* Prices may differ from that shown
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the only reason to stop here, now a collection of backpackers and medium sized hotels mingled in with the residents abodes crowding around the harbor and increasingly pushing back and concreting over the forest to facilitate holidaymakers to enjoy the reef. It was originally a gold rush town for the miners to head out to the Hodgkinson goldfields but an easier route was discovered from nearby Port Douglas and so Cairns quickly losing its legacy. But its 150,000 strong now off the back of agriculture and the new gold rush of tourism and an international airport speeding people up and in there now and so anything but forgotten these days.
A deep sea channel was been blasted into the rock and sand below the salt water to allow bigger military boats to base there during the war to the present day and now an ideal port and marina to take punters to see one of the great wonders of the world and well worth the trip too. You can set off for the reef on other stretches of the Queensland Coast but the colorful and shallow stuff is somewhat nearer to the coast at Cairns, why it's so popular to GBR here. And don't hang around on thinking on doing the trip as the coral on the Reef has shrunk 50% over thirty years, they say mostly due to acidic jelly fish and increased storms, I say because tourists ,especially from South East Asia, have been snapping off souvenirs on mass, carrier bags full when I was there.
If you don't fancy snorkeling and diving on the reef you can do the rather tacky booze cruise above it or a spot of sea fishing below. If you don't have sea legs and stay in town then you can enjoy the nearby AJ Hackett bungee jump site or the many adventure sports to do in the beautiful rain forests in these parts, usually involving a springy rope and some sort of aerial decent. If you don't fancy plunging 100ft into an artificial pool with a piece of elastic around your feet then you can view the nutters from the platforms below to marvel at this stupidity. But if you're young you are going to jump and get the T-Shirt anyway, as did I, all for $100 Aus dollars, T-Shirts and photos extra. It's not an enjoyable experience and you will shut your eyes and open your wallet big time, however much bravado you summon up.
There are no beaches in Cairns and the muddy Trinity Bay seafront is patrolled by 'street gangs' of pelicans who can't help teasing you with all manner of threats to relieve you of stuff and grub. They are all full of coke cans and polystyrene trays, judging by their obnoxious diets, the roots of the nearby mango tree forests holding the sludge in place they love to wallow in. It's Mumbles Bay near Blackpool without the tropical bits and sunshine. You need to take the bus up north about five miles to find sandy beaches to enjoy, fairly deserted ones too, real backpacker heaven. But beware as the jellyfish and stingers run the show up there and you can't go in the sea most of the year, however tempting. It's always very warm here and beach weather although when it rains it rains, Jan-March producing an average of 16 inches per month, hardcore tropical storms bending the trees down to the ground.
Other things to do around the town are to go on the many local walks into those rain forests or hire a bike to weave your way through the nearby hills to look down upon the ocean and stunning rain forests. These tropics are one of the few in the world where the mosquitoes can't give you malaria so well worth a poke around in. But beware as the insects and plentiful and some are huge in the greenery and the common Huntsman spider as big as your face. Even the garden spiders are the size of your hand. I was chased by a wild pig! You can also take the local novelty railway trip through the trees on the Karundo Express if you are lazy, old or have kids, a pleasant and noisy amble.
The trips out to the reef vary, from the more expensive party boats full of 300 youngsters to the more rustic converted fishing boats, the type Chief Brody found himself on in the Jaws films many a time. I went on the old Noah's Ark tour, a creaky old thing but good fun all the same, $40 dollars I recall for the extremely long day. It takes a good two hours to get out to the reef and you are soon encouraged into the water to snorkel and dive. The captain and his mate will try and push you to pay extra to try a basic diving course. Snorkeling was enough for me as I have never figured out how to stop the water coming down the tube and so the idea of relaying on tanks and regulators to breathe even deeper down there does not compute. But whatever you do get in there as the stuff under the water is stunning. The fish are indeed as colorful as you can imagine and all shapes and sizes. The Angel fish will leave you gasping. Do not stand on the reef or miss your boat back or you will be in another sea monster movie tale.
Cairns also launch's the more daring travelers north towards the genuine wilderness of the Northern Territory at the end of the Bruce Highway. It is sea snake and crocodile territory up there and very few people live and work here, Cook Town the last stop before Crocodile Dundee territory. Here you are in the exquisitely green Daintree Rainforest national park, complimented by the iridescent Coral Sea that laps the endless miles of deserted white sands that accept the bored mocking bows of the lazy palm tree's that rustle in the gentle breeze. You can drive the 1000 miles of the northern coast to Darwin but you will need a four wheel drive and full supplies. The locals are all drunk up there so wilderness crime not like as it elsewhere in the world. It is truly stunning and a long way away from your commute to work in the British rain and gray with Nicky Campbell on the radio.
Getting there is easy and quite a trip. You can be boring and fly in on a jet but the train journey up from Brisbane is pretty comfy and great views from the windows, about a $100 for the 1700 mile one-way trip. You can crawl up the tropical fun coast on the bus and stop off at places like Townsville and Airlie Beach to enjoy the beautiful Magnetic Island or the more exclusive Whitsunday Islands, many a small holiday town to rest up in. Australia is like no other country you will visit and to me it's like what Africa could have been if it populated by white people and we all got along. It's such a fabulous and safe and sunny place for holidaymakers and backpackers alike and should be enjoyed by more, the expensive cost of the flight from London that puts you off soon reduced by the savings you make on hotel and living costs there.
Cairns is one of the most popular destinations in Australia. Located in the northern part of the Queensland coast, very much in the tropics, it's always hot, usually sunny and abounds in the exotic appeal (palms, sea, sun) without the usual health, crime and culture shock hazards of other tropical locations. Safe tropics for Europeans, then, and for Asians probably the nearest place where they can sample the European culture.
We spent a week in (or rather, near) Cairns, after making our way up the coast from Brisbane over the previous three weeks or so; staying in a "granny flat", or a self contained cabin in the garden of our kind hosts' house: the grounds around abound in banana plants, vines and other very tropical trees around us, gekkos on the ceiling and similar; the pool was just across the drive.
Cairns itself is a bit strange, a town that originally grew on a gold and mining boom, but since the discovery of the Reef for the tourism industry it has became a bit of a visitors' Mecca.
Despite being very much a tourism centre, Cairns doesn't - not quite - feel like a tourist trap. Yes, a tour agent can be seen every two doors on the main drag and every kind of experience is for sale, but it's all rather unhurried, quite friendly and without much of a hard sell.
The tourists are as much fun to watch as the wildlife (and there are interesting birds, including egrets and pelicans on the mudflats by the promenade), especially the Japanese who engage in strange, loud, group rituals that are hard to comprehend as much because of the language as the cultural barrier. But Cairns is also the starting and finishing point for many backpackers, and there are hordes of beautiful 20-something things of both sexes sauntering up and down the streets, sitting by their "for sale" campers at the Esplanade carpark and looking down at the family vacationers and packaged tourers alike.
Strangely for a popular Queensland coast location, Cairns has no beach (apart form the tiny artificial ones by the town's lido, or The Lagoon on the Esplanade). Instead, it has a muddy inlet, mangrove swamps and lovely semi-circle of curly-haired mountains that surround it.
But in all honesty, the town itself is just a convenient centre without anything special to offer in the way of attractions. Yes, it has a few manufactured ones, like a zoo and a rainforest under the roof (like a palm house - bizzare, really, considering the real thing is within minutes' drive), as well as wealth of hotels, resorts and eating places.
But the real attractions are not in Cairns but around it: the coast, the reef, the rainforest and the hills: the town is a starting point and a base for many day trips into the surrounding countryside, notably the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree rainforest and of course the Great Barrier Reef. Other destinations include Cooktown and for the more intrepid, the Cape York Peninsula.
