Cairns trip, then sure to check out some of my other articles too!

Also, if you can think of anything that you feel should be included on a list of what to pack for Cairns, make sure to drop a comment below!


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:

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