Cairns is a popular tourist location in North Queensland and one that is visited every year by hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world.
With amazing beaches, blue seas and the Great Barrier Reef just a short jaunt away, there’s plenty to enjoy whether you love to swim, surf or take part in some amazing sports like sailing and windsurfing.
It’s not just the coastal beaches and the fantastic ocean challenges that tourists and newcomers to the area are eager to try. Some amazing freshwater adventures attract visitors too. These are even more popular during the regular jellyfish season, particularly with the locals. If you are moving to Cairns you might also want to read this article.
When people first visit Cairns, they can be forgiven for thinking that beach swimming is the only activity around. The beaches stretch for miles and they are so inviting, some visitors never move further inland.
The truth is that many of the more experienced locals spend a lot of their leisure time visiting freshwater locations such as waterfalls, creeks and reservoirs around Cairns rather than swimming in the ocean.
Let’s first look at the beaches, however. Outside of jellyfish (or stinger) season, these are great places to spend the day:
One of the most popular beaches in Cairns, Palm Cove is famed for its 500-year-old melaleuca trees and the sea in the morning is often as still as glass and perfect for a leisurely swim. It’s also, like all the other beaches, the best place to see a glorious sunset sinking over the Pacific.
Just a few minutes down the road, Ellis Beach lies in the shadow of a rainforest mountain and is a little more remote. The beach itself is lined with dreamy palm trees and there are often fewer tourists here, even during the busier tourist seasons.
With a rocky sea wall, this isn’t the type of beach for kicking back with the kids and taking in the sun but the scenic ocean view is the perfect location for an afternoon stroll along O’Shea Esplanade. The water is a little rougher here, especially at certain times of the day.
You’ll find more coconut trees at Trinity Beach but it’s a great, secluded spot with boundaries formed by two impressive headlands. Like many of the other main beaches, stinger nets are used to help prevent jellyfish which means it’s great for swimming all year round.
If you are looking for somewhere completely safe and well patrolled that is visited by lots of people, the Esplanade Lagoon is a great place to start when you first visit Cairns, especially if you have kids in town.
It’s a saltwater swimming pool that is open all year and covers around 4,800 square metres. It’s a fun place to spend the day and some brilliant underwater benches allow you to kick back and enjoy the sun and the atmosphere.
Stingers are what the locals call jellyfish and they can be a bit of a problem in the area. In North Queensland between November and May, they tend to grow in numbers and become a bit of a nuisance.
In the warm waters, they thrive and grow in numbers. Look down from any height and you’re likely to see one floating along every few feet or so.
Especially if you’ve found a remote location that isn’t patrolled, there’s little or no protection from the stingers and it can put many people off. On many popular beaches, however, you have stinger nets that keep most of these floating marvels away from the shore and swimmers.
While most jellyfish are relatively harmless and may just give you just a little sting, there is one species that you need to look out for.
The box jellyfish, particularly the Australian sea wasp, can deliver a toxic, paralysing sting. It’s also pretty big. The body is the size of a basketball but the tentacles can trail behind it for about 3 metres.
The good news is that fatal stings are not very common and, as long as you swim in protected areas, you shouldn’t have a problem.
While the Stinger season runs from November to May, this can vary quite a lot depending on the weather conditions and the local currents. Even during the season, however, you’ll find intrepid people swimming near the beach.
If this isn’t your thing, there are some stunning freshwater locations you can take advantage of.
While people often worry about jellyfish, once they head to freshwater swimming holes this trepidation turns to crocodiles. These are pretty rare in the freshwater locations you can visit in Cairns, however, and you’re highly unlikely to come across one.
The best time for freshwater swimming is in the summer. Many of the locations are fairly secluded and surrounded by rainforests and, in the winter months, the temperature of the water can drop significantly.
In the shadow of Mount Bartle Frere which rises to 1,600 metres, is Josephine Falls and one of the most idyllic places to spend the day. If you love crystal clear lakes and don’t mind the chill of the water, this is both invigorating and life-affirming which is why you’ll often find the locals hanging out there.
If you love a secluded creek surrounded by rainforest, this is another great choice. The boulders add a little drama to the location and it’s no surprise that it has a special place in the spiritual life of local Aboriginal people. Even during the height of summer, the water is refreshingly cool.
Formed out of a volcanic crater, the wide expanse of Lake Eacham is one of the best places for freshwater swimming in Cairns. At its deepest, the lake is 65 metres and great for diving as well as swimming.
One of the best and most popular locations for swimming in Cairns is Windin Falls. It is part of the Wooroonooran National Park and requires a bit of a trek to get to. With amazing views, however, it’s well worth the effort, whether you want to swim in the ice-cold water or climb to the top of the waterfall. If you prefer warmer water, the summer months are best.
If you love to explore and swim, Crystal Cascades offers a series of water holes and is, again, pretty popular with local Cairns residents. With some submerged boulders, it’s important to keep an eye out for warning signs on the shoreside.
Wherever and whenever you want to swim in tropical north Queensland and the surrounding countryside, it’s important to take the appropriate measures, especially during the jellyfish season.
Stinger suits are recommended during the stinger season even if you are in an area that is protected by nets. These are full-body wetsuits that give you protection if you happen to swim into a stray tentacle or two. With the hot sun, a stinger suit can also protect you from the sun while you splash away in the water and have fun.
When is the best time to swim in Cairns? It depends if you are put off by jellyfish, especially if you spot an unprotected beach. The truth is that most nowadays have some form of protection through the netting. If you’re not convinced, then moving to freshwater locations can be a safer bet.
Cairns is a paradise and it’s no wonder that people come here from all over the world. Depending on the location, you can swim throughout the year and at any time of day and there are multiple locations to choose from, including balmy beaches and freshwater lagoons all surrounded by some of the most amazing scenery you could ever hope to see.
Yes you can swim in Cairns beaches, however it can be very dangerous between the months of November – May. Most locals would recommend swimming in freshwater lagoons, lakes and waterfalls to avoid crocodiles, jellyfish and other dangerous animals in the sea.