Cairns is a popular tourist destination in Far North Queensland, Australia. Known for its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, Cairns attracts over 3 million visitors annually. However, the weather and climate in Cairns can vary significantly throughout the year. While there is no truly bad time to visit Cairns, some periods are considered the worst times for tourists.
The Wet Season – December to March
The wet season in Cairns runs from December to March, which brings very hot, humid, and wet weather. This is considered the worst time to visit Cairns for several reasons:
Cairns experiences its highest rainfall during the wet season, with average rainfall up to 400mm per month. Intense downpours and severe thunderstorms occur frequently, which can last for days. Flooding is common, causing road closures and disruption to transport. Outdoor activities are impacted.
Humidity and Heat
Humidity levels soar to over 70% on average during the wet season. Coupled with average temperatures of 30°C (86°F), the weather is oppressively hot and sticky. Dehydration and overheating are risks. Air conditioning offers little relief.
Tropical cyclones develop off the coast of Cairns during wet season. Cyclones bring destructive winds, torrential rain, and storm surges. Severe cyclones require evacuation of coastal and low-lying regions. Tours and outdoor activities are cancelled. Flights and transport are disrupted.
Major school holiday periods in Australia, including Christmas holidays and Easter holidays, are another worst time for visiting Cairns.
Crowds and Noise
Thousands of Australian families flock to Cairns during school holidays, making popular attractions extremely crowded and noisy. Expect long lines everywhere. Restaurants and tour companies are very busy.
The surge in demand over school holidays drives up prices of flights, accommodation, and activities. Hotel rates can double. Tour and activity operators increase prices. Restaurants and stores jack up rates. Travel on a budget is very difficult.
The influx of visitors strains resources like water and power. Blackouts and water rationing have occurred in Cairns and surrounding areas during prior school holiday periods. This negatively impacts the travel experience.
Stinger Season – October to May
Stinger season in Cairns coincides with wet season, running from October to May annually. Dangerous jellyfish and other marine stingers are prevalent, making swimming hazardous.
Venomous box jellyfish and Irukandji jellyfish are present in the waters off Cairns during stinger season. Stings from these jellyfish can be excruciatingly painful and potentially fatal. Most beach closures occur during this period.
No Reef Swimming
Swimming is banned at most outer Great Barrier Reef locations to prevent injuries. Snorkeling and diving are still permitted. But the reef experience is limited without open water swimming.
Limited Beach Use
With many popular beaches closed due to marine stingers, beach activities like swimming, snorkeling and kayaking are restricted. Some beaches have stinger nets for protection. But the number of jellyfish-free beaches is limited.
- Bureau of Meteorology. “Climate statistics for Australian locations – Cairns Aero.” Accessed August 5, 2023. http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_031011.shtml
- Queensland Government. “Cairns Flood Summary.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/community-environment/natural-disasters/flooding
- Cairns Historical Society. “Cairns Weather and Climate.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.cairnshistoricalsociety.com.au/cairnsweather.html
- Emergency Management Australia. “Cairns Local Disaster Management Plan.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/203200/local-disaster-management-plan.pdf
- Tourism Tropical North Queensland. “Travel Tips.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.tourismtnq.com.au/travel-tips
- Cheap Flights. “Best Time to Visit Cairns.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.cheapflights.com.au/flights-to-cairns/when-to-fly
- Tourism and Events Queensland. “Cairns Region Resource Use Strategy.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://teq.queensland.com/~/media/af1afd9d574c408385d22f46c886e05c.ashx?la=en
- Australian Institute of Marine Science. “Stinger Season.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.aims.gov.au/docs/projectnet/stinger-season.html
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. “Stinger season.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/the-reef/animals/stinger-season
- Cairns Regional Council. “Beach Safety.” Accessed August 5, 2023. https://www.cairns.qld.gov.au/council/news-publications/media-releases/releases/beach-safety