Also known as Tropical North Queensland, Far North Queensland is the northernmost part of Queensland. Stretching from Cardwell up to the Torres Strait, it is Queensland’s largest region, covering 20% of the state (about one and a half times the state of Victoria).

The region is one of Australia’s most beautiful and diverse, being the only place in the world where two World Heritage Listed areas meet – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world. Each year almost one million international tourists and close to 2 million domestic tourists visit the region.

The region is an investor hotspot, providing opportunities across a broad range of sectors, underpinned by:

  • a resilient and diverse economy
  • steadily growing population base
  • skilled workforce
  • stable political environment
  • established local supply chains
  • culture of innovation and entrepreneurship
  • unparalleled biodiversity
  • plentiful water supply and natural resources
  • direct air access via and the Cairns International Airport
  • direct international sea access via the Cairns Seaport
  • close proximity to Asian markets.

The regional population of Far North Queensland is approximately 287,000 (2017), and this is expected to increase to approximately 362,000 by 2036.


Cairns is a vibrant tropical city, strategically located as a world-class tourism and commercial hub. Proximity to Asia-Pacific markets creates exciting opportunities for tourism development, investment, trade and business.

As the international gateway to two of the world’s great natural wonders – the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest – Cairns is renowned worldwide as a premier tourist destination. As well as the resident population of approximately 162,000 (2016), Cairns also services a significant visitor numbers, which totalled approximately 2.7 million in 2016.

Direct air and sea access provide a competitive advantage to capitalise on the rapidly-expanding Asian economies and China’s burgeoning tourism market. Direct connections to major Australian capital cities and international services to China, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Bali and Papua New Guinea open the door to lucrative commercial opportunities. There are over 5 million passenger movements through Cairns airport each year.

Cairns Seaport is located just minutes from the city centre. A multi-purpose port, it caters to cruise shipping, fishing fleets, reef passenger ferries and bulk and general cargo. The port’s bulk cargo includes petroleum products, sugar, fertiliser and liquid petroleum gas.

With its stable economic environment and strong growth forecasts, combined with competitive property markets and a flexible planning regime, investors are drawn to Cairns’ safe long-term investment climate. For more information, please see the Cairns Regional Council’s investment incentives.

Economy and infrastructure

Far North Queensland covers a vast and economically diverse area. Key industries are tourism, agriculture, mining, health, education, marine, aviation and construction.

Current Gross Regional Product (GRP) is estimated at $14.5 billion (Source: National Institute of Economic and Industry Research 2016).

The region offers unparalleled opportunities for investors that are seeking:

  • a resilient and diversified economy with unmatched natural advantages
  • a growing population base that has demonstrated resilience to changing economic conditions
  • an entrepreneurial culture and a successful history of attracting investment and fostering new businesses
  • established local supply chains in tourism, agribusiness, marine services, aviation, international education and construction
  • an export ready agribusiness industry
  • thriving international education sector
  • an experienced construction sector
  • strong tourism support industries, particularly accommodation, marine services, aviation services and retail
  • a region with aspirations for growth, and the economic fundamentals and local champions to ensure these aspirations are realised.

Far North Queensland is located on the doorstep of emerging Asia, is one of the most developed cities in the tropics and is well connected with the rest of Queensland and Australia. This offers unrivalled strategic advantages for business located in the region.

With easy access through Cairns International Airport, the multi-use Cairns International Seaport and road and rail links to major Australian cities, the region offers unmatched connectivity in Northern Australia.

Industry growth areas


An international mecca for tourists, Far North Queensland is the gateway to the natural beauty of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest and Cape York, attracting around 2.7 million domestic and international visitors every year. Visitor expenditure exceeded $1 billion in 2017.

The largest group of international visitors to the region comes from China, followed by USA, Japan, UK, Germany, New Zealand, India, Scandinavia, France and Canada.

