The botanical gardens in Cairns were named The Flecker Botanical Gardens by the Cairns City Council 1971 but history has a tendency to be swept aside by marketing departments so it is now The Cairns Botanical Gardens.
They are the best formal tropical botanical gardens in Australia and cover a large area between Goodwin Street, Collins Avenue and Greenslopes Street with the core planting on the north side of Collins Avenue and another, the Fitzalan Garden, opposite The Tanks on the south side of the avenue. In 1886 the Irish botanist Eugene Fitzalan set up the first ornamental garden there, sold refreshments to attract people and also ran a small commercial nursery on the site.
The reserve, with later additions, was declared a permanent recreation reserve of 109.5 acres in December 1921 to be held under the trusteeship of Cairns Town Council. In he 1930s, Dr Hugo Flecker and the North Queensland Naturalist Club (which he founded) urged for the establishment of a formal botanical garden. With the help of the Queensland Government Botanist, they established the Herbarium and the plant collection to more than 10,000 specimens by 1950. The main botanical garden between McCormack St, Goodwin St, MacDonnell St and Collins Avenue was developed from 1967.
Dr Flecker had a lifelong interest in toxic plants and animals. He investigated the Queensland Finger Cherry which is tasty but can send you blind, the Tar Tree which has a very caustic sap and he was the first to identify the deadly Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri).
The gardens are listed in the International Directory of Botanical Gardens for the high quality and rarity of the plant collection, especially its palms, gingers and aroids.
The best time of day to visit is early. You can do the main garden on the north side of Collins Avenue in an hour but photographers may take a lot longer - tropical plants can be wildly outrageous. Colour, size and shape of leaves especially is way more exuberant than cooler climate plants. There are open lawns with magnificent trees and palms surrounding a deep and densely planted cutting with a stream which bisects the garden. The path through the garden is a figure of eight with the conservatory at the centre.
Free guided walks leave from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens house (beside the cafe) at 10am Mon-Fri and take around 60-90 minutes. On Tuesdays at 8.30am there is a free birdwatching walk that takes around 2 hours.
The Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory opened in 2015 to display orchids, ferns, tassel ferns, aroids, smaller palms and other unusual tropical plants. Children are entranced by the many butterflies fluttering around the Penta flowers.
You can have breakfast or lunch at the restaurant/cafe in the main garden. Or, cross Collins Avenue and explore the palms, gingers and aroids in the Fitzalan Garden before crossing Collins Avenue again for breakfast at "Tank sixty four" cafe which is in the Botanical Garden Visitor Centre just before The Tanks. There is a very good gift shop here too with a botanical theme.
If you have the time, take the boardwalk from the Fitzalan Garden to Centenary Lakes. Just cross Collins Avenue by the main gate, go down the steps, over the bridge and onto the boardwalk which takes you through a swamp forest of palms, melaleucas (paperbarks) and a Pandanus grove which reminds me of Jurassic Park.
At the end of the boardwalk you can turn left to head back to Collins Avenue, passing the Bamboo Collection on the way.
Turn right and the path follows Saltwater Creek and crosses a bridge into the picnic and playground area beside the freshwater waterlily lake. This is a good spot for birdwatchers - Black Duck, Magpie Geese, Cormorants and other water birds are common here.