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River tubing in Cairns

If you’re not game to try white water rafting, rainforest river tubing is for you. River tubing in Cairns is the perfect way to experience the lush landscape and natural beauty of Tropical North Queensland without getting hot (or scared if you’re nervous about rafting). It is far more comfortable floating down the river than trekking through the rainforest. My husband and I had previously gone white water rafting in Cairns on the Barron River with Foaming Fury we were keen to do another tour with the same company. The guides were professional and enthusiastic on our rafting trip and we had been impressed with their attention to safety protocols and the way they made sure everyone was having a great time and staying safe.

River tubing is cheaper than the rafting trip which makes it a good choice if your holiday budget is tight. The tubing tour is suitable for ages 5 and up and is perfect for families with kids of different ages. That said, we only had adults on our tour and all of us had a ball. If you are not particularly nimble and you topple out of your tube, there is nothing to worry about. It’s easy to wade to the river bank where the water is shallow and get back in there. This is much easier than hauling yourself back into a river raft if you fall out.

River tubing Cairns
It’s easy to get back into your tube

The Foaming Fury half day tubing trip includes a pick up from several spots in Cairns or Port Douglas. The Port Douglas option costs a little more as it’s further away. The tour runs daily in the morning and can also run in the afternoon if there is enough demand. We were picked up in the heart of Cairns at Flynn where we were staying. Depending on which company you book with, you might need a credit card or cash to pay the additional $15 per person Rafting Levy to the staff member on the bus. The 30 minute bus transfer travels straight from Cairns to the tour departure point on the banks of the Mulgrave River.

Remember to put on sunscreen and drink some water before you get off the bus as floating down the river can be surprisingly thirsty work in the tropical heat. The gear is laid out in piles and the guides help you fit your life jacket and choose a yellow helmet that’s the correct size (and makes you look like a Minion). You need water sandals, reef shoes or a pair of sneakers that you don’t mind getting wet to do this tour. If you don’t have shoes, there are some available for hire ($5 per person) when you get off the bus.

All of the gear was modern and well maintained and our two guides were confident and enthusiastic and followed us around on rafts. There is no need to be worried about the images the company name – Foaming Fury – conjures up. River tubing is more chill than thrill apart from a few small ‘rapids’ which are more like gentle cascades. After getting fitted out with helmets and life jackets, we walked down a dirt path to the river with our big red inner tubes, climbed into them and started floating down the river.

River tubing in Cairns
The tour starts off slow so you can learn how to ‘drive’

Despite the ongoing tourism development in and around Cairns, it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere as you float down the river surrounded by nothing but tropical rainforest. You don’t need to paddle with your hands to move through the water but you do need to use them to position yourself to go through some of the rapids. At the start of the trip there is some still water where you can learn to ‘drive’ your tube. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of how to manoeuvre it so you’re ready for the rapids further on. When a little bit of white water or a small rapid is coming up, the guides will tell you the best way to approach it by saying things like “Stay in the middle of this one” or “Keep as far left as you can”.

River tubing in Cairns
River tubing in Cairns

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River tubing in Cairns
River tubing in Cairns

Your guides are there to help (and take photos) as you go down each rapid. If you do fall out, it’s no problem as the water is barely waist deep in most sections of the river and the water is flowing slowly. I fell out on one of the trickier rapids and was laughing so hard that I had trouble getting back into my tube. As you can see from the photos, we all had a ball. The bus is waiting beside the river at the end of the tour and the guides quickly pack away the gear and hand out juice boxes and muesli bars before the drive back to Cairns. This tour was so much fun, we were still smiling when we got off the bus in Cairns.

Disclosure: The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism Australia. Her husband paid for his tubing tour and was equally impressed.

Looking for things to do while you’re in Cairns? Go white water rafting on the Barron River, take a day trip to Paronella Park and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail, check out Cairns’ thriving coffee scene, or head out of town and spend a few nights at the luxurious all inclusive Mt Mulligan Lodge . If the weather is good, a day trip to Fitzroy Island is a top choice if you don’t mind venturing slightly further afield.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.