April 22, 2022

Cairns Botanical Gardens pathway through rainforest

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young kids exploring the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Kids exploring the Cairns Botanical Gardens

The Cairns Botanical Gardens offer an escape to one of the most highly regarded tropical plant exhibits in Australia… and it all lies among the fringes of Cairns City.

Plant enthusiasts, photographers, or those just wanting to escape for a shady walk with the kids, all with find sanctuary in this lush paradise.

Multiple gardens to choose from…

The Cairns Botanical Gardens in its entirety is made up of a number of smaller gardens, each with their own nod to the diversity of flora and fauna that can be found not just in FNQ, but across the world.

Pathways through rainforest in Flecker Gardens at the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Pathways through rainforest in the Flecker Gardens at Cairns Botanical Gardens

Meander your way through each of the gardens below and discover a broad range of orchids, ferns, large shade giving plants, insect eating plants, succulents and more!

  • The Flecker Gardens
  • Freshwater Lakes (Centenary Lakes)
  • Saltwater Lakes (Centenary Lakes)
  • Zhanjiang Friendship Gardens
  • Butterfly House (Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory)
  • Gondwana Heritage Gardens

The Flecker Gardens

Transport yourself into the middle of the Daintree Rainforest as you walk your way through shaded paths and across waterways which flow with the rain!

Young girls exploring the staired pathways of the Cairns Botanical Gardens Flecker Gardens

You’ve just discovered Flecker Gardens!

This is the ‘main’ garden of the Cairns Botanical Gardens and is actually made up of a number of other gardens, featuring both common and rarer plants which can be found across the world, from South East Asia, Africa, South American, and of course, closer to home here in FNQ.

Freshwater and Saltwater Lakes

Harbouring a broad variety of birdlife, the Saltwater Lake and Freshwater Lake, which together, make up ‘Centenary Lakes’, is the perfect place for birdwatchers and avid wildlife photographers.

Freshwater Lakes at the Cairns Centenary Lakes as part of the botanical gardens
Freshwater Lakes (Centenary Lakes of the Cairns Botanical Gardens)

Discover anything from the Radjah Shelduck, to rainbow lorikeets, Australasian figbirds and the torresian kingfisher, just to name a bird.

Ebird has a full list of birds with dates of sightings recorded in the Centenary Lakes area, so much sure you check those out too.

Zhanjiang Friendship Gardens

In 2004, the Zhanjiang, Guandong Province in China officially became a Sister City with Cairns.

Sharing a similar climate, the garden symbolises the importance and mutually close relationship between the two cities.

With an oriental styling, the Zhanjiang Friendship Garden features plants from both Australian and Chinese origin. Each plant was carefully selected for its representation and symbolism.

You’ll also find a moon gate with Chinese engraving which translates literally to ‘Friendship Garden’. It’s a beautiful place to find some quite time and gather your thoughts.

Zhanjiang Friendship Garden overlooking the Centenary Lakes of the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Zhanjiang Friendship Garden is part of the Centenary Lakes

Cairns Botanical Gardens Butterfly House

Officially known as the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory, this building was opened in 2015 with the very specific purpose of displaying a collection of rare tropical plants. This includes a wide variety of orchids, bromiliads, cycads, ferns and more.

Different flowers and frogs found in the Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory in the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Flowers and frogs found in the Cairns Botanical Gardens Conservatory

The conservatory is also used as part of a butterfly breeding program run by the Friends of the Cairns Botanical Gardens. It’s one of my kid’s favourite places to visit.

They can easily spend an hour watching butterflies in the conservatory with pure excitement when one happens to land on them.

Beyond the plants and the butterflies, the conservatory also has a fish pond with a number of different water plants, fish, frogs and even red claw yabbies.

Exploring the Cairns Botanical Gardens Butterfly House showcasing flowers, butterflies and frogs
My daughter loves the butterflies at the Cairns Botanical Gardens Butterfly House – She also loves Hot Chocolate… Can you tell?

