A November 2001 trip
to Queensland by billmoy
Quote: Cairns in itself is not a great destination city for tourists. However, its central location allows Cairns to serve as an excellent homebase for a variety of activities in Tropical North Queensland within driving or sailing distance.
Cairns has built itself up as a commercial city for tourism, as there is a convention center, casino, and a wide range of slick shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and hostels. The city is planning more development along the beachfront, but hopefully the new construction will not ruin the ecosystem. If you look close enough, you will spot a variety of animals along the central beach shore, including microscopic fiddler crabs, various birds, and perhaps a pelican.
Please also take a look at my Australia sections on SYDNEY, MELBOURNE, CANBERRA and PHILLIP ISLAND.
Look out for the large statue of Captain Cook along the highway bearing his name. Depending on how twisted your sense of humor is, the stiff likeness of the great British explorer is either welcoming you or giving you a Nazi salute! If you are commuting between Cairns and the airport, you will not miss this statue of the captain.
The distances between Cairns and other major Australian cities (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, etc.) are considerable, so it is usually best to fly in and out of Cairns. There is service on long-distance buses and trains, but the rides are very long (about two days from Sydney to Cairns, for instance).
Thanks to my travel buddy Richard Newell for his colorful images of Cairns and Queensland from our trip in 2001.
Hotel | "Oasis Resort"
The typical room has a tropical look, with colorful fabrics, rattan chairs, and comfy beds with whimsically carved headboards depicting stars, crescents and waves. The reasonably spacious standard room has TV, writing table, in-room safe, minibar, and coffee maker. Each room has an outdoor balcony overlooking the pool or the lush mountains nearby, and the air conditioning is very cold!
The staff members at the Oasis Resort were friendly and very helpful with our questions. The main lobby area features a gift shop and a tour desk, where someone can help you arrange one of the many excursions in and around Cairns. There is a workout room, restaurant and bar on-site. The free parking garage is underground on the lower level, which also contains a self-wash laundry room.
The Oasis Resort is not the most luxurious hotel, but it is a very comfortable place to stay and is not a bad value for the rate.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 17, 2002
Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort
122 Lake Street
Cairns, Australia 4870
Restaurant | "Barnacle Bill's Seafood Inn"
The dining room has a fun casual look, with a bar near the back. Diners can select from a wide range of fresh seafood (and one or two non-seafood) dishes. This is a good place for couples, families, groups, and even a celebrity or two, as my friend spotted one of the young stars of "American Pie 2" dining here.
My friend splurged and ordered the crayfish entree, and he found it to be delectable and well worth the rather expensive tab. Not being a seafood connoisseur, I ordered the grilled kangaroo on a skewer, served with rich mushroom gravy and white rice. The kangaroo meat had good flavor, but was a bit chewy. The waiter then presented a huge mockup showing each colorful dessert in three-dimensional splendor. We both ordered "pavlova" for dessert, one of the posher Australian desserts found on the menu. Supposedly named after a ballerina, the fancy and pleasingly sweet slice of pavlova was very light due to its thick layer of meringue.
I have a feeling that your rating of Barnacle Bill's would be higher if you like fresh seafood. Still, if you have to pick a nice "touristy" restaurant, this is a good one to choose.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 17, 2002
Restaurant | "Yanni's Greek Taverna"
This award-winning Greek restaurant opened at a quiet intersection in the middle of Cairns in 1993, and has been serving tasty food prepared from old-world recipes passed down from several generations of the same family. The decor of the dining room looks like an authentic, typical restaurant found in Greece. A large fish tank welcomes you upon entering the romantically lit restaurant. There is blue trim around the windows and the cozy candlelit tables have wooden chairs. It is a charming and welcoming look, not kitschy.
My friend and I shared an appetizer sampler plate, with three different spreads (including hummus) served with fresh crusty bread. The house entree specialty is char-grilled octopus. I enjoyed the tender grilled lamb with onions and pita on the side. The serving of baklava was the most ornate I have ever seen, as it is constructed with sweet delicate curls of phyllo dough.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, there are belly dancers to entertain the diners at Yanni's. Otherwise, have a beer or wine and enjoy the tasty Greek food.
Adelfia's Greek Taverna
16 Aplin St
Cairns City, Australia
There are a few cafe tables on the sidewalk in front of the bakery. Besides the wide range of meat pies, there is a counter stocked with tempting desserts, cookies and cakes and so forth. Cold beverages are also available for purchase here to wash down your inexpensive meat pies.
The Night Markets (open from 430PM to 11PM) are located along The Esplanade, the main drag along the shoreline. There is also a "back" entrance from Abbott Street. This slightly sanitized and commercialized covered market, which has the air of a pleasant and informal shopping arcade, is the surrogate for the old open-air markets. It is fun to wander about the stalls to check out the wide range of t-shirts, handcrafted goods, jewelry, musical instruments, and other colorful trinkets.