And thus, in itself, Cairns is nothing special but not as bad a tourist trap as I expected it to be. As a base for exploring the surrounding area, it's hard to beat for infrastructure and facilities, and should be treated primarily as such.
Cairns is a large city in Northern tropical Queensland in Australia. It is by no means the prettiest or nicest city to visit but it is a must on the backpacker trail.
Most people come to Cairns to do daytrips skydiving, to the reef, or to the Kuranda Rail and rainforest. As I had completed these trips in either Mission Beach or Port Douglas I decided to just meet up with some friends and enjoy Cairns party scene.
The best places to go out in Cairns are Gilligans, which is a huge hostel with a club and good djs, or the Woolshed, which is literally like a shed with low ceilings and is a bit smelly. I went out with friends to both venues, as well as some other bars along the esplanade and enjoyed it a lot.
Another area to go out in on a sunday for the sunday session is the marina parade. Here there are loads of nice bars playing good jazz house music, and between 5-7pm on sundays you can get 2 for 1 on beer, basic spirits and wine. You can also watch the sun going down over the water and watch the helicopters coming back in from the reef.
Cairns has a big lagoon, which is a bit dirty in my opinion but many people seem to use it. Unfortunately I have also seen homeless people using it as a bath tub but thats unavoidable.
Cairns has a large aborigini population which makes for interesting drinking in bars during the day and I also unfortunately witnessed the bad sad of the aboriginies plight with alcohol.
I enjoyed Cairns, but there isnt a lot to do in the daytime apart from daytrips which I have already done, and I find myself mostly sunning myself by the pool. Which isnt bad really.
There are so many places to stay in Cairns, you can choose between very cheap backpacker hostels, or 5* hotels along the esplanade. The choice is huge and there is something for everyones tastes or budget.
I can recommend to stay in Cairns for a maximum of 4 days unless your doing all your reef trips and day trips from here.
Last year I spent 9 weeks travelling around Australia, travelling up the east coast. I visited many great places along the way and thought that I would add my tips and my thoughts on some of the cities I visited. I am going to start with Cairns located at the top of the east coast in Queensland.
Me and my wife decided to stop off here as we had heard great things about the place and I must say I was not disappointed. When we were in Cairns we stayed at a fantastic backpackers called Calypso which we found through an internet search engine. We were picked up by a Calypso minibus and taken to our accommodation located within 10 minutes walking distance of central Cairns. The hostel ran minibuses to and from the centre if you were unable or feeling too lazy to walk. This was a great accommodation which could also cater for people who were not on a budget and they had great double rooms which were in a very private location. There are hundreds of other centrally located hostels and hotels in Cairns that are available on various budget levels.
Cairns itself is a lovely town with quite a built up Aboriginal population with many shops, bars and restaurants all located within a one mile square radius. It reminded me very much of New York in terms of the layout grid style. Cairns is not known for its beach and let me say this, please do not stop off here if you are looking for a relaxing stay in a beachy area as you will not get this in Cairns. There basically is no beach just marshy swamp land which was not very appealing for a bunch of backpackers. Cairns had supplemented the lack of beachy area by, on the sea front, building a swimming pool and sandy area for all to use with some fantastic changing and toilet room facilities available free of charge which were extremely clean. I found this area fantastic as I got a real sense of belonging and it was way different to back home in England. Also this was due to the fact of many people having bbqs on the equipment provided on the sea front.
Cairns has a variety of restaurants including all cuisines as well as your well-known local takeaway outlets - McDonalds, etc. I will point out for the people looking for a food bargain, located half way down the main street along the sea front there is a great place like a canteen area where you can get a variety of cheap cuisines which are fast food but really tasty. This would be a great buy for a backpacker.
The town also has great links for you to be able to visit other attractions which are well-known stopovers including Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation which are an hour and a half north of Cairns. Me and my wife travelled from central Cairns to Port Douglas for a few days by getting a minibus supplied from the Port Douglas hostel so it's great to be in Cairns and the locals in Port Douglas will come to you to get your business.
The best thing to do in Cairns by a long shot is to visit one of the Great Wonders of the World which is the Great Barrier Reef. There are hundreds of boat companies all offering different services to take you out to the Reef including various locations, meals included, scuba diving and snorkelling. After consulting a very friendly and local travel agent in Travel Bugs, we opted for going on a tour with Passions of Paradise which went to various locations including Paradise Island and Michaelmas Cay which has a collection of birds which was an amazing sight to see and the sound was astonishing. What I liked about going on this tour particularly was that you had both options - the scuba and the snorkelling - and a great meal included with hot and cold drinks available. This tour was great for me as I am confident snorkelling from the shore line but when they stopped in the middle of the sea and asked us to jump out into what can only be described as very choppy waters, me and an Irish guy had other thoughts but we were urged by a staff member to jump in with him and he would swim us around using the guide rope which was great as I could be lazy at the same time as looking at the great coral and all the varieties of fish! Definitely one of the best things I have done in my life.
For those of you that like to go out at night there are some great bars and clubs. Two in particular include the Woolshed which also attracts locals and has dancing on the tables and gets absolutely packed but you get to meet like minded backpackers and eccentric locals. Another great place for a few drinks is Rhino Bar which hosted a happy hour for $10 and drink as much as you like which is a great deal for any holiday maker on a budget like myself.
I found the people of Cairns to be very helpful and willing to go that extra mile. From what I have seen in other cities in Australia this is a great place to visit for anyone - families, couples, singles and backpackers. Every type of budget I found could be catered for and there was just a buzz about the city and if I ever go back to the land of Oz again Cairns would be high on my agenda. If you go to Oz try and keep at least 2 days open to give this city a try.
Cairns - the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef!
Upon arriving in Cairns you can be forgiven for thinking that you're entering a small town - it really is.
The CBD is appears as a sandy street that you might find in a small town but it doesn't lack character.
One thing you feel though is the heat. Especially if you arrive in December the heat can get up to the high thirties and if you're not use to it, it can be a struggle.
There is relief though in various tours you can do. You can take a boat out to the Barrier Reef and snorkel over the coral, or you can take a horse ride up in the forests or even a swimming tour of freshwater lakes and waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands and Hinterlands. There's plenty of rainforests to explore but watch out for those insects!
For British residents:
The heat is what I'd highlight. I got burnt when I went out to the Barrier Reef and found it a lot hotter than Southern Queensland but I'd still defnately check it out.
Cairns is a strange place in that you do not really go to Cairns to experience Cairns. It is more of a focal point for exploring other areas around it. That is to say that Cairns has not got lots of attractions in it's own right because it has but the vast majority of visitors will use it as a stopping off place to see both Cairns and other attractions. After our trip to Ayers Rock, Cairns was totally different but equally appealing.
Discovered by Captain Cook in 1770 it took a further 100 years before white settlers took hold, mainly due to the wet weather, vegetation and treacherous reefs. The finding of gold in "them thar hills" put Cairns firmly on the map in 1876 as a frontier town. When this began to die out Cairns began to thrive as a fishing and pearling area and the lush land was ideal for sugar cane plantations which are still abundant today.
It is difficult to believe that little over twenty years ago, Cairns was still a sleepy town but with the building of an International airport tourism exploded and Cairns is an extremely popular holiday destination for Australian and International visitors alike with a mind boggling 2.2m visitors annually. They have a permanent population of around 100,000 so it's more than half the size of Bolton. I would wager that there would be few who didn't enjoy their time there - we certainly did and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Cairns is not a place you visit for the history and this goes largely uncelebrated. There are few museums worth note and little by way of historical museums
***Where is it***
Based in Queensland it is around 1000 miles from Brisbane and 1500 miles from Sydney, on the East coast of Cape York Peninsular. If you look at a map of Australia it is one the right hand side of the pointy bit in the top right. It enjoys a humid, tropical climate with temperatures rarely dropping below 20 degrees C and has a wet season (Nov to March when monsoons and cyclones can be expected) and a dry season April to November. However, it is in the tropics and it can rain at any time and averages 80 inches of rain pa. We arrived there via a flight from Ayers Rock (if thinking of visiting Cairns from the UK, as part of a trip to another part of Oz, check with the travel agent as it is common for free internal flights to be thrown into the mix).
