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Cairns ( , locally ) is a regional city in Far North Queensland, Australia. The city itself was named after William Wellington Cairns (the then Governor of Queensland). It was formed to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfield, but experienced a decline when an easier route was discovered from Port Douglasmarker. It later developed into a railhead and major port for exporting sugar cane, gold, metals, minerals and agricultural products from surrounding coastal areas and the Atherton Tableland region.

The city is rapidly expanding, with a population of 122,731 at the 2006 census. Tourism is the largest income producer for the region, followed closely by the sugar industry. An intercensal estimate for the resident population the LGA as of Jun 2008 was 158,700.

Cairns is located about from Brisbanemarker, and about from Sydneymarker by road. It is a popular travel destination for foreign tourists because of its tropical climate and proximity to many attractions. The Great Barrier Reefmarker can be reached in less than an hour by boat. Daintree National Parkmarker and Cape Tribulation, about north of Cairns, are popular areas for experiencing a tropical rainforest. It is also a starting point for people wanting to explore Cooktownmarker, Cape York Peninsulamarker, and the Atherton Tableland.

The city has used its natural surroundings to its advantage, with the construction of several small theme parks for tourists. Among them are Rainforestation Nature Park, Tjapukaimarker Aboriginal Cultural Park, and Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cablewaymarker, which extends for over World Heritage rainforestmarker.

A notable feature of the Cairns esplanade is a swimming lagoon with adjoining barbecue areas. In May 2003, the then Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne declared that topless sunbathing is permitted here, as the area is a gathering point for people from around the world who may wish to do so. A boardwalk allows pedestrians and cyclists to move along the foreshore from the lagoon in a sustainable manner.


Location of Cairns in Queensland (red)
Cairns, view of the foreshore.
The Mulgrave River running through the Goldsbrough Valley to the south of Gordonvale.
Cairns is located on the east coast of Cape York Peninsulamarker on a coastal strip between the Coral Seamarker and the Great Dividing Rangemarker. The northern part of the city is located on Trinity Baymarker and the city centre is located on Trinity Inletmarker. Some of the city's suburbs are located on flood plains. The Mulgrave Rivermarker and Barron Rivermarker flow within the city's boundary but not through the city itself. The city centre's foreshore is located on a mud flat.

Urban layout

Cairns is a provincial city, with a linear urban layout that runs from the south, at Edmonton, to the north, at Ellis Beach. The city is approximately from north to south. Cairns has experienced recent urban sprawl, with suburbs occupying land previously used for sugar cane farming.

The Northern Beaches consist of a number of beach communities extending north along the coast. In general, each beach suburb is located at the end of a spur road extending from the Captain Cook Highway. From south to north, these are Machans Beach, Holloways Beachmarker, Yorkeys Knobmarker, Trinity Park, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Covemarker, and Ellis Beach.

The suburb of Smithfieldmarker is located inland against the mountains of the Great Dividing Range, between Yorkeys Knob and Trinity Park. It serves as the main hub for the Northern Beaches, with a modern shopping arcade, called Smithfield Shopping Centre.

Located south of Smithfield and inland from the Northern Beaches along the edge of the Barron River flood plain are the suburbs of Caravonica, Kamerunga, Freshwater, and Stratfordmarker. This area is sometimes referred to as Freshwater Valley, though it is actually the lower part of Redlynch Valley; further up the valley are the suburbs of Redlynch, on the western side of Redlynch Valley, and Brinsmead on the eastern side. Stratford, Freshwater, and Brinsmead are separated from Cairns city by Mount Whitfield (elevation ) and Whitfield Range. Crystal Cascadesmarker and Copperlode Dammarker are also located behind this range. This area is serviced by the Redlynch Central Shopping Centre, a relatively new shopping centre, located in the fast growing area of the Redlynch Valley. This shopping centre is also due to be expanded in the future.

The city centre of Cairns is adjacent to the suburbs of Cairns North, and Parramatta Park, Bungalow, Portsmith, and in close proximity to Westcourt, Manunda, Manoora, Edge Hill, Whitfield, Kanimbla, Mooroobool, Earlville, Woreemarker and Bayview Heightsmarker. The small suburb of Aeroglen is pressed between Mount Whitfield and the airport, on the Captain Cook Highway between Cairns North and Stratford.

