Is Cairns Aquarium in Far North Queensland worth spending your time and money on visiting during a trip to Cairns? It’s a good question, one that we debated a lot as we planned our Cairns trip. Now that we’ve been, I’ve put together this comprehensive Cairns Aquarium review to help you decide if it is right for you and your family.
Let’s cover a few of the details that you might want to consider.
Many of the reviews and comments I’ve found online feel that the entry fee for Cairns Aquarium is a bit high. Personally, I think the entry fee is reasonable for a couple of people, but it adds up very quickly.
Package options are available with other attractions and bundled with meals, but at the time of writing the standard entry fees for Cairns Aquarium are:
- Adults: $44pp
- Children: $29pp
- Family (2 Adults, 2 Children): $132
So when you start to think about bringing a family, it definitely gets up there.
However, for comparison, let’s have a quick look at some of the other major Australian aquariums.
Sea Life Melbourne
- Adults: $46pp (or $36.80 if you book in advance)
- Children: $32pp (or $25.60 if you book in advance)
Sea Life シドニー
- Adults: $48pp (or $38.40 if you book in advance)
- Children: $35pp (or $28.00 if you book in advance)
Sea Life Sunshine Coast
- Adults: $44pp (or $35.20 if you book in advance)
- Children: $31pp (or $24.80 if you book in advance)
So when you compare it to these other major aquariums, the pricing is pretty competitive.
Of course, regardless of what aquarium you visit, their prices all still stack up and they can be an expensive attraction.
The Best Way To Get Your Tickets
Admission fees are variable depending on what offer you go with. However, I found it was cheaper to purchase tickets through Viator than directly with Cairns Aquarium. The reason being that Cairns Aquarium applies a booking fee on direct bookings that isn’t present on Viator.
You can purchase tickets at the door, but pre-purchasing will help to streamline your time there (on the day we visited, there was a queue out the door of people waiting to buy tickets) and in Covid days where capacity is more limited, pre-purchasing your tickets ensures you won’t miss out.
Entrance fees aren’t the sole contributor to value though. What about the aquarium theme? Does it tell a story and do it well? Or is it just a bunch of marine life in really big tanks?
Most aquariums have a theme beyond simply housing sea creatures. At Cairns Aquarium, the attractions follow the unique theme of a drop of rain in Far North Queensland. Waterfalls in the form of rain, landing in the tropical rainforest before making its way through to creeks, streams, and rivers to mangrove flats and then out to the Great Barrier Reef and onwards to the depths of the Coral Sea.
Far North Queensland is home to both the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and within these world heritage areas are many unique habitats that have been replicated within Cairns Aquarium.
Cairns Aquarium is home to thousands of creatures, both big and small from 71 different habitats, and in this Cairns Aquarium review, I will touch on as many as I can in later sections.
Generally speaking, I think it flows well between the two levels of the aquarium and does tell a unique story. I don’t think the story is fully explained though and parts of it can be easily missed. For the most part, the Cairns Aquarium does a great job of conveying the story of water from the rainforest to the depths of the seas. There are just little bits that get lost.
From a conservation perspective, I do appreciate that the aquarium is very much emphasising the education of its visitors on why these world heritage regions are important and need to be protected.
Quality and Maintenance
Are the Cairns Aquarium attractions and exhibits worth seeing? Are they quality attractions that are well maintained?
I would say yes. The aquariums are well set up, easy to see, clean, and very well maintained.
Compared to other aquariums, Cairns Aquarium is relatively new, which probably helps, but even so, the glass seems to be very clear and easy to see through in all the exhibits.
There are a number of obligatory aquarium tunnels you can walk (or crawl) through, including the large Coral Sea Oceanarium where you can get up close with marine life. While nowhere near as extensive as the 80m long Ocean Tunnel at Sea Life Sunshine Coast, the Oceanarium is sure to excite the kids with rays and sharks swimming all around them.
I personally enjoyed the freshwater section of the aquarium. I had no idea that we have freshwater whip rays (or any kind oof freshwater ray) and sawfish in オーストラリア!
The real stand-out to me though is the 10m tall Ribbon Reef sea wall that spans both levels of the aquarium, the Deep Reef display. This aquarium can be viewed from both levels and allows visitors to see different fish as they move between shallow and deep water. The perspectives from both the upper and lower levels are fascinating (at least to me anyway).
I haven’t seen anything quite like this at any other aquarium and the insights into the Great Barrier Reef are remarkable.
The Cairns Aquarium is a brilliant way to experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting in the water, as well as introduce you to the aquatic life of the Daintree.
If a reef snorkelling experience is too expensive, Cairns Aquarium might be a more viable option to see a snapshot of what the reef has to offer.
Cairns Aquarium currently opens between 10 am and 3 pm daily with last admissions at 2 pm.
You can re-enter multiple times per day up until 2 pm.
