The best time to visit Cairns Australia is when you can visit. Never let the weather put you off too much, but should you choose summer or winter, wet season or dry and should you not visit in stinger season? A lot depends on which of the things to do in Cairns and near Cairns interest you most. Do you want to visit Cairns best time for visiting the Great Barrier Reef or to take a trip to the Daintree Rainforest? Would you like to at see the humpback or minke whales or just enjoy enjoy the pool on the Esplanade or some of the tropical beaches near Cairns? We tell you what to expect in terms of weather, water conditions, and activities month by month in Cairns.
We’ll help you judge what the best time to visit Cairns is for you and the things you want to do
We have a tropical climate here in Cairns so temperatures don’t fluctuate greatly, but rainfall and humidity do.
The hottest, wettest time in Cairns is late spring and summer, November to April, after the monsoon. The wettest months are usually January to March and this is when Cairns is most likely to experience tropical storms or cyclones.
The cooler, dryer period in Cairns is Southern Hemisphere late autumn and winter, June to October. There are 2 main seasons, the dry and the wet, with ” the build-up” preceding the start of the wet.
There are many things to do in Cairns, some you can do in the rain, most run year-round, but some businesses and activities close for a while in the wet season. Really extreme weather will prevent most boats from running, but it’s not that common.
If you check out the things to do in Cairns, some of those will be best appreciated at certain times of the year. For instance Barron River Falls are spectacular after heavy rain and conditions on the reef can be great in September.
So figure out what you’d like to do in Far North Queensland and then see when the weather will allow it.
It is our opinion, as locals, that the ideal time is the shoulder seasons either side of stinger season and the wet season.
If you’re booking a budget trip[, visit Cairns in the wet season, prices can be lower, with special offers on hotels and tours. If you’re in luck, conditions on the reef could still be great.
Without doubt, visiting outside of the main tourist season can make your Queensland holiday cheaper.
There is also the risk of very bad days out there, so if you only have a day or two and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is your goal, you could risk disappointment.
Best Time To Visit Cairns – Guide
Water Temperature off Cairns
The best time for swimming in the Cairns region (including the Northern Beaches, Palm Cove and Port Douglas, we think, would probably be May or April to October or November and early December.
Be aware that in the winter months in Far North Queensland (northern hemisphere’s summer) it may be cooler, but you’re avoiding the marine stingers and downpours of a typical tropical summer.
Water temperatures are at their lowest, at around 23º C in July and generally highest in February at 29º C. A good storm can, and hopefully does, cool the sea temperature at that time of year. 30º C is enough to cause coral bleaching.
We give typical temperatures, rainfall and humidity levels in Cairns in this post, but these figures are a guideline only and you can never rule out an extreme weather event.
Cairns is not usually affected by major bush fires or flooding, thankfully, but Cairns can see tropical cyclones, but mayor storms are rare. You’re more likely to feel the effects of a major storm nearby, in heavy tropical downpours and spectacular clouds.
Humidity in Cairns
August is usually the driest month in Cairns and February the wettest. Humidity can be in the 80s in February, getting down to around 69% in September. If you’re not used to it, Cairns can feel pretty sticky, but this wet heat means the mercury doesn’t rise as high as in drier parts of Australia.
Cairns Weather Month by Month
January in Cairns
January is hot, humid and wet but you can still get some good days.
Expect temperatures between 32 and 26C . It’s the middle of Sothern Hemisphere summer and The Wet Season.
In January February and March we will likely experience maximum rainfall at over 350 mm in an average month. This means the trip to Kuranda on the Skyrail, stopping at Barron River Falls, and returning by scenic train, will be spectacular, the river should be in full flood. Book this trip here, it’s one of the top tours in the whole of Australia. You can see a clip of the falls in flood in the video on this page.
Early January will still be quite busy in Cairns as the Australian Christmas (summer) school holidays are long. After Australia Day (26th January) things quieten down and some businesses will close for a wet-season break.
Is it worth visiting Cairns in January?
Many people visit Cairns in January because it is school holidays, Christmas to Australia Day are a fairly busy period for family tourists in Port Douglas.
It doesn’t rain all day, every day, we still have good weather in January, some days, and the reef boats will run unless the weather is particularly bad. If you have bad luck and your visit coincides with a tropical storm or cyclone being nearby, then yes, you may see days of never-ending rain. But if you’re lucky, January can be a great time to visit Cairns and snorkel on The Great Barrier Reef.