Southside Cairns, situated in a narrow area between Trinity Inlet to the east and Lamb Range to the west, includes the suburbs of White Rock, Mount Sheridan, Bentley Parkmarker and Edmontonmarker. The townships of Goldsborough, Little Mulgrave, and Aloomba are in close proximity to Gordonvalemarker, located on the Mulgrave River. This area is serviced by the Bruce Highway, which is to be developed into a motorway between Woree and Gordonvale to address increasing traffic congestion.

Nearby localities

Several other small towns and communities within Cairns' jurisdiction are sparsely located along the Bruce highway, the furthest being Mirriwinni, south of Cairns city; the largest of these townships is Babinda, about from Cairns.

The town of Kurandamarker is located upstream on the Barron River on the western side of the Macalister Range, part of the Great Dividing Range. Kuranda is located in the Tablelands local government area and, due to the geography of the Macalister Range, is not part of the Cairns urban area; however, it forms part of the Cairns economic catchment.


The land originally belonged to the Walubarra Yidinji people, who still recognise indigenous property rights in the area. The area upon which the city has been built is known in the local Yidiny language as Gimuy.

In 1770, James Cook first mapped the future site of Cairns, naming it Trinity Baymarker. Closer investigation by several official expeditions 100 years later established its potential for development into a port.

Cairns was founded in 1876, hastened by the need to export gold discovered on the tablelands to the west of the inlet. The site was predominantly mangrove swamps and sand ridges. The swamps were gradually cleared by laborers, and the sand ridges were filled in with dried mud, sawdust from local sawmills, and ballast from a quarry at Edge Hill. Debris collected from the construction of a railway to Herbertonmarker on the Atherton Tableland, a project which started in 1886, was also used. The railway opened up land that was later used for agriculture on the lowlands (sugar cane, corn, rice, bananas, pineapples), and for fruit and dairy production on the Tableland. The success of local agriculture helped Cairns to establish itself as a port, and the creation of a harbour board in 1906 helped to support its economic future.

During World War II, Cairns was used by the Allied Forces as a staging base for operations in the Pacific. After World War II, Cairns slowly reinvented itself as a centre for tourism. The opening of the Cairns International Airport in 1984, and the building of the Cairns Convention Centre established the city's overseas reputation as a desirable destination for the tourism and business conference markets.


Cairns experiences a warm tropical climate, specifically a Tropical monsoon climate (Am) under the Köppen climate classification. A wet season with tropical monsoons runs from December to April, with a relatively dry season from May to November, though showers are frequent for most of this period. Mean rainfall of Cairns is . The township of Babindamarker at the southern end of the city is one of Australia's wettest towns, recording an annual rainfall of over . It has hot, humid summers and milder temperatures in winter. Mean temperatures vary from in July to in January. Monsoonal activity during the wet season occasionally causes major flooding of the Barron and Mulgrave Rivers, cutting off road and rail access to the city.

Tropical cyclones

Like most of North and Far North Queensland, Cairns is prone to tropical cyclones, usually forming between November and May.

Notable cyclones that have affected the Cairns region include:

Cyclone Larry

Tropical Cyclone Larry struck areas to the south of Cairns at 7 a.m. on 20 March 2006. Cyclone Larry crossed land near the town of Innisfailmarker, south of Cairns as a category five cyclone. It was downgraded to a category four cyclone shortly before midday, and further downgraded to a category three cyclone a few hours later. Wind gusts of up to were recorded around the Cairns region, with wind gusts up to reported in the city. It is estimated that about one in four houses in Cairns and surrounding areas were affected by Cyclone Larry.

Image:Cairns climate.svg|Climate chartImage:Cairns Esplanade - Nearby Lagoonl.jpg|Cairns – the tropical city (view nearby the lagoon)Image:Cairns-Lagoon.JPG|Cairns Lagoon in Cairns City, under public surveillance


View of Cairns from Lake Morris with the Yarrabah peninsula in the background.
Cairns is part of the Cairns Region local government area which is governed by a Regional Council. The Council consists of a directly elected mayor and 10 councillors, elected from 10 single-member divisions (or wards) using an optional preferential voting system. Elections are held every four years.

