The best time to visit Cairns, Australia isn’t during the summer
This might seem a bit backward, as most Australian tourism ads focus so much on the summer fun in the sun. You might see yourself surfing on Bondi Beach in Sydney or wading through rust-colored sand in the outback.
When you think about the Great Barrier Reef, you probably think of the warm Australian sunshine beating down on you as you try to find Nemo. You might want to lay on the beach in tropical North Queensland and sip cocktails before your tour of the Daintree Rainforest.
But I lived in Cairns during the summer.
And honestly? It was hell.
The Best Time to Visit Cairns, Australia
* If you want to visit outside of the Queensland School holidays, you can check the dates each year here.
For visitors to Australia from the northern hemisphere, keep in mind that the seasons down there are completely opposite. Spring is fall, summer is winter, etc.
However, something unique about Far North Queensland is that it sits solidly in the tropics, so it doesn’t even really have these distinct seasons anyway.
Instead, there are only two types of weather to be aware of: Dry season and wet.
Don’t: Visit Cairns in the wet season.
If you try to brave it, you will have a miserable holiday.
It starts getting really bad toward the end of November and doesn’t let up until early March.
- Cairns is hot in the wet season
We are talking solidly in the 90s each day with no respite when the sun goes down hot. Most hotels have air conditioning, but it might not run cooler than about 75. The aircon unit in my sharehouse was fighting for its life to get down past 78. It was … not ideal.
If you book a vacation rental, the house might not have aircon at all. You might have to rely on fans for comfort, which is cruel and unusual punishment.
My landlord wouldn’t allow me to run my aircon or fan when I wasn’t at home (even though I would have happily paid a higher bill not to come home to an oven). I forget to put a chocolate bar in the fridge when I left for work one afternoon. I accidentally left it out on my desk, so it was chocolate milk and all over the floor by the time I got home.
- Cairns is humid in the wet season
“It’s not the heat that gets ya, it’s the humidity,” — every dad ever and also me when I’m talking about Cairns. FR FR, I have never chafed as badly in my entire life as I did when I was walking home from work every afternoon.
Although the sticky weather was pretty great for my skin cause I was so damp all the time, I did have to throw away a pair of Birkenstocks because they got too moldy.
- Cairns is … well, really wet in the wet season
Many tours will get canceled in rainy weather. My tour to raft the Tully River got postponed twice because the river was too swollen and dangerous for amateurs to navigate.
My scuba diving tour of the Great Barrier Reef got rained out because the waves were too rough, it was too windy, and no one was really up for some extreme snorkeling.
Another time, we did actually go out on the water, but the visibility was so bad I wish we hadn’t. While there are a few things to do in Cairns city if it’s raining, there isn’t too much. And in reality, people come to town for the reef and the rainforest. You don’t want either to be inaccessible during your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
I still remember a girl on her honeymoon who sat in the tour office I worked at and cried for a good 45 minutes because every single thing she and her new husband had booked was canceled due to the weather. They came all the way to Australia from the USA to just sit in their hotel room and watch tv. It was heartbreaking.
- Cairns has a stinger problem in the summer
Warmer water means it’s time for jellyfish. Stinger season in Cairns is from Novemberish to Mayish.
There are always jellyfish in the water, of course, but you have a higher chance of injury during these times. And have to wear a stinger suit which isn’t really the height of fashion.
Do: Visit Cairns in the Dry Season
The best time to visit Cairns, Australia is actually during the winter.
The weather starts to dry out in mid-March and by June conditions are as perfect as they will ever be. Things stay steady until the end of November when you will start running into the daily thunderstorms again.
- Cairns is still warm in the winter
The average temperature is lower, usually in the high 70s and low 80s making it comfortable to walk around outside without needing to shower twice a day. It never really gets cold in the tropics, just pleasant.
So, if you are interested in strolling the outdoor markets and having dinner on the esplanade without sweating to death, come in the winter.
- Queensland doesn’t do daylight savings time
If you are worried about less daylight during the winter, don’t be! The state of Queensland doesn’t participate in daylight savings time, so sunset is still a bit later than down south in Sydney or Melbourne.
In addition, most of the things to do in the area (snorkeling, hiking) are “daytime” activities anyway and typically wrap up around 5pm.
- No stinger suits in winter
Way less of a chance of getting stung by an Irukandji jellyfish and dying when visiting Cairns in the winter. It’s a win/win.
- Cairns has fewer people during the dry season
I think it’s because people just assume that winter = freezing, which wouldn’t make for a fun holiday. But lest we forget that the tropics don’t ever get cold. Our boats were suspiciously empty during the winter months, which is a shame because the experience was completely elevated.
Be better than everyone else: Visit Cairns in August 🙂