Rainforests, picture perfect beaches, animal encounters, and a range of accessible activities makes Cairns and surrounding areas a wonderful destination for a relaxing or adventure-filled holiday. With so many wheelchair accessible activities the area has seen us returning on numerous occasions. Take a look at our long list of wheelchair accessible activities in Cairns and surrounding areas.
THE CAIRNS ESPLANADE
The Cairns Esplanade is a hive of activity, but with gorgeous views to soak in, it is also a good spot to relax.
Overlooking mudflats, the Esplanade Boardwalk is ideal for getting exercise, or using one of the barbeques on site to have a picnic. The pathway is a combination of wooden boardwalk and asphalt. The wooden boardwalk provides a bit of a bumpy wheelchair ride but there is an asphalt path which runs parallel as well. The sunsets can be stunning and even in winter, short sleeves and shorts are usually the go in the tropical climate.
Muddy’s Playground on the Esplanade is ideal for imaginative play, or for children to cool off from the heat in the water play area. Muddy’s has an accessible bathroom, and a good variety of wheelchair accessible features including a Liberty Swing (wheelchair swing accessed with a MLAK key.)
With no crocodiles in sight, the Cairns Lagoon is the go-to spot to swim in Cairns. One side has sand, so it is often popular for children with buckets and spades and with a variety of pool depths and flat access, it is ideal for use by people of all abilities. There are lifeguards on duty until 9pm and accessible restrooms are accessed with use of a MLAK key.
Every Saturday you can shop for souvenirs at the Cairns Esplanade markets which are located near the lagoon.
SKYRAIL AND KURANDA VILLAGE
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway was a hit with our whole family. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to ride in a gondola over the top of the rainforest. The Skyrail travels 7.5 kilometres over gorgeous rainforest, and it’s wheelchair accessible (check specifications for width restrictions). There are 2 stations along the route to Kuranda with accessible boardwalks and a rainforest interpretative centre which provides many hands-on activity stations. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is also popular with visitors with many taking the Skyrail one way to Kuranda and the train on the return, or vice versa. It’s wonderful to see that a historic train has been adapted to be so wheelchair accessible, including an accessible bathroom facility.
Although we caught the Skyrail to Kuranda Village you can drive there if you prefer.
A full day can be filled at Kuranda Village although I will add the town is geared to overseas tourists.
The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary is the largest butterfly aviary in the country and it’s wheelchair accessible. We discovered wearing certain colors entices the butterflies to land on visitors but AJ wasn’t keen when one landed on her nose!
Birdworld Kuranda is a great place to see and interact with a variety of exotic birds. Ramps lead around the aviary making it accessible, however some are steep. Buying a packet of bird food is a great way to make friends and to get up close with some of the 60 species.
If land-based animals are also of interest, Kuranda Koala Gardens houses some of Australia’s national animals in a small location. We found the ramps very steep for pushing a manual wheelchair, however seeing Hazel the cute koala joey made the effort worth it. Power chair users will find navigating this attraction easier than manual chair users.
You can read more detail about our trip on the Skyrail and Kuranda Village here.
AUSTRALIAN ARMOUR AND ARTILLERY MUSEUM
Cairns caters for history and transport enthusiasts at the Australian Armour and Artillery Muesum. Walking into the indoor museum we were astounded at the size of the military collection on display. In fact, it’s the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere containing 133 armoured and artillery pieces. Children, and kids at heart, will enjoy dressing up in helmets and vests and playing with the toy figures on the military field table top. The highlight for BJ and Hubby was riding in the fields surrounding the museum in the Armoured Personnel Carrier (additional fee applies). Be assured this museum will be a hit with military fans of any generation with detailed information and displays on the vehicles.
The museum itself is wheelchair accessible but please note guests do need to negotiate stairs to ride in the Armoured Personnel Carrier. You can read more about the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum here.
TJAPUKAI ABORIGINAL CULTURAL PARK
AJ and I attended the Night Fire experience one evening when we were on a girl’s trip to Cairns and surrounding areas. We had a fantastic night which began with the Bama, the local Indigenous rainforest people, painting our faces to link us to the traditional land before our evening of entertainment and dining began.
We were then entertained with a corroboree celebrating Aboriginal Dreamtime stories where we learnt about traditional language and songs before the ceremonial fire was lit with a spectacular fire ball shooting towards the stars.
After the ceremonial fire was lit we enjoyed a buffet dinner with a range of traditional Indigenous flavours. The buffet has a range of salads, meats and vegetables including crocodile and kangaroo.
The venue is wheelchair friendly with an accessible bathroom and easy access to the gallery and restaurant. The corroboree is held in an all-weather amphitheater with the wheelchair seating at the back. Wheelchair access is good throughout.