The International Food Court at the Night Markets does a good job in living up to its name. There is a variety of vendors hawking Chinese, Japanese, American, and of course "exotic" Australian food. We ate at one of the Chinese outlets, which served a reasonable buffet with a price based on the plate size that you choose. There are three plate sizes, and you can scoop up as much food as you can balance onto the styrofoam plate. The Cantonese-style selections include egg rolls, sweet and sour meats, barbeque pork, white and fried rice, noodles, veggies, and fresh fruit. I "upsold" my friend by telling him that for about 50 cents extra he could choose a larger plate and, therefore, eat more food. He bit on that line. Beer banners liven up the seating area, which is interesting considering the fact that there is a small family section reserved for non-drinkers!
The Cairns Central Shopping Centre is a large formal shopping mall in the middle of Cairns, several blocks away from the shore. McLeod, Aplin, Spence and Bunda Streets border Cairns Central. There are several anchor stores and about 180 specialty shops to complement them. Coles is an Australian chain of grocery stores with a large outlet here. Coles is a great place to stock up on food essentials if you are self-catering, and you can browse happily through the aisles to buy locally produced goodies. There is also a movie theater with six screens, and there is a connection to the railway station that leads to Kuranda village.
The International Food Court at Cairns Central is not as exciting as the one at the Night Markets. While the seating area at the Night Markets has the jovial feel of a beer hall, the spacious seating at Cairns Central is located about an atrium that feels like a bland shopping center. You can get a variety of food, but the selections seem tamer here. My friend had a steak sandwich with a heap of toppings, while I had a curry meat pie that was decent but nothing memorable. Other food stalls served burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, ice cream, etc.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 18, 2002
International Food Courts
The drive up the coast from Cairns and Port Douglas is scenic enough. If you visit Mossman Gorge, you will wind up on some lonely and secluded roads. Parts of the roads are very narrow, with one-vehicle widths at some points. There is a parking lot with very basic lavatories nearby. A couple of well-marked walking paths lead from the parking lot, through the lush and moody rainforest, to the rugged natural beauty of Mossman Gorge. The grounds are fine areas for bushwalking or family picnicking.
While walking along one of the paths, you will hear the rush of unseen waters beyond the trees. You will eventually discover a stream of fresh river water cascading down a bed of alternately smooth and craggy rocks. We walked across a wavering footbridge constructed from mesh wire, rope and wood boards for some excellent vistas up and down the valley of the Mossman River. I am sure the bridge is structurally sound, but it created the feeling of some walkway at an amusement park. If you are careful, you can climb on and around the rocks below for a cool swim in the natural waters.
There are several strange turkey-like creatures roaming around the park grounds. As we were walking back towards the parking lot to leave the park, one of the "turkey lurkeys" was trotting towards us from the other end of the footpath. Heck, it was charging at us! It was a funny and mildly intimidating sight to see this red-necked mini-beast running straight at us! The "turkey lurkey" eventually swerved off the footpath at the last second to duck into the bushes, much to our relief.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 18, 2002
20 Minutes North Of Port Douglas
Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia
Great Adventures has its own wharf along the harbor, very close to the main wharf in central Cairns. My friend and I wanted to choose a clear day to take an all-day tour, so we did not buy our tickets until the morning of the tour at the ticket booth at the wharf. You can always purchase tickets ahead of time with the company direct or with any reputable travel agency or tour company in town. The nine-hour tour of Green Island and Norman Reef is a splurge at about 90 US dollars, but it is worth it for a memorable experience within a given amount of time.
The catamaran has plenty of air-conditioned interior seating and some outdoor sundecks. Reflecting the great number of Japanese visitors, the on-board safety and promotional videos are presented in English and Japanese. The personable staff is very helpful while passing out goodies or dispensing tour and safety information. Throughout the journey, you can get snacks like tea and cookies, bite-size cake squares, and cheese and crackers. There is a small gift booth on board, selling t-shirts, postcards, and videos.
The first stop is at Green Island, a lovely 6000-year-old coral cay located about halfway between central Cairns and the outer reef. The small but popular island, which receives an eye-popping 200,000 annual visitors, is a national park along with its surrounding reef. On our tour, there is only a brief two-hour stop here. Great Adventures and other companies also sell longer tours for day trippers who want to spend more time here, or one can stay overnight here at the Green Island Resort. If you are here for the brief stopover, you have time to take a swim in the sea, frolic on the white coral sand beach, hang around the grounds of the resort, or take a hike around the island. The Green Island Resort bills itself as being "environmentally sensitive", with an outdoor pool, shops, bars and snack stands. If you take a hike around, you will see wildlife like birds, butterflies, geckos, and even strangler figs. You will see colorful fish and corals in the shallow blue waters surrounding Green Island. On the island there is an old Underground Observatory, some institution called Marineland Melanesia (sounds like a disease!) that is fun for kids, and even a helipad.
