North Queensland may be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but let’s not forget the spectacular waterfalls hidden among its tropical rainforests. Whether you seek a secluded oasis or an awe-inspiring Australian cascade, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our selection of the best waterfalls near Cairns.
One of the largest waterfalls close to Cairns, Barron Falls is a colossal cliffside cascade. A suspended walkway, located in the upper section of Barron Gorge National Park, winds through the forest to a lookout with the best views of the falls. During the wet months, you’ll be covered by the waterfall’s mist so take a poncho if you’re worried about getting wet.
To visit the romantically named Fairy Falls, you’ll have to embark on a little adventure. From the Crystal Cascades car park (about 20 minutes’ drive from Cairns town centre) take an unmarked track dotted with stinging plants. Follow the creek until you find the falls. The reward is a deep pool that’s perfect for swimming. Crystal Cascades is easier to find. A 1.5km (1mi) walk ends at a large swimming hole surrounded by boulders and a series of waterfalls. Keep an eye out for goannas and other local wildlife.
Tropical oasis Millaa Millaa Falls is a popular tourist attraction, thanks in no small part to its exquisite beauty. The rainforest waterfall in the Atherton Tablelands tumbles into a swimming hole engulfed by ferns and tropical plants. It takes around 90 minutes to drive from Cairns, but the effort is worth it. A grassy picnic area is the ideal place to eat and admire the views. And, if you’re lucky, you might even spot the resident platypuses.
Not so big on crowds? The spectacular Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls, which are part of the Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Circuit, are a quiet slice of paradise. Enveloped in trees, water gushes over the basalt ledge of Zillie Falls into the rapids below. Take a picnic, enjoy your surroundings from the viewing platform, and keep your eyes peeled for flying foxes. Ellinjaa Falls flows into a big freshwater swimming hole. Carefully clamber along the hidden ledges to go behind the curtain of water.
Go for a swim beneath the beautiful Josephine Falls, in the rainforest of Wooroonooran National Park. It’s 75km (47mi) from Cairns, but that should only convince you to make a day of it. There are barbecues and a picnic area so fill up your backpack before you go. The waterfall itself includes a natural rock slide which ends in a swimmable natural pool. There are also gorgeous hikes through the rainforest to explore.
Nandroya Falls is (arguably) the highlight of a 6km (4mi) circuit in Wooroonooran National Park. Depending on which route you take, the trek cuts through rainforest, past gorges and falls, before ending at Nandroya. Once there, enjoy a swim under the stepped cascade. Platypuses have been spotted in the area so be on the lookout for a flash of sleek, brown fur. Should you need it, there are camping and picnic facilities at Henrietta Creek.
It’s easy to club Wallicher Falls and Tchupala Falls together in one trip. They both sit in the Palmerston section of Wooroonooran National Park, just a short walk apart. At Tchupala, a wide curation of water sprays over a basalt ledge. Wallicher Falls is a picturesque site hugged by the forest. Head to the lookout for the best views. The prehistoric-looking cassowary calls the area home, so keep your eyes peeled as you trek through the forest.
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