If heading to the Gardens, a stop by the Cairns Botanical Gardens Butterfly House (Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory) is well worth the effort.

Gondwanan Heritage Garden

This garden plays particular homage to the evolution of plant species from the first photosynthetic bacteria to the modern flowering plants that we see today.

The plants of focus in this garden are from the wet tropics, local to the area.

Pathway leading through rainforest in the Gondwanan Heritage Garden at the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Gondwanan Heritage Garden at the Cairns Botanical Gardens

As you follow the trail, you’re walked through seven zones, starting at around 3,500 million years ago, all the way to present – a display of the plants that we see and know today.

It’s an easy, shaded walk, and a great place to nurture curious minds with your kids.

Cairns Botanical Gardens Opening Hours

You can get access to the Flecker Gardens (including the butterfly house – Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory) from 7.30am to 5.30pm daily.

All other areas of the Cairns Botanic Gardens are open 24/7.

The Visitor Centre is open from 8.30am to 4pm Monday-Friday and 9.30am to 2pm weekends and public holidays, however closed on Christmas Day.

Cairns Botanical Gardens Entry Fee

Self guided access to all the different gardens which make up the Cairns Botanical Gardens are accessible free of charge.

Friends of the Botanical Gardens also provide a free 60-90 minute guided tour of the gardens from 10am Monday to Friday, most weeks of the year.

For bird enthusiasts, sneak a peek at some of the dozens of bird varieties regularly seen around the gardens.

Free bird watching tours are also available every Tuesday starting at 8.30am and concluding at around 10.30am – starting from the Friends House in Flecker Garden. It’s recommended that you wear comfortable walking attire and bring some binoculars.

Finally, subject to interest, a Heritage Tour is held on Thursday mornings from 10am. To register your interest, you can email greenspaceourplace (at) cairns.qld.gov.au or call 07 4031 6648.

Tours The Botanical Gardens

Macro Photography Tour

Bring your camera and your sense of wonder and discover some tips of the trade from local and highly regarded macro photographer Bridgette Gower.

Bridgette is the local owner-operator of this tour which takes a small group on a photography adventure of the Cairns Botanical Gardens in the mornings from 8.30am-10am (2 hour minimum).

Enjoying Macro Photography with Bridgette at the Botanical Gardens

You can expect to discover all sorts of different insects to capture including butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, lizards, grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, cicadas, and orb-weaving spiders and come out the other side with some high quality snaps that you can brag to your friends about.

If your days are booked up but you still love the idea of a photography tour through the botanical gardens, there is a 2 hour night time version which you can join and watch the botanical gardens come to life!

If bugs aren’t really your thing but you love photography, Bridgette also runs tours for a guided mushroom photography tour.

Bridgette’s tours are suitable for both avid and novice photographers. She’s there to help you get the most out of your photos, whether they be through the lens of an expensive DSLR, or simply using your smartphone (and everything in between).

Cairns City Sights Afternoon Tour

This 5.5 hour half day tour not just explores the Botanical Gardens, but also a number of other points of interest around Cairns. You can enjoy…

  • Exclusive 20 minute guided tour of the Cairns Museum
  • Cairns Scenic Lookout
  • Lower Barron Gorge
  • Palm Cove
  • St Monica’s Cathedral
  • Your choice of locally grown Devonshire Tea, Coffee or Hot Chocolate
  • Fully air conditioned coach (Maximum 20 people)
  • Local knowledgeable guide
  • Complimentary Cairns Hotel Pickup
Exploring the sites of Cairns on a half day tour

This tour is a highly popular option for filling up a spare half day and getting around to see Cairns, especially if you don’t have a car.

Alternately, you also have the option of adding on an evening dinner cruise as part of the same tour.

You’ll enjoy listening to live music on board the 26 meter catamaran while getting your fill at the delicious 3-course buffet dinner with some of the regions best produce, including seafood.

Other Activities and Events

Little Taccas

This free program is designed for children aged under 5 years old and is a fortnightly program. It has a heavy focus on nature based activities including arts and crafts, storytelling, singalongs and walks through the botanical gardens.

