Cairns was founded in 1876 and named after William Wellington Cairns, Governor of Queensland from 1875 to 1877. It was formed to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfield, but declined when an easier route was discovered from Port Douglas. It later developed into a railhead and major port for exporting sugar cane, gold and other metals, minerals and agricultural products from surrounding coastal areas and the Atherton Tableland region.
The estimated residential population of the Cairns urban area in 2015 was 147,993. Based on 2015 data, the associated local government area has experienced an average annual growth rate of 2.3% over the last 10 years. Cairns is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Prior to British settlement, the Cairns area was inhabited by the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people, who still claim their Native Title rights. The area is known in the local Yidiny language as Gimuy.
In 1770, James Cook mapped the future site of Cairns, naming it Trinity Bay. 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. Labourers gradually cleared the swamps, and the sand ridges were filled with dried mud, sawdust from local sawmills, and ballast from a quarry at Edge Hill. Debris from the construction of a railway to Herberton on the Atherton Tableland, a project which started in 1886, was also used. The railway opened up land 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 establish Cairns as a port, and the creation of a harbour board in 1906 supported its economic future.
On 25 April 1926 (ANZAC Day), the Cairns Sailors and Soldiers War Memorial was unveiled by Alexander Frederick Draper, the mayor of the City of Cairns.
During World War II, the Allied Forces used Cairns as a staging base for operations in the Pacific, with US Army Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force operational bases (now the airport), as well as a major military seaplane base in Trinity Inlet, and US Navy and Royal Australian Navy bases near the current wharf. Combat missions were flown out of Cairns in support of the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Edmonton and White Rock south of Cairns were major military supply areas and US Paratroopers trained at Gordonvale and the Goldsborough Valley.
A Special Forces training base was established at the old "Fairview" homestead on Munro's Hill, Mooroobool. This base was officially known as the Z Experimental Station, but referred to informally as "The House on the Hill".
After World War II, Cairns gradually developed into a centre for tourism. The opening of the Cairns International Airport in 1984 helped establish the city as a desirable destination for international tourism.
Cairns is located on the east coast of Cape York Peninsula on a coastal strip between the Coral Sea and the Great Dividing Range. The northern part of the city is located on Trinity Bay and the city centre is located on Trinity Inlet. To the south of the Trinity Inlet lies the Aboriginal community of Yarrabah. Some of the city's suburbs are located on flood plains. The Mulgrave River and Barron River flow within the greater Cairns area but not through the CBD. The city's centre foreshore is located on a mud flat.
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 52 km (32 mi) from north to south; it has experienced a recent urban sprawl, with suburbs occupying land once 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 at the end of a spur road extending from the Captain Cook Highway. From south to north, these are Machans Beach, Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Park, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove, and Ellis Beach.
The suburb of Smithfield is 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.
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 Stratford. 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 365 m (1,198 ft)) and Whitfield Range. Crystal Cascades and Copperlode Dam are also behind this range. (Kuranda, a town on the Barron River on the western side of the Macalister Range, forms part of the Cairns economic catchment but is in the Tablelands local government area and is not part of the Cairns urban area.)
The city centre of Cairns is adjacent to the suburbs of Cairns North, and Parramatta Park, Bungalow, Portsmith, and close to Westcourt, Manunda, Manoora, Edge Hill, Whitfield, Kanimbla, Mooroobool, Earlville, Woree and Bayview Heights. 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 Park and Edmonton. The townships of Goldsborough, Little Mulgrave, and Aloomba are near Gordonvale, on the Mulgrave River. This area is serviced by the Bruce Highway. Several other small towns and communities within Cairns' jurisdiction are sparsely located along the Bruce highway, the furthest being Mirriwinni, 66 km (41 mi) south of Cairns city; the largest of these townships is Babinda, about 60 km (37 mi) from the city.
Cairns experiences a tropical climate, specifically a tropical monsoon climate (Am) under the Köppen climate classification. A wet season with heavy monsoonal downpours runs from November to May, with a relatively dry season from June to October, though light showers can occur during this period. Cairns' mean annual rainfall is just over 2,000 millimetres (79 in), although monthly totals in the wet season (Dec-Mar) can exceed 1,000 mm (39 in), with the highest rainfall being recorded in any month in January 1981, where over 1,417.4 mm (55.80 in) of rain fell. Babinda, a town to the south of the city, is one of Australia's wettest towns, recording an annual rainfall of over 4,200 mm (170 in). Cairns has hot, humid summers and milder temperatures in winter. Mean maximum temperatures vary from 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) in July to 31.5 °C (88.7 °F) 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. Cairns has 89.7 clear days, annually. Dewpoint in the wet season (summer) averages at 23 °C (73 °F). The average temperature of the sea ranges from 23.8 °C (74.8 °F) in July to 29.4 °C (84.9 °F) in January.
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:
Cairns has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:
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 Cairns, 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 Nelson. 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.
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, Melbourne 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 despite its distance from major capitals. There is also a growing interest in Cairns from the Chinese leisure market with occasional direct flights from Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. During the 2013 Chinese Lunar New Year period alone, Cairns saw 20,000 Chinese holidaymakers flying in on chartered flights.
The city is near the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics of Queensland, and the Atherton Tableland.
The Cairns esplanade includes 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.
Several shopping centres of various sizes are located throughout Cairns. The largest of these are Cairns Central 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 DFO. To service the needs of suburbs further from the city centre, shopping complexes are also located at Mount Sheridan, Redlynch, Smithfield, and Clifton Beach.
