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Moving to Cairns (A Complete Guide)

Cairns city promenade
Cairns City Promenade

 When it comes to great cities in Australia, you have a lot of choice. But for some, Cairns is the perfect place to relocate. This tropical, relaxed hub in Queensland is a popular tourist destination from April to November, thanks to its stunning amenities and exceptional location. It is close to a range of beaches, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest - a World Heritage site. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that many people view Cairns as a desirable place to live. In this guide, we’re going to answer all the questions you might have about moving to the city (and more). By the end of it, you should be in a much better place to make a decision. Will you stay put? Or will you take the plunge and make a move? 

Finding A Home in Cairns 

Cains, like most cities in Australia, is an eclectic place, featuring a variety of communities offering different lifestyles. 

Suburbs In Cairns

Cairns Botanical Gardens in Edge Hill
Cairns Botanical Gardens in Edge Hill

Near the heart of the city, you will find Freshwater, a residential suburb with excellent access to the CBD, airport and northern beaches. Locals consider the area one of the premier suburbs of the city, featuring some of the best housing in the region. It also has a smattering of high-quality educational establishments, including a college and primary school, parks, restaurants and bars. While Cairns CBD is a busy place, Freshwater is surprisingly tranquil, despite its central location. 

Close to Freshwater is Edge Hill - another suburb close to the CBD. Here you’ll find the Cairns Botanical Gardens. This beautiful amenity showcases some of the most exquisite horticultural marvels in Queensland. Edge Hill offers a different character from Freshwater, putting you right in the heart of the action. It offers parks, sports centres and excellent nightlife. 

Moving out of town to the north, you’ll eventually stumble across Kewarra. This area removes you from the tourist areas entirely and allows you to get a sense of what Cairns living is like for locals. It provides heaps of facilities for growing families, including childcare, quiet local shops, parks, and access to stunning, relatively uncrowded sections of beach. 

Renting Versus Buying In Cairns

According to data from Tropic Now, it is cheaper to buy in Cairns than it is to rent. Figures indicate that the average homeowner must part with 28.5 per cent of their income to finance rent, compared to 27.4 per cent to service a mortgage. 

The median price for a house in Cairns in 2019 is $409,000. The price for a unit is a little over half that, at $211,000. Median rent hit $420 per week for houses and $300 per week for units. 

Finding Work in Cairns 

Aerial view of The Great Barrier Reef
Aerial view of The Great Barrier Reef

Unsurprisingly, the tourist industry dominates the Cairns’ economy. However, it also has a strong media presence and some opportunities for work in agriculture and industry. 

According to Tourism Australia, Cairns is the fourth most popular tourist destination in the country (as measured by annual visitor numbers), with the vast bulk coming from overseas. There are substantial employment opportunities in the hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, bars and tour guides. 

Cairns, like all major cities in Australia, has a central commercial hub serving both locals and visitors. There are several major shopping centres, including Cairns Central and Stockland Cairns. You can find other shopping complexes providing employment in the suburbs, though these are smaller. 

Cairns is a major hub in Queensland and, therefore, central to the province’s media industry. It has five television stations, a range of daily newspapers and several radio stations. Cairns is also home to the Barron Gorge hydroelectric power station which supplies part of the city’s energy needs and provides additional employment. 

If you’re looking for a job in the area, be sure to set up your LinkedIn page and look for roles that match your skills on

Cost Of Living in Cairns

Living in Cairns is surprisingly cost-effective. The city has a cost of living index of 72, meaning that it is around 28 per cent cheaper in general than other cities in Australia and across the world. 

The cost of living index in Cairns is around 5 per cent lower than in London and rent is 62.4 per cent lower than the UK capital. 

The average household spends around 190.17 AUD per month on essential bills - such as electricity, heating, water and garbage. 

The rent per month in a one-bedroom city centre apartment is approximately 1,320 AUD. Prices fall to 1158 AUD once you move out into the suburbs. 

Weather in Cairns

Cairns has a predominantly tropical climate. The weather, therefore, is warm all year round, and hottest in December, January and February. 

Average temperatures reach around 27 C during the summer and then fall to approximately 21 to 22 C in the winter, bottoming out in July. The winter is the driest part of the year for Cairns, with rainfall going as low as 1.5 inches per month in August. Precipitation peaks in February, with an average annual tally of 19.1 inches. The summer is much hotter and wetter than the winter months, leading to high levels of humidity. 

Culture & Entertainment

Cairns is a top tourist spot, especially for international travellers. Estimates suggest that it attracts more than 850,000 people per year - nearly as many as much larger cities like Brisbane.

Cairns offers excellent weather and a relaxed atmosphere for most of the year and is known for great seafood. Top restaurants (many of which serve up local catches) include Tha Fish, Piato, Splash Seafood Restaurant, and Boatshed

Places to Visit

Daintree Rainforest
Daintree Rainforest

While Cairns is a beautiful place, its location is the real reason for its success. It is close to some of Australia’s most famous and celebrated natural and man-made attractions. 

  • Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier reef is the biggest coral reef in the world. The northern tip of the formation sits close to Cairns. Locals and tourists can access it via catamaran. Boat journeys typically take between 45 and 90 minutes. However, if you want to travel to the outer reef, you’ll need to dedicate an entire day to the excursion. 
  • Daintree Rainforest. Daintree Rainforest is a managed rainforest close to Cairns and believed to be part of one of the world’s oldest. Conservationists designed the area to be sustainable and ethical, maintaining its natural beauty. Accessibility, therefore, is limited.  
  • Beaches. Cairns is home to numerous beaches, many of which provide excellent access to watersports and tranquil surroundings. Top beaches within striking distance of the city include Nudey Beach, Four Mile Beach, Palm Cove and Mission Beach to the south. 
  • Day Trips. Cairns is also an excellent place for day trips. The Cairns Botanic Gardens is a paradise of tropical plants where you can learn about the flora local to the area. It offers free entry. The Cairns Aquarium is another popular attraction, allowing visitors to interact with rare plants and animals. Finally, the Cairns Esplanade is a popular 2.5 km foreshore offering parkland, playgrounds, lagoons and boardwalks close to the CBD. 


Similar to most major cities, Cairns offers families plenty of places to educate their children. There is a mix of public and private primary schools in the region. In total, there are twenty state primaries and sixteen state high schools. Most of these schools provide a Catholic curriculum, with more than six secondary schools and nineteen primary schools following the syllabus. 

There are four independent schools: Freshwater Christian College, Trinity Anglican School, Peace Lutheran College and Redlynch State College

For older students, there is CQUniversity Australia which has a study centre in the city, as well as a James Cook University campus. 

Getting around Cairns  

Many people who live in Cairns get around by car, but there is no reason why you must own one. The city’s bus network has two main hubs - one in the CBD by the Cairns Central Railway Station and another at the intersection of Lake Street and Shield Street. Transit options take you to every suburb, providing access to nearly every area within the city limits. Cairns, however, has not implemented the GoCard system, so you will need to carry change. 

If you want to travel by taxi, there are several large companies offering taxi services in the city. Uber began offering services in 2017, providing access to areas both in the town and outside of the city limits. 

Cairns Railway Station is on the North Coast Railway line. You can use the service to travel south in the direction of Brisbane or north towards the headland. 

The traffic in Cairns is notoriously bad in the height of the tourist season in Cairns, so you may want to think twice before investing in personal transport. It can help to get to out-of-town locations, but it is not essential.  

Overall, Cairns is a great place to visit. If you’re considering moving there, we’re here to help. Chess Moving has more than a century of experience, helping people move their possessions to Cairns and set up a new life for themselves. We even have an office in Cairns, as well as every Australian capital city and some regional locations. Our removalist services take the stress out of your move and organise the entire process on your behalf. Our helpful and diligent professionals ensure the safety of all your belongings, giving you peace of mind. 


Is Cairns a good holiday destination? 

Cairns is an excellent holiday destination for people who want to visit beaches, Daintree Rainforest, or the Great Barrier Reef. The city is also home to numerous hotels, bars, shops and restaurants. It attracts hundreds of thousands of international visitors every year. 

Are there crocodiles in Cairns? 

Crocodiles have been spotted occasionally in the surroundings of Cairns, but actually coming across one is rare. Crocs do live in Queensland but rarely make their homes close to the city. 

Is it safe to swim around Cairns? 

The authorities consider swimming in Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Port Douglas to be safe. They recommend, however, that swimmers wear full lycra when entering the water in the warmer months between November and April. 

Is Cairns a safe city at night? 

Cairns is a relatively safe city. However, locals do still report late-night muggings. The authorities recommend that people call a cab to get home in the evening instead of going on foot. 

Does Cairns ever get cold? 

Cairns is warm year-round and hot in the summer. In the winter, water temperatures dip to a mild 21 C but then rise rapidly to 25 C as it heads into the summer months. Air temperatures fall to the low twenties in the winter - which still isn’t cold. 

What clothes to wear in Cairns?

Cairns has a tropical climate, so if you plan a visit, you should pack the sort of clothing that you would wear in a hot, humid environment. T-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, swimming trunks and bathing suits are all essential. 

Helpful Facts About Cairns 

  • The rain can be heavy in the summer. If you’re not used to downpours, you can wonder what is going on. Cairns occupies a tropical location, so be prepared for some extreme precipitation in the warmer months. 
  • Cane toads were once native to Central America, but they were brought to Queensland by humans. Scientists believe that they are the largest species of toad in the world. Don’t be surprised if you find some in your back garden in Cairns. 
  • Cairns is a cultural melting pot, thanks to a large immigrant population and thousands of seasonal tourists from all over the world. 
  • There’s so much rain in Cairns that mould can be a significant problem. It grows everywhere, from your floors to your furniture. Keeping humidity down in your new home, therefore, is essential. 
  • Cairns' public transportation system is a godsend for people who just want to escape the heat and get home. In the summer, the city can feel like an oven. 
  • Cyclones occasionally hit Cairns, but you usually get several days warning before you have to batten down the hatches. 
  • Rental prices are surprisingly affordable in Cairns




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