The Cairns Region consists of three former local government areas. The first was the original City of Cairnsmarker, consisting of the Cairns City region as listed above. The second, which was amalgamated in 1995, was the Shire of Mulgrave (comprising the other areas, namely the Northern Beaches, Redlynch Valley and Southside). The town of Gordonvale was once called Mulgrave. The third area is the Shire of Douglas, which amalgamated in 2008 during major statewide local government reforms.

At the time of the 1995 amalgamation, Cairns City had a population of approximately 40,000 and Mulgrave Shire had a population of approximately 60,000. Both local government authorities had chambers in the Cairns CBD. The old Cairns City Council chambers has been converted into a new city library. In a controversial decision, new Council chambers were constructed on previously contaminated land in the mainly industrial suburb of Portsmith.

Cairns has three representatives in the Queensland Parliament, from the electoral districts of Barron River, Cairns and Mulgrave. The city is represented in the Federal Parliament by representatives elected from the districts of Leichhardt and Kennedy.

Prior to the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the indigenous people in Cairns were represented by the Cairns and District Regional Council. The Council had twelve Councillors, who elected a chairperson from among them. The Cairns area was represented on ATSIC by the Commissioner for Queensland North Zone. The last Commissioner for Queensland North was Lionel Quartermaine, who also served as ATSIC's Deputy Chair.


Cairns at night; the wharves.
The casino's dome can be seen in the background.
Cairns serves as the major commercial centre for the Far North Queensland and Cape York Peninsula Regions. It is a base for the regional offices of various government departments.


Tourism plays a major part in the Cairns economy. According to Tourism Australia, the Cairns region is the fourth-most popular destination for international tourists in Australia after Sydney, Melbournemarker and Brisbane. While the city does not rank amongst Australia's top 10 destinations for domestic tourism, it attracts a significant number of Australian holiday makers given its distance from major capitals. The city's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, and the Atherton Tableland makes it a popular destination. The city contains hundreds of hotels, resorts, motels and backpackers hostels. Activities in the region include golf, white water rafting, cruises to the Great Barrier Reef, and coach tours to the Daintree Rainforest, Atherton Tableland and Paronella Park. There are also scenic flights, day trips to Kuranda, crocodile farms, and a food-and-wine tour visiting tropical fruit wineries.


Cairns Pier
Several shopping centres of various sizes are located throughout Cairns. The largest of these are Cairns Centralmarker shopping centre, located in the central business district, and Stockland Cairns, located in the suburb of Earlville. In Westcourt, one of the city's oldest shopping centres has been refurbished, with the city's first Direct Factory Outlet. To service the needs of suburbs further from the city centre, shopping complexes are also located at Mount Sheridan, Redlynch, Smithfield, and Clifton Beach.

The city is becoming a significant economical centre in not just tourism, but in services as well, with many new office towers being built and planned for the near future, including the Cairns Corporate Tower #2.


The Cairns Postmarker is a daily newspaper published in the city; a weekly paper, The Cairns Sun, is also published. The Courier-Mail is a daily Queensland-wide newspaper published in Brisbane. The Australian newspaper also circulates widely.

The Cairns Bulletin ( is the only independent suburban newspaper in circulation in Cairns. It is distributed from Palm Cove in the north to Gordonvale in the south.

Cairns is served by regional affiliates of the three Australian commercial television networks (Ten, Nine and Seven) and the two public broadcasters (ABCmarker and SBS). Austar Limited provides subscription satellite television services.

Cairns radio stations include a number of public, commercial and community broadcasters. The ABC broadcasts ABC Radio National, ABC Local, ABC Classic FM and the Triple J youth network. Commercial radio stations include 4CA-FM, AM846, HOT FM, SeaFM, 4CCR-FM, 87.6 XFM, 98.7FM, 101.9 Coast FM, and 104.3 4TAB sports radio.

