Balmy…the moment you step off of the plane in Cairns and smell the moist sweet tropical breeze you know you’re in North Queensland.
Sure, you can take a boat trip and scuba dive in the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef. But there are more than enough things in to see and do.
In, Around and Above Cairns
Cairns’ famous Esplanade Lagoon, overlooking the Barrier Reef, is a place where you’ll hear every accent in the United Nations. It’ll tempt your taste buds with all types of food. It’s packed with market stalls, cafes and bars.
Look beyond the modern facades, and you’ll get a sense of the old stone colonial architecture. It’s a reminder that not that many years ago Cairns was an outpost only for the hardcore diver. And even earlier – a Japanese pearl diving town.
South-West of Cairns, on the Tully River, there are rapids for rafting all year. North-West of Cairns’ must-see sights is Kuranda Village which sits on top of a mountain. You can get there by train passing some picturesque sugar cane farms.
The train stops at Barron Gorge for the not-so-feint-hearted to view the 250 metre high Barron Falls.
There’s also fishing in the rivers and all the usual helicopter rides, bungee jumps and balloon rides. They all help you get a great panoramic view from above the unique lines of geography (the reef, the beaches and the rainforest).
A great place to stay when your first arrive is Holloways Beach. It has all the tropical clichés of coconut trees overhanging golden sands. Hidden in the jungle (yes you are still in Cairns) are Balinese style resorts, as well as family run B&Bs.
Cafés and restaurants offer dining right next to the ocean’s edge. Because it’s on the East Coast of Australia, you’ll catch the golden sunrise rather than the sunset. The reflections on the calm Coral Sea are a spectacular site at night.
Trinity Beach is just a little further north. Buildings here are low-rise and the emerald palm trees line the often empty but stunning beach. Clifton Beach, further north, offers more of the same again.
Palm Cove beach is a tranquil spot for dip. All the beaches here have nets to keep away those dreaded stingrays between November and May. The coast is bursting with wildlife including all kinds of rays and jellyfish, friendly and unfriendly (but most not deadly) and is part of the uniqueness as you are reminded that the sea, beach and jungle is their territory and we are just privileged guests.
The Daintree Forest
The world’s oldest rainforest is just a whisper away. Some call the Daintree Forest “the oxygen factory”. The variety of colours of the millions of plants date back to the dawn of time. And of the mosaic of insects, marsupials and reptiles have to be seen to be believed.
Spot a shy tree kangaroo that lives high in the canopy or the green tree frog. The bats and sugar gliders are also pretty spacey. And of course there are some creepy crocodiles peeking their beady black eyes up at you from the water (and probably licking their lips underneath the water).
If you really want to get into the Daintree Forest it’s recommended you hire an indigenous tour operator. They will explain the qualities of the place and put it into its ancient perspective. There are also some magnificent luxury eco resorts to stay in.
Winding Down (or Up)
At this point you’re about half way to Port Douglas and nearing the legendary Ellis beach (which is a half hour north of Cairns). Ellis Beach was and for some is still the ultimate beach.
It’s a vast expanse of pristine sand as far as the eye can see, lined with miles of dotted coconut trees. This world heritage listed beach is surrounded by national park. Most of the accommodation is about keeping that feeling of nature and space.
You might just pause a while here. It may seem that time has totally stood still- and yet you’ve already done and seen so much. Then it may occur to you that with all this interacting with nature and breathing in the tranquillity you haven’t even headed out to the reef yet!