You can read all about Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park here.
HARTLEY’S CROCODILE ADVENTURES
Located 40 minutes north of Cairns, Hartley’s is considered a ‘must-see’ attraction because of the close encounters visitors can safely have with the crocodiles and other animals in residence. Hartley’s is not only about the crocs as it houses many other Australian animals. Being very much wheelchair accessible, the animals can be viewed from boardwalks and level pathways. We loved the accessible boat tour, especially watching a croc demolish its dinner with the snap of its large jaws.
Wheelchair access is easy throughout the park and on the boat tours. Read more about our visit here.
Ideally located between Cairns and Port Douglas, Palm Cove has been our location of choice on two of our visits to Tropical North Queensland. We love Palm Cove’s family-friendly village atmosphere. The town is both pretty and quiet. A long path runs the length of the beach making it great for wheelchair access and a beach wheelchair is available to borrow from the lifeguard tower on Williams Esplanade during patrol hours.
SCENIC DRIVE BETWEEN PALM COVE & PORT DOUGLAS
In Australia, despite having a gorgeous coastline, we don’t often have the opportunity to see the coast as we drive. That’s why the road between Palm Cove and Port Douglas is a must-do with sections of the road hugging the coast providing passengers with stunning views. I recommend using the rest bays so drivers can also safely appreciate the coastal views.
On our day trip to Port Douglas, we checked out Wildlife Habitat. AJ particularly loves animal encounters, and Wildlife Habitat provided a unique variety for her. She enjoyed cuddling a koala, feeding cassowaries, lunching with lorikeets and hand-feeding kangaroos.
Viewing animals from the different sub-climates of North Queensland was easy with BJ’s wheelchair with accessible elevated boardwalks linking the enclosures.
You can read more about Wildlife Habitat here.
FOUR MILE BEACH PORT DOUGLAS
Our family can never get enough beach time, and it was no different at Four Mile Beach at Port Douglas. The staff at Marcrossan House were particularly knowledgeable about accessibility, not only providing wheelchair accessible accommodation, but also managing the beach wheelchair available for use at Four Mile Beach. We found BJ’s manual chair coped well on the hard-packed sand so we didn’t bother borrowing it.
You can read our review and learn more about borrowing the beach wheelchair from Marcrossan House here.
Located only 20 minutes from Port Douglas, we were pleasantly surprised to hear from locals that an accessible walk is available at Mossman Gorge. Mossman Gorge is on the must-visit list of the majority of tourists who visit this region, mainly for the swimming in the gorge. Cars must be left in the car park with transfers to the Gorge provided by bus.
We were delighted to find wheelchairs can be accommodated with an accessible bus service to the top where we did a short accessible walk.
Access to the swimming area is via a staircase and over large rocks so we left our swimmers behind.
CRYSTAL CAVES – ATHERTON TABLELANDS
One hour from Cairns on the Atherton Tablelands, you’ll find Crystal Caves which showcases one man’s passion for crystals and fossils.
Through a series of tunnels and grottos you’ll discover million year old natural crystals and prehistoric fossils. We enjoyed the opportunity to take a self-guided tour and the kids particularly liked donning miners hats with a torch for the experience through the man-made attraction.
Although wheelchair friendly some ramps are steep and there are low clearances in areas. I recommend contacting Crystal Caves to check your access requirements can be met.
CURTAIN FIG, ATHERTON TABLELANDS
The Curtain Fig Tree is located just outside the small township of Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands.
The Curtain Fig stands 50 metres tall, spreads 39 metres wide at the base and is over 800 years old. The curtain effect is a result of the weight of the fig being too heavy. The strangler vine has grown along the tree and now dangles 15 metres to the ground. It’s quite an impressive sight. Getting a photo which shows the size of the tree is tricky. The kids found me lying on the boardwalk hilarious but it meant I got some great happy snaps.
You’ll find the tree along Curtain Fig Road between Yungaburra and the Malanda Atherton Road. There’s a 50 metre walk through the rainforest along the boardwalk which surrounds the tree.
Parking is nearby and an accessible boardwalk allows wheelchair access to the base of the fig.
Fitzroy Island is only a short 45 minute boat ride from Cairns but please note the island does have some restrictions for wheelchair users and therefore is best suited for visitors with some mobility. On our first visit I described it as, “our most challenging day access-wise, but one of our best.” Having said that, we have visited Fitzroy Island twice and it is one of AJ’s favourite places. I have to say I agree with her, with gorgeous rainforest walks and a variety of water sports, there was plenty to do for our family. The Turtle Rehabilitation Centre was an absolute highlight and hubby was stoked to see turtles in their natural habitat when he went for a peaceful snorkel.