Industry and agriculture

The land around Cairns is still used for sugar cane farming, although this land is increasingly under pressure from new suburbs as the city grows. Within the Cairns City Council area, sugar mills operate in Gordonvale and Babinda.

The Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Stationmarker is located nearby in Kuranda, and provides green power for some of the city's needs.


Cairns is an important transport hub in the Far North Queensland region. Located at the base of Cape York Peninsula, it provides important transport links between the Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentariamarker regions, and the areas to the south of the state. Cairns International Airportmarker is essential to the viability of the area's tourism industry.


The Bruce Highway runs for from Brisbane, and terminates in the Cairns CBD, from which the Captain Cook Highway (also referred to as the Cook Highway) commences, which runs for approximately from Cairns to Mossmanmarker to the northwest.

A need for future upgrades to the Bruce Highway to motorway standards through the southern suburbs to Gordonvale has been identified in regional planning strategies to cope with increasing congestion from rapid population growth. This will result in overpasses at all major intersections from Woree to Gordonvale. The motorway will divert from Bentley Park to Gordonvale, bypassing Edmonton to reduce the affects of road noise on residential areas.

The Kennedy Highway commences at Smithfield on the Barron River flood plain north of Cairns, and ascends the Macalister Range to the township of Kuranda. The highway then extends to the town of Mareebamarker on the Atherton Tableland, and continues to communities of Cape York Peninsula. There are plans to construct an overpass as part of the Kennedy Range Motorway, which will run from Smithfield to Kuranda.

The Gillies Highway commences at the township of Gordonvale, and ascends the Gillies Rangemarker (part of the Great Dividing Range) to the town of Athertonmarker on the Atherton Tableland, passing through the township of Yungaburramarker on the way.

The controversial private road, Quaid Roadmarker, was constructed in 1989 through what is now a Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and links Wangetti, on the coast just north of Cairns, to Southedge, just south of Mount Molloymarker. The road is not open to the public and is not used for general traffic.


Cairns is served by long-distance coaches to Brisbane, and regional cities to the south. Coaches also operate west to Mount Isamarker via Townsvillemarker, and to Alice Springsmarker and Darwinmarker in the Northern Territorymarker. The longest running locally owned Coach company is Tropic Wings Coach Tours, originally established in 1981 and opperated under the name of "Blue Wings Coaches" changing to "Tropic Wings Coach Tours" in 1984. Tropic Wings Coach Tours was the first local company to service Kuranda on a regular basis and has continued to service North Queensland to this day.

Public transport

A public transport network is operated throughout the city by Marlin Coast Sunbus. A transit mall is located in the CBD, through which all services operate. Services include most parts of the city, from Palm Cove in the north, to Gordonvale in the south. Bus services operated by Whitecar Coaches run to Kuranda and to the Atherton Tableland. A smaller minibus service, Jon's Kuranda Bus runs between Cairns and Kuranda. Cairns also has one major taxi company, Black and White Cabs, which services the Cairns region.


Cairns is the terminus for Queensland's North Coast railway line, which follows the eastern seaboard from Brisbane. Services are operated by Queensland Rail (QR). In April 2009, the high speed tilt train service from Brisbane to Cairns was suspended due to safety concerns but resumed service on 4 May. Freight trains also operate along the route, with a QR Freight handling facility located at Portsmith.

Pacific National Queensland (a division of Pacific National, owned by Asciano Limited) operates a rail siding at Woree. It runs private trains on the rail network owned by the Queensland State Government and managed by QR's Network Division.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway operates from Cairns. The tourist railway ascends the Macalister Range and is not used for commuter services. It passes through the suburbs of Stratford, Freshwater (stopping at Freshwater Station) and Redlynch before reaching Kuranda.

Freight services to Forsaythmarker were discontinued in the mid-1990s. These were mixed freight and passenger services that served the semi-remote towns west of the Great Dividing Range. There is now a weekly passenger-only service, The Savannahlander, that leaves Cairns on Wednesday mornings. The Savannahlander is run by a private company, Cairns Kuranda Steam Trains.

