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Cairns Airport Car Rental Tips

Cairns Airport is located approximately 7 kilometres from the CBD – and while this is a relatively short distance to travel by taxi, getting a rental car in Cairns has some very strong advantages. With numerous scenic routes around the wider city area, it’s a beautiful exciting place to explore from the freedom of your own vehicle.

There are 19 rental car brands at Cairns Airport competing for your business. If you want to find the best deal that's a lot of websites to check out...

To make things easy, our car rental comparison search engine hunts down the very best offers available from all car rental suppliers and lists them side-by-side for you. This lets you instantly compare and find the best deals.

Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar, Redspot, Thrifty, Firefly, Apollo and Auto Europe Car Rentals are all "on airport'" operators. The domestic terminal car rental offices are located at the northern end of the arrivals facility, while the international car rental offices are in the Arrivals Hall. Rental car parking can be found at the northern end of the domestic car park.

Other rental operators, such as Atlas, East Coast, and Ace Car Rentals, are "off-airport". Their depots are located close to the airport and these operators will transfer you between the terminal and their depot. Although this isn't as convenient, it is often the cheaper way to rent a car from the airport.

Before you go to pick up your vehicle, make sure you have your booking confirmation voucher, a valid driver's license for each of the drivers, a credit card or cash for the bond and suitable ID.

As you’d expect in a relaxed, laid-back town like Cairns, driving tends to be a low-stress affair. Parking isn’t a problem, traffic is light, and attractions are well signposted. It’s easy to take your time and take in the sights – lush rainforests, clear blue seas, and sandy stretches of coastline. The roads in and around Cairns have been rated among the best in the world, and it’s once you get out of town that you really start to see the advantages of car hire in Cairns. Numerous tourist attractions are located within an hour or two of town, including the gateway to the world-famous and wondrous Great Barrier Reef.

However, there are a few important things to note when getting a rental car in Cairns. While cars of all types and sizes are available, it’s a good idea to pre-book – particularly if you have specific requirements, or you’re travelling in the peak tourist season (July through to December). Additionally, if you’re visiting Cairns between November and March, temperatures tend to get extremely hot. If you park in the sun for any length of time, steering wheels and leather seats get hot enough to burn skin, and anything plastic left in the car may melt, so be careful!

When it’s time to return your rental car, it’s a good idea to hand it over with a full tank of petrol to avoid the hefty topping-up fee rental companies charge. There are plenty of petrol stations en route to the airport. Here's a Google Map showing locations of Cairns petrol stations – two close options are Edge Hill service station and Shell Cairns.

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The best deals from all these rental car operators & many more...

avis car rental
Hertz NZ
Thrifty Car Rental NZ
East Coast Car Hire
Europcar rental cars Australia
Alpha Car HIre
Enterprise Car Hire Australia
Keddy Car Hire
Bargain Car Rentals
Redspot car hire Australia
firefly car hire
Budget Car Rental NZ

Booking your Cairns rental car with MatesRates Car Hire is quick, easy. And saves you money!

Cairns Attractions

A rental car gives you the freedom and flexibility to make the most of your time exploring Cairns and surrounding areas. Cairns has grown rapidly in popularity over the past few years with good reason. It’s a centre for adventure, backed by a strong dining and nightlife scene and ringed with enough coastal spots to satisfy any lover of sun and surf. The brilliantly warm weather and stunning natural attractions draw visitors from both greater Australia and all over the world. Here are four of the best places to visit and explore in Cairns to get you started.

The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Cairns’ claim to fame is being the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef – but there’s also plenty of stunning sights above the surface of the water. The surrounding World Heritage protected rainforest is hundreds of millions of years old, and home to an incredible array of natural wonders. To best appreciate their sheer scale and beauty of the rainforest, viewing from above is recommended – and Cairns’ Skyrail Rainforest Cableway offers the most accessible vantage point.

The ride begins at the base of the rainforest, and moves slowly up to Kuranda (known as the “Village in the Rainforest”) with sweeping 360-degree views in between. The cars are designed for safety and smooth travelling, and you’ve even got the option of upgrading to a one with a glass bottom. There’s two stops along the way, enabling you to explore more closely and get acquainted with the area’s history and highlights. The first is made at Red Peak station, and the second at beautiful Barron Falls – there’s even a guided tour through the rainforest lead by experienced rangers, who are happy to answer your questions (and point out the best photo spots). Kurunda, the final stop at the top, is stunningly situated amongst the treetops. It’s uniquely fun to explore, and when you’re finished you’ve got two options for the return trip. You can go back the way you came, on the SkyRail, or jump aboard the Scenic Railway for a slightly longer but more visually striking trip down an alternative pathway.

