Knowing what to pack for Cairns, Australia can be a bit tricky.
The coastal gem and unofficial capital city of the Great Barrier Reef has some unpredictable weather that’s a bit different than the rest of Australia. Trying to decide what to wear in Cairns every day was always a gamble.
Whether you are traveling around the entire continent on the holiday of a lifetime, or just stopping in to find Nemo and dip, you need to bring the same essentials.
What to Pack for Cairns, Australia
Lucky for you, I lived in Cairns for six months on my working holiday. I did my 88 days of visa extension work working as a travel agent along the Cairns Esplanade.
As I sat behind my desk, I watched hundreds of tourists trickle past each afternoon. I saw lots of people wearing jeans and long sleeves in August (winter in Cairns) thinking it would be cold (it wasn’t).
There were also plenty of garish Hawaiian shirts (please don’t) and leis (why???).
You’ll want to avoid both of those when packing your suitcase.
The Ultimate Cairns Packing List (from a former resident)
Everyone else is going to tell you the same things when packing for Cairns: Bring extra underwear just in case. Bring an iPhone charger, and bring your medication.
You already know that!
I’m here to tell you what to pack for Cairns specifically. As in, if you don’t add these items to your Cairns packing list, your trip is going to suffer.
These are the essentials of what to pack for a trip to Far North Queensland.
Chub rub is one of the most natural, unavoidable parts of being a woman. I struggled with it for years and couldn’t find something that worked for me. I liked wearing dresses, especially when it was hot and tropical outside, but didn’t like having to penguin walk around all day because my groin felt like it had caught on fire.
I didn’t like wearing biker shorts under my dresses because they looked too bulky. I also noticed that a lot of shorts (jean shorts…I’m looking at you) were not quite long enough on the inseam either to prevent chafing. Leaving me to wear jeans in 90-degree weather. Not fun.
Then I found Thigh Society from an Instagram ad and my life changed forever. I recommend them to my sister when she went to Egypt. My mom for everyday life in Houston (same climate as Cairns). Seriously. Life. Changing.
Cairns is hot and sticky, even when it’s not. You’re going to be damp most of the time anyway. So bring a few pairs of these.
Hot tip: just wear them AS underwear. Don’t worry about doubling up cause things will feel too crowded.
Cairns never really gets cold, no matter what time of year you visit Tropical North Queensland, so bring along a sundress or two (or three).
They work great as stylish coverups for your afternoon out on a Great Barrier Reef Boat tour or as an outfit for your seafood dinner along the Cairns Esplanade later in the evening.
The overall vibe of the city is very casual, so cotton dresses work well for most things you’ll be doing.
I had to throw away a fairly new pair of Birkenstocks while in Cairns. The humidity in the air was just too high and they got really moldy. It was so sad. Truly gone before their time.
For your trip, consider bringing a pair of rubber sandals with a good grip on them. This way, even if they get wet, they won’t get ruined and you won’t slip and fall either.
So much of your vacation in Cairns is going to revolve around the water. You are going to spend the day on the Great Barrier Reef. You might spend the very next day on Fitzroy Island or swimming in Mossman Gorge.
Nothing is worse than putting on a wet bathing suit the next morning. Save yourself the hassle and bring at least two, if not three.
When considering what to pack for Cairns, don’t forget your tennis shoes.
While Cairns has plenty of water-based activities to do, there are also quite a few hikes in the area. You’ll need a pair of sneakers to see the top of Fitzroy Island, Walsh’s Pyramid, and even some of the paths in the Daintree Rainforest need close-toed shoes.
A phrase that I hate hearing because I’ve heard it ad nauseam is, “The Australian sun is no joke!” A phrase that is very much true and needs to be repeated, “The Australian sun is no joke!”
For real, I never got sunburned while out and about while growing up in Texas. In Australia, I pop out to the grocery store and get burned on the five-minute walk there. It’s wild.
Cairns and its surrounding activities are very much outdoor kind of places. So make sure you have some stylish sunglasses and a hat on hand to avoid sun sickness.
You are going to spend a lot of time in wobbly vehicles in Cairns. Whether your boat is hopping larger waves out to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkeling and trying to find Nemo, or your bus is winding up the steep mountainside to Kuranda Village.
You might even feel brave enough to take a ride on the Skyrail to enjoy the views from way up there.
None of these things are going to be very fun if you start to feel a bit unwell. When I worked as a travel agent in Cairns, I also spent some time out on the reef helping out on our boats. I caught a lot of vomit in my hands from people who “never get seasick.”
Don’t let this happen to you.
Terms like “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” are typically used to identify sunscreens, lotions, and body washes that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are two common UV-blocking chemicals, that studies have shown can cause coral bleaching.
If you have washed your hair in a non-reef-safe way, then jump into the ocean, the chemicals can pollute the water and harm the coral you are swimming around. Same for all other lotions, creams, etc.
Do your part and plan ahead to not pollute the Great Barrier Reef.
The Best Time to Visit Cairns
Cairns only really has two seasons: Wet season and dry season.
The Cairns’ weather in the wet season (end of Novemberish to mid-Marchish) is hazy, hot, and humid. There are also daily thunderstorms.
The Cairns’ weather during the dry season (mid-Marchish to mid-Novemberish) is cool, temperate, and sunny. It never gets chilly in Tropical North Queensland, though. Just relaxed.
Best Things to Do in Cairns, Australia
Need a few tips on what do to in the area now that you know what to pack for Cairns? Here are my top recommendations for the best things to do in Cairns, even if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands.
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