Cairns is served by a narrow gauge cane railway (or cane train) network that hauls harvested sugar cane to the Mulgrave Mill located in Gordonvale. The pressure of urban sprawl on land previously cultivated by cane farmers has seen this network reduced over recent years. There has been discussion that these railway corridors may be used for a possible future light rail mass transit system, however no plans have been drawn up.

The use of the existing heavy rail line for commuter services between Redlynch and Gordonvale is occasionally discussed; however this is not a favoured option under the FNQ 2010 Regional Plan, which recommends the use of buses.


Cairns Marina.
Cairns International Airportmarker is located north of Cairns City between the CBD and the Northern Beaches. It is Australia's seventh busiest domestic airport and sixth busiest international airport. In 2005/2006 there were 3.76 million international and domestic passenger movements.

The airport has a domestic terminal, a separate international terminal, and a general aviation area. The airport handles international flights, and flights to major Australian cities, tourist destinations, and regional destinations throughout North Queensland. It is an important base for general aviation serving the Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria communities. The Cairns airport is also a base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Sea port

The Cairns Seaport, located on Trinity Inlet, is operated by the Cairns Port Authority.It serves as an important port for tourist operators providing daily reef trips. These consist of large catamarans capable of carrying over 300 passengers, as well as smaller operators that may take as few as 12 tourists. Cairns Port is also a port of call for cruise ships, such as Captain Cook Cruises, cruising the South Pacific Oceanmarker. It also provides freight services to coastal townships on Cape York Peninsula, the Torres Straitmarker and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Yearly cargo through the port totals 1.13 million tonnes. Almost 90% of the trade is bulk cargoes - including petroleum, sugar, molasses, fertiliser and LP gas. A large number of fishing trawlers are also located at the port. There is also a marina that houses private yachts and boats used for tourist operations.

The Royal Australian Navy has a base in Cairns (HMAS Cairnsmarker). The base has a complement of 900 personnel, and supports fourteen warships, including the four Armidale class patrol boats of Ardent Division, four of the six Balikpapan class landing craft, and all six ships of the Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Service.

The Trinity Wharf has recently been the subject of a major redevelopment to improve the area for tourist and cruise ship operations. The freight wharves are located to the south of Trinity Wharf further up Trinity Inlet.

Sister cities


Cairns has numerous primary and secondary schools. Separate systems of private and public schools operate in Queensland. There are 20 state primary schools and 16 state high schools operated by the Queensland state government Department of Education within the Cairns City Councilmarker area, including 6 schools in the predominantly rural areas south of Gordonvale.

Roman Catholic schools are operated by Catholic Education Cairns. The Roman Catholic system encompasses nineteen primary schools, six secondary colleges and one P-12 college. There are almost 6,000 primary students and 3,250 secondary students enrolled in the Roman Catholic school system.

The Cairns Campusmarker of James Cook Universitymarker is located at Smithfield. The city is also home to a TAFE college, and a School of the Air base, both located in the inner suburb of Manunda.


The Cairns Base Hospital from the air facing south.
The Cairns Base Hospital is situated on the Cairns Esplanade and is the major hospital for the Cape York Peninsula Region. The smaller Cairns Private Hospital is located nearby. On the north side of the Base hospital is located the Australian Red Cross Blood Service

Cairns is a base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which operates clinics and provides emergency evacuations in remote communities throughout the region.

Sport and recreation

Notable sporting grounds include Barlow Park, Cairns Showground and Cazaly's Stadiummarker, the Cairns Convention Centre (basketball), and the Cairns Hockey Centre.
Cazaly's Stadium
Cairns also has a National Basketball League team, the Cairns Taipansmarker. The Skill360 Australia Northern Pride Queensland Cup rugby league team played their first season in 2008, and act as a feeder team to the North Queensland Cowboys who play in the National Rugby League. There is also a growing base for Rugby Union in Cairns. In Cairns Australian rules football is followed, and there is an active local league.

Cairns is a major international destination for scuba diving due to its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Other recreational activities popular with tourists include whitewater rafting, skydiving, kitesurfing and snorkelling.


  1. Both pronunciations found in Merriam Webster's 10th Collegiate, and the first at[1]
  2. Macquarie Dictionary, Fourth Edition (2005). Melbourne, The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. ISBN 1-876429-14-3

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