Cairns Outback. Cairns is the gateway to Australia’s northern frontier lands, the Gulf Savannah, Cape York Peninsula and Torres Strait Islands beyond. Places that are rich with history and culture, offering an abundance of natural attractions and destinations of raw, wild beauty. This is country that has only lightly been touched by the hands of man but bears the traces of Australia’s prehistoric past. A place which calls to the adventurer within and provides memories to last a lifetime. We heard that call and have traversed the long red roads to prepare the Ultimate Cairns Outback Visitor Guide.
The Gulf Savannah is one of our favourite places in winter. We love the vast open country and getting away from the crowds. The outback is somewhere you can breathe in the bush and breathe out your stress. You do not need a 4WD to get to a lot of western destinations and you don’t need to camp either, as lots of places have accommodation. That being said, we do have a 4WD and a caravan (which you can hire), so you can do offroad road and offgrid adventures too. We will cover all the options on the pages we will be loading into the site, in due course.
So, what are some of the places you can visit when you head west into the Cairns Outback? If you’re into finding treasures, there’s gemstones at Mount Surprise and O’Briens Creek, the chance of gold at Forsayth and Georgetown and fossicking for agates at Agate Creek. The must do attractions are Cobbold Gorge and Undara Lava Tubes, but Copperfield Gorge is worth a look as is Talaroo Hot Springs. If caving is more your thing, then the Chillagoe Caves are world class. If you are planning a Cairns Outback adventure, our top tip is to book early to secure your spots as it does get busy.
The Tip of Australia – also known as Pajinka – is a bucket list destination for many Australians, and the gateway to this iconic location is Cairns. Heading north you’ll drive down many long red roads, encounter historic communities and sites, have the chance to refresh in waterfalls, catch some really big fish, beachcomb and explore Aboriginal rock art and contemporary art practices. Along the way, the vast remoteness of the northern frontier is evident, everywhere – there are more termite mounds and cattle than people living here.
Tracking north you can explore the eastern and western coastlines of the Gulf of Carpentaria. On the west, the fishing is epic, especially around the mining township of Weipa. On the east coast the fishing is also awesome and we definitely recommend stopping in to check out Chilli Beach. To get to ‘The Tip’ you walk over rocky headlands, find the sign and get that photo. Definitely make the time to take a tour to the nearby Torres Strait Islands too, they are place of remarkable beauty, historic and cultural significance. You can do this trip accommodated or you can camp. We will be adding more information on this destination to our website, in the weeks to come.
About these products, we are not a direct booking agent but have a partnership with Viator to allow us to make a small commision from any bookings you make from our site, this keeps the engine going and fuels our drive to create the best independant diving and snorkeling advice.
The Cairns Outback we write about on this website is the areas to the west and north of Cairns. They are characterised for their remote locations, small populations, rugged terrain and lack of what is considered ‘town facilities’ (being large grocery stores and convenience stores, cafes and amenities).
Yes – we love visiting the Cairns Outback. It is vast and beautiful. A place to escape and relax. There are lots of things to see, places to visit and tours and attractions to do.
Hard to say – it all depends on what you are interested in doing and seeing. The Gulf Savannah – to our west – is more accessible than Cape York Peninsula. The roads are better (you do not need a 4WD to visit many destinations and attractions) and they are generally ‘closer’ to Cairns than destinations on the Cape. As such, it is easier to plan a quick visit to the Gulf Savannah (quick meaning at least 3 days) and still do lots. If you want to visit the Cape and Tip of Australia, then you need at least a week and need to do a lot of planning. Any visit to any Cairns Outback destination should be planned and booked in advance, especially the tours and accommodation. They do get busy and you’d hate to drive all that way and miss out.
No – you do not need a 4WD to visit a lot of places in the western outback. We do recommend having a 4WD for a Cape York Peninsula trip.
Yes, there are campgrounds and camp sites, hotels and motels and even some resorts. So if you research and book ahead, you can stay accommodated.
This could be open to interpretation and personal opinion, but, in our opinion there is more ‘to do’ in the Gulf Savannah – in regards to tours, activities and destinations. Cape York Peninsula – especially if you are going to The Tip is more remote and requires more planning and more time. Both are amazing!! We’ve done both – so I’m not saying one is better than the other – just trying to tease out the main difference, in our opinion.
Yes – lots of attractions in the Cairns Outback. In the west you have Undara Lava Tubes, Talaroo Hot Springs, Cobbold Gorge and Copperfield Gorge. In the north you have amazing National Parks – Lakefield and Iron Range – Chili Beach, the Laura rock art, Lockhart River Art Centre, Weipa, The Tip and the Torres Strait Islands.
The only time of year to visit the Cairns Outback is in the ‘dry season’ – which generally speaking is April to October. During the ‘wet season’ the conditions become too hot and when the rains come, the roads become unpassable. A lot of attractions, tours, facilities and accommodation providers are only open seasonally.
Generally speaking – no – it is not safe to swim in the Cairns Outback due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles in most river systems. That being said, there are always exceptions to that rule. You can swim at Talaroo Hot Springs, Copperfield Gorge and at the lake at Cobbold Gorge. In the north, you can swim at Fruit Bat and Elliott Falls.
Yes – there are crocodiles in the Cairns Outback – saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. To be safe – unless there are signs saying otherwise – assume there are crocodiles and stay away from the water and water’s edge.
It can be dangerous in the Cairns Outback – but it can also be dangerous driving your car to work. Danger is all relative. If you plan, dress and act appropriately to the conditions, you should be OK. But it is a natural environment and there are dangerous animals – saltwater crocodiles, venomous snakes and more – so be aware and be careful.
Safety measures include well-marked roads, emergency call devices in remote areas, and the promotion of safe travel practices by local authorities and tourism operators. There are also lots of signs, indicating the presence of any dangerous animals, locations and threats.
You might encounter kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, various bird species, emus, cattle and assorted reptiles including monitor lizards, crocodiles and snakes.
The main industries include cattle, mining, tourism and agriculture in more fertile areas.
Challenges include isolation, limited access to services and amenities, extreme weather conditions and managing land sustainably.
Water resources are managed through conservation practices, rainwater harvesting, and careful allocation to ensure sustainability in the arid environment.
Challenges include managing invasive species, protecting native wildlife and habitats, and balancing development with environmental preservation.
Indigenous cultural practices contribute through traditional land management techniques, such as controlled burning, which maintain the health of ecosystems.
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