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Cairns trail

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Photo of a place on Cairns trail

Cairns is a beautiful modern tropical city. It was declared a port in 1876, servicing the Hodgkinson goldfields, 80km to the west. A customs house was built overlooking the wharves in 1877.

Transport in Queensland in the late 19th and early 20th century was by a coastal shipping service. Railways were built inland from the ports. When Cairns was chosen as the starting point to the inland railway to the Herberton tine mines in 1884, it became Queensland’s main northern port. Part of this rail line is now the Kuranda Scenic Railway and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cairns. The lure of gold led to the migration of a large number of Chinese. Part of the Flecker Botanic Gardens at Edge Hill was once a Chinese market garden. The nearby WWII Royal Australian Navy fuel tanks are now a fantastic art gallery: Tank Arts. Further south on the site of the Stockland Shopping Centre, Andrew Leon and a group of Chinese established the Hap Wah sugar plantation here in 1878; the first sugar plantation in Cairns.

During the early 20th century, cyclones damaged early timber buildings which were replaced with masonry structures and many of these have been adapted for other uses. For example The 1913 Mulgrave Shire Council building on The Esplanade is now the tourism office and other historic buildings now function as libraries, galleries and restaurants. The old sugar wharf is an events venue. Day trips to the Great Barrier Reef depart nearby.

There is so much to explore in Cairns including the beautiful Esplanade with its boardwalks, lagoon and Saturday evening markets. The Cairns War Memorial is on The Esplanade near Florence Street. To its west is a group of Catholic Church buildings including St Joseph’s Convent, St Monica’s new and old cathedrals, school administration building and the bishop’s house. On the northern end of The Esplanade, is ‘Floriana’ guesthouse, built by a successful Maltese cane farmer in the mid-20th century when the regional economy was underpinned by the sugar industry.


Listing 35 places within this trail.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
28 February 2023