Cairns SkyRail Cableway terminal is about 15 minutes outside of Cairns, and therefore most easily accessed by private rental car. Allow around an hour and a half each way for the journey up to Kurunda, but keep in mind that there are additional wildlife experiences and tours available if you’re keen to make a day of it.

The Great Barrier Reef

Spanning 344,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier reef truly is vast – and Cairns’ most well-known claim to fame. With almost 3,000 individual reefs to explore, it’s the perfect way to spend a day (or a week) in the region. Boats of all shapes and sizes are available for hire, from zippy runabouts through to large vessels with living quarters for longer journeys, so you’ll be catered for regardless of your preferred length of stay or comfort level. Scuba guides are available to guide you to the most vibrant spots, as are more relaxed snorkelling tours of the coral gardens. The reef positively teems with life – from neon-bright reef fish to graceful rays to towering coral structures. It’s weird and wonderful, and all waiting to be explored. Most operators are based in Port Douglas, just over an hour outside of Cairns, so having your own rental car makes the journey much less hassle.

If you’re not keen to get your feet wet, don’t let that stop you enjoying the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. Scenic helicopter flights are available, and there’s certainly no shortage of things to feast your eyes upon – the reef is visible from outer space, after all! Many flights also travel over the Daintree Rainforest and Kurunda, so you’ll be getting a range of different views for your dollar.

Tjapukai Cultural Park

If you’re looking for a taste of something different, Tjapukai can give you insight into a vastly different way of life – the world’s oldest culture. The park showcases the authentic Aboriginal culture of the local Djabugay people, with both day and night attractions to choose from. There’s a whole cultural village waiting to be explored, and by day the park is full of engaging, interactive attractions. Learn about indigenous heroes, read inspiring stories, experience unique artistic styles and discover the ancient history of the land and its people. If you fancy a more hands-on experience you can try your hand at spear or boomerang throwing, put your lungs to the test by playing a digeridoo, or try your hand at Aboriginal art while making yourself a souvenir to take home.

As the sun sets and the moon rises, it’s time for Night Fire – an intense cultural experience surrounded by firelight and mystery. Tjapukai’s Aboriginal warriors invite attendees to celebrate Dreamtime stories and learn traditional songs – complete with face paint and the lighting of a ceremonial fire. Watch raw, entrancing cultural performances and listen to the haunting and distinctive sounds of the digeridoo. Dinner includes a variety of local cuisine, and throughout the evening you’ll gain a unique insight into an even more unique culture.

Located 20 minutes from Cairns, Tjapukai is most easily and conveniently accessible via rental car. You’ll enjoy the freedom to spend as long as you want exploring, and try both day and night attractions if you wish.

White water rafting

Cairns is truly a water destination, and not all of the fun’s in the ocean! Three surrounding rivers offer thrilling rafting adventures just a little further inland. The Barron, Russell and Tully rivers are all close to Cairns and provide varying degrees of adventure – from scenic family-friendly floating through to high-adrenaline white water excitement. All three are easily accessible to anybody with a rental car, and while transfers are available from Cairns the drive to the destinations really does make it worth visiting a car hire office. It’s rainforest country, and it’s stunning to explore by both river and road.

​When you’re deciding which river might be best for you, keep in mind that:

  • The Barron River offers the easiest ride, and is close enough to Cairns for a half-day trip. Allow approximately two hours of time on the water.
  • The Russell River tends to be the least crowded, but water levels fluctuate – so check before leaving Cairns that you’ll be able to raft. It’s moderately difficult, and the trip takes the better part of a day with a break for lunch.
  • The Tully River delivers both great views and more challenging rapids, and really requires a full day out on the water.

There are options to suit all experience and confidence levels, and whichever river you choose you’ll be fully briefed and equipped with safety gear. A range of checks and regulations mean the rafting industry in Australia is very safe, even though it’s likely you’ll take a spill into the water at some point!