- cairns northern beaches
- machans beach & holloways beach
- yorkeys knob
- trinity beach
- kewarra beach & clifton beach
- palm cove
- ellis beach & buchans point
- north to port douglas
- four mile beach at port douglas
- beaches south of cairns
- bramston beach, ella bay & flying fish point
- mission beach
- tips for cairns beaches
The jewels in the crown of the Cairns coast are the great beaches to the north and south of Cairns city. With a spectacular backdrop of rainforest‑clad mountains, the Cairns region’s beaches are a picturesque destination.
Whether you want to pitch your tent where you can watch the sun rise over the Coral Sea, sip champagne from a spa on the water’s edge or take a dip at a deserted beach, there’s a stretch of sand perfect for you.
The Cairns Northern Beaches stretch for 26km from residential Machans and Holloways beaches just north of the Barron River to secluded Ellis Beach.
Machans Beach is the closest beach to Cairns city but due to its proximity of the Cairns International Airport flight path and the Barron River estuary, Machans has remained a mainly residential beach.
There are a number of cafes and restaurants at Machans Beach and some holiday rentals are available. Booking in advance is advised.
Holloways Beach is also a mainly residential area but there is a small shopping centre, cafes and restaurants and a popular ‘beach bar’.
There are a number of small B&B type accommodation places and holiday rental homes. Again, booking in advance is advised.
Yorkeys Knob is home to a marina, golf course and Yorkeys Knob Boating Club and has a range of accommodation options close to the beach.
There is also a large residential community with short-term rentals available but booking is definitely advised.
Trinity Beach has become a well-known self-drive destination, particularly with families, and has a range of holiday apartments near or on the beach, a hotel, restaurants and sporting facilities.
Back from beach is a large residential community with a shopping centre, primary school, various sporting grounds and even a skate park. Public transport to and from the city as well as to the large shopping centre at Smithfield is easily accessible.
Kewarra and Clifton beaches are ideal for visitors seeking a quieter pace with a resort at Kewarra and apartments at Clifton.
Kewarra Beach is also a residential area with a large number of homes and a major private primary school. There is a small shopping centre and buses run into the city, to the other beaches and also to the large shopping centre at Smithfield.
Clifton Beach is another residential area with major apartment development popping up recently, a shopping centre and a number of restaurants.
Between Kewarra and Clifton beaches is the Paradise Palms Country Club and Golf Course with its large clubhouse, swimming pool and gated community. The facility is undergoing development which will see holiday accommodation and apartments added to the site.
One of Cairns’s major attractions is the luxury resort beach of Palm Cove. With major five-star resorts, holiday accommodation and a golf course, this is some of the most expensive real estate in the Cairns region.
Palm Cove is becoming known as the spa centre of Australia with many of the luxury beachfront resorts including spas on their premises.
Award-winning restaurants and boutique shops line the village’s esplanade which is shaded by ancient melaleucas and palm trees. Apartments and a beachside caravan park ensure a range of accommodation options.
A number of reef trips can be picked up from the Palm Cove jetty and if you have money to burn, you can hire the Double Island resort just off the coast for about $10,000 per night.
The next beach along, about five minutes’ drive north of Palm Cove, is Ellis Beach which is popular for its wide, sandy beach, the Ellis Beach Bar and Grill and its surf lifesaving club. The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007, coinciding with 100 years of Surf Life Saving in Australia.
There is little accommodation available apart from the caravan park, but this offers camping, caravan sites and beach cabins. The Ellis Beach Bar & Grill is home to live music on the weekends and great deals during the week.
At the southern end of Ellis Beach is Buchans Point, a popular (unofficial) “clothes optional” beach. As you travel north along the Cook Highway, you’ll see the carpark on the beach side of the road between Palm Cove and Ellis Beach. It is then just a short walk south to the beautiful sandy beach backed by cliffs and the highway.
It’s a small, protected beach popular with locals, interstate visitors, The Cairns Sunboys (a nude social group for gay men) and the Barrier Reef Sun Club.
Although Buchans Beach has been recognised as a nude beach since the 1950s, remember that nude sunbathing is illegal in Queensland; a recent move to legalise it was blocked by the State Government.
From Ellis Beach, the Captain Cook Highway winds along a breathtaking coastal range north towards Port Douglas and Mossman.
There are a number of great beaches along the way, some completely empty and some with residential homes.
Thala Beach, about half way to Port Douglas, is home to the Thala Beach Resort, an up-market hotel with pristine beaches and a well-respected restaurant.
Pebble Beach is unique with its coating of volcanic pebbles. The beach is now a protected area and visitors are not allowed to remove the distinctive pebbles.
Wangetti Beach is home to a number of residents and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Apart from the crocodiles, the beach is a nice stop-off for a picnic but there are few facilities available.
Port Douglas’ Four Mile Beach boasts a spectacular stretch of sand and fronts the Sheraton Mirage Resort, its golf course and a large public reserve.
The village of Port, as it is known, is a popular tourist resort with a number of top hotels, resorts and longer-term accommodation.
It’s been home to a couple of big budget Hollywood films, the latest a WWII production from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, as well as visiting celebrities like former US president Bill Clinton, singer Pink and Australian pop royalty, Kylie Minogue.
To the north of Port Douglas are the pretty beachside suburbs of Newell and Wonga Beach offering accommodation options ranging from caravan parks to luxurious private homes.
The beaches to the south of Cairns are a little more laid-back and secluded and it is not unusual for people to enjoy the area in solitude.
Bramston Beach, Ella Bay and Kurrimine Beach have great camping grounds; Etty Bay is patrolled by lifeguards and most of the beaches have boat ramps.
Just south of Cairns and about 17km off the Bruce Highway, Bramston Beach is a small residential area with lots of "beach shacks" used on the weekends by Cairns residents as well as a resident population.
Nearby tourist attractions include bird-watching at Eubenangee Swamp National Park; Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere; Josephine Falls; Babinda Boulders and the beach itself.
Bramston has reasonable accommodation and facilities but booking is recommended.
Ella Bay, along the Johnstone River and on the way to Flying Fish Point, is part of the Ella Bay National Park. There are plans to develop a major resort in the area along the beach.
There is no marked trail and the beach is under water at high tide, but Ella Bay offers a great beach walk at low tide that goes for kilometres.
Flying Fish Point is an idyllic beach village at the mouth of the Johnstone River, near Innisfail, and leads to beautiful Ella Bay.
This is one of Queensland’s best places for estuary fishing and the area’s fishing club is surprisingly large. There are two boat ramps and an annual Coconut Regatta in July.
There are a number of accommodation options – mainly holiday homes – and a caravan park.
Mission Beach offers the best of both worlds; it is secluded but still has a range of accommodation, restaurants and shopping.
Halfway between Cairns and Townsville, Mission Beach offers 14km of sandy beaches backed by rainforest and the Family Group of islands – including Dunk and Bedarra islands – are just off the coast.
The village offers a wide variety of accommodation but can become packed during school holidays and during the Christmas period so it is worth booking before-hand.
There are great restaurants, pubs and cafes, general shopping, a medical centre and a regular market day. Mission Beach is also home to lots of artists so there are a number of galleries.
The beaches in this region stretch from Bingil Bay south to Tully Heads including Clump Point, Wongalinga Beach, South Mission Beach and Hull Heads.
Caravan parks, apartments, resorts, motels and B&Bs are some of the varied accommodation options at these beaches.
- Cairns beaches hold a particular danger during the stinger season.
- Visitors need to remember that between November and May, swimming is unsafe at beaches in the Cairns region due to dangerous jellyfish (stingers) that migrate to the Tropical North Queensland coast.
- Stings – particularly those of the box jellyfish (Chironex fleckerii) – can lead to heart failure and possible death if left untreated.
- Small Irukandji jellyfish also can be potentially deadly with symptoms including muscle cramps, vomiting and hypertension.
- During stinger season, most beaches in the Cairns region are equipped with stinger resistant enclosures and life guard services, enabling beachgoers to safely swim inside the nets.
- The beaches in the Cairns region are all monitored before and during the stinger season and nets are placed at major beaches in the area.
- If there are no nets on the beach you choose, you must wear a lycra stinger suit for protection or stay out of the water.
- It's reasonably safe to swim at the outer reef during stinger season and at the islands.
- It’s reasonably safe to swim at the outer reef during stinger season and at the islands.
- Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and skin cancers contribute to 80 per cent of all new cancers diagnosed every year in the country.
- Research has shown that sun exposure during childhood increases the risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers later in life. The amount of exposure does not need to be particularly long, especially if the child is under five years old.
- All Australian children wear “sunsuits” when swimming and unless they are competing in a swimming competition, it is a pre-requisite for school swimming programs.
- Likewise Australian school children are required to wear a large-brimmed hat as part of their school uniform and many schools insist on quality UV resistant sunglasses as well.
- Always wear a hat, 30+ UV protection sunscreen and a rash vest or other protective swimming gear is recommended; especially for children.
- Pets are banned on beaches that are attached to national parks, as is camping without a permit or not in a designated camping area.
- Beware of crocodiles if you are swimming off a beach near an estuary (river mouth).