If it’s not raining it’s likely to be very hot and humid, the sea should be like a warm bath. Yes, it will be stinger season and there may be more debris on local beaches because of storms. There are several beaches with stinger nets or swimming enclosures near Cairns. There’s no swimming beach near the centre of Cairns itself.
There can be flooding nearby, this can prevent access to the Daintree Rainforest and interrupt supply chains from the south. Cairns itself rarely floods to any extent. This is a great time of year to see Barron River Falls, on this superb day-trip from Cairns, the Northern Beaches or Palm Cove. Check it out here!
February in Cairns
Nothing much changes temperature-wise in February, maximum and minimum temperatures are still 32ºC and 26ºC.
Rain continues, it may be even wetter than January. Humidity is at its highest in February, about 83%.
When we experience severe heavy rain in Cairns it’s quite likely that there will be flooding in Daintree or as far south as Townsville. This southern flooding can close roads and restrict access to far north Queensland so if you’re heading to the Cairns region by car, be aware of that. It’s very unusual to see much flooding actually in Cairns itself.
Be aware that in February some local businesses and restaurants may be shut for a seasonal break. This is the lowest of the low season and tourist numbers drop once the kids go back to school.
February is likely the quietest time in Cairns, you can still swim at the lagoon pool in Cairns or at nearby beaches with swimming enclosures (stinger nets) in February. Trips to the Great Barrier Reef do still run from Cairns on good weather days in February.
March in Cairns
Autumn officially arrives in Cairns in March. Temperatures just may drop a little in March and by the end of March, things should be getting more comfortable.
Expect temperatures roughly between 31 and 25 C. Again, it’s wet, but not as wet as February, usually.
As for February, you can swim at netted beaches near Cairns and reef trips and snorkelling still happen if the weather isn’t too bad.
April in Cairns
April is a good time to visit Cairns, but possibly not the very best time. Temperatures are dropping, at between 29ºC and 24º C. It can still be pretty wet with an average of 200 mm of rain this month.
Humidity seems to tail off around March / April /May in Cairns and our hair gets less curly.
It will likely still be stinger season, so you can swim at beaches with nets or snorkel on the reef with stinger suits.
May in Cairns
Another good temperature drop in May, we’re down to 28 – 23 C now and days of rain are starting to decrease nicely.
The weather is pretty good and the tourist crowds are expected to arrive from next month.
We recently went out to the reef at the very end of May. Visibility was good, water temperature was a cool (for Far North Queensland) – comfortable 26ºC. It was a great time to go out, but towards the end of a 40 minute scuba dive in a light shortie wetsuit (provided by the boat) I started to feel cool rather than perfectly comfortable.
Snorkelling for 30 mins in the same wetsuit we felt no cold at all. People were snorkelling without wetsuits and, as stinger season was over for us, no stinger suits.
June in Cairns
It’s getting dry and it’s the first day of winter in Australia. Expect temperatures between 26 and 21 C and markedly less rain, this is the official dry season’s beginning. This is the start of high season and possibly my favourite month to live in FNQ. Nighttime temperatures could warrant a cardigan or fleece. During the day it can be comfortable to wear long sleeves or even light jumpers, depending on cloud cover.
Yes you can still swim at the beaches near Cairns and snorkel on the reef in June, but it will be getting cooler.
July in Cairns
July is mid-winter in Cairns and should be the coolest month . Expect around 25-21 C with low rainfall, just 6 days of rain. Nights are cool, you could call them cold even, and if you’re out before dawn to run or walk, you’ll feel a nip in the air.
The humpback whales should be arriving in the Coral Sea, off Cairns now, they will stay to September.
August in Cairns
August will be a touch warmer than July as winter comes to an end. 27ºC – 21ºC and average just 6 days of rain bringing on average under 70 mm in the whole month. Nights can be comfortably cool, you may even feel a little chilly if you’re out running before dawn as we are.
People still use the beach in the depths of winter, Cairns is busy, and yes, people swim in the sea, but some swimming pools get pretty chilly at the coldest times of year if they’re not heated.
September in Cairns
September is possibly the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, the whales should still be around, the Trade Winds should be calming down and the water is starting to warm up. Temperatures are rising, 28ºC -22º C with little rain. Humidity is lowest in Cairns in September at around 67% This is the start of Australian spring, and many trees start to flower.Nights can still be comfortably cool. If the rain has quit for the dry season, expect brown, dead grass. This is a great time to spot crocodiles sunning themselves on river banks at low tide, or to take a crocodile spotting tour from Cairns.
