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Cairns trip report

  • Submitted by: Paul Bakker
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005

I just got back from a week in Cairns (July '91), and here's a report on what it was like and all the things to do there. Unfortunately a week wasn't long enough to do everything personally, but I did speak to some other tourists up there and gawked at lots of brochures. Summary: Cairns is a great place for an active holiday. Stay for more than a week to do it justice!


It is possible to get very cheap accommodation in Cairns. Backpacker's hostels abound. We opted for a budget resort that had private rooms with a TV, a fridge, and private facilities. And it only cost us $20 a night each. The 'G'day Tropical Village' and the 'Cairns Holiday Lodge' both provide this type of accommodation. (Be warned that it is a few kilometres out of town.)


Cairns is still a laid back country town, with just a few glitzy resorts. The people are genuinely friendly and helpful. And the weather was great...but I'm not sure if I'd like to be there in the summer. It can get quite humid, from the look of the houses. Everything that doesn't move was covered by a thin layer of mold.


Trips out to the Great Barrier Reef Probably THE main attraction of Cairns... it is (reasonably) close to the GBR. There are heaps of operators offering day trips to Green Island, Live-Aboard Scuba Diving Trips for 2 to 10 days, and fast cats to coral cays and pontoons. Green Island and Fitzroy Island are nearby (and attract most of the tourists), but it is said that the Outer Barrier Reef is more spectacular.

We took a slow tug to Green Island for $20 return. It took 1h:40 mins to get there, unbearably long for a boat hater like myself. There are lots of safe and easy snorkel opportunities on Green, and the Japanese are out in full force. There is also a little Marine Park with some giant crocodiles....who are kept in cages so small they can hardly turn around. I would recommend boycotting this disgusting little zoo. Unfortunately we were at Green on a bad day - the tide was abnormally low, which made most of the coral jut out above the waterline, and it stirred up the water as well. Some beautiful fish were in evidence though.
I would recommend booking early to get to Green, and taking a fast boat (like the Quicksilver). Snorkel gear can be hired on the island for $8. Take food and drink if you want to save money.

We also took the "Ocean Spirit" (a large sailing catamaran) out to Michaelmas Cay for the day. It cost $95 each, which included "5-star treatment" (it wasn't bad), lots of free coffee/tea and nibblies, a video on the way out, free snorkel gear (wetsuits: $10 extra), a big smorgasbord lunch with excellent food, and live entertainment on the way back. On the cay you could also go on free guided snorkelling tours and/or a semi-submersible ride. I took a scuba dive for an extra $35.
My only beef with this operation was that we spent 4 hours getting to and from Cairns, but I only spent about 1.5 hours in the water! The scuba dive took a long time to get organised, and they hussled us all back on the boat by 2:30 pm, just 1 hour after lunch. I would recommend taking a faster, cheaper boat (one can get you to M. Cay for $35!) and skip the extras like lunch so you get more time in the water.

Oh, by the way, the diving was fantastic... but it's the GBR, so that goes without saying(!) We spent 45 mins scubing around the 'Coral Gardens', and we spotted 3 white-tipped reef sharks. A few weeks after the trip I compared notes with someone else who went diving. They took a cheap boat ('Noah's Ark', $35) out to Michaelmas Cay and beyond. The boat was slow, and the food wasn't great, but it was cheap. They had the option of going scuba diving (another $35) and purchasing a video of their dive (another $35). I saw this video, and it was very good; they dived in a spot where (small) sharks are fed, and the images of them sitting on the bottom as hungry sharks buzzed around were unforgettable. On the way back they were allowed to do some boomnetting (ie being dragged along by the boat in an open net).

Drive up the coast to Port Douglas and Mossman
We hired a car ($45) and drove north along the coastal road to Port Douglas. There are some very pretty beaches along the way, of the classic swaying-palm-trees-and-white-sand type. Palm Cove was one of the better ones. Take your camera. Port Douglas itself wasn't much chop, so we headed inland to Mossman Gorge. This has a very cold & clear creek that flows through large boulders. Very nice and cool, there in the rainforest. (Update: swimming has been banned in the Gorge as of 1993. Too many tourists have drowned there).

