Adventures and Dangers to Ocean Swimming in Cairns

By Josh •  Updated: 03/14/21 •  8 min read

Cairns is a beautiful city in Queensland, Australia, known for its extensive range of wildlife, rainforest, Great Barrier Reef, and of course its beaches. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination because of its warm, tropical weather. Any trip to the beach is incomplete without taking a dip in the ocean, right? But first things first, can you swim in the ocean at Cairns?

Yes, you can swim in the oceans at Cairns, but it is considered dangerous, especially from November to May. This is due to the presence of jellyfish and many other kinds of insects and organisms which might sting you. Stingers can be very harmful, and stings hurt a lot as they inject venom into your body. 

However, most of these beaches will provide enclosures and stinger nets around certain areas on the beach, where you can swim. It can be a little scary and risky to take a dip into the ocean, but if you are willing to take certain safety measures, as described in this article, and do it carefully, you can have a great time in the ocean.

Buchans Point Beach to the Coral Sea, on the Captain Cook Highway, between Cairns and Port Douglas

Ocean Swimming in Cairns

If you are, however, still willing to take on an adventure and swim in these risky waters, you can. As long as you take proper precautions it’s completely okay to swim in the oceans in Cairns and you can have an amazing time in the water.

There are several competitions and official swim events that take place in the oceans like the annual Great Adventures Green Island Ocean Swim, which is competitive swimming for different distance ranges. 

Participating in these together with friends and family can be great fun. And since it takes place with a lot of people, the proper safety measures are taken by the organizers and you do not have to put in too much effort. 

If you are not up for competitions and events, you can still take a swim on your own, provided you follow proper guidelines. Listen to the lifeguards and read all caution signs and warnings before taking a dip. 

It is also better to keep kids away from this activity. There are plenty of activities you can do on the beach too. So, engage your kids in games or leave them at the hotel if you are planning to take a swim. 

Some good beaches to visit to swim at Cairns:

  • Ellis Beach
  • Palm Cove
  • Clifton Beach
  • Kewarra Beach
  • Trinity Beach
  • Yorkeys Knob
  • Holloways Beach
  • Bramston Beach

For the current status at the beaches, view Surf Lifesaving Queensland’s North Queensland website.

Dangers to Ocean Swimming in Cairns

A lot of people who have visited the beaches in and around Cairns will tell you it is not worth it to swim there. The beaches usually do have stinger nets and special warnings and enclosures to help you have a safe swim. However, there are small jellyfish-like the Ikrikandji Jellyfish, which can even get through the nets and sting you. 

Jellyfish stings can be extremely dangerous. While it hurts a lot, some stings can even be lethal. There are records of jellyfish-related death in the far north of Australia. While you can always take a lot of precautions, and wear stinger-protective suits, it might just be too much hassle for some people. 

There have also been reports of crocodile sightings near some of the beaches in Cairns. Though there is a very low chance of you running into a crocodile, it can be a possibility.

There are crocodile warnings up, and be sure to keep those in mind before taking up any risks. There are also sharks present near the coastline, and also in rivers, creeks, canals, and even estuaries. 

Another risk factor is the presence of the Blue-ringed octopus, which is one of the world’s most venomous animals. They are found in tide pools and also shallow reefs in and around Australia. When an octopus bites you, the bite itself is painless, but the venom can be lethal.

The wildlife itself is one of the attractions of Cairns. But they can be dangerous to humans and prove to be a barrier in a lot of tourist activities. However, while the presence of all these animals can be very dangerous to tourists and locals alike, these species must be protected and not harmed as they are a crucial part of the ecosystem.

Due to these reasons, many people will advise you to stay away from swimming at all in the oceans. Some people find it hard to pertain to all these rules and regulations and feel like it takes all the fun away from swimming.

So, they choose not to swim at all. You can do that too if you want, as there are plenty of pools in hotels and resorts for you to swim in. 

People enjoying the Public Lagoon on the Esplanade
Public Lagoon on the Esplanade

Where Is It Safe to Swim in Cairns?

Most popular beaches are usually safe to swim in, as they have separate enclosures dedicated to swimming. Beaches like Trinity Beach, Four Mile Beach, Green Island Beach, Palm Cove Beach, etc. all have these enclosures. 

Remember to always, ALWAYS swim in patrolled beaches. These have lifeguards on duty 24/7. If something does happen, there will be someone trained to help you out. So always check in with a lifeguard and listen to the instructors before taking a dip.

Remember to swim between flags to be safe from Sharks and Crocodiles as well. Be aware of the stinger seasons, and ask around to see if it’s safe to go in. Stingers aren’t always present, so you can take a swim more easily if they haven’t arrived yet. Do not swim in places where there are warning signs.

There are swimming guides and instructors as well, who will be there to help you. If you are with a trip advisor or with a tour guide, they will probably have instructions for you to follow as well. 

You can also hire experts from dive companies, who can help you dive and provide you with proper equipment. So, listen to them carefully and abide by the rules to be safe and have a pleasant experience swimming.

What Should You Wear to Protect Yourself?

While there are stinger nets around the enclosures to protect from stings and big jellyfish, some are much smaller and can get through. There are also jellyfish that get close to the net and can sting you with their tentacles. 

So, you can wear stinger suits that are available near the beach stores. These are bodysuits and will protect you from stings. You can also wear extra hoods and gloves and goggles too. It might be a little uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it and it’s safer this way.

What Do You Do If You Do Get Stung? 

Even with all these precautions, you can get stung. If you feel like you’ve been stung, stay calm and do not panic. It might not be lethal. Sandflies or sea lice can also sting and bite, so it’s not always dangerous. 

Just run by your nearest lifeguard and get it checked out. The lifeguard will help you out on what to do and give you proper instructions. Listen to them, and try to keep calm. Freaking out might cause other problems both for you and the others. 

Dial 000 and call for an ambulance, if the situation gets too bad. If you have vinegar available, or if you can manage it from someone, pour it into the area where you got the sting. You might even need to administer CPR if the reaction is very bad. Symptoms can take 20-40 minutes to show up, so be careful and observe. 


A common question for any tourist planning to visit Cairns is “Can you swim in the ocean at Cairns?” While it is dangerous to do so if you are willing to take proper precautions and take enough safety measures you can have an adventure of your own in the ocean waters. 

At the end of the day, it depends on your preference and comfort zone. Some people think all that hassle is not worth it, while others love the risk and it gives them an adrenaline rush. Whatever you decide to do, just be safe and you will have a wonderful time!


Josh is a loving dad and husband, writer, business owner, and someone who loves to explore the world. He last travelled to Australia to visit Sydney, Brisbane, and Cairns and am looking to head back soon to see more! He is a huge fan of hiking, drawing, and so much more!

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