Cairns Travel, Australia

Cairns salt-water lagoon-pool, Australia

Cairns beautiful, free – and most importantly safe from deadly critters – seaside lagoon.

Cairns, Australia’s #2 tourist destination after Sydney

Tropical Cairns is hub for a hundred activities on the Great Barrier Reef and up at Kuranda and Daintree, as well as being the start of the great Australian waltz 2, 400 kms (1, 500 miles) down the east coast back to Sydney.

One little problem with Cairns though, is that it doesn’t do beaches, mainly because there aren’t any attractive stretches of sand in the vicinity and if there were you wouldn’t want to go into the waters due to the array of unpleasant and occasionally deadly creatures therein, ranging from highly toxic box jellies through Tiger sharks and on to Salt Water Crocs.
This problem with the seaside is neatly solved in Cairns and other coastal towns by council-provided salt-water lagoons, free to enter and neatly landscaped with shade trees and sandy beaches, small but perfectly formed.

Comment from Steve Hambleton:

You couldn’t be any more wrong! I’ll admit that the city centre doesn’t have a nice beach but there are world class beaches about 20km to the north like Trinity Beach and Palm Cove.

Also, you make out that the seas are as dangerous as the Jurassic! Stingers come out during the wet season but otherwise, it’s a safe place to hang out. Probably less dangerous than Sydney, Perth or Adelaide!

Cairns lagoon beach, Australia

Another angle on Cairns’ lagoon and seafront. Topless sunbathing is permitted. The beach is artificial and the sea is the dark grey slice in the background.

Previously a backpacker town, Cairns buzzes with urban energy and now embraces upmarket visitors as well and seems particularly attached to its Japanese clientele, with Japanese signs, language spoken and flights direct from Japan though recently Chinese tourists are becoming more dominant with direct flights from various Chinese cities such as Shanghai.

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.

Cairns city centre, Australia

Cairns’ city centre. Photo by Bahnfrend.

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.

Things to do in and around Cairns

Cairns Port Esplanade, Australia

Cairns Port Esplanade and port.

• 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.

Cairns promenade, Australia

Cairns shorefront, northeast Australia.

In addition to Cairns’ successful waterfront makeover recently the town offers an attractive tree-lined esplanade and extensive shady kid’s playground beside the muddy shore, just try not to stagger onto the adjacent mud after too many beers at the hilarious toad races.

Cairns is loaded with accommodation of all types but the core of the town is clearly the lagoon so try to get a place within a couple of blocks of it unless you don’t mind hanging out in your hotel’s pool and eating in their restaurant.

Short Trips out of Cairns

Cairns’ original raison d’etre was The Great Barrier Reef and various agencies still transport thousands out the the reef every day on all sorts of craft ranging from vast tourist-packed catamarans to neat little sailing yachts. However, whilst the reef – at about 2, 300kms long – is the largest on the planet, a World Heritage site and the only living thing visible from space, the view from sea level or below is less impressive.

Rainforest Boardwalk, Cairns, Botanic, Gardens, Australia

Rainforest Boardwalk, Cairns Botanic Gardens. Photo by brewbooks.

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.

Cairns rainforest cableway, Daintree, Australia

Cairns rainforest cableway, Daintree. Photo by Louise Marshall.

The Daintree Rainforest, where tropical rainforest meets coral reef in north Queensland is pretty tame on a day trip, but go a bit deeper over several days with a good guide and you will find flora and fauna that may surprise you.
Most mammals are nocturnal (possums, tree kangaroos) but there are plenty of colourful birds, parrots, kingfishers, cassowaries, as well as ornamented lizards, frilled dragons, frogs, snakes and butterflies that slither or flutter through the dense forest of rose gums, palms, ferns, and strangler figs.

• 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.

Kuranda scenic railway scrum, Australia

Kuranda scrum.

A trip that may be less colourful than expectated is the Kuranda  Skyrail event, a day starting with the throughly sanitised but worthy aboriginal theme park – the Tjapukai Cultural Park, then a 7. 5km Skyrail ride over the rainforest to totally tourist overloaded Kuranda – though if you can manage to stay overnight the town changes for the better after the last train leaves.
Kuranda offers rainforest walks, markets, and various wildlife sanctuaries, aka zoos. The return to Cairns may be on the Scenic Railway – again, pictures of those follow.

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

The best time to be in Cairns is May-June or September-October, when rainfall is least, humidity is a little less oppressive and average daytime temperatures tend to be quite hot (around 28C/82F) as opposed to withering (31C+/88F+).
May-November has least clouds and rain but July-August is winter down south and school holidays so expect prices to be high, accommodation scarce and activities full. Heaviest rainfall – and this is a tropical city so we mean HEAVY – buckets down January- March. That being said, rain tends to arrive all at once so it’s both spectacular and short-lived.