Cairns: the best activities for adrenaline junkies

We’re all in desperate need of a fun shock for our systems, and Cairns has adrenaline-pumping activities to rival even New Zealand.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but we’ve had a lot of slack years for a few years.

The only heartbeats we had were more related to anxiety and existential fear than excitement. So it’s time to restart our hearts, and there’s no better place to do that than Cairns.

So yes, we already know that Cairns is a tropical paradise, but that’s not why I suggested it for your freedom trip.

Between fabulous food, friendly locals and island hopping, there are enough adrenaline-pumping activities to rival even New Zealand (and they’re much easier to get to these days) – think bungee jumping, helicopters and white water rafting.

After all, we deserve hearts racing to remind us that we are more alive than baking sourdough from scratch.

I was recently able to escape Sydney’s gloomy weather and venture north myself. I had three days and three activities to get my heart racing – which is more action than I’ve had in what feels like three millennia.

White water rafting

My first adventure was rafting. It’s something I’ve only tried once before and it was in the glacial waters of Canada so the mild weather was already a win for me.

I was picked up from my hotel and transported to the Barron Gorge River to try my luck on its level three rapids.

It was raining quite heavily as we prepared for the boats, but to be honest with the hot and humid weather in Cairns, the rain was welcome.

The guides are great fun – I also think there should be a rule that all white water rafting guides should have long hair, but will need someone to confirm – and really calmed down even the most nervous of us.

After a few bumps and dips the whole boat settled down and was ready for more. It’s a lot of fun, you’ll absolutely get wet – but to be honest, the views of Barron’s Gorge when you step out into calmer waters are almost as breathtaking.

Diving with a mask and a snorkel

I know many of you have seen snorkeling and scoffed. OK yeah, it’s not technically an adrenaline sport, but it’s when you factor in an extreme phobia of all underwater creatures (except turtles, turtles are the best).

Side note: Reminding your phobic friend that fish won’t hurt him does precisely nothing to help him.

We went out for a four hour tour of the Great Barrier Reef. For me, if it had only been a boat cruise, it would have been a candlelight day of relaxing fun in the sun. The clear blue water, the surrounding islands covered in lush greenery; *chef’s kiss*.

Alas, even though I absolutely didn’t have to snorkel and there was a glass bottom boat ride to look forward to (which is basically a more realistic aquarium), I had decided to to be brave.

Hitting the water in our always-flattering stinger costumes (and thank goodness, because the stingers were out in force that day), I braved the beautiful open ocean with a small guided group.

Our lead marine biologist promised to get me back to the boat if I became paralyzed with fear, and pointed out the most interesting parts of the reef so we actually knew what we were looking at.

One thing I didn’t need any help recognizing was the very adorable turtle that was watching the area. Honestly that was all I needed to see, then I took the sun on the boat.

The tour checked out two different reefs – for us it was Saxon Reef and Hastings Reef, but they make a judgment call based on conditions – a sunken boat experience and a classic BBQ lunch. All your snorkeling equipment is provided.

giant swing

On my last day, I signed up for something that we can all agree is objectively terrifying: a 12-meter swing.

20 minutes from Cairns CBD, the sky park houses a bungee jump and a giant swing. Having bungee jumped before I can confirm the swing isn’t nearly as terrifying, but your stomach will drop and your legs will still turn to jelly.

What I like the most about the swing is that you can have up to three people on it at once, the more the harnesses feel like a giant hug, and that makes the whole thing more comforting.

once you (and your companions, if you choose to make it a team sport) are hitched, you are winched to the top, 12 meters above the ground, where one of you must pull the lever to trigger the swing.

The first swings are real and all you will remember is being terrified. After that, however, you can enjoy panoramic views of Cairns and come to a slow stop.

I’ll be honest with you, we took Go-Pro video of it all, but I’d rather die than let you all see my face in the meantime. Instead, please take advantage of this lovely woman who posted her experience on Instagram.

Ready to shake up the routine Covid has thrown you into? You can book all these activities and many more via Adrenaline.

Sara H. Byrd