The town is an expanse of hotels, low rises houses and various buildings sandwiched between the Ocean on the East and the rain forest to the West. It is in many ways a typical Australian town with the dangly cork hats, stubbie holders to keep your drinks cool, a vast array of accommodation and eating places all on the door step of outstanding natural beauty.
*Where we stayed***
There are lots of places to stay from top hotels to budget accommodation and they cater for anyone. We booked a one bed-roomed apartment at The Royal Harbour Tradewinds hotel on The Esplanade on-line (cost around £80 per night). Unfortunately the web site does not exist any more but a quick google search will bring up plenty of booking opportunities. Before we arrived however, we had a chirpy Cockney as a taxi driver from the airport who was a mine of useful information. Whilst we had an idea of what we wanted to do & see he made some recommendations for us which thankfully met our requirements. It was a very friendly introduction to Cairns which proved to be a common theme throughout our trip there. Whilst everything about it was truly appealing the people whose paths we crossed along the way made our stay more worthwhile.
The Royal Tradewinds is a modern hotel over-looking The Esplanade and check in was very simple and efficient. At £80 a night it is quite expensive for Australian standards but when we got to the room it was worth every penny. It was a self contained apartment with separate kitchen/bedroom and had all mod cons in terms of TV, DVD, stereo, washer, dryer and Jacuzzi with a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. Again, the staff were very friendly and one of the first things we did after unpacking was to visit the tour operator connected to the hotel to book our trips. The variety of trips on offer was mind boggling and I was glad we had an idea as to what we wanted to do as we could have spent all day deciding. Again, booking the trips was very easy and we were presented with a voucher and the costs were added to our hotel bill when we checked out.
Like most places in Australia, Cairns is very cosmopolitan when it comes to restaurants. There is a wide variety with Asian & seafood being a major influence given where it is. We never actually ate in our hotel as we wanted to get out and explore the city (although it has more of a large town feel). To some extent you could actually be anywhere. There is nothing that makes it stand out from any other Australian City in the culinary department with the usual array of seafood, Chinese, Thai and local restaurants. However, we weren't there for the food and what was there was totally adequate so we were happy enough.
The Rattle & Hum Bar & Grill was chosen simply because of it's name and the fact it is named after a U2 album and also because it was very close to the hotel and we were starving. Similarly, another night was spent in the Night Markets Food Court which was directly underneath the hotel which had a vast array of cheap food, in a basic setting but with a great atmosphere. The last night was spent in The Harbourview Chinese Restaurant which was delicious. Truth is these types of establishments became the norm for our stay in Cairns given we were usually shattered by the time we got back from our trips and the trips we did go on mostly had food included so we weren't up for a major dining experience in the evening. Whilst undoubtedly Cairns has some top class restaurants if I wanted to experience culinary delights I would have stayed in Sydney.
There is also a plethora of bars and PJ O'Briens and the Fox & Firkin became regular stop off points of an evening simply to have a pint or three of ice cold Guinness and some live music. By then we re ready for bed as the trips we were on were had early starts.
Cairns is largely a budget town although does however cater for everyone. In all the bars the clientele was a mixture of back-packers, locals, seasoned travelers and pensioners alike. The atmosphere is very buoyant which is what you would expect from what is effectively a major tourist resort. However, there was no sense of any trouble brewing or things getting out of hand. Everyone was in holiday mood and nothing was going to spoil that.
***What we did***
Cairns is the gateway to three natural wonders which are Atherton Tableland which is the vast area of rainforest to the West, Cape Tribulation/Daintree to the North which is a world heritage site and the Great Barrier Reef about 90 minutes boat ride away. On this occasion the Great Barrier Reef was not part of our plans as we had planned to visit at some other stage of our trip and so had to resist the urge on this occasion although there were dozens of tours available.
We were there for three full days and had a packed itinerary. We actually wanted to go hot air ballooning over Atherton Tableland although this is subject to last minute cancellation dependent on the weather and given we had no time to waste we had to pick trips that were going to go ahead irrespective of the weather.
We booked two trips via the hotel and I would urge any visitor to do the same as the staff have a detailed knowledge of what's on offer although it may help beforehand if you have an idea of what you want to do. Alternatively, you could book the trips yourself on-line beforehand. If you are driving then you can do these trips alone although we preferred the guided tours as you could use the knowledge of the guides and get to the places much quicker, especially if you are on tight timescales.
The first trip booked was the "Kuranda" tour with Tropical Wings (can be viewed on www.tropicalwings.com.au). This cost around £50 each (£25 child) but was full day tour starting at 7:30 when we were picked up by coach at the hotel. There were four parts to this tour starting with a short journey to the Skyrail terminal which is a ski lift up the mountain and over the Rainforest with Kuranda "The Village in the Rainforest" awaiting you at the other end. You feel a little queasy at first but soon get used to it.
Kuranda is a sleepy village catering exclusively to tourists. It is quite small but packed with gift shops, cafes, Aboriginal artifact shops and the Rainforestation Wildlife sanctuary which was the next bit of our itinerary.
This is a nature/animal reserve and the first thing we did was take a trip on an Army Duck which went through the reserve both on land and water. It was then straight on to a tour of Aborigine traditional with Aborigines leading the tour and showing us a little of their customs and tools.
From there it was a trip around their animal reserve meeting the kangaroos, koalas, cassowary (a large bird that is known to attack humans and which I had never seen before) and other native Australian species.
The final bit of the trip was a near two hour train journey from Kuranda back to Cairns. This was a very special trip meandering through the rain forest and stopping off at selective points for photo opportunities. You would need to book this in advance although our ticket was part of the itinerary.
Overall, for £50 a head I feel this was a complete bargain. We saw many things we wouldn't normally experience (or think about seeing) and if you did all the activities individually under your own steam it would cost a lot more. Whilst there was a lot in this itinerary we were never at any time rushed and a lot of the stuff could be done at your own pace with you simply meeting up with your party at an agreed time and place (which was easy to find).
Whilst a lie in would have been welcome the next day was another early start and this time it was the "Daintree Explorer" run by Trek North tours (www.treknorth.com.au). This again cost around £50 a head. This trip covered around 200 miles in total and we were heading for the Daintree River around 80 miles north of Cairns and situated on the edge of Cape Tribulation National Park, an area of outstanding beauty. All through this trip there were plenty of stop offs with the first being Mossman Gorge and a trek through the rainforest. Again, this was similar to the day before but still enjoyable. It was then on to Daintree Village for a coffee and souvenirs before we were dropped off for a cruise of Daintree River. Again, the guides were tremendously knowledgeable and we saw our first crocodile within minutes, that the guide said was 4.5 metres although it was difficult to tell other than the fact I did not fancy getting out of the boat.
It was then onto the Daintree Teahouse for fresh caught Barramundi and chips and a tropical fruit tasting to finish. At this point I certainly wanted a nap but there was no time because we were off for a trip around a pineapple plantation.
From there it was on to Port Douglas with the first stop The Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary which by this point was becoming a lot like other habitats we had seen over the last two days but a great experience nonetheless.
We had some free time in Port Douglas including a stop at a look out point at Four Mile Beach.