Tourism is a major contributor to the economy, responsible for around 18% of jobs and $2.5 billion of gross regional product. The tourism industry is a major catalyst for public and private infrastructure development in Far North Queensland.

Food and agribusiness

With abundant fertile land and water supplies, agriculture is an important sector in the region, contributing $1.4 billion to the economy per year.

Agricultural production has been continuing to expand, especially in the Mareeba Dimbulah Irrigation Area, the new cropping areas near Cooktown and in the Gulf.

Major agriculture industries include bananas, sugar cane, beef, avocados, dairy, potatoes, mangoes, citrus, vegetables, tea, nuts, tropical exotics and forestry. Leading agricultural export products include raw sugar, live cattle, mangoes, avocadoes, lychees and coffee. Far North Queensland is a global leader in tropical agriculture practice with processes, insights and innovations that are leading the way for tropical economies.

Cairns is a key commercial fishing port in Queensland. It is the fourth largest home port for the Commonwealth Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and a home port for the Commonwealth Northern Prawn fishery. The diverse range of wild-caught species in this region include: prawns, barramundi, coral trout, Spanish mackerel, tuna, crabs and lobster. The East Coast Trawl Fishery is the largest of Queensland’s commercial fisheries operating in the region targeting mostly prawns, but also harvests bugs, squid, and other species.

A large fishing industry supplies Asian and domestic markets with fresh and frozen product, while the aquaculture sector focuses on prawns, barramundi and red claw.

The food manufacturing sector produces a range of products including dairy, beef, poultry, pork, banana flour, dried fruits, cocoa, chia seeds, honey, nuts, coffee, tea, a large range of fruit wines and liqueurs, Australian native fruit condiments, vanilla bean, and specialty cheeses.

Mining and resources

The mining industry contributes $860 million to the regional economy. The North West Queensland minerals province and nearby Papua New Guinea have attracted a growing cluster of mining services to the region.

A number of major mining operations occur in the region, including Rio Tinto (Weipa), Cape Flattery Silica Mines (Mitsubishi Corporation), New Century Resources (lawn Hill), Consolidated Tin Mines (Mount Garnet), and Metro Mining (Weipa).

Cairns is an ideal engineering and manufacturing hub for the booming resource sector in the Oceania-Australasia region. The engineering and steel fabrication sector provides specialist metal products, machinery and equipment manufacturing capabilities for a diverse range of industries.


The region has a diverse and highly capable building and construction sector, which is one of the largest industry employers in the region employing approximately 8,900 persons in 2016.

Approximately 4,100 of the region’s businesses are involved in the construction industry. Construction activity in all sectors, particularly residential, commercial and civil is on the rebound.

Environmental sustainability, tropical design and liveability are driving building solutions in the region.


Far North Queensland has a well-established and world renowned marine industry. Ports North, headquartered in Cairns, manages ports spanning 2,400km of coastline and the sector includes reef fleets, cargo vessels, cruise ships, a naval base, super yachts, marine shipyards and a fishing fleet. Ports in Far North Queensland include: Mourilyan, Karumba, Thursday Island, Cape Flattery, Skardon River, Quintell Beach, Burketown, Cooktown and Weipa.

The region’s strategic position is also reflected in the fact that the Australian Navy’s north eastern operational base is located in the Port of Cairns.

Cairns has the largest marine tourism sector in Australia with The Reef Fleet Terminal as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Approximately 1 million passengers visit the Reef from Cairns each year. Cairns is also home to Australia’s largest privately-owned shipping company – Seaswift Pty Ltd.

Beyond marine tourism, the sector also covers recreational activity for super yachts, local charters, recreational boating and cruise liners. In 2017, domestic and international cruise ships delivered approximately 85,000 passengers to Cairns.

The marine industry is a growth sector with well over 100 businesses operating to cater to the ever growing demand in the region. This includes provedore services and a combination of world-class marine refit, maintenance and shipbuilding companies in Cairns.

The region has significant ability in maritime servicing with three major (Lloyd’s Accredited) slipways, all with considerable experience, capacity and a reputation for quality service.