Be sure to read my blog to see if Fitzroy Island’s access restrictions are suitable to your needs. You can read about Fitzroy Island’s access here.
Loving being the mother of 2 children, I am very aware of the need to provide all-important individual time with each of them. AJ and I jumped at such an opportunity to explore the Frankland Islands on our last trip to Cairns, especially because it combined her love of animals and stand-up paddle boarding. Although not wheelchair accessible, this is a trip we would have done when BJ was still using the back carrier, which he did until he was 7 years old.
Our day trip was run by Frankland Islands Cruise, and brought us up close with sea-life on Normandy Island, one of the 5 islands which make up the Frankland Islands. There were many options to keep us entertained, from crocodile spotting as we cruised up the Mulgrave River, snorkelling, a ride in a semi-submersible boat, stand-up paddle boarding and exploring the rock pools. With knowledgeable staff on hand, our heads were full of fascinating facts, and the ample supply of fresh food kept our tummies full too.
Read our full review of the Frankland Islands Cruise here.
Just a short 40 minute ferry ride from Cairns visitors can enjoy the experience of an island getaway as a day-tripper or an overnight stay.
Green Island’s life-guard patrolled beaches, accessible walks through the rainforest and range of water sports attracts many day-trippers. Though busy, we enjoyed the easy access around the island and the opportunity to take a helicopter flight over the reef. The flight was a hit with BJ and it showed him the reef without him needing to swim or snorkel. We all loved the helicopter tour.
Green Island has excellent accessible accommodation available if you want to stay longer than a day trip. You can read about Green Island’s accessible accommodation here.
LOVE FRESH LOCAL FRUIT & PRODUCE?
If you love fresh fruit and vegetables head to Rusty’s Markets to stock up on delicious local produce. Over 180 stalls featuring exotic fruit, vegetables and delicious breads, dairy and seafood makes up Rusty’s bustling market.
I can’t get enough of the fresh Queensland pineapples and one of the stall holders helped me pick out one which would ripen in just the amount of time I needed. Just watch those little sugar ants because they are equally fond of pineapple. We visited Rusty’s the day we arrived and stocked up with lovely fresh fruit for our stay. It was particularly good for our island stay where groceries were limited and expensive.
Rusty’s Markets open Friday — 5am to 6pm, Saturday — 5am to 6pm and Sunday — 5am to 3pm
Accessible street parking is available.
You can read more about Rusty’s Markets here.
Doubletree by Hilton Cairns
Location, location, location – Doubletree is ideally situated on the Esplanade a stones throw away from the Cairns Lagoon, restaurants, shops and The Esplanade Boardwalk. If the prime position wasn’t enough to win us over, then the warm cookies on arrival certainly did! Doubletree also ticks many boxes in terms of features on site and within their 2 accessible rooms, including ramp access to a private courtyard, amenities lowered to a wheelchair accessible height and the option of an interconnecting room
Read our full review of DoubleTree by Hilton Cairns here.
Cairns Plaza Hotel
Also conveniently located on the Esplanade, the Cairns Plaza Hotel has 1 accessible room so it’s advisable to book in advance. Sleeping 3, the room could be considered tight for circulation space, however a couple of pieces of furniture can be rearranged to increase the free area. The bathroom is ideal in providing different seating options, and the lever adjusting the shower head is a great inclusion. You can read our review of Cairns Plaza Hotel here.
Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort
A couple of streets back from the Esplanade, Novotel’s Oasis Resort is best accessed via the rear entrance to avoid the steep alternative. The resort has a large pool area with gentle slope to aid access, and the kids will be entertained with holiday activities during peak times. Oasis has 3 special access rooms, and although the rooms are not huge, the bathrooms are fully accessible. You can see photos of the room and read more about the hotel here.
Tropic Towers Apartments
A short drive from the Esplanade, Tropic Towers has a wheelchair friendly 2 bedroom apartment on the ground floor. Although there is tight circulation space in the 2nd bedroom and the dryer is above head height for someone using a wheelchair, this apartment has several accessible features that would make it suitable for many. It is a good option for those wanting to be close to the centre of Cairns, whilst avoiding the higher price tags that often accompany accommodation options on the Esplanade itself. You can read more about the apartment in our Tropic Towers review here.
MORE ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
Cairns is often a great base for a Northern Queensland holiday, and as we have discovered, there are some wonderful places to explore that are a boat ride or short car trip away. Read our full list of accessible accommodation in Cairns and surrounding areas here.
ACCESSIBLE CAR OR VAN RENTAL
Wheelies Van Rentals have vehicles available in Cairns. We used their service when visiting the Gold Coast and were very impressed with their personal approach to service and bookings. You can read our review of Wheelies Van Rentals here and find out more about the vehicles they have available in Cairns here.