Before I get into the wondrous locations we visited, I'd like to warn future Cairns tourists about the Hostel accommodations. Some of this I've written about in my review of the specific hostel we stayed at, but I've elaborated on it here in case you're reading this as an isolated story.
Cairns is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Australia. It is the top spot to go out to Daintree and the Barrier Reef from and is saturated with hostels, bars, restaurants, casinos and naughty clubs. You can’t really swim in the ocean along the coast because of the box stingers and saltwater crocodiles, but most of the people here are much more interested in drinking wine out of a box anyway. Unfortunately for the tourists that have the willingness to actually see the country, these people seem to think screaming and singing at the top of their lungs is the appropriate thing to do at 3am. We did not sleep most nights because of this, and on one occasion it got so bad people were checking out the next morning and transferring to a new hostel (it was our last day there thank god.)
We also had the unfortunate pleasure to have to be in this type of company on the night of the world cup final. Since this is Australia and you had to wake up at 4am to watch it, our choices were limited. Sitting on the floor, trying to enjoy this global event, we were treated to an earful full of "what a spastic, I could have gotten that in, why can’t this idiot score, screw the ref, I’m going to beat the f--- out of him!" By the way, he was calling David Villa a spastic…who is one of the top scorers. So be prepared for such people if you’re hosteling in Cairns.
Cairns does have a lovely esplanade that we took several walks on and live music during the day. At night we visited one of the larger casinos, which of course was fun, but unimpressive. Pretty plain and uninspiring inside and outside. Other optional nightly activities can include strip clubs and coyote ugly style bar dancers. Can't give much feedback on these as we attempted to retire quite early night to be well rested for trips to Daintree and the Reef!
You can literally feel the life all around you in Daintree forest. It is an enormous jungle that is over 130 million years old. Its landscapes vary from mangroves full of crocs, thick forest containing an unimaginable amount of wildlife, rivers full of turtles and sandy beaches. We had an amazing walk and drive through this ancient jungle, even spotting a Cassowary with two babies!
These birds are a bit smaller than an Emu but much more aggressive. They are very territorial and have known to kill people by pushing them to the ground, then breaking open their ribcage with their huge claws. Unlike most species of animal, it is the male Cassowaries that warm and protect the eggs and chicks (for up to 9 months after hatching), while the female goes off giving life to more eggs to several males at once.
We were also treated to a river tour with a mangrove expert. Mangroves are long rooted trees that withstand growing on saltwater banks. They create spectacularly dense bush, weaving their several foot long roots down into the water. The banks are literally covered with big blue crabs, mud hoppers, varieties of birds and of course, crocodiles. Our small boat drifted past these dinosaurs, who gave us no indication of movement. Eventually we were treated to one swimming past us while two little swallows fluttered around our boat in joy.
We also stopped at a freshwater river that ran in very close proximity to the saltwater croc infested waters we had just visited…but after extreme reinforcement, we believed our guide that there were no crocs there and went for a cold dip with our snorkels. So many turtles! Although we’ve seen most of these animals in Zoo’s, I’m sure you can understand the difference of experience when seeing them in their own habitats! It was absolutely thrilling swimming with wild turtles in their own home, near wild crocs and cassowaries.
Part of our positive experience was due to the quality tour guide we had. He was very informative and took us around several unique places with enough time to explore each one. He also taught us to pick up green ants by the head and lick their bums for a surge or lemon flavor.
I suggest dishing out a little extra for a good tour. There are several cheapo tours that will consist of abrupt short stops to take pictures and not much more. If you want specific into on the tours, ask a government paid info center because they will tell you the truth as opposed to trying to sell anything for commission.
On our last day we took a trip out to the Barrier Reef. It was like a candy-covered garden of luscious and secret life. We spent hours swimming around, picking up giant sea cucumbers and trying to dive deeper and deeper. There was every color of coral imaginable, from general reds and pinks to ultraviolet blues. They had a resident Parrot fish that loved attention. It was a fantastic creature that enjoyed nothing more than getting stroked and rubbed by all the tourists, swimming up onto the platform where people stood in shallow water. My favorite activity became waiting till it swam off deeper away from the crowd, diving in after it and giving it a big hug. It’s blue skin felt so silky and moorish.
Overall, Cairns is definitely the places to visit due to the variety of activities you can do from here.