On the second morning of our three-day trip, James and I were scheduled to pick up our rental car at 9am. We decided to go into central Cairns early so we could check out the markets. This is something that all cities in Australia seem to have - weekend markets, where any local artisans can hawk their wares or food. Cairns, being a tourist city, doesn't stop here; every night from 4 to 11pm, the night markets pop up along the Esplanade. Unfortunately, we hadn't made it to these the night before, because we were too tired. Instead, we got a good night's sleep and, bright-eyed, headed for the Esplanade.
After checking out the Lagoon, which looked abandoned and gray under the equally gray sky (it looked much better the next afternoon, as I have described in my "The Esplanade, The Lagoon & The Sunset" entry), we went to see what the markets, under tents near the Lagoon, had to offer. There wasn't a whole lot, but we did talk to an artist who had painted beautiful landscapes of various different places in Australia. When James said he was from the Sunshine Coast, he pulled out a picture of Tewantin, part of Noosa on the Noosa River, and showed it to James, asking if he recognized it. He was a talkative and interesting older man, whom I wish I could have bought something from, but I couldn't afford $25 for a small picture. There was not much else in the markets that interested us, although I assume this was because it was early in the morning, since Cairns is known for having thriving markets containing great finds, if you only look for them.
The next day, I was back in the center of Cairns, once again with the intent of shopping. I would have loved to be relaxing at the Lagoon with James, but my mother had asked me to buy her and my brother a few T-shirts, and I thought Cairns, which seems to have a souvenir shop in every other building, would be my best chance to buy them (especially because I knew exactly what paltry, cheap shirts Brisbane shops had to offer).
I found that Cairns, of course, has its share of cruddy stores that will sell you junk at an exorbitant price. However, it had a surprising number of quality stores that had fun T-shirt designs that I enjoyed sifting through (including one that I didn't buy that had a cane toad staring at headlights of a car, thinking "Oh, s***!"), trying to find the perfect match for my family members. Besides shirts, there were plenty of books, postcards (of which I picked up quite a few), stuffed toys, lots and lots of opals (many shops were dedicated solely to these precious stones), the typical goofy Australian gifts (essentially, anything with kangaroos or koalas), Aboriginal artwork, and all manner of beach and scuba gear.
I did manage to find shirts for both my mom and brother that they love wearing, after an hour or so of scouring every shop along Lake St, the Esplanade, and all the connecting streets in between. Unfortunately, they were very expensive - upwards of $30 for a T-shirt - but they were no more marked up than anything else. The cheapest beach towel I saw was $30!
If you are looking for souvenirs, Cairns is definitely a great place to start looking. I truly was surprised by the overall quality of what I found, especially compared to the shirts I've found in Brisbane, which start looking threadbare after a couple washes. But if you do want to buy anything, be prepared to part with quite a bit of money to do so!