Cairns and surrounds

For years, Cairns has been a Mecca for those seeking the tropical pleasures of Australia. Set on the ocean, with good access to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, this large city has the capacity to lodge many visitors.

On our recent visit, we travelled via Kuranda, which is a scenic but winding way to go, and headed to the foreshore.

Stopping in at Muddy’s café, they provided coffee and vegan brownie slice before we walked the entire foreshore and saw the lagoon, various playgrounds (some with water parks) and the birdlife on the mudflats.

Many people don’t realise that Cairns is a mudflat and when the tide goes out it is less attractive. Beware of crocodiles along the foreshore and look for boats heading out to the reef along the channel.

Cairns Botanic Gardens was next on the list and it’s incredible, with tiered walks and historical information. We had a map, but spent so long trying to photograph butterflies in the conservatory, that the day proceeded quicker than we did and we only saw about a third of the Gardens.

On leaving, we saw a very unusual tree, with a heavily spiked trunk and blossoms like a cotton field. It explained the tufts of white gossamer that lined the path on our entry to the park and the culprit is Malvaceae, or the silk floss tree, of South America.

I’ve since learnt that the Gardens are divided into three sections, so look into that before you go so that you can prioritise what you see. We headed out early for Kuranda and stopped first at Lake Placid Recreation Reserve.

A popular, picturesque destination, with BBQs, toilets and a playground, we were surprised to see several ‘beware of the crocodiles’ signs, given that many people hold weddings here. My imagination runs away with me.

It was a short drive from here to Kuranda and we stopped at the Barron Falls Railway Station and lookout, having taken the train from Cairns to Kuranda some years ago. The view is pretty impressive and optimised in the wet season, but we don’t usually go then, as it curtails many activities and is very humid. We arrived when the train was in the station, so in time to see it snake away through the forest.

Barron Falls

The train is a wonderful experience, as it is an old train that enables you to have the doors open as you travel, and passes through stunning scenery. Many people return via the chairlift, but there’s also the community bus.

Kuranda scenic railway

The Barron Gorge scenic drive was very pretty and most people, unlike us, were walking or jogging it. At the end is the Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, complete with bridge. As with the Falls, at the end of Winter there was merely a trickle, but the bridge is quite high and beware, as it is windy and not for the faint hearted.

Wrights Lookout afforded sweeping views of the valley before we headed for the town.

Our plan was to go to Kuranda, fondly remembered as a place where the train dropped us off and we drifted among craft stores and local goods. Like many places, 20 years does a lot of damage and we found a quiet commercial centre selling goods from India and Bali, with a few very special shops selling local artwork. The ArtCo-op had glass beadwork, pottery and silk, along with painting and other craft. It was really good and the prices are as you’d expect, with a few bargains amongst the treasure. There are Indigenous goods for sale, but not all are from the area, as commercial products are sold through a kind of co-op, which is Australi-wide, so if you want local goods, just ask.

There are coffee shops (buy local), a supermarket and plenty of eateries, although with Covid so recent the busy multicultural vibe was missing.

Cairns is the best place from which to board a boat and travel to the Great Barrier Reef, but you can see our last trip there, here.

Cairns won’t disappoint. Take hats, sunscreen and water.

CAIRNS and PORT DOUGLAS

The lure of the tropics – palm trees, waterfalls, rainforest, rapids… we all have our daydreams. Cairns, in the north of Queensland, Australia, can fulfill them all and more.

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The colours will delight you, both above and under the water, for you cannot go to Cairns without doing a tour to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 wonders of the natural world. Rapidly deteriorating, you had better make tracks if you want to see it at all. We have noticed a decline in the state of rainforests, too, as global warming reduces the rainfall to the area. So get to the Daintree Rainforest on the next day.

 

There are activities for young families and older ones and, depending on the time of the year, plenty of beach or pool space. Tours to the Great Barrier Reef leave from Cairns or Port Douglas and accommodation is plentiful in both. When the children were younger, Cairns was a good spot to stay, as the Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort (part of the BIG4 group) was outstanding. It had transport, bouncing pillows, putt-putt golf, tennis, evening cinema, aqua aerobics, and the list goes on. It is a holiday in itself!

My preference, now, is to stay in Port Douglas, hiring a car if we fly in. The town is quaint and small, with most things accessible by walking about 30 minutes or less. Caravan parks, motels and hotels are plentiful and the scenery picturesque. The local beaches are good in the right season, but check where the rivers are, as crocs are prolific.

The Barrier Reef tours vary in length so do some research to see what you want. Most take a while to get out to the reef, so if you suffer sea sickness, take tablets or if it’s calm, sit out on the deck. You can enter the water using snorkelling gear, as a diver or in a glass-bottom boat and viewing ‘submarines’ often do a quick tour, enabling you to take dry photos and see the waterlife without swimming. There is entertainment, food and wetsuits and gear provided. The only thing you have to work on is not opening your mouth in a wide ‘Oh’ as the fish dart up to you, multi-coloured and -specied. At the time we went, Wally the Wrass was the favourite frequent visitor. A wrass is an extremely large black fish with over-wide lips, that doesn’t eat people. My photos do not do justice to what you will see and experience.

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I would recommend white water rafting for the ‘over 10’,  as it is exhilarating, reasonably priced and gives amazing views. I don’t have any photos, given the nature of the activity and my amateur status, but google the Tully River adventures. Quad bike trails are for anyone and can take you through some nice landscapes.

There is bungee jumping near the Daintree, but I prefer to do the walks through this world heritage site. You have to pass Mossman Gorge and there are beautiful, accessible walks and tracks, here. Both sites have excellent information facilities and at Daintree we opted for the audio tour. Incredibly lush scenery. You will find all sorts of odd seedpods, insects, fungi and wildlife. You can even test the waters in the Mossman River.

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recycled enviro material

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mossman was colder than I expected

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Mossman Gorge has good walkways, suitable for wheelchairs and they use recycled material that will not have an adverse effect on the environment. It is non-slip as well, which is important in the tropics. The Daintree visitor centre is managed by the Aboriginal people of the area and they will let you know what areas are restricted so that the local people are respected.

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visiting daintree

A visit to Kuranda by train and maybe the chair lift is very nice for some village charm and a taste of history. The train is an old steamer and passes through great areas, stopping to view a waterfall at Barron Gorge (I think). Relaxing and well-priced, it is a good way to see some of the thousands of species of flora.

There is plenty of colour to be had in the region and its plants.

 

We travelled there in 2005 and 2012 and it is time to go again! There are lovely stops by the water, such as Ellis Beach Bar and Grill, but do be careful, as crocodiles have been seen.

Safe travels. Take a hat and water and your swimming gear.