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Mainly used as the gateway or as a base to visit the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rainforest or "accessible outback", Cairns is particularly suited and favoured by divers, ecotourists and bird-watchers.

There is a full range of accommodation in Cairns from 4- and 5-star luxury to a string of budget backpacker hostels along the waterfront.

There are no beaches in Cairns itself although the town looks out over huge tidal mud flats whose only saving grace is that they attract flocks of birds to feed during their annual migration. Proper golden sandy beaches are found all along the 16-ml stretch of coast N of the city, past the airport and across Barron River.

Beach buses go to the miniresorts of Machans, Holloway, the evocatively named Yorkeys Knob, Trinity, Kewarra, Clifton, Palm Cove and Ellis. All are plagued with deadly box jellyfish Oct to May, although in some places nets have been erected to keep the stingers out.

Shoppers have a wide range of local outlets in the town centre. Several covered shopping malls including Orchid Plaza, Pier Marketplace and Cairns Central in the old railway station. Covered night market on sea front selling crafts, jewellery etc.

Popular attractions include the botanical gardens with lakes and tropical woodland; large aquarium; museum; art gallery.

By night there are plenty of places to eat or drink to live music, including a jazz club; some discos and two cinemas.

There is also no shortage of "tucker" options from fine international cuisine in hotels' a la carte restaurants to fast food in seafront cafes. Seafood is a speciality but Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Korean and other ethnic cuisines are also on offer.

Popular excursions include bungee jumping (AJ Hackett Bungee site); tandem sky-diving; white-water rafting; hot-air balloon trip. Full/two days: boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef and its islands, normally incorporating opportunities for snorkelling, diving, swimming and picnicking; Daintree rainforest tour, including nocturnal wildlife safaris; scenic railway ride to Kuranda in Atherton Tableland (can be combined with 4½-ml cable-car ride through and over the rainforest); various trips to the "accessible outback" including the Undara lava tubes (4-hr drive).