October in Cairns
Things are building up with maximum temperatures getting up to 30C and minimums of 23 C Not much, if any, rain happening yet. This is possibly my favourite time of year for the beach or reef, just before Stinger Season.
November in Cairns
It’s pretty warm in Cairns in November! 32-25 C and we look forward to maybe some electric or thunder storms in the afternoon.
Not much rain usually falls though, we need December to arrive for the rains to really start.
November is the official start of the wet season. November is a great time to visit Cairns, but it will be hot, and you will likely be visiting in early stinger season.
The stinger nets should be in the water on the beaches in the Cairns region from the start of November. Reef trips do continue to operate through stinger season, only stopping in very bad wind and weather conditions. So yes, you can still snorkel or swim from Cairns in November.
December in Cairns
In December everyone is waiting for the wet to arrive and bring heavy rains as relief from the heat and water for our gardens. We’re all waiting for Christmas too of course, and then New Year celebrations.
Temps are getting up around 32 to 25 C and the rains will hopefully be providing afternoon relief as the month wears on. Summer has arrived and the mango season with it.
In December 2018 we had an early cyclone, a small but damaging Category 1 in early December.
We had infrequent light rain at night through December and the beach has been perfection. Of course, Stinger Season is here by December and the stinger nets are in place on the beaches.
In December we can have some great beach days plus enough rain to keep everything green. We enjoyed a sunset sail with perfect calm conditions in early December.
Very little happens for Christmas in Cairns, compared to Europe or The US, but most hotels and restaurants are very busy over the Christmas period itself. Things quieten down either side of the big school holidays.
Expect prices for car hire and hotels to start increasing around the 15th to 20th of December.
Don’t expect much by way of public Christmas decorations and lights, but some of the locals really go to town. You’ll find some houses decked out spectacularly in residential areas.
There is usually a big fireworks show and celebration with rides and food stalls in Cairns for New Year.
Special Holidays, Festivals and Events in Cairns
Port Douglas Carnivale
Carnival is generally towards the end of May with a street parade, food events and the Spiegeltent. Port Douglas is a nice day out from Cairns and a good place to visit for the weekly Sunday Markets, these take place year-round.
Christmas in Cairns
It’s quite usual around here to stay in a hotel over Christmas with many big hotels offering seasonal feasts on December 25th.
Look for special dining events on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in the best hotels in Cairns.
New Year in Cairns
There is normally a New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Cairns. January 1st is New Year’s Day.
School Holidays in Cairns
In Australia the long school holidays are in Australian summer, which is Christmas. Dates are (approximately ) 22nd December to 3rd February. Local kids will also be on holiday over Easter and have a day off for Anzac Day ( 25th April ) and Australia Day (26th – 27th January). Half term holidays are around 7th to 22nd July and around the 29th September to 14th October. These dates are meant as a guide only please double-check them yourself as they change each year. Cairns will be very busy in most school holidays and prices may be higher.
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in Cairns Australia
The seasons are strictly regulated in Australia with each season beginning on the first of the month and each season lasting exactly 3 months.
Spring starts in September, summer starts in December, autumn starts in March and winter starts in June. I know it’s confusing, I’m from the Northern Hemisphere!
When is Cyclone Season in Cairns?
Cyclone season isn’t the best time to visit Cairns. Cyclone season in tropical north Queensland and Cairns is approximately November to May.
A tropical low, tropical storm or cyclone in the region can bring a lot of rain over several days.
Chances of getting a cyclone in November or April – May seem pretty slim to me, having lived in FNQ for over a decade, but it can happen.
As far as I know, there hasn’t been a major direct cyclone hit in Cairns in many years.
I’ve never experienced one. For information on current tropical cyclones, check the BOM
Driving Further North from Cairns, Flooding and Road Closures on Roads to The Cape
Obviously, road conditions are unpredictable and vary but in general, there is only a short window of opportunity to drive on up to Cooktown, Cape York and the Tip.
If you want to do this you’ll join the 4 wheel drive convoys in June to October for the best chance of ideal conditions. You can check the Creb Track opening and conditions here.
We hope that was helpful! So now you know your best time to visit Port Douglas, go ahead and book your Cairns accommodation and organise your trip of a lifetime to the Great Barrier Reef. We’re working on even more guides to our corner of Queensland Australia every day. For ideas on other destinations to visit in Queensland, see our post on places to visit in Queensland. For more Cairns travel information on our site, go here. For fresh water swimming spots around Cairns look here.
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