(read continuation in "Great Adventures Norman Reef" section below)
Great Adventures Green Island
Great Adventures Wharf
Attraction | "Port Douglas"
Port Douglas, about 60 kilometers north of Cairns, has a permanent population of only about 3000. Coconut and palm trees surround Four Mile Beach, near Trinity Bay. My sharpest memory of the beach comes from the little sand crabs burrowed deep into the sand. These critters form tunnels by digging up little balls of sand. The tiny sand balls create beautiful monochromatic patterns on the beach, with a style not far off from dotted Aboriginal artworks. The sand crabs are like natural Seurats with their unusual version of sand pointillism.
The town of Port Douglas has a sleepy, small-town quality to it with a modern spin. There are plenty of t-shirt shops, grocery stores, coffee houses, internet cafes, ice cream parlors, etc. There is supposedly an unwritten ordinance limiting the heights of buildings to that of the typical coconut tree, so this should limit uncontrolled growth in town.
Town of Port Douglas
70 Km North Of Cairns
After departing Green Island, the smooth Great Adventures catamaran ventures to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, an amazing World Heritage Site hosting about 400 types of coral and 1500 species of fish. The anticipation is great for scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts, but landlubbers will also have wonderful experiences as well. You can rent underwater equipment on board, and there are changing facilities as well.
The tour stops at Norman Reef, which is all below the surface of the water. Great Adventures has its own pontoon stationed here for guests as a base. The three-level pontoon is the setting for the all-you-can-eat buffet, which is included in your tour package. The buffet is available for a good amount of time, so divers may want to hit the water first before eating lunch. The buffet was rather extensive, with staff servers manning the warm food selections. You can help yourself to salads, shrimp, sandwich meats with rolls, and fresh fruit. This buffet is not bad, and did I say all-you-can-eat already? The pontoon has a sundeck along with shaded areas, or you can retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of the catamaran, which remains docked at the pontoon during the tour.
If you are not doing any scuba diving or snorkeling, you can still enjoy the underwater splendors by taking a trip on the semi-submersible (I rode it twice!). You descend into this small dark contraption, and the people sit in pairs on metal planks. There are windows on each side of the semi-submersible, your windows to the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. You can spot tons of coral, schools of fish swimming alongside the semi-submersible, and perhaps a turtle or two. You will definitely see more and have a better time in a semi-submersible than if you were riding on a glass-bottom boat. From the pontoon you can also wander into the Underwater Observatory, which is the equivalent of a stationary semi-submersible. You can see divers in action from this vantage point.
Upon departing the Norman Reef pontoon, you are liable to be dead tired from your sun and sea activities. Just sit back and relax, as the catamaran will make a pickup/dropoff at Green Island before returning to the Great Adventures wharf in Cairns. Check out the planes as they land, with the beautiful green hills in the background.
Great Adventures Norman Reef
Great Adventures Wharf
Attraction | "Kuranda (Skyrail Rainforest Cableway)"
The award-winning Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (open daily from 8AM to 5PM), which opened in 1995, begins at the Caravonica Terminal near Smithfield, a town about 9 miles northwest of Cairns. You can buy your ticket ahead of time, but we had no problem in purchasing at the terminal. Along the 4.7-mile route of the cableway, there are 36 towers supporting the 114 gondola cabins that glide continuously throughout the day. These towers were placed with the utilization of helicopters to minimize the disturbance of the rainforest. Each pod-like gondola can seat six persons, has glass windows that slide open slightly, and is well maintained for a smooth ride over the treetops.
Red Peak Station is the highest point on the cableway at 1788 feet. The boardwalk here is located along the forest floor in the middle of the thick rainforest. Rangers can give brief guided tours at this first intermediate stop, or you can enjoy the lush scenery and informative signs at your own pace.
Next up is the Barron Falls Station, which has nice lookouts of the picturesque Barron River, Gorge and Falls. There is a Rainforest Interpretative Centre, with colorful and educational displays and computers that are popular with the kids.
After the Skyrail crosses over the Barron River, you land at the Kuranda Terminal. The Kuranda Railway Station is not far from this last Skyrail terminal. There is a free shuttle between the Kuranda Terminal and the village, but the distance covered is so short that walking is an easier option. Once you are in the village of Kuranda, there are a multitude of excursions. This list includes a bird aviary, butterfly sanctuary, and rainforest nature park. The various markets sell all sorts of local handcrafted goods. There are even bizarre souvenirs like coin pouches made from kangaroo scrotum or cane toad carcasses (I am not kidding!). Shops selling slightly simpler souvenirs are connected to the top (Kuranda) and bottom (Caravonica) terminals of Skyrail.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway