An ecosystem shaped by tides, its trees an evolutionary tale of survival, slender trunks dapple the light and amongst a tangle of roots, thousands of busy little crabs go about their day. I love the Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk – which is actually called the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk – for its nature and its photogenic qualities. This is a place thousands of people drive right by every day, going to and from the airport, living their busy lives, but the minute you enter the mangroves on the elevated boardwalk, you’re transported into a new place. A place of stillness, which is surprising given its location, where you can still hear the planes overhead but you’re more focussed on the clicking of the fiddler crabs below. It’s free to see, so check it out.
The Northern Boardwalk is an 830 metre circuit, from the car park to Little Barron Creek and back again. It meanders through the mangrove with viewing platforms and is an easy walk.
The Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk ticks a lot of boxes for me. It makes what is usually a rather inaccessible ecosystem – the mangrove ecosystem – accessible. For those that don’t know, mangroves occupy the tidal zone between the sea and the mainland. In essence, they are coastal forests where the inhabitants have learned to grow and thrive in what can only be described as ‘difficult’ conditions. They are of critical importance for coral reefs and those in Cairns are no different, providing a nursery for many Great Barrier Reef fish species. As well as showcasing the unique mangrove ecosystem, this is just a beautiful walk amongst unusual trees which create a beautiful backdrop for photos.
“Every time I come back to this boardwalk I am impressed by its beauty. I love the interesting shapes of the tree roots, the way the light flickers down and through the silvery tree trunks, the ‘popping’ and clicking sounds of the crabs and the unusual mangrove flowers and seed pods. While the passing overhead planes remind you of your proximity to the airport and city, you really do feel a world away from it all. I love taking photos here and we all love seeing how many different types of crabs and mud-skippers we might see. The Northern Boardwalk section of the Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk [Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk], is easily accessible and entry is free. You should allow around 30 minutes and make sure you have mosquito spray.” – Julie Johnston
Mangroves link the marine and terrestrial environments. They thrive on sheltered tropical shores where rainfall is high, so this particular location is just perfect for mangroves. The Northern Boardwalk section, of the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk, takes you to and from the car park, through the mangroves and by the Little Barron Creek. In some places the mud beneath the boardwalk is 8m deep and to protect this fragile ecosystem, the boardwalk’s foundations were pushed into this soft mud by hand. The mangrove trees have to tolerate and indeed thrive in saltwater, and they have developed some pretty unique ways of doing this. Some prevent the salt from entering their roots, while others excrete salt through glands on their leaves. There’s around 29 different types of mangrove trees growing around Cairns and the main two you will see on this walk, are the Ceriops and Avicennia.
Other than the mangrove trees, which create an other-worldly landscape at ground level, you will see a few different types of crab during your journey along the boardwalk. My favourite are the fiddler crabs, who you can identify thanks to their bright red claws; they emerge from their muddy hole homes at low tide to forage the nutrient rich mudflats for food. At high tide they need to hide themselves, lest they become a meal for the incoming fish species, which includes mangrove jack, barramundi, bream and more.
If you plan on exploring the Northern Boardwalk section of the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk, which we highly recommend that you do, then bring your camera and some insect repellent. We’ve been to this boardwalk many times over the years, at different times of the year and day, and are always so impressed by how beautiful it is. I love the play of light through the mangrove tree trunks and leaves, and some of my favourite photos with my son have been taken here, while laying down on the boardwalk to capture the backdrop around us. However, if you want to do this, you definitely need to apply insect repellent beforehand and we recommend Bushman Repellent. Indeed, even if you don’t plan on lying down, make sure you have insect repellent just for your comfort. Photo opportunities include the tangle of mangrove roots, mangrove canopy, Little Barron Creek, mangrove flowers and seed pods, fiddler crabs and more.
The Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk was officially opened on 27 February 1988 and is named after Dr Jack Barnes, a Cairns physician and toxicologist, who discovered the Irukandji jellyfish (not at this location). Apart from its beauty, natural and conservation values, the boardwalk is famed for being home to one of the world’s rarest species of mangroves, the haines orange mangroves. Prior to their discovery here in 2016, by citizen scientist Hidetoshi Kudo, the haines orange mangrove had only ever been documented in Singapore, on the Malay peninsula and in Papua New Guinea. They are listed as rare and endangered and had never before been recorded in Australia.
Some of my favourite photos with my son have been taken on this boardwalk. I love the light, the trees and the natural beauty that surrounds you.
The actual name of the Cairns Airport Mangrove Boardwalk is the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk.
Yes, the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk closed in April 2019 – for repair works – and re-opened on Friday 19 August 2022. It remains open and can be accessed for free.
The Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk is located off Airport Avenue, on the city side of the road. There is free car parking available and it is sign-posted for your convenience.
The Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk has two sections, a Northern Boardwalk and Southern Boardwalk. The Northern Boardwalk is 830 metre circuit from the car park, through the mangroves to the Little Barron Creek and back again. Allow around 30 minutes and it is classified as an easy walk. The Southern Boardwalk is around 600 metre one-way (1,200m return) from the car park. Also classified as an easy walk, you should allow 40 minutes for this walk.
The most obvious answer to this question is of course, ‘mangroves’ – of which there are several different varieties to see. If you look down and around the sides of the elevated boardwalk, you are also likely to see crabs and mud-skippers, of varying sizes. A number of birds live in this area too, so keep your eyes peeled for these.
Yes, there are lots of mangroves in and around the Cairns area. In fact, around 29 different types of mangrove trees have been recorded here.
Without a doubt, the best place to see mangroves in Cairns is the Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk, near the Cairns Airport. Entry is free and the elevated boardwalk allows you to explore and enjoy the unique mangrove ecosystem, without damaging it. In fact one of the world’s most endangered mangrove species grows here, the haines orange mangroves.
The Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk is located on Airport Avenue, about a 2 minute drive from the airport and 10 minute drive from the Cairns CBD. There is free car parking and entry to the boardwalk is also free. Make sure you have applied sun block and insect repellent prior to starting the walk. The boardwalk is elevated and there are a few viewing areas along the walk. Interpretive signage provides information regarding the mangrove and its evolution. Bring your camera and a hat.
© I Love Cairns 2023