The skills and expertise required to cater to the marine services sector can also be delivered by the region’s very own Great Barrier Reef International Marine College.

The Cairns trading port also handles bulk carriers, coastal shipping, mother ships, and project specific cargo and container carriers. $1.15 billion of cargo made its way through Cairns over the past 12 months.

Adding to the capacity of the Port of Cairns is nearby Mourilyan Harbour, which is primarily used for sugar, molasses and live cattle. It is earmarked for additional purposes in the future.

Overall, nearly 5 million tonnes of cargo was moved throughout Ports North’s nine ports in the past year bound for domestic and international markets.

Cairns is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in Australia, with almost 400 fishing vessels.


Aviation is a priority sector in the region and plays an important role in the global aerospace market.

Cairns Airport features a thriving General Aviation Precinct which includes a diverse range of services such as:

  • maintenance repair organisations
  • engine and propeller overhaul and repair
  • fixed and rotary wing regular public transport
  • charter and tourism services
  • aeromedical services
  • police air wing
  • private aircraft owners
  • Royal Flying Doctor Service
  • fuel supplies
  • firefighting
  • mail delivery services
  • coastal surveillance
  • aircraft detailing
  • weather services
  • corporate jet handling
  • Customs
  • domestic and international freight
  • aircraft brokering
  • engineering training
  • cabin crew training.

Located in Cairns, Hawker Pacific Pty Ltd is a leading integrated global aviation solutions provider with more than thirty-five years’ experience serving corporate, government and private customers across the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The facility is a Bombardier Dash 8 Authorised Service Facility and is one of only three such independent support facilities in the world, and the only one in the Asia-Pacific region.  Hawker Pacific is also an Embraer Commercial Authorised Service Centre (for regional airlines) for the Asia Pacific (Cairns and Singapore). The Cairns facility currently provides heavy maintenance, base maintenance and aircraft modification support for customers both domestic and international.  Co-located at Cairns is Hawker Pacific Avionics, providing extensive avionics, bench, installation and retrofit capabilities including design engineering.  In addition, the Cairns Fixed Base Operation lounge provides VIP and ground handling services to a range of customers.

The Cairns Aviation Skills Centre delivers world class training to meet the growing demand from local industry for engineers and apprentices to support industry growth.

The Mareeba Airport, located approximately 22 nautical miles (10–15 minutes’ flying time) west of Cairns International Airport, is currently ongoing a major upgrade and will provide opportunity for activities such as pilot training, maintenance and some general aviation, resulting in catalytic economic benefits for the region.

Other airports are located at across the region including Weipa, Innisfail, Horn Island, Cooktown, Karumba, Bamaga, Normanton, Mornington Island, Lockhart River, Lizard Island, Kowanyama, Coen, Burketown and Aurukun.

International education and training

The region boasts a strong and diverse tertiary education sector, including James Cook University, CQUniversity, TAFE North and the Queensland Agricultural Training College (Walkamin).

The diversity of education options is immense, with more than 140 schools, while the training capability of the region spans the marine, aviation, mining, tourism and hospitality sectors.

Growth in the sector is supported by the experience and expertise of the region’s training providers in tropical fields, including tropical medicine and economies, disaster management, and marine biology.

Cairns’ geographic proximity to key source markets has the potential to be another significant point of differentiation for the international education sector – particularly given the expected growth in demand from source markets in the Asia Pacific.  Cairns Airport is the closest entry point into Queensland for both established and emerging source markets in this region.

In addition to the formal education sector, the region attracts a considerable number of visitors seeking a combined tourism-education experience.

International students make up an increasingly important part of the local education economy, with 32,000 international students studying in Cairns in 2016.

International education and training interests in the region are serviced by the Study Cairns regional study cluster supported by TIQ’s Study Queensland team.

Trade and investment services

Far North Queensland is serviced by TIQ’s Cairns Office.