We arrived at 10:45 am and spent about 2 hours in the aquarium itself and felt that we had sufficiently covered everything. You could spend more time if you read everything on the displays. You can also spend more time if you stay for lunch.
We opted to have lunch at Dundees restaurant at Cairns Aquarium and spent about 1 hour there.
So our total visit time including lunch was approximately 3 hours.
We did note that the aquarium was a lot quieter after lunch than it was before lunch so if you want fewer people, the afternoon might be the way to go.
My recommendation is if you don’t plan on having lunch at Dundees, have lunch before you go and aim to arrive around midday. You then have 3 hours until closing time which should be more than enough to see everything while the aquarium is a little quieter.
Comprehensive Cairns Aquarium Photo Tour
Now that we’ve covered the key things you might want to consider as to whether a visit to Cairns Aquarium is something you might want to do, let’s look at the attractions and exhibits in more detail with a comprehensive Cairns Aquarium photo tour and review.
Just like Cairns Aquarium, we’ll follow the flow of a drop of water in Far North Queensland.
A quick note on this though, the actual path through Cairns Aquarium only roughly follows the flow and there are many sections that overlap, just like they do in nature.
Freshwater (Creeks and Streams)
The freshwater section of Cairns Aquarium incorporates creeks and streams (of which there are many in Far North QLD).
You can expect to see the unusual freshwater moray eels, turtles, Australian long-finned eels, crayfish, and all kinds of fish including barramundi and perch.
Freshwater creeks and streams flow into the river systems of Far North Queensland.
River Monsters (Gulf Savannah and FNQ River Systems)
As you move from freshwater creeks and streams into the river systems and billabongs of Far North Queensland you will see river monsters that you probably had no idea exist or ever existed, like freshwater whiptail rays and the freshwater sawfish (note, this shy one).
The Gulf Savannah is a massive area that spreads across much of North-Western QLD to the Northern Territory border and includes a number of river systems.
The two stand-outs to me were the fossil replicas of extinct marvels, the Riversleigh Giant Lungfish and the Riversleigh Giant Platypus.
The river system that is perhaps most well-known from Far North Queensland is the Daintree River, which flows through the Daintree Rainforest, and so we progress to the aquatic and reptilian life that lives in this world heritage rainforest.
Rainforest (and the Forest Floor)
Heading into the rainforest there is lots of information on what plant life and endemic wildlife you will encounter there.
This information and wall displays set the scene for the rainforest-covered aquariums we are about to see.
The walkthrough (or perhaps crawl-through for adults) rainforest waterway tunnel gets you up close to lots of little fish that frequent the rainforest streams and reptiles.
The rainforest tunnel shows off all the turtles of the rainforest including pig-nosed turtles, long-neck turtles, short-neck turtles, saw-shell turtles, and snapping turtles.
You’ll also find here many other reptiles and amphibians from snakes and water dragons to various frogs, lizards and turtles.
You might also find some spiders hiding in a few terrariums. I say might because they are pretty good at hiding. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of them at all, though I could see where some were hidden.
The mangroves are where we start to meet bigger reptiles, like crocodiles, and we begin to see saltwater marine life.
Cairns Aquarium doesn’t keep large crocodiles, but you will see juvenile saltwater crocs as well as freshwater crocodiles.
You will also see more fish, saltwater fish that live among the roots of mangrove trees, and other marine life too.
Great Barrier Reef
As we enter the Great Barrier Reef portion of Cairns Aquarium we start off with some oddities like upside-down jellyfish before moving into the shallows.
Here, there is a fantastic shallow water crawl-in aquarium where you can crawl into the aquarium and pop up in the middle of it for a different view (note, you can’t see anything while crawling through).
In this shallow aquarium, you’ll see blue-spotted stingrays, warm water lobsters, and an array of fish.
From the shallows, move into a darkened section of the aquarium and you’ll be treated to a little bit of a light show.
Cairns Aquarium has created a series of tanks that are grouped by colour along with explanations of why reef creatures (and coral) are particular colours.
White, yellow, green, blue, purple, and more! So many colours.
And, of course, there are other things living in the Great Barrier Reef as well.
Deep Reef Upper
Early on in the Great Barrier Reef displays, we pass the Deep Reef Upper aquarium.
This is on the top floor of Cairns Aquarium and you can look all the way down to the deeps of the deep reef below.
This display is designed to let you see how marine life lives in the surface water of the deeper reef sections and how some creatures move up and down between the depths and shallows.
The Oceanarium is the main aquarium and contains the biggest sea creatures, visible through the ocean tunnel.
Sit and watch at either end of the tunnel, or meander through for a different perspective.
At one end of the tunnel is a smaller viewing area and at the other is the Deep Reef Lower and Coral Sea Amphitheatre.
Here you can watch big stingrays, leopard sharks, reef sharks and fish of all shapes and sizes.
Deep Reef Lower
Watch the deep reef, double story sea wall from the bottom floor.
I love watching it from this level, looking up at the lights twinkling through the water two stories above.
The movements of the sea life up and down the wall is absolutely hypnotising.
Coral Sea Amphiteatre
Look back through the Oceanarium from the Coral Sea Amphiteatre seating.
Under the Pier (Dundees Restaurant)
It’s easy to miss this display if you don’t dine at Dundees Restaurant. Under the Pier is located outside of the main aquarium and can be seen from the external entrance to Dundees, or of course, from within Dundees.
Under the Pier is a large aquarium wall with a simple pier display. It’s intended to replicate the environment that people create around piers and the marine life that makes those new environments home.
I do suggest having a meal here if it’s within your budget and watch the fish. It’s a good feed, and it will give you time to spot some of the more secretive creatures.
By the way, they have a fantastic special dietary requirements menu to cater for guests requiring gluten-free and/or vegan meals. And for gluten-free vegan guests, this menu even includes dessert options that aren’t just fruit or ice cream.
Cairns Aquarium does permit you to exit the aquarium and return within the same day, making it easy to go out to the restaurant for lunch and come back in afterwards.
You can expect to see a variety of fish, sharks, catfish, jellyfish, and stingrays.
Planning a Visit to Cairns Aquarium
How to Get to Cairns Aquarium
Address: 5 Florence St, Cairns City QLD 4870
The main entry is on Florence St halfway between Abbott St and Lake St, however, there is also a secondary entrance, primarily for Dundee’s customers on the corner of Florence St and Abbott St. This entrance is through Dundee’s Restaurant so I would only advise entering this way if you are going to the restaurant first.
If you are travelling by public transport, you can either get off at “Cairns City Bus Station” or the “Lake St at Cairns Private Hospital Station” and both are about a 5-minute walk to Cairns Aquarium.
Walking from Cairns City Bus Station
Walking from Cairns Private Hospital Station
By Private Vehicle
I would not advise arriving by private car as parking can be awkward and the aquarium is just so convenient to bus routes and accommodation providers.
There is no dedicated customer parking at Cairns Aquarium. Instead, you will need to find a park in the street or at one of the city car parks. These are all paid parking.
There are three parking lots nearby but the closest is probably the Lake St Car Park which costs $1.80 per hour at the time of writing and is located adjacent to the Cairns City Bus Station.
More off-street parking options and their current rates are listed on the Cairns City Council website here.
What Should You Pack For A Cairns Aquarium Visit
The answer to this question will depend on your plans and whether you are taking children or not.
I’d recommend taking a small day bag with some water and your camera gear as a starting point.
I’m a big fan of my Fill2Pure Advanced Filter Water Bottle and use it pretty much everywhere to avoid using single-use plastic bottles. Part of the reason I like this one is that it does squash a bit for travelling when space is tight, and it can be drunk out of by both sucking the straw and squeezing the bottle. This is much easier than filtration bottles or straws that rely solely on suction.
If you are only going to spend a few hours here before or after lunch, you won’t need to pack much, but a few snacks is definitely a good idea. If you are going to stay over lunch but aren’t going to eat at Dundee’s Restaurant, then definitely bring a packed lunch to save yourself walking somewhere else for food.
Otherwise, I’d recommend some comfortable walking shoes. There are plenty of places to sit down for a break, but even so, the floors are hard and you will likely be on your feet a lot so you want to be comfortable.
I recommend Skechers. Their GoWalk and GoRun range are so light and breathable, but even their more dressy shoes are very comfortable for long days on your feet. I’m onto my fifth pair of Skechers now and wouldn’t go back!
In this day and age, I’d also suggest a good quality, natural hand sanitiser that isn’t going to dry out and damage your skin. I love the Arianrhod Aromatics Natural Hand Sanitiser. It feels more like you are using a hand moisturiser than a hand sanitiser.
The Best Places To Stay Near Cairns Aquarium
There are so many choices for accommodation in Cairns. As I mentioned earlier, the Ramada by Wyndham is directly opposite Cairns Aquarium which makes it the most conveniently located for a visit to Cairns Aquarium, but there are a lot of other great choices nearby as well.
I personally really like the Oaks on the Esplanade, it is very conveniently located for most things on a Cairns visit and is an extremely comfortable hotel. It’s a 10-minute walk direct to the aquarium, or a leisurely stroll along the esplanade.
Other great options include:
Find more options:
- アゴダ – I found they were usually the best price for Cairns hotels with a few exceptions.
- Trip.com – Sometimes these guys have some amazing deals – we got the Oaks in Cairns for half the price of booking direct WITH the Oaks loyalty diiscount.
- Expedia – Generally the next best prices after アゴダ outside of Trip.com deals.
- Booking.com – Has the broadest range.
That’s my comprehensive Cairns Aquarium review all done and dusted. I hope you found it helpful in planning your trip to Cairns and potentially visiting the aquarium while you are there. If there is anything I missed or anything you’d like to know about planning your trip to the Cairns Aquarium, let me know in the comments below!