A guide to the Unofficial Gay Capital of Tropical Australia

By Jay Horne, Editor FNQ Magazine


Welcome to the Tropical Paradise that is the city of Cairns – The Unofficial Gay Capital of Tropical Australia and home to FNQ Magazine! Situated on Trinity Bay on the coast of Far North Queensland, the city is tucked between the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea and the mountain range of the Atherton Tableland to the west.

The city of Cairns is located on the northeast coast of Australia in the state of Queensland about 2500km from Sydney which is a 3 hour flight or if coming via Asia about a 6.5 hour flight from Singapore.

Cairns region is home to more than 160,000 people from all corners of the world and is renowned for its tourism attractions like the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics World Heritage rainforest. A recent American traveller says it a cross between Hawaii and Key west with the masculine kiss of South Beach Miami..

There is a vibrant, thriving gay and lesbian community here, many of who have escaped the bigger cities in Australia to live in tropical paradise – Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. The laid back, casual tropical lifestyle is evident everywhere you go – making it the perfect gay holiday destination.  While Cairns doesn’t have an exclusively ‘gay’ nightclub as such, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a thriving nightlife to be enjoyed. The majority of the clubs are gay friendly and there are some gay cafes as well where you will see the gay locals and the plethora of shirtless tourists enjoying themselves…in fact I’ve been known to fall in love a lot every weekend. In fact every time I use to scroll through grindr there was someone new…. a French backpacker one week, a GoGo Boy from LA the next. But about 5 years ago I found something different.  Far from my mobile device, I fell in love… with Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef!

Growing up in rural Queensland, so basically a foreigner to the tropics I was in for a treat when members of our family purchased a business in Cooktown, a small town just north of Cairns. I’d made the obligatory trip to Cooktown to assist with the business stock take, via Cairns of course, where I had to change flight. Instantly, I knew I had to come back and check out the region, when I arrived the sun was setting on the horizon so didn’t really get the opportunity to explore the beauty of the region a part from that stunning sunset but took the chance to check out the night life after checking into a backpackers hostel – which I have to admit was full of all sorts of crazy! LOL

I decided that on my trip back home I would stay a couple of days and go exploring and really did discover that Cairns offers visitors fabulous accommodation choices – everything from gay friendly five star resorts to boutique gay and lesbian owned and run establishments as well as camping grounds – from that day forward I vowed never to stay in a backpackers again, so I could avoid the craziness.

I used the time to try and enjoy and experience as much as I could from things like adrenaline-charged adventures like diving or snorkeling on the reef and white water rafting and I must say being someone who doesn’t generally appreciate the thought of getting in water because of the ‘creepy crawlies’ I was blown away!! Cairns is really the jewel in the crown of Australia’s natural attractions and I urge you as a gay or lesbian traveller to get out of the cities of Australia when visiting and see why they call Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef one of the most beautiful in the world….. every photo is a postcard moment!

I decided to bite the bullet and head to the outer reef, remembering that getting there meant travelling by boat across water, after getting the courage and a quick lesson I decided to go snorkeling I will admit it took me a little convincing and a full body black wetsuit before jumping in – much to the horror of my instructor who I have to admit I thought was a little bit, who am I kidding… he was hot! Instantly after I jumped in I noticed something different, the reef itself enraptured me!

There it lay, just meters under the aqua blue water, where it has been for thousands of years basking in the sun looking back up at me the reef and its flamboyant corals flash more colors than the gay rainbow.

And then, like a Mardi Gras parade in full flight came the sea creatures past my scuba mask. Fish in all sizes, from the brightly colored huge Maori Wrasse cruising lazily past, the freakily twink-like polka dot fish, to the funky zebra-looking kind, followed by the flapping fins of the most gracious of all reef dwellers – the huge turtles.

My interest is piqued when that ‘hot’ instructor says there is an annual ‘orgy’ on the reef (I really am not a player!).  Each year in November a few days after the first full moon, the coral spawns for one night only in what is one of the greatest displays of nature on earth. And while you can’t exactly participate, you can certainly go along and watch.