This was another superb trip with a packed itinerary, great attractions, unique experiences and friendly people. Worth every single penny. Like the day before we would not have seen so much if we had done this on our own and it was certainly much cheaper doing this as part of a package.
Surprisingly there is little by way of decent beaches. Perhaps unsurprisingly this is because between October and May you cannot swim within 500 metres of the shore due to box jellyfish being present and coming into contact with one of these is deadly if not treated immediately.
Before our trip I was a little worried as Cairns seem to come with a somewhat seedy reputation for catering for budget, back packing tourists. To some extent this is true - they are catering for the mass market but there was no sign of seediness at all. It is not a place you will go to simply because you want to visit Cairns but merely to use as a gateway to other places near it, of which there are plenty.
I defy anyone to leave Cairns saying they didn't enjoy it (unless of course a cyclone comes through town whilst you are there). There is plenty to see and you can do this at your own pace. The people are very friendly due to them serving predominantly the tourist industry and so they are well honed at it and genuine. However, the lack of history leaves it somewhat soulless but this is more than made up for by what it does have to offer. When we went in September it was relatively cool but humid and in the peak summer months the heat & humidity can become unbearable.
If you are planning a trip to Cairns then planning is the operative word. It is unlikely you will go to Australia and then feel the urge to go to Cairns due to time constraints and it's remoteness. If you are going then have an idea what you want to do beforehand.
Before my trip people told me not to go to Cairns as it's 'dirty', 'ugly' and 'boring'. Never one to listen to comments like that, I still decided to stay there for a week, shunning Port Douglas and Palm Cover in favour of accommodation in Cairns itself, and was determined to enjoy myself, or at least experience enough to write a scathing review if need be. Happily this wasn't the case and I spent my week in Cairns wondering what it was that others didn't like.
Cairns is a base for exploring the local area, and is served by a busy international airport about 15 minutes from the town centre. I flew up from Sydney with Virgin Blue, paying £40 for a one way flight with this budget airline. From there I flew, a week and a bit later, down to Brisbane, paying a similar amount for a slightly shorter flight.
The one negative feature of Cairns is its apparent lack of history: similar to lots of other places in Australia there are few beautiful buildings or places of historical significance, and no galleries or museums worth mentioning (other than to say the ones I came across were not worth a visit). However, apart from this, Cairns has lots to offer, both immediately within the town and just outside.
~~~ Within Cairns ~~~
You can't swim in the sea in Cairns because of the stingers (and the resulting lack of developed beach it's more like a wetlands park complete with scary birds) but the council made up for this by investing in a large, free, open air ESPLANADE SWIMMING LAGOON. This is set on the seafront in the town centre, and is open all day every day, with life guards on duty at peak hours. There are several interconnecting pools, the water is warm and free from debris, and the surrounding areas offer sunbathing space, lockers, showers and a snack hut. Because the pool in my hostel was nothing to write home about I spent time here almost every day, before and after other activities, often sitting on a ledge around the pool, up to my ribs in water, reading magazines and generally trying to stay cool.
The ADVENTURE DUCK TOUR is like many other duck boats I've been on but still fun. They only run the tour with a certain minimum number of guests and the first time I booked they rang and cancelled an hour before I was due to depart, so the next day since I was spending most of my time in the vicinity anyway I asked them to call when they had a booking I could join and I would make myself available at that time. This led to me going on their mid afternoon 1 hour tour (they advertise 10 tours per day, a mix of 40 min and 60 min ones that cost $29 / $38 per adult respectively). Everyone on the trip gets a free souvenir postcard and anyone who takes the wheel to drive the boat when on water gets a special certificate and sticker too. The tour starts at the shopping centre near the reef terminal and circles round along the Esplanade, past the botanical gardens and then down into the water. There was a live commentary provided by a girl of about my age who was very good, speaking clearly and interspersing her interesting notes with duck-themed jokes for the kids on board, though from the look on her face she had done this dozens of times and was now simply going through the motions.
Staying in a hostel with no TVs in the rooms and having limited books with me meant I had to find things to do in the evenings. Several times I went to the cinema (they have 2 in the city, one at the railway station shopping centre and one a few streets over) but one night I decided to go to see a show currently running at the Reef Hotel Casino, 'PLAY THE GAME'. This was heavily advertised in town, and not too expensive, so I booked a ticket. On arrival I immediately realised things weren't quite right and they tried to ply me with alcohol the second I walked through the doors. Was the show really going to be that bad? Needless to say it wasn't wonderful, but I laughed all the way through - quietly or in my head so as not to offend: this wasn't supposed to be a comedy. As some may know I had a childhood of dancing and gymnastics. What I don't think I've ever mentioned is that I got a magic set for Christmas at age 10 and fancied myself as a young Paul Daniels for, oh, about a month. I mention this now because as I sat through this show my mind kept coming up with sniping comments: 'I was a better dancer / gymnast / magician at age 11 than these people are'. Some of the choreography was virtually identical to the solos I used to compete in festivals (as a pre-teen) and the conjuror's tricks involved magic my sister could perform following her one-off 2 hour stint as a magician's assistant age 17. Seriously, at best this came across as a low budget variety show best suited to a church hall. Their tap dancing was more stomping than tapping and the aerialist smirked into the audience with a glance which said 'Look, my legs flail about as if independent from my body'. So? Whose don't? The costumes were a blatant attempt to distract from the performances - think cheap and nasty and with gratuitous bum cleavage. Seriously, my mother who, by her own admission, cannot sew, rustled up far superior outfits to these for me in my dancing days. But by far the worst (or best) bit was the love story between the two main characters. Imagine if Robbie Williams was Australian, tanned, camper than Carson from Queer Eye, and broke enough to do anything for a pay cheque. Then pair him with a woman who looked like a drag version of Danni Minnogue, sporting a mullet and a screeching voice. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? No, I really, really won't. In short, not recommended for a serious night of theatre.
~~~ Day trips ~~~
I did several day or half day trips while in Cairns, the highlights of which were:
· KURANDA, a popular self-guided yet fully organised tour including a trip on the Skyrail cable car (just like the one in Matlock Bath) and a return on the scenic railway with several hours at the mountain village in-between. The cable car has several stations on the way up where you disembark for however long you wish and can explore the rain forest at each stop. Kuranda itself is a nice village catering almost exclusively to tourists and features numerous gift shops and Aboriginal galleries, cafes and restaurants and a wildlife sanctuary. I went on a boat trip while there which was fascinating as the guide was very knowledgeable but relaxed. We got to feed the tiny turtles that swam near the boat, spotted several rare birds and critters hanging out in the trees and had a lovely photo opportunity for the Skyrail as the river runs beneath the route it takes. I lunched at the Kuranda Rainforest View Restaurant on the main street which I would not recommend as the service was slow, it was not air conditioned as advertised and they added a random service charge, but the ice creamery almost directly opposite gets a thumbs up for their make-your-own-sundaes. The scenic railway takes a couple of hours, and is rather warm, but the views are spectacular. However it has assigned seating so not everyone is by a window. I was - thanks to booking several months in advance - but if you book on the day it's hit and miss. There are morning and afternoon trains and someone told me (after booking) that it's advisable to do the train in the morning before the weather heats up in the early afternoon. I would very much recommend this day as it has a good mix of experiences and free time, and you get free information packs that told me, for example, what special fauna to look out for at each of the 36 towers, and stats on the cable car journey (7.5 km long, built in 1995 etc). The return trip (one way on each) including return accommodation transfers is about £30 which is not cheap but perfectly reasonable for everything that's included.
