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Australia’s newest public aquarium showcases the Great Barrier Reef and Tropical North Queensland to the World

September 18, 2017 Attraction No Comments Email Email

An exciting journey that started six years ago with a visit to Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef will culminate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday 18 September at 1pm that marks the opening of Cairns Aquarium & Reef Research Centre by the Hon. Steven Ciobo MP, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Developed at a cost of $54 million, Cairns Aquarium’s co-founders and directors Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston are immensely proud of what they have achieved and along with their dedicated team of 80 staff, look forward to welcoming the attraction’s first visitors.

Prepaid annual ticket holders will be among the first to experience Cairns Aquarium with invitation-only access from 12 noon on Monday (prior the 1pm ceremony) before opening to the general public from 9am onTuesday 19 September.

According to Mr Leipnik, the opening of the 7,800-square metre, three-level Cairns Aquarium & Reef Research Centre is a significant celebration after years of hard work underpinned by grit, determination and collaborations spanning hundreds of people from dozens of specialist firms.

“The very fact that Cairns Aquarium will enable people of all ages to be able to see, touch and learn about the inhabitants of the Great Barrier Reef is extremely gratifying,” Mr Leipnik said.

“When we visited the Reef six years ago we were amazed by the colours and variety of fish and coral but couldn’t help noticing the vast number of people who had made the journey, but for one reason or another, did not go into the water or venture off the islands while others were left wanting to see more.

”A Cairns city location was therefore the ideal place for an attraction of this kind to enhance people’s love of the Reef and marine world while providing absolutely everyone with a memorable experience irrespective of whether they travelled to the Reef or not,” he said.

According to Mr Leipnik, it was the duo’s insatiable love of animals and plants, and desire to showcase Far North Queensland’s unique wildlife to as many people as possible while actively contributing to its conservation that was impetus for the project.

“It is this blend of education, entertainment, conservation and research that  provided the  impetus to undertake this incredibly rewarding project,” he said.

As well as being the first aquarium built in Australia for 18 years, Cairns Aquarium is also the only one of its kind in the world to concentrate solely on showcasing the bio-diversity of the Far North Queensland region’s rainforest and marine life.

Adding to its list of firsts, it is also the only attraction of its kind to display a number of critically endangered or rarely seen endemic species including the emerald tree monitors, freshwater sawfish, Jardine River painted turtles, ribboned pipefish and the Oceanarium exhibit’s highlight, a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks.

“Visitors will journey through five geographical locations that take people through the Wet Tropics, Cape York, Gulf Savanna, Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.”

Over 15,000 aquatic animals, fish, plants, and other organisms are housed within 71 live exhibits in the two-level facility that has been thoughtfully curated with engaging interpretative material and tours, providing visitors with an immersive, two-and-a-half-hour journey through 10 life-like and recreated habitats.  These include river systems, creeks and streams, billabongs and flooded waterways, rainforest, forest floor, mangroves, Great Barrier Reef, dangers of the reef, ribbon reefs, and Coral Sea. A third level has corporate offices and plant and equipment.

In terms of size, the biggest animals on show are currently the humphead maori wrasse and four-metre long scrub pythons however this is predicted to change as the hammerhead sharks grow.

Situated in the heart of Cairns CBD with views of the Esplanade and Coral Sea, the building of Cairns Aquarium itself makes an impressive, architectural statement in keeping with its world-class status and the city’s newest, flagship attraction.

The exterior walls of the Florence Street building comprise a series of giant, 11.5-metre-high, “tectonic” plates symbolising the movement of the earth over time which has caused the region’s mountain ranges to rise up along the coast while a series of sapphire blue glass panels along the 90-metre length capture light and give people a glimpse of the living ecosystems inside.

The Visitor Experience

It is inside the building that the magic truly begins as visitors follow the path of a drop of rain as it travels from the rainforest clad mountain range, joining creeks and streams that flow through the tropical rainforest, across the flooded plains and billabongs into the mangroves and the Great Barrier Reef before entering its final destination, the Coral Sea.

A total of 10 North Queensland ecosystems and 71 habitats have been meticulously researched and replicated throughout the aquarium to ensure that visitors will enjoy a 2.5-hour immersive journey where they are guaranteed to see and interact with some of the some of the rarest and most elusive animals on earth.

One of the most memorable visitor highlights is destined to be the aquarium’s 300,00 litre Deep Reef exhibit, which is the first of its kind in Australia, and only one of three in the world.

This 10m-metre high x 8.5-metre-wide exhibit replicates the reef “drop off”, providing visitors with a view of an incredibly beautiful ecosystem coupled with the diversity of the marine creatures that call it home.  This is a view that is usually reserved for the eyes of highly experienced scuba divers, far offshore.

A 1.8 million litre Oceanarium exhibit is home to a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks and other large ocean predators that can be seen through a 20 metre, 270-degree underwater viewing tunnel and a 360 degree, five-metre-deep, viewing room.

The 400,000 litre River Monsters exhibit houses the Gulf Savannah’s highly endangered freshwater Sawfish and other imposing giant freshwater creatures.

The Tropical Rainforest zone features a collection of the region’s rarest and most incredible snakes, lizards, and frogs along with spiders and insects that are some of the biggest and meanest rainforest giants alive.

A Life in the Mangroves exhibit hosts a world of unique creatures with important biological functions including fish that live out of water, fighting crabs, baby crocodiles, sharks and rays.

Dangers of the Reef features species of marine life that can be potentially fatal to humans; stone fish, sea snakes, lionfish, jelly fish and a host of venomous or poisonous creatures are found here.

Specially designed Touch and Talk exhibits in the Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef galleries offer visitors of all ages the ability to touch, and in some cases, hold creatures in complete safety.  These include blue sea stars, sea cucumbers, insects and lizards while under the supervision of a trained aquarist.

Regularly scheduled talks every half hour will be presented by passionate and knowledgeable staff, who will outline the amazing adaptations and behaviours of the creatures on display and inspire the desire to conserve these important natural assets.

The Cairns Aquarium’s culinary offering, Aqualuna, is a 220-seat contemporary Italian restaurant which features a magnificent 70,000 litre floor to ceiling Under the Pier themed marine tank inside the restaurant while outdoors there is a rainforest themed Daintree Deck. Restaurant patrons can sit back and watch a school of black tip reef sharks swim back and forth while enjoying the finest cuisine available in the Cairns CBD.

Aqualuna will also cater for events within the restaurant as well as inside the aquarium’s atmospheric Oceanariumand River Monsters’ exhibits.

Opening Hours and Prices

Open 365 days a year, Cairns Aquarium is air-conditioned, wheel chair accessible with free Wi-Fi access.

Saturday – Thursday 9.00am – 5.00pm with last entry at 4.00pm.

Friday 9.00am – 7pm with last entry at 6.00pm

Tickets can be purchased in person at General Admission and Online at

Ticket Type Price (inc GST)
Ault (15 years +) $42
Child (3-14 years) $28
Senior/Concession $34
Single Family (1 adult + 2 children) $88.20
Family (2 adults + 2 children) $126
Additional Child on Family $25.20
Child (3 & Under) Free

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