In 2010, the state government opened the second stage of William McCormack Place, an A$80 million office building credited as the first 6-star green star-rated building in the city.
The Cairns Post 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 an independent newspaper in circulation in the Cairns area.
Cairns is served by five television stations, three commercial television stations (WIN Television, Seven Queensland and Southern Cross Nine) which are regional affiliates of the three Australian commercial television networks (Ten, Seven and Nine), and public broadcasters the ABC and SBS services.
Of the three main commercial networks, Seven Queensland and WIN Television both air 30-minute local news bulletins at 6pm each weeknight, both produced from local newsrooms but broadcast from studios in Maroochydore. Southern Cross Austereo also provides short local news updates on Channel 9 at various intervals throughout the day, presented from a studio in Canberra.
Cairns radio stations include a number of public, commercial and community broadcasters. The ABC broadcasts ABC Far North, ABC Radio National, ABC NewsRadio, ABC Classic FM and the Triple J youth network. Commercial radio stations include Star 102.7, 4CA 846 AM, Hot FM, Sea FM and 104.3 4TAB sports radio, while the community radio stations are 4CCR-FM, 101.9 Coast FM, Orbit FM 88.0FM & 87.8FM and 4CIM 98.7FM.
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 there is a sugar mill at Gordonvale.
The Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station is located nearby on the lower Barron River, 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 Carpentaria regions, and the areas to the south of the state. Cairns International Airport is essential to the viability of the area's tourism industry.
The Bruce Highway runs for 1,700 km (1,056 mi) from Brisbane, and terminates in the Cairns CBD. From there the Captain Cook Highway (also referred to as the Cook Highway) commences, and runs for approximately 76 km (47 mi) northwest to Mossman.
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 effects 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 Mareeba on the Atherton Tableland, and continues to communities of Cape York Peninsula.
The Gillies Highway commences at the township of Gordonvale, and ascends the Gillies Range (part of the Great Dividing Range) to the town of Atherton on the Atherton Tableland, passing through the township of Yungaburra on the way.
The controversial private road, Quaid Road, 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 Molloy. 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 Isa via Townsville, and to Alice Springs and Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Taxi & Ride share
Cairns also has a major taxi company, Cairns Taxis, which services the Cairns region. The ride share service, Uber was introduced to the region in March 2017, servicing the greater region.
A public bus transit network exists within the city, with two transit hubs located within the CBD: the Cairns Central Railway Station precinct, and the Cairns City Bus Station located within the Lake street and Shield street area. Through which all bus lines operate and provide linkage to taxi, ride share and intercity rail services. The transit network includes most parts of the city, from Palm Cove in the north, Gordonvale in the south and Redlynch to the west. The public transport network is managed throughout the city by Translink: through a service contract with the Marlin Coast Subus company, however the Go Card ticketing system has not been implemented in the region. A smaller shuttle bus service, Jon's Kuranda Bus runs between Cairns and Kuranda alongside other private coach services.
Cairns railway station 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 Forsayth 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.
Cairns International Airport is 7 km (4 mi) north of Cairns City between the CBD and the Northern Beaches.
The domestic terminal at Cairns Airport underwent an extensive redevelopment which began in 2007 and was completed in 2010.
The airport has a domestic terminal, an 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.
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 Ocean. It also provides freight services to coastal townships on Cape York Peninsula, the Torres Strait 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 Cairns). 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.
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 Council 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 6,700 primary students and 4,000 secondary students enrolled in the Roman Catholic school system.
There are also three other independent schools – Peace Lutheran College, Trinity Anglican School and Freshwater Christian College.
The Cairns Campus of James Cook University is located at Smithfield. CQUniversity Australia has established a study centre in Cairns. The city also hosts a TAFE college, and a School of the Air base, both located in the inner suburb of Manunda.
The Cairns Hospital is situated on the Cairns Esplanade and is the major hospital for the Cape York Peninsula area. The smaller Cairns Private Hospital is located nearby. A new building due to be completed in 2015 will provide up to 168 more beds.
Cairns is a base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which operates clinics and provides emergency evacuations in remote communities throughout the region.
Cairns is home to the Far North Queensland Heat who play in the 2nd tier of association football in Australia. They compete in the NPL Queensland which is one tier under the A-League. The team has represented the city nationally previously at the 2014 FFA Cup. The team competes at Barlow Park.
Notable sporting grounds include Barlow Park, Parramatta Park, Cazaly's Stadium, the Cairns Convention Centre (basketball), and the Cairns Hockey Centre.
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. Cairns is represented by Brothers Cairns, Cairns Kangaroos and Southern Suburbs in the Cairns District Rugby League.
Cairns has a seven-team AFL competition between teams from the Cairns and Port Douglas region. AFL Cairns currently hosts one AFL game each season. There is also an AFL Masters team that is based in Cairns, they are known as the Cairns Stingers. Cairns has a National Basketball League (NBL) team, the Cairns Taipans whose home court is the Convention Centre, known as The Snakepit during Taipans home games. The Cairns region has a large association football (soccer) community with a local competition which spans from Port Douglas to Innisfail and west to Dimbulah. Notable association football (soccer) players from the region include Socceroos Frank Farina, Steve Corica, Shane Stefanutto and Michael Thwaite. Cairns also hosts growing bases for Rugby union, and a local league of Australian rules football.
There is a baseball league at Trinity Beach. The Cairns Showground is used for sports as well, as the Cairns Show and funfairs.
Cairns is a major international destination for water sports and 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.