Lookin' for wildlife
One of my biggest buzzes is spotting rare animals in the wild. "Wait-a-while" Tours offers a trip up into the Atherton Tablelands to do just this. You travel in a group of six in a 4wd van ($89, including two coffee breaks, dinner, and a candlelight supper in the rainforest). We were picked up at our hotel at 2 pm. On the drive up the guide gave us all kinds of trivia about the area. We first went looking for the Musky Rat Kangaroo, which we eventually found. It is one of the few marsupials that comes out during the day. Then we went to a bridge at dusk, and searched for the elusive platypus. Fewer than 5% of Australians have seen one of these... and we managed to see 4! They are extremely shy. After dinner (ok) the guide handed out some powerful spotlights and we drove high up into the rainforest. We walked around trying to spot rare possums, finding them by the glint of their eyes under the spotlight. A thick fog closed in while we were there...it was quite an experience! We found 5 of the 10 species that live in that area. Also spotted a very large tree kangaroo, the odd bat, and some bright green glow worms. The guide also pointed out the "Poison Tree" plant, which is so venomous it can kill a human. [Ed: another very reliable source informs me that this is not true. The "poison tree" can cause pain, but it would be nearly impossible to die from exposure to this plant.] We arrived back in Cairns at 1 am. Highly recommended.

Eating Exotic Things
I know of at least two places in Cairns that sell Crocodile and Buffalo meals: Cookaburras, and Dundee's. We went to the latter. The crocodile was very expensive, and not all that exciting to eat. It tasted like a tough, dry, nutty-flavoured chicken. The buffalo was very tender, tangy and juicy. Yum! Also had some Barramundi, a popular fish in the north.

Take the train to Kuranda
Everyone who visits Cairns does this. You can take a guided tour up there, or simply buy a ticket at the standard railway station for half the price. It costs $14 one way, $21 return. The view during the 1.5 hour ride wasn't as great as I thought it would be. The train takes you high up into the rainforest, passing two good waterfalls. The town of Kuranda is pretty small and very tourist-oriented. Some attractions: a large butterfly aviary, a noctarium with Aussie marsupials, a big market on alternate days (good for souvenirs), steamtrain rides into the bush. We paid our $13 to see an Aboriginal dance show. It was quite excellent, with lots of trad. Aboriginal music and dance, some jokes, and some explanation of Aboriginal rituals. Very accomplished, and highly recommended. The gift shop had some good cheap Aboriginal souvenirs too.

It is possible to be dropped off inland, and canoe back (in a group) along a river. It sounds like fun, but we didn't do it. Costs $65 for the day, including tucker.

White water rafting and Bungee Jumping For the thrillseekers. After a reported Bungee accident in Brisbane (the cord snapped), I gave this one a big miss.

Visit the Daintree Rainforest
Supposedly one of the oldest and most diverse rainforests in the world.....the forest goes right up to the coast. The roads are mostly dirt, and can be nigh on impassable after a good rain. You could either go up there on a tour, or hire your own 4WD vehicle. Some tours go up specifically to spot crocodiles. One curious attraction is the 'Bouncing Stones' beach. For some reason, hard black stones cover one solitary little beach along the way. They are so hard that they bounce...if you toss a stone onto the beach, it may bounce 5 or 6 times (in any direction) before it splashes into the water or comes back and hits you!

Babinda Boulders
There's a swimming hole south of Cairns that has claimed quite a few lives over the years. Aboriginal legend has it that a young maiden drowned herself there after being rejected; she now haunts the boulders, taking the lives of any unmarried men who are foolish enough to swim there. Plenty have scoffed, and plenty have drowned. I'm a skeptic, so I felt compelled to swim there, but we, er, ran out of time.

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Also by this author:
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