Cairns Travel, Australia

Cairns promenade, Australia

Cairns shorefront, northeast Australia.

Why Cairns travel?

Tropical Queensland is the second most popular destination in Australia and Cairns is the nexus for many activities in this state. Budget options abound and it’s a great, relaxed place to meet other travellers.
Bungeeing, sky diving, white-water rafting and other stomach churning activities are popular, as well as more bizarre Aussie pursuits like cane toad racing.
But Cairns is first and foremost gateway to The Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Tropical Rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands.
The weather ranges from warm to hot ‘n’ sticky and prices are cheaper than Sydney.

Downsides

• lacking in history and soul, it’s new, brash and seems to hold an endlessly series of tourist establishments solely dedicated to lightening your wallet.
• some of the local attractions are of exaggerated interest; the Great Barrier Reef looks a bit tired, off-colour and is 30kms away, Kuranda is very touristy and Atherton looks like much of Europe.

Activities around Cairns

• Scuba, snorkelling, swimming, glass-bottom boats: The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most famous coral and fish viewing places in the world, though in all honesty, it’s nowhere near the best – Egypt’s Red Sea, Belize or even Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s west side are healthier and more colourful.
Plenty of good value scuba courses available, with sleep-aboard boats on the reef for the last couple of days. 4 days is the minimum time needed.

• Boomnetting: sitting in a hammock slung under a sailing boat’s bowsprit so waves wash over you.

• Beaches: If you really need beaches then a short bus ride will get you to white sands and coves of Trinity Beach or head for Port Douglas, but Cairns’ new, free, salt-water lagoon on the foreshore is magnificent, as is the tree-lined esplanade and massive kid’s playground.

• Fishing: everywhere.

• Sea kayaking and snorkelling: splash out at Fitzroy and Dunk Islands.

• White water rafting: on the Tully (serious rapids) and Barron (kid’s stuff) Rivers all year round, with good value tours and grades for all abilities.

• Golf: Several excellent courses, mostly near Port Douglas.

• Hiking: the cool, green Atherton Tablelands or Hinchinbrook Island’s 30km east coast through heathland, beaches, rainforest and mangroves.

• Tours: waterfall and gorge tours, crocodile cruises. e. g. Palmerston National Park.

• Rainforest Excursions: There are 3 day to 3 week tours into Australia’s most accessible ‘jungle’, the Daintree Rainforest, as far as Cape Tribulation, with huge, spacey insects and strange trees guaranteed. Watch where you tread!

• Biking: plenty of good routes, also bike tour operators complete with support vehicles.

• Driving: The Cairns area is loaded with spectacles and experiences and well worth a few days car hire to avoid the ‘Everyone back on the bus now’ loudhailer package traumas.

• Cape York – further north – is a favourite place for full-on 4×4 action.

Port Douglas:
If Cairns is a little downmarket for you, try posh Port Douglas, 80kms (50 miles) north. Good for most of Cairns’ activities – though not prices – Port Douglas also offers several golf courses and sits beside Four Mile beach.

Short Trips out of Cairns

Some tourists are happy just to chill out in Cairns’ superb salt-water lagoon with changing rooms, beach, trees, grass, fountains and all for free! But if you must move. . . Cairns offers over 600 tours every day.

The Great Barrier Reef is 18 million years old. Stretching for 2, 300km this planetary wonder is a must see but don’t expect too much, whether snorkelling, diving or glass bottom boating. You can’t see the size from sea-level, just the faded glory.
Tons of tour operators ensure competitive prices and tailored tours but remember you’re looking at at least an hour each way on potentially bouncy seas.
Serious scuba divers should head north to the Ospreys or south to Ayr and the Yongala wreck.

Kuranda village via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and back via the Scenic Railway, with bird and butterfly reserves and a touch of tourist shopping in between seems to satisfy some less adventurous visitors.

• Atherton Tablelands: this cool, green plateau is a popular for hikes and offers a pretty train trip but it a little too ordinary for the Bugcrew.

• The Captain Cook Highway: to the north, passes by some gorgeous, deserted coastal areas where the Barrier Reef closes in on the beach.

• Daintree Rainforest National Park to Cape Tribulation: the rainforest area is a couple of hours from Cairns and is prettiest at Mossman Gorge, with good marked walking tracks. Croc picture-shoot boat trips are popular from Daintree, but for real jungle experiences you’ll need more than a day trip to go deeper.

• Hinchinbrook Island: the world’s largest island national park is not far south – with great bushwalks through heathland, beaches, rainforest and mangroves.

• Crystal Cascades: a fine forest/waterfall area 15km north of Cairns.

• Aboriginals: there’s a fair introduction to the aboriginal culture at Tjapukai Aboriginal Centre a few klicks north of Cairns.

Rainforest Hazards

Don’t touch anything in the forest!
Not only are there a slither of deadly snakes, aggressive saltwater crocs, nightmare spiders and giant grumpy lizards but the plants can be nasty too.
However, these critters don’t want to cause trouble (except the salties); they will only do so if surprised or touched.
Beware saltwater crocodiles in mangroves and rivers near the sea.
Generally speaking, when in Australia watch where you walk, don’t touch anything and you’ll have a superb experience and live to tell the tale.

Culture

Classical Music: hah! no chance in this food ‘n’ booze, sports town!
Dance: dance, didgeridoo and Aboriginal narratives at Tjapukai.
Live Music & Clubs: Most clubs are backpacker dens, half pub, half high school disco, with roughly equal quantities of noise and vomit. Toad racing, yah!

Shopping

Classy: Pier marketplace, opal and other precious stone stores catering for upmarket tourists.
Note that authentic Aboriginal Crafts are best bought from shops displaying a sign saying ‘aboriginal owned’.
Wacky: quirky hawkers on the esplanade in this commercial town.

Food

From kebabs and pizza stalls to expensive seafood restaurants lining The Esplanade, this is not a gourmet town but does provide varied and good value eating.
There is a particularly low-cost food court called the night market and some excellent Japanese restaurants.

Cairns best seasons

Best: April-September when it’s not so wet or humid.
Worst: October-May rains and jellyfish season; wet season means clouds, rough seas during Great Barrier Reef boat trips, murky snorkelling or diving etc.

Temperatures:
The highest temperature recorded in Cairns was 31C (88F), the lowest 17C (63F), though the highest has reached 40C (104F) in the past. These are not so high, the problem is more the oppressive humidity in the tropics than the temperature.