· FITZROY ISLAND was my sole trip to the Reef. I don't like fish so wanted an island with more to do than simply snorkel or dive, and Fitzroy won me over due to its promise of a trampoline - my first and last bouncing opportunity in Oz. Boats leave for the island 3 times per day, morning and afternoon, and packages include accommodation or snorkelling or diving or just transfers - this is what I opted for. Fitzroy has a small restaurant with very limited menu, and the shop sells a random mix of mainly chocolate, crisps, biscuits and drinks so take a packed lunch if this does not appeal. The main centre is the swimming pool (beautiful, clear water, very warm) which is bordered by said restaurant and shop and the reception. Various activities are available - I went on the trampoline (disappointing but a trampoline none the less) and on a glass bottomed boat tour which let me see the reef up close without getting my hair wet. I also hiked around the island on the various tracks as well as lazing by the pool. A relaxed day for about £30 including the transfers and two activities.
· AJ HACKETT's is the place most people go to bungee their corneas away (working in an Australian hospital I heard lots of horror stories). Me, I don't bungee as I have a few bouncing competitions in me yet, and as such value my eyes and back too much, but I went along for a morning of watching silly people throw caution to the wind. I did, however, go on the Minjin jungle swing which flings you through the air at a speed faster than a bungee and from a point higher up than the bungee tower, 2 things I did not know before doing it. But, it was a lot of fun, and cheap at £20 including transfers, even if I did have to indulge the boys in the group with the fantasy that I was a swinger.
· MOUNT N RIDE took me on a horse riding adventure as I'd never been on a horse and was beginning to wonder if I'd had a lost childhood prancing and dancing around instead of being a horsey girl like most of my class. Half an hour into the ride I knew this wasn't at all the case - and if I never again went on a horse that would be ok - but I'm very glad I did it, and my comments are in no way a reflection of the company as they were excellent. I was the only person in my session as a small group had cancelled at the last minute so I got a private tour for the price of a group. We rode in water and on land, through rain forest and past sugar cane crops, and apart from being attacked by various branches I survived unscathed. The highlight of the day, though, was the trip back in which the owner took it upon himself to talk business with me, determining (correctly) that I wasn't really a proper backpacker and was more someone just on holiday. The comment of the day had to be, in reference to one of the riding school's employees: 'I'm telling you, if he doesn't pull up his socks I'm going to stop sponsoring his visa and have him deported'. Hah. I wish I could have used a threat like that in my last job when I was having staff issues.
· ON THE WALLABY took me to the rainforest waterfalls, gave me the best tour lunch I had my entire trip and entertained me throughout, all for £30. I wanted to see the waterfalls but hiring a car alone is expensive, and in my case impractical as I would have had no idea where I was going and as such would have been unlikely to find even one of the falls. The day was perfect - lots of stops for swimming, a chance to visit the Cathedral Fig Tree, the stunning Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa falls and, once again, a chance to explore the rain forest. I was so over the rainforest by this point - but looking back I think that's a nice point to get to as it just meant I'd seen a lot of the country.
~~~ Eating / Drinking / Shopping / Sleeping~~~
Cairns has a ton of places to eat and drink, cheaply and tastily. I can recommend the food (though not the service) at Tosca Trattoria in Cairns Central Shopping Centre, but Fasta Pasta and La Porchetta get thumbs up for both. Al Porto at the reef terminal did good breakfast pancakes, and the buffet at the Reef Hotel and Casino was luckily significantly better than their attempt at 'theatre'. The various food courts had a good choice, and for slopped together meals made sitting on benches on the seafront the supermarkets at Cairns Central have all the necessities and are a lot cheaper than the numerous 7/11s and Nightowl convenience stores. I tried all the ice cream places in town - obviously - and all were good in different ways, but the 2 that get shout outs are Ice Age for their fancy cookie sandwiches and Dippin Dots for their unusual yet fantastic take on ice cream - it's a bit hard to explain, but imagine tiny balls of freeze dried ice cream that begin to melt as they are scooped into your cup and you get a vague idea of what this 'ice cream of the future' is.
For shopping, the streets leading down to the Esplanade all sell the same things at the same price, yet you feel obliged to go in all of them. For proper (non-souvenir) shopping Cairns Central is fab and was where I bought several Christmas presents and some be-aut-if-ul board shorts.
Accommodation is wide ranging and based along the Esplanade and the associated back streets. There are many holiday apartment complexes as well as hotel and hostels, and these work out very cheap for families.
~~~ Summary ~~~
Most people use Cairns as a base for trips to other places - it's not a destination in its own right - but I very much enjoyed my time in the area. Not somewhere I'd choose to live, perhaps, but an essential part of any trip to Australia, for the gateway it offers to the reef and rainforest if nothing else. The weather is fantastic - I was there in summer which is their off season due to the heat - and the place easy to learn your way around. I like to write travel reviews as a reminder to myself of all the places I've been (the list's getting longer all the time) but they serve a dual purpose of trying to bring a bit of the place over here, to refresh the memories of the many people who have been here and to ignite an interest in the many more who haven't but hope to one day. Looking back it seems I've said mostly extremely positive things about Australia - not because I'm exaggerating, but because it is that good, and I had a blast. So believe me when I say you should see Cairns no matter what other people tell you. It's not boring or dirty or plain - it's just a town with lots going on and lots to enjoy - and I will go back.
~~~ Links ~~~
Contrary to what we expected, Cairns turned out to be quite a small town. The population is set at just over 100,000 people and the city centre is neat and compact. At first the place makes little or no impression. It is obvious that tourism is the mainstay and without it, the capital of the North would likely be little more than a backwater. Cairns has a uniquely Oz feel to it. The local bars tout topless gambling nights, check shirted shower avoiding cork dangling hatted old men and one armed bandits that still pull in the punters. The streets are wide and straight and there is little or no high rises. The buildings are largely wooden and have that typical Australian sheeted roofing. The city centre is made up of a few streets that criss cross between the Esplanade near the shoreline and McLeod street in front of the central Cairns shopping plaza.. Temperatures in town can soar during the day so much so that when you enter an air conditioned shop you feel like you've just arrived in Antarctica. Heading out into the sunshine again fogs up your glasses such is the intense heat so watch out for those four wheeled range rovers. Cairns' city centre is roughly 8 km from the airport. There are a number of ways of getting into town. The expensive airport shuttle bus charges $7.50 per person so it makes sense if you are in a group to take one of the black and white taxi's. The fare should be no more than $15 and this alternative gives more flexibility if you know in advance where you're staying. ACCOMMODATION There is an incredible selection of budget accommodation to choose from in Cairns. It rightfully holds the distinction of being the backpackers capital of Northern Australia. Most of the top end budget places can be found on the Esplanade that faces the sea. Many have travel services at the front desk with the acc
