I call myself a seasoned traveller exploring Australia, its secrets and try to stay away from the popular hotspots, but I’m am finding that I am missing out on so much. Ending up on Queensland’s far north coast it was a random decision to explore the city of Cairns so I headed to the Cairns First City Caravilla park for a few days exploring. From the first contact with Mark @ reception he was a plethora of information on where to discover little gems around town, the best eating spots, walking trails, markets, tours and basically making us feel extremely welcome. The park is set on several stunning acres with huge sites with massive Rain trees throughout the park covered with Orchids and ferns giving plenty of shade no matter what side you camp on and with immaculate ammenities it’s a very beautiful kept park. Wandering around the park were several pairs of Culew’s which Mark says have made the park their home and come back year after year. Caravilla is only a 5 min drive into the heart of Cairns, but even closer there are plenty of eateries, shopping centres and all other services.
Captain Cook sailed passed Cairns back in 1770 as he headed north exploring our eastern coastline but it wasn’t officially discovered for another 100 years years when he named it Trinity Bay, later on in 1876 it was re-named as Cairns. Local aboriginal’s lived and survived in this area for decades before white man landed and our early descendants found it hard work with dense vegetation and the temperature variation each season. It wasn’t long before gold was found in the region and the hoards came to look for their fortune. For a long time Cairns was just a swampy area that was hard to settle into but a small settlement was established to the north named Smithfield, but come the year of 1877 a massive flood destroyed the whole town and it was later this year that settlers saw potential at Cairns. The next 50 years saw Cairns have a mixture of good and bad luck with population growth, new industries and then severe cyclones would knock the town around.
Turn the clock to 1923 and Cairns was officially a city, a new and innovative hydro scheme was built up in the hinterland using the water flow from the Baron River, Cairns had Naval and Air Force bases along with plenty of other infrastructure. Unfortunately over the next 15 years Cairns had 6 cyclones hit the area with different degree of damage, but this is one resilient city where it bounces back time and time again.
From the start Cairns blew me away just how big it is with dozens of outer suburbs and an estimation of around 150,000 people its actually Queensland’s 5th largest city. Taking advantage on the array of brochures that Mark ( from Caravilla ) gave to me, I headed straight to the amazing esplanade along the cities coast line. Cairns council has had great vision where they have applied a stunning wharf like feel for miles along around the bay where both locals and visitors can enjoy eateries, walkways, parks for the kids and even installed a massive ‘beach’ in the parklands complete with pure white sand and stunningly clear water all at various depths so even the little ones can enjoy a paddle. For those that haven’t ventured here it was done due to the mud flats that line the shore line in Cairns and during different seasons there are some nasty creatures in the waters off the coast.
Wandering around the marina with coffee in hand it was obvious that this is the playground for the rich with huge mega dollar pleasure boats, helicopters flying around and off shore marlin boats. The city itself has a mixture of old and new building that blend well, 9 heritage listed buildings such as the Cairns custom house built in 1936, several hotels that are 100 years old, courthouse, churches and even a Steamship building that has been restored to its former glory.
For the tourist it was soon relevant to me that you could do Cairns on a tight budget or explore every crook and nanny of the region. It’s pretty well known that Cairns is extremely close to the Great Barrier Reef which is a huge playground for tourist where you can snorkel, dive, fish, fly over or enjoy a day trip on one of the many boats that frequent the islands offshore daily, if your keen you can even hire a jet ski for a croc spotting tour if your that way inclined. The most popular islands and closet are Green Island and Fitzroy where with a 45 min stint on the cruise boats will have you on an island before you can change into swimmers. But for the land lovers I found that some of the most stunning beaches a good 20 minute drive out of town to the north at Palm Cove where I found the typical coconut trees leaning out of stunning white sands where boutique shops lined the road and the crowds mingled into each other.
Cairns is also famous for its night markets down by the waters edge, amazing fruit and veg markets, the stunning Botanical gardens that were established back in 1886 and now claim an estimated 10,000 different species of plants in the surrounds including a huge area dedicated to the local Aboriginal people who use different plants for medicines and ceremonies.
One of the highlights in the Cairns region is taking a trip on the now world famous Kuranda Railway. Built back in 1890 initially for a rail line linking Cairns port and areas on the tablelands it was a massive feat to undertake from the coast to Kuranda over 34 km. Today it’s a two hour trip to the top where the train passes through 15 hand cut tunnels, some 35 bridges a host of cuttings and passing the amazing Baron Falls, all this while having a stunning view of the coastline around Cairns and some of the most prehistoric rainforest that you’ll ever see. Along the way commentary throughout the train gives you a history lesson along the way with points of interest, amazing facts and even a stop over at Baron Falls for a photo.
When arriving at the end of the line at Kuranda it’s a pleasant hinterland town where the temperature is normally a few degrees cooler. The town is now focused on the general tourist dollar but with several pubs and rainforest walks it is still easy to sit back and relax. Now don’t think that you have to return by train ( you can if your a dedicated train buff ) but part off a package that you can customise is to return by sky-car. This totally mind-blowing experience sees you sitting in a gondola type carriage above the rainforest for a stunning 7 km ride back to the bottom. The ride is nothing short of breath taking where you have different views again of the Baron River, the rain forest canopy, coastal plus island views then right down to sugar cane paddocks across the plains towards Cairns. Along the way you can disembark for extra walks into the forest ( that was inspiration for the movie Avatar ) to 400 year old pines or other viewing platforms towards Baron Falls. Words cannot describe the day that can be had on this world class feature.
Cairns is a mind blowing place where a week is just not enough. There are military museums, Cultural theme parks, tourist drives into the World Heritage Wet Tropic Rainforest, Jungle tours, scenic flights, hiking 4wd, and boating tours into the rainforest. There is something for everyone at Cairns depending on your level of budget or your sense of adventure.