Cairns Stories and Tips

Chilled out tropics

The Esplanade at Cairns Photo, Cairns, Australia

Cairns is one of the most popular destinations in Australia. Located in the northern part of the Queensland coast, very much in the tropics, it's always hot, usually sunny and abounds in the exotic appeal (palms, sea, sun) without the usual health, crime and culture shock hazards of other tropical locations. Safe tropics for Europeans, then, and for Asians probably the nearest place where they can sample the European culture.

We spent a week in Cairns, staying in a "granny flat", or a self contained cabin in the garden of our kind hosts' house: the grounds around abound in banana plants, vines and other very tropical trees around us, gekkos on the ceiling and similar; the pool is just across the drive.

It's great to be able to stop and rest a bit as we had grown tired of moving every two nights: a week in one place, and without getting into our hosts' way too much is just great. We hired a car for a few days (one has to, occasionally) and also did a few touristy things, which had a net effect of putting us well over budget, but again, some things are touristy for a reason.

Cairns itself is a bit strange, a town that originally grew on a gold and mining boom, but since the discovery of the Reef for the tourism industry it has became a bit of a visitors' Mecca. Despite being very much a tourism centre, Cairns doesn't - not quite - feel like a tourist trap. Yes, a tour agent can be seen every two doors on the main drag and every kind of experience is for sale, but it's all rather unhurried, quite friendly and without much of a hard sell.

The tourists are as much fun to watch as the wildlife (and there are interesting birds, including egrets and pelicans on the mudflats by the promenade), especially the Japanese who engage in strange, loud, group rituals that are hard to comprehend as much because of the language as the cultural barrier. But Cairns is also the starting and finishing point for many backpackers, and there are hordes of beautiful 20-something things of both sexes sauntering up and down the streets, sitting by their "for sale" campers at the Esplanade carpark and looking down at the family vacationers and packaged tourers alike.

Strangely for a popular Queensland coast location, Cairns has no beach (apart form the tiny artificial ones by the town's lido, or The Lagoon on the Esplanade). Instead, it has a muddy inlet, mangrove swamps and lovely semi-circle of curly-haired mountains that surround it.

But the real attractions are not in Cairns but around it: the coast, the reef, the rainforest and the hills: the town is a starting point and a base for many day trips into the surrounding countryside, notably the Atherton Tablelands, Daintree rainforest and of course the Great Barrier Reef. Other destinations include Cooktown and for the more intrepid, the Cape York Peninsula.

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