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The city is now rapidly expanding, with a population of 122,731 (as of 2006) Tourism is the largest income producer for the region, followed closely by the sugar industry.
Cairns is located about 1,701 km (1,057 mi) from Brisbane, and about 2,420 km (1,504 mi) from Sydney by road. It is a popular travel destination for foreign tourists because of its tropical climate and proximity to many attractions. The Great Barrier Reef can be reached in less than an hour by boat. The Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation, about 130 km (81 mi) north of Cairns, are popular areas for experiencing a tropical rainforest. It is also a starting point for people wanting to explore Cooktown, Cape York Peninsula, and the Atherton Tableland.
The city has used its natural surroundings to its advantage with the construction of several small theme parks for tourists. Among them are Rainforestation Nature Park, the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, and the Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which extends for 7.5 km (4.7 mi) over World Heritage rainforest.
A notable feature of the Cairns esplanade is a swimming lagoon with adjoining barbecue areas. In May 2003, the then Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne declared that topless sunbaking is permitted here, as the area is a gathering point for people from around the world who may wish to do so. A boardwalk allows pedestrians and cyclists to move along the foreshore from the Lagoon in a sustainable manner.