In my fleeting 4hr liaison with the reef I know I saw only a fraction of the 400 varieties of coral and the 2,000 species of fish in the 1,600 nautical mile Great Barrier Reef, but like all good lovers my object of desire has not revealed everything at once.

The time came to head back to the mainland and continue exploring, next stop the beaches. There are hundreds of beaches across the Far North but the only truly gay public beach is Buchans Beach just north of Palm Cove. It’s a nice stretch of sand that is protected from the coast road by rock cliffs. Clothing is definitely optional here, and you are sure to see beach goers of all shapes and sizes! There are some areas at the back of the beach where things have been known to get a little heated – I mean, if you want them too!

Any of the beaches in the region are spectacular, be careful in the summer months because of the Box Jellyfish that can be found in the water. Be sure to read any beach notices displayed by lifeguards or the council, you certainly wont miss them. The main beaches are patrolled by lifesavers and the nets you see out during the summer months at the more popular beaches are to protect you from the jellyfish – and people wonder why I have an issue with water and the ocean – the lifeguards are always up for a chat and provide you will all the information you ask of them.

As the sun starts to set again on the horizon, I notice the many colors in the sky and have thoughts on how my evening will turn out. I decide at this point to explore the city of Cairns. Cairns city is a vibrant city whose center focuses on the Cairns Esplanade at the waterfront with the relatively small cosmopolitan CBD bounded by Cairns Central Shopping Centre to the west; North Cairns and Cairns International Airport to the north.

The majority of tourist attractions and services are based around The Esplanade and Reef Fleet Terminal, jutting out into the bay with wharves, a marina and shopping center at The Pier. This is where the reef and island cruises depart from, so I am already familiar with my surroundings from my trip earlier to Green Island. There are a number of excellent oceanfront eateries in the same complex as well as a must visit bar called the Salt House – apparently where you will find the locals on a lazy Sunday afternoon – meaning I will be back no doubt!

The Esplanade Lagoon is a 4800sq meter saltwater swimming pool, which is one of the ‘postcard’ shots of the city and surprisingly I don’t hesitate getting in. You see I can see the bottom and there are no creepy crawlies! The lagoon is a must visit spot, it is filled with backpackers and locals with plenty of eye candy, which is why you find gay guys and girls relaxing and enjoying the ‘sights’. Your best bet is to congregate on the sandy beach side of the lagoon. It’s a great way to spend a day and if you can’t swim, never fear lifeguards are on duty! It is while I am sitting here, I meet a guy – no need for grindr this time! He tells me that nighttime in paradise is the best time as the city comes to life. This guy obviously loves Cairns but tells me he once lived in Sydney!

The tropical weather means early evening is the perfect time to head out on foot and explore the city, which is what we did….. Together! He took me past the beautifully lit avenues of trees along the waterfront to the boardwalk that extends the entire 2.5kms of the esplanade, it is along the esplanade itself we encountered a plethora of restaurants and bars! Now we are talking, as we stroll around I notice international stores like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton! The majority of restaurants, entertainment venues, bars, clubs and tour outlets can be found in the city center.

It’s starting to get late and I’m feeling a little exhausted my new friend who shall remain nameless as this point offers to walk me back to my hotel which really isn’t that far, we quickly establish he resides practically next door to where I am staying. He walks me to my door and I invite him in, I make it clear before letting him in that sex is not on the agenda. He seems to appreciate it, but doesn’t stop him from trying 15 minutes later! LOL

Fast forward 5 years, I now live in Cairns with ‘that guy’ own, FNQ Magazine and am about to launch Paradiso Cairns a gay owned and operated café with one of my best friends in the CBD. So next time your planning a trip to Australia, be sure to add Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to your itinerary and stay up to date by reading FNQ Magazine online for free at or

A special thanks to Jay Horne, editor of FNQ Magazine; The Standard Magazine’s International Media Partner, for this article