ommodation tucked in at the back. Other good locations to look for a place to stay are Sheridan Street towards the Bruce Highway and Terminus Street near the train station although both are a little off the beaten track. In order to find out the best deals it is always a good idea to have look around before deciding on a place. Although prices are pretty standard the variance on the quality of accommodation can be quite wide. Many of the free backpacker magazines have money off coupons for your 1st nights stay which can knock up to $5 off the bill. Before we chose a place we had a look at Bellview on the Esplanade. This is a sort of motel type set up with a smallish swimming pool for guests. The rooms were clean if a little small so we weren't willing to fork out for the asking price of $42 per night. We also checked out YHA on the Esplanade which boasted long dark corridors with small grotty rooms. The place seemed to be buzzing but it was a bit too scruffy to become our home for several days. We settled for Leo's on Sheridan Street because it was cheap, had a swimming pool, large balconies and a fridge in every room. Our double with ceiling fan had a single (?) and double bed. Overnight the room was almost cool but by midday the temperature rivalled the dusty outback. There was a pool set in a small garden but it never really appealed. We've seen bigger baths! Everybody staying at Leo's gets a free evening meal at the Wool Shed Pub. The meals were pretty standard although the vegetable vol-au-vents were tasty. Overall Leo's was just about passable, the staff were outwardly friendly although tiny requests like accessing the safety deposit box was met by perceptible groans. If we had been motivated enough we would have gone for Carvella's 77 on the Esplanade. When we arrived it was booked out but by all accounts it seemed a clean and efficiently r
un place. ATTRACTIONS Apart from a lively nightlife the town itself is a bit of a non-event. What it excels at is providing a base to visit the natural wonders that surround it. The big three attractions in ascending order are the Atherton Tableland, Cape Tribulation and the world famous Great Barrier Reef. As ever budgetary constraints meant that we could only visit the latter although we were disappointed that we couldn't sample all three. Briefly, the Atherton Tableland lies to the west of Cairns and consists of vast areas of rainforest and greenery. Part of the journey to the areas main town, Kuranda, can be made by cable car where the views border on the exotic. Cape Tribulation is well known amongst Australians, but maybe not so much internationally. Its rugged scenery and beautiful beaches are only half the attraction. Boat trips down the Daintree river brings visitors as close as is possible to fresh water crocodiles without ending up in one of those death rolls. Swimming here would have even Mick Dundee scrambling for the riverbank. Rightly dubbed the 8th wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef lies just a couple of dozen kilometres off the Cairns coastline. A day or two at the reef is an unforgettable experience. Even for novices like ourselves the thrill of an introductory dive which included touching giant clams on the reef floor as well as swimming with the most colourful fish imaginable was exhilarating. We booked a one day package with the Noah's Ark Too boat. The package cost a reasonable $89 which included tuition, equipment, lunch and wet suit hire. The beauty of an intro dive is that you don't need a dive certificate to take part. Of course your hand is held pretty much most of the time you are under water but 30 minutes on the most vibrant eco systems on earth is enough to take your breath a
way (literally). After the dive you are allowed to snorkel for a couple of hours. This is a unique experience in itself. The water is so clear that the light penetrates quite easily exposing the myriad of life below. Thankfully the bane of Northern Australia's coastline the box jellyfish don't operate near the reef and there are no recorded cases of shark attacks. We always made sure there were people further out from the boat than us, just in case!. There are numerous companies throughout Cairns that cater for beginners right up to the more experienced divers. Learn to dive courses are ubiquitous and there are plenty of good deals to be had. The cities aquarium even offers trial dives in its tanks as a preparation for the real thing. You can find it in the Pier complex just off the Esplanade. SHOPPING The Universal Joint on Shields Street are didgeridoo specialists and the enthusiastic staff are willing to give free lessons to prospective buyers. Feigning a little interest entitles you to a free effort at trying to charm the wooden instrument. It's all in the lips apparently although breathing and blowing at the same time is a skill in itself. There is a terrific Book & Comic Store on Lake Street. Here you'll find a huge stock of second hand/new books at cheap prices. They also run an exchange and sell service. Just across the road there is a charity bookshop that has a treasure trove of books and magazines. The Wilderness Gallery on Shields street celebrates the genius of photographer Peter Lik. Lik certainly has a eye for colour and his patience is often rewarded with stunning panoramic scenes being committed to film. Many of his photos are shot on location down under and some truly awe inspiring. That so many of the locations captured are on the well worn tourist trail makes it more
exciting. Many of the images are autographed by Lik himself and can be bought for a couple of hundred dollars. Cairns Central is the biggest of the Plaza's in Cairns. Spread over 2 levels it provides a nice escape from the oven outside although there is little that you wouldn't find in any plaza throughout Australasia. The Pier shopping centre near the Trinity Wharf is smaller and more up market with more expensive souvenirs. Every weekend the Pier is the location for the famed mud markets. Woolworth's has a huge branch spread over 2 streets in the city centre. This store has the cheapest prices in Cairns and is a haven for noodle hoarders. Sheridan's Street hosts Rusty's market every weekend. Full of eclectic stalls and sellers this is a true Cairns experience to savour. EATING OUT Finding a place to eat in Cairns is not too difficult a job. All tastes are catered for from the hostel meals at the Wool Shed to more upmarket joints. The Night Market on the Esplanade has a mini food hall with inexpensive meals and quite a good variety. Just a few doors down Rattle & Hum doubles as a restaurant and pub and itshuge wooden interior makes it a nice place to relax and soak up the atmosphere. Verdi's, Fasta Pasta and Lightning Jacks with its so called laidback Aussie food are all within a few yards of each other on Shields street. All are beyond most backpackers budget but sometimes its nice to see how the other half lives. A Breakfast/Burger joint on the other side of the street serves a greasy yet inexpensive menu. P. J. O'Briens have a good menu available and main meal prices are quite reasonable starting at around 12 dollars. For most budgeteers however hostel kitchen facilities are where most of the eating is done. Unlike South East Asia where you can cheaply
dine out at least 3 times a day, travelling in Australia brings you right back down to earth with a bump. ENTERTAINMENT Cairns has a fabled nightlife scene. We didn't get to any of the night-clubs but this hardly seemed to matter as many of the cities pubs stay open beyond 3. Rather typically our favourite pub turned out be be P. J. O'Briens on Shields street. With an authentic Irish feel, Guinness on tap, huge screens for the footie, 2 pool tables, good music and great craic it was hard to top. The prices were a little high for our meagre resources ($9 for just over a litre Jug of Fosters) but when you're having a ball eating can be put off for a day or two! The Wool Shed is very popular with backpackers. It has 2 levels and is your typical student type dive, it has the rotten wood floor, the sparse lighting and scattered tables to keep anyone amused. There are plenty of beer promotions and a DJ replaces the video screens by about 9 o'clock. Cairns music scene is undergoing a rejuvenation with bands coming out of the woodwork at a rapid pace. Johno's on Aplin street is the club where these bands first cut their teeth in a live setting. Johno's is cavernous with a chill out refuge upstairs for anyone not able to cope with the sometimes dodgy theatrics downstairs. The beer promotions run up to 9 o'clock and are among the best in the city. There are usually several bands playing each night. We witnessed 5 bands working under a RAW theme (Rock Against Work), needless to say there was a definite Rage Against The Machine thread running through a lot of the material. The round pool table near the restaurant area is a laugh. For a more sedate evening out you should visit the Cinema 5 complex on Grafton street. Newly refurbished and comfortable the screens are large and the sound is in perfect stereo. There
are substantial discounts for VIP/YHA card holders. PUBLICATIONS Being a backpacker town it's hardly surprising that there are several free magazines giving the lowdown on forthcoming events. Bar Fly comes out every Thursday and resembles Dublin's Event Guide in both its style and content. It has a good listing of nightly entertainment and a review section that is pretty close to spot on. The Word is more exclusively tailored to backpackers. It has some good coupons (including an indispensable free half hour's internet at the Backpackers World travel shop, we enjoyed free internetting for our whole stay in Cairns, although by the end we felt like we were getting those 'oh no, not you again' eyes). The Word has detailed summaries of accommodation in Cairns and elsewhere down the East coast as well as summaries of the main backpacker haunts. Aussie Backpacker runs along similar lines but is also a handy guide to what there is to explore in tropical Queensland and beyond. TRANSPORT There are a number of alternatives available for getting around Cairns. The local bus company Sunbus is prominent but its fares are a little expensive. Renting a bike is an option but the midday sun can be a major deterrent. That said if you can cope with the heat, cycling is a safe option because Cairns has a relatively low volume of vehicles. Many of the hostels have courtesy minibuses that shuttle people between the city centre and the hostels location. When the time comes to leave Cairns there is a few options. for the wealthy Cairns international airport is a winner. For the rest of us the McCafferty's/Greyhound bus service is a godsend. These companies offer a combined service that covers the whole continent. We chose a kilometre pass package from Cairns to Brisbane which cost jus
t $200 each (with a VIP card, cheaper if you book through the internet). This deal meant we could stop off as many times as we wanted on the way to Brisbane. The buses are relatively new and timely and the view if often breathtaking. Cairns has most services you'll need within easy reach of the city centre. Most hostels have laundry facilities (self service/washing line) although the Laundromat at the Civic Shopping Centre on Sheridan Street does an economical 7 kg service wash for under $9. Australia's telecommunications system is a wide eye joy for budget travellers. Ringing home using a prepaid card can cost as little as 9 cents per minute. The main Post Office on Hartley Street is efficiently run and postal charges for parcels are surprisingly good value for money. The VIP card I mentioned above is available from most travel agents in town for $32 (some hostels sell it at cost price $24, so look around). It is a recommended purchase as it affords you at least the same amount of discounts as a student card and the fact that it doubles as a phone card makes it near indispensable. Many of Australia's hostels give a nightly discount on showing this piece of plastic. The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) operates on a similar basis although it is a little more restricted. Cairns is a mere shell of a town that sustains itself on the tourist dollar. It's main street, the Esplanade, is no different from any other resort drag. Full of restaurants and loud bars it is truly an oasis for fun loving travellers but has an unmistakably tacky feel to it. Shields street which has been given a face lift in the last couple of years has a certain artificiality about it too. It looks like any well planned street should but lacks any genuine character. The children's play area looks particularly out of place amongst the door to door travel agents and
pubs. Cairns has a large Aborigine population who seem in lots of ways to have fallen on hard times. Shields street in particular has dozens of Aborigines who seem to be either drunk or in a constant state of depression. While they cause no trouble it is a little unsettling to witness how the authorities have clearly failed to integrate these people into society or at least to a point where they can look after themselves. One good marker that perhaps better times are on the way is the fact that so many Aboriginal arts and crafts are making an impact in the towns galleries and outlets. Cairns, surprisingly for a coastal town, has no beach. The coastal waters are often deluged with dangerous jellyfish and the shoreline is a mass of mud. Plans are underway to create a safe saltwater swimming corridor but already this smacks of desperation. Resources would be better directed at breathing life back into its streets. As you walk around the number of units lacking lease holders is astonishing. In saying all this, there is no mistaking that Cairns makes a good base for exploring the natural environment that surrounds it. As you walk along the Esplanade there are scenic views of the tree covered hills which is sight rarely experienced in Europe. Spending several days in Cairns however makes you wonder how the locals are able to put up with the intolerable heat and a district that is as soulless as a disregarded pair of flip flops. Ah well I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
If you read my opinion on the Great Barrier Reef you will know that my base for my recent visit to Queensland Australia was Cairns - the capital of the North East State. Although we were only there for three days, my companion and I managed to pack a lot into that time. The first day, as mentioned, was spent on the Great Barrier Reef. I wont go into too many details of that as you may as well check out the other op. Sufice to say that, for me, it was the hightlight of my month in OZ. Our accomodation in Cairns was the amusingly named 'G'day Tropical Village Resort' a moderately priced array of holiday bungalows set amongst palm trees to the north of the city. There are many more expensive forms of accomodation should you prefer it or for the penniless backpackers and students there are really inexpensive hostels. The land is known as God's own land - and it surely must be. The sun shines all year round. Brits might prefer to visit in the Oz winter when the temperature is around 25 - 28 degrees centigrade and the nasty creatures like Box Jellyfish or poisonous spiders aren't so likely to be around. The centre of Cairns is bright and laid back, lots of shops for the rich and poor and even a night-time market to catch all those dollars you didn't spend on the reef! Night-life can be wild (if that's what you want). A very interesting place to visit is 'My Place' a Karaoke bar. Be warned it is not the place to take your kids for a sing song. It is loud, brash and you can't be too sure if the woman you might be dancing with is ALL woman, (and vice versa!) As far as excursions go - no-one should miss the chance to go to the Rainforest. If you take the scenic railway train up to the village of Kuranda you can spend hours (if not days) wandering around this little town in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest. There will be lots of people eager for you to spend your cas
h on their wares. I purchased a fantastic Didgeredoo from an equally fantastic Madagascan guy. he assured me the 'didge' was locally made from Eucalyptus (not a cheap bamboo one) and was even able to give me details of the Aboriginal artist who made it. That cost me A$90 (around £36) and I was able to carry it home as hand luggage - (big mistake it was so heavy!) I also purchased a chunky steel chain and pendant from a nice blond guy in the middle of the rainforest - and he turned out to be from my home town of Bournemouth - so if anyone out there knows Steve Campbell from Pokesdown - he's alive and well selling crystals and jewellery in the jungle! Our return trip from Kuranda was via the Skyrail. It is the longest cable car ride in the world (about 7.5 miles if I remember rightly). I was a bit uneasy at first but soon we were skimming over the rainforest mountains and after 2 stops enroute to look at the trees (and the hunky Skyrail Ranger - Nick) we arrived at the base an hour and a half later. Another trip to consider is up to the Daintree River for a riverboat ride amongst the Crocodiles. There are plenty of coach excursions or if you prefer you can hire a car for as little as A$45 a day. Then you can travel further up the coast to Cape Tribulation, where Captain Cook discovered Australia - there are so many wonderful places to explore - just take care - and be aware of the potential dangers. Cassowaries are huge (if rare) flightless birds that could slice a man in half with razor sharp blades on the back of their legs. Huntsman, red back and trap-door are some of the lovely spiders to look out for in OZ. And if you go swimming look out for Box Jellyfish. Bottles of vinegar on the beach are not for fish and chips, they are to try and neutralise the stinging - but don't rub it in - you will make it worse - and you REALLY dont want that. Hospital treatment should be sought immediately. So if you are
ever lucky enough to visit Cairns have a wonderful time - say hi to Steve, Nicholas and the Madagascan didge seller - and dont forget the vinegar!