This is a highly sought after experience and bookings are required, so if possible book well in advance.

Tanks Art Centre

The Tanks Art Centre is located within the Cairns Botanical Gardens and hosts a range of different art and photography exhibitions, music concerts and more.

The history of the Tanks Art Centre is rich, being made from old fuel tanks that were discretely built into the side of Mount Whitfield as a way of hiding them from the view of enemies during World War II.

Entrance to one of the art galleries at the Tanks Art Centre adjacent to the Cairns Botanical Gardens

You can get a glimpse of upcoming events/exhibitions on the Tanks Art Centre website.

Tanks and Cairns Botanic Gardens Markets

The Tanks Markets are just on of the many markets around Cairns and take place on the last Sunday of the month between April and November

The shaded rainforest provides the perfect setting for exploring the local arts, crafts, vintage clothing, collectibles, food and much more. You’ll often find live entertainment at the markets too!

Carnival on Collins (1st Sunday of September each year)

This Faterh’s Day tradition sets up on the iconic Collins Avenue, which runs adjacent to the Cairns Botanical Gardens. Typically, over 25,000 people will attend Carnival on Collins for the markets and family fun.

Explore over 200 market stalls which offer local art and craft, produce, plants, food and refreshments!

Nature Play Playground

Directly next to the Centenary Lakes (Freshwater Lake and Saltwater Lake) is the Natureplay Playground. It’s an awesome free access playground to take the kids to explore with nature based play.

Entrance sign for the Nature Play Centenary Lakes in Cairns
Look out for this sign of the Nature lay Centenary Lakes Playground from the road

This is just one of the many awesome playgrounds around Cairns city for you to visit with your young ones.

Exploring the playground at Nature Play Centenary Lakes as part of the Cairns Botanical Gardens
Enjoying the playground at Nature Play Playground – Centenary Lakes in Cairns

The playground is also right next to the Freshwater Lake of Centenary Lakes so you can also sit beside the lake and watch the ducks and other local birdlife.

Cairns Botanical Gardens Cafe

There are actually two cafes which you can choose from on site at the gardens.

Firstly is the Botanic Garden which is located just inside the main entrance (off Collins Avenue) of Flecker Gardens. This cafe is set amongst lush greenery and is open 7 days a week from 7am to 4.30pm.

Alternately, you can visit TANK Sixty Four which is directly next to the Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre. This cafe is fully licenced and is also open 7 days a week from 7am to 4pm. They are also open on Fridays and Saturdays for dinner.

Cairns Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre and Tank Sixty Four Cafe
Tank Sixty Four Cafe next to the Cairns Botanical Gardens Visitor Centre

There are also a number of other great cafe’s just a few blocks down on Collins Avenue which is the main strip in Edge Hill well locally known for its cafĂ© and restaurant scene.

Cairns Botanical Gardens In A Nutshell

The Cairns Botanical Gardens can be found on the fringes of Cairns City, and is considered a nature lover’s delight.

With a broad range of tropical plants, it’s widely considered one of the best botanical gardens of its kind in Australia.

Most of the gardens are open 24/7, however the main Flecker Gardens and the Watkin Munro Martin Conservatory (Butterfly House) have limited hours between 7.30am and 5.30pm daily.

The gardens also host a range of different tours (both paid and free), as well as other activities and events for you and the family to enjoy.

A morning or afternoon at the Cairns Botanical Gardens is the perfect way to spend half a day while visiting Cairns. The shaded pathways can provide relief from the sun on even some of the hottest days of the year.

Have you been to the Cairns Botanical Gardens? Let me know in the comments below if you’ve been there before, or if you’re planning on visiting while in Cairns.

About the author 

Kate Mannion

Hi, I'm Kate! Mum of 2, and Cairns local for the last 7 years. I love taking photos (although I still have a lot to learn) and taking the drone up to see this beautiful region from a different perspective. I hope to help you have a once-in-a-lifetime experience while visiting the region! 

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