Australia’s first aquarium in 17 years bringing the Reef and the Rainforest to the Cairns CBD
The Cairns Aquarium is one of Australia’s most exciting new world-class tourist attractions and reef research facilities. It will be the only aquarium in the world to exclusively showcase species from two adjoining World Heritage protected areas: The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. The iconic three level, 7500 square metre, CBD land mark attraction will be the first public aquarium to be built in Australia in 17 years. It will also be the only aquarium in the world to exclusively showcase the fish, animals, plants and habitats of the only two adjoining World Heritage protected areas: The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest to an expected 720,000 visitors each year.
The privately funded project is the vision of the two Company Directors, Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston who visited the region on a holiday and marvelled at the number of people who went to the reef yet didn’t enter the water for a number of reasons: because they could not swim, were frightened of stingers or were simply out of their comfort zone, effectively missing the greatest delight of the region which is the fascinating and colourful marine life.
Daniel and Andrew who have a significant domestic and international business background immediately saw a huge opportunity to bring the Great Barrier Reef to the visitors who come to one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in Queensland. Their inherent love of animals and nature, and their desire to actively contribute to the conservation of the regions unique wildlife, provided the impetus to undertake this incredibly demanding project.
Cairns Aquarium Chief Executive Officer and Founder Daniel Leipnik said “Almost every capital city in Australia boasts a public aquarium as do most large cities in the world, yet there are very few locations where you could develop a world class aquarium that only featured the species that are local to that area. Here in Cairns we are spoilt by the incredible biodiversity found in the Wet Tropics, and the Great Barrier Reef, and creating a unique visitor experience based on interacting with the creatures from these environments is incredibly satisfying”.
Located in the heart of the city at 5 Florence St Cairns, the Cairns Aquarium building has been designed as a contemporary, iconic, museum-like, flagship tourism attraction to provide the Cairns CBD with a captivating and memorable stand out building.
The building itself will be over 11.5 metres in height, 90 metres in length and 40 metres in width. Over 15,000 animals, fish, plants, and other organisms will be housed in a two level Wet Tropics narrative journey that will take visitors through all the habitats of the Wet Tropics including: The Great Barrier Reef, Rainforest, Rivers and Streams, and Mangroves. Visitors will be able to get up close with many of the regions rare, unusual, oddly coloured and in some cases even deadly creatures. Director and Co-Founder Andrew Preston said “The building shape itself is a completely new look for Cairns and makes a bold and confident Architectural statement. We want visitors in Cairns to photograph this building and share it with their family and friends. We hope that it becomes sought after as a building design marvel and drives people from all over the world to want to come and see it.” The exterior walls are made up of a series of giant “tectonic” plates and this symbolises the movement of the earth over time, causing the development of giant land masses and ocean structures in the region that led to the creation of the Far North’s tree covered mountains and the Great Barrier Reef. Along the length of the building, glass panels allow light to penetrate in and provide glimpses of the living breathing ecosystem within. Visitors are also greeted by an 18 metre x 11.5 metre blue glass tilted atrium entrance angled onto the street symbolic of a Coral Sea ocean view.
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.
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 mesmerising planned attractions will be the 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 this incredibly beautiful ecosystem and the diversity of marine creatures that call it home – a view that would normally only be seen by highly experienced scuba divers far offshore.
A 1.8 million litre “Oceanarium” exhibit will be 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. A 400,000 litre “River Monsters” exhibit will house the Gulf Savannah’s highly endangered freshwater Sawfish and other weird giant freshwater creatures.
The Tropical Rainforest zone will feature some of the most incredible snakes, lizards, and frogs ever seen 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 the 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 can found here. Specially designed “Touch and Talk” exhibits will offer visitors of all ages the ability to touch, and in some cases, hold completely safe creatures such as blue sea stars, sea cucumbers, insects and lizards while under the supervision of a trained aquarist.
Regularly scheduled daily talks, presented by incredibly passionate and knowledgeable staff, will outline the amazing adaptations and behaviours of the creatures on display and inspire the desire to conserve these important natural assets.
Aqualuna, a 250-seat contemporary Italian restaurant which forms part of the aquarium offering, will also provide its own window to the world of rainforest and reef with a 70,000 litre “Under the Pier” themed shark exhibit inside the restaurant and an outdoor rainforest themed Daintree Deck. Functions are catered for here and also inside the aquarium in the Oceanarium and the River Monsters exhibits.
Experiences on Offer
Cairns Aquarium is designed for close viewing of reef and rainforest animals but behind the scenes there is so much more to explore and discover. Back of House Tours allow visitors to see what makes the aquarium tick and how we take care of the precious animals that call the aquarium home. Choices include a Turtle Rehabilitation Tour to learn more about the plight of sea turtles and how they are protected or a Behind the Scenes Tour of the aquarium operations. For the enthusiasts, there are VIP Tours to learn more, or for the ultimate aquarium and dining experience, there is an upgrade to a Platinum Pass that will provide access to all areas with a personal tour guide plus a seven-course degustation dinner and other highlights. Shark Sleepovers, available for groups, will give visitors the rare chance to explore the aquarium in a whole new way, without any crowds, as they spend the night in the Oceanarium with their own 360-degree panoramic vision of the predators of the Coral Sea.
Education and Research
In addition to the 71 exhibits, Education Programs tailored to the Australian Curriculum will also be available during school terms along with international student programs that will operate on all year round as demand dictates. The Cairns Aquarium’s research arm will also conduct vital research & development in species preservation and re-population, aquaculture reproductive bio-technology development, and collaborations with industry partners to explore renewable clean energy technologies in marine, tropical and equatorial environments.
Opening Hours and Prices
The Cairns Aquarium is suited to people of all ages and interests. It is airconditioned, wheel chair accessible and free Wi-Fi is also provided. Opening Hours are 9.00am – 5.30pm with last entry at 4.30pm