What a dissapointment. You've just travelled around half the globe in search of sun sea and a good old Aussie experience - and what exactly do you get? Well OK I'm probably biased because I hit the worst weather they'd had for 25 years, but I didn't get any sun; Sea? Yes, but hey, don't swim in it - there's gators in there, not forgetting the highly deadly box jellyfish if you hit the wrong season - (where do they go when not in season? - Jersey? The Algarve?) And you'll find more English than you can shake a stick at (don't - they don't like it). Indeed I met the very same colleague from work that I was trying to get away from. My advice - if you must do the East coast: It's a fair enough starting point I grant you - but don't hang around. Use it as a base to do some tour trips. I recommend a visit to Cape Tribulation for some night rainforest walking (guided of course - or you'll end up nothing more than a statistic, and reasonable material for banter on the bus). Also, if you hear about 'Uncle Brian' - Don't ask any questions - just sign up for whatever he's offering and you'll never regret it - that's a promise. But no, as for Cairns itself - don't allocate too much time on your itinery - you'll kick yourself when you run out of holiday. See yus later! Maz
Along with Byron Bay in Australia I would say that Cairns is essentially a budget traveler’s town pandering to the young and rowdy over the Kioni (Expensive package holidays) crowd. The place is full of cheap eats and bars with an all in one antipodean scenario where they get you in to the night clubs with all you can eats and jugs of beer for $5 oz dollars a throw. The town itself is an expanse of low-rise houses and hotels stretching out to the edge of the Rain forest that hugs the coast line here in the tropical north. The sea front road accommodates the more rowdy divers hostels and bars although it has a cool buzz every night as its always a weekend here in high season (Jun-Oct) when the south is in winter. You get a constant barrage of dive schools and night life flyers coming at you like shots on Manchester Cities goal although the deals on them ain’t half bad. The beach isn’t as its mud and tidal weed although the big funny Pelicans are fun as you lob Pepsi cans in the mouths which they presume to be foster kids and fly off, it was funny at the time trust me. There are some great beaches further up the road with most hostels and hotels running cheap or free mini buses. Ellis cove is very tropical and quiet with over hanging palms lapped by the Warm Ocean ebb and flow. The further north you go in this part of Queensland the more secluded and wild it becomes as you can only use Four wheel drives when the Cook Highway comes to a gravely abrupt end. Cape Carpentera is for the hardier traveler as you near the real raw tropics. The Crocodillis hostel near Cook town offers bare essential living right in paradise with all the nature and wildlife of the rain forests with out the Tropical desease and bugs. I stayed in Captain Cooks backpackers in Cairns which was a touch rowdy although its down to the room or dorm you are given. The place has a big Capt. Cook plastic statue outside (Aussies love these) which are every where in Qu
eensland (Plastic statues). Its basic dorm accom is more like a self-contained apartment with small kitchenettes and four bed dorm rooms. At $12 oz a night the going rate in Australia for Backpackers hostels it’s cheap and cheerful with a noisy swimming pool and informative vibrant reception area. The country towns also have nice older Victorian boozers with wrought iron balconies and colorful patrons. Remember guys no birds are welcome and don’t forget to hack off your shirt sleeve half way down ok! Cairns is not all Barrier reef and diving as you can do the Bunjee jump near by for $65 dollars including the girl bait T-shirt and a ride out in a mini bus and optional ambulance return. Its scary as hell when you hop to the 220 ft drop looking down at a man made rain pool although the majestic view of the rain forest and reef with Brown eagles swarming and squawking it kinda gives you strength as you swallow dive or plop over the edge. Southern Hemisphere sports are not crown green bowling Sundays. If you’re the more sedate traveler you can trundle out to the site through the rainforests on an old colonial steam train for a couple of quid to watch the jumpers or the more riskier sport of rap jumping which involves up side down Abseiling. The boats head out regularly to the reef starting at $50 dollar day trips on the older rickety boats that rear and rock up and down every ripple out there to the metallic beasts pumping out s*****t loads of oil polluting everything that moves full of Japanese and German tourists hammering out to the small islands pissed up ready to hack of bits of coral to take home to Tokyo. The Orientals own Green Island so it’s shrinking fast. You have to get out there and see it as its iridescent splendor of aquatic life is truly stunning taking your breath away as you flap around in two feet of water thirty miles out. NO STANDING ON THE REEF FOLKS as it’s a protected world heritage site. Ano
ther problem is that at certain times of year the sea is full of stingers and Jellyfish let alone sharks and Blue Ringed Octopuses so head the warning signs especially between late Nov to April seasonal. Sandals or Thongs (Aussie beach ware) not the arrestable variant should be worn ALL THE TIME when dipping the toes. A final treat is some local walks that take you into the rain forests where the wilderness quickly rears up on you with stunning butterflies the size of ones hand tanning the wings in the afternoon heat. Spiders to are rather large and you’re common and garden one here is not Grey small and manky. Girls beware as the roaches can carry Mini Metros on their shiny backs. Snakes are slivering around although they are more scarred or bored of you than of them and us of. Saying that one dressed like Jonathon Ross fell on the table at the hostel BBQ, boy did we scatter. The climate is tropical all year round with nothing below 70f in the day and warm nights although as you would expect it pees it down a lot so pack the Kaggol and Dr Martens for the hills. One more thing there are backpacker buses that run hp and down the East coast with multiple hostel and hotel door drop off with single and period fares slightly more than the busses think it was about $100 dollars from Brisbane to Cairns…Later mate.
Its one of those drives that start somewhere nice, end somewhere even nicer, and all the middle bits are just great. Cairns is known as a centre for many different activities, but there is no beach to enjoy. Fear not, as most people head north or south to the many great beaches that litter the coastline, and it is in heading north that you hit the coastal road to Port Douglas and some amazing beaches. The road twists and turns northwards, hugging the coastline, and you will find most of the way the beaches and sea to one side and cliffs and mountains immediately on the other. If you can manage to not stop at the stunning beaches along the way, and put your foot down as hard as your driving skills will let you, you end up with your own rollercoaster ride, coral reef to one side and rainforest to the other. To be done in style with an open-topped car, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far just ask a friendly welder in Cairns to remove the top half of your car (the can opening blade on a Swiss Army knife doesn’t work!). A tape of your favourite tunes is essential. As is a strict ‘no other passengers’ policy, unless they too enjoy the same tunes, trust your driving at high speeds and can keep quiet for an hour or two. Once arriving in Port Douglas, have a relaxing hour on the magnificent beach, and then head back again. Think of it as a playstation driving game, to be done again and again, and each time you get faster and cheekier. Just remember there is no room for error, and you can’t reset or start again if you go wrong.
This is one of those holiday resorts in Australia that most people have heard of, but I didn’t really know what to expect. When we stepped off the plane it was hot, even in August, but not too hot. The airport is about a 15 min drive from the town through rather interesting coastal countryside. The town itself is set out in the block pattern with roads running north/south and east/west, which makes it easy to navigate around. The shopping area is spread over a number of blocks with a wide variety of small local shops, big chain stores, the odd mall or two and of course surfing places. There are a lot of surf shops in the area as the Gold Coast has a good reputation for surfing. Eating out in Cairns can be quite cheap as they have a number of eat as much as you want for a fixed price places, fast food chains and in the evening the night market has a cheap food hall. One place a recommend you find is Tim’s Surf’n’Turf this place only accepts cash or cheque, but the quantity and quality of the food you will get will be worth not putting it on Visa. There are a number of places to visit local to Cairns, but I would recommend the Quicksilver barrier reef tour and the Karunda railway and Scenic skyrail tour. The Quicksilver tour is on a smallish catamaran and it includes buffet and snorkel diving with the fishes (take a camera and this will be one experience you won’t forget). They also have scuba kit for hire (take certificates to show you are qualified) and they have 15min helicopter flight highly recommended, but only if you brave as they only fly 200ft off the sea. The Karunda railway winds its way from the valley floor up to the rainforest above Cairns and once you are there you can have a look around before returning via the Scenic skyway. This is a 7 mile cable car trip with two stop-off points in the rainforest the views are incredible. All in all this is a lovely resort with plenty to do, but you do ne
ed a bit of cash to everything.
Located in the far North East of Australia Cairns is a town largely built around its close proximity to some of the best diving in the world. Cairns is also an excellent gateway to some of the most beautiful environment in the world, within easy driving distant to tropical rainforests which takes your breath away. The obvious draw factor is the Great Barrier Reef, which has seen several dive companies pop in offering very good packages to suit the beginner to the experienced. Its diversity, colour and beauty are second to none. Cairns offers excellent facilities for the backpacker, its small size means that everything is in good walking distance, the atmosphere is fun and the hostels are amongst the cheapest on the eastern coast, many come with swimming pools. Drawbacks would be that Cairns itself does not have a beach, but there are beaches nearby, watchout for crocodiles and be ready armed with mosquito spray, but hey a small price to pay………..Enjoy!!!!
Cairns is a regional city and Local Government Area located in Queensland, Australia. Originally settled in 1876, and named after William Wellington Cairns (the then Governor of Queensland) to serve miners heading for the Hodgkinson River goldfield, the settlement declined when an easier route was discovered from Port Douglas. However, Cairns' future was secured as it developed into a railhead and major port for the exportation of sugar cane, gold, precious metals and agricultural industries from the surrounding coastal and Tableland regions. The city is rapidly expanding, with a population of 128,284 (as of June, 2005), and is reliant on the sugar and tourism industries. Cairns 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 kilometres (80 miles) 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.