When I was planning a trip to cairns. I didnt know that I would be surprised. I had always thought that like Sydney, Melbourne and GC, Cairns was a big city. I was expecting big buildings, busy streets etc.
When I landed I was pleasantly surprised. The airport in it self was surrounded by hills. Lush green hills. It had been raining when we arrived. Although when you are at a hieght in the aircraft it appears sunny until you start your descent And go through the layers of clouds and as you land, its a totally different weather. The good part was that the Cairns airport had connectors which made you directly hop off from the flight into the airport without having to walk into the tarmac or use a bus.
As we walked into the airport, let me tell you, its a much better airport than gold coast or even melbourne for that matter. Shops, food courts, amenities etc. However, when you get into arrivals suddenly you think its the opposite. When you move out of the airport main section into the arrivals, its quite empty and only stalls you can see is of carhires. I was hoping to get a stall ir an information desk, but unfortunately nothing. Having arrived at 10 on Friday morning, I was thinking of goign to Kuranda sceneic railway directly from thr airport. I asked at the Hertz and they pointed me to a group of people who were in Blue T shirts as the ifnormation desk guys. I walked out to towards the parking and asked them. They suggested going to the town. The Cairns city is quite near to the airport. About 10 minutes drive. There are airport shuttles normally but since we were three, a cab was cheaper and more comfortable. An Indian cabbie and as we drove to the city, it was quite town, with lush green vegetation near about. Thr Taxi guy recommended Spicy Bites an Indian restaurant and TUSa dives for snorkelling. Both eventually I didnt try but Ill tell you later.
Our booking was at IBIS Styles at the corner of florence and lake street. As we hopped off the cab, the city was so peaceful, quiet and relaxing. There were wide roads with hardly any traffic. A bit of rain and cloudy weather. Above the road, in the far distance I could see the hills and clouds touching the peak of the hills. Magnificent. reminded me of the small town they had shown in the movie Rambo.
The hotel was two storied and I had made a booking a few months in advance. Usually all check in are at 2 and I was there by 10:30 or 11:00 am. I thought Ill give it a try and to my surprise, the lady at the front desk said that the room is ready and available. what a pleasant surprise. We went to our room and it was a good one with a queen and two single beds. The hotel in itself had a very colonial feel. Not too modern but comfortable and cosy and big rooms. A bit of 80s and 90s feel but loved it.
We crashed for some time since we had woken up at 4 in the morning. The room was equipped with a small kitchenette, microwave, water heater and supplies for tea and coffee and a fridge. Quickly made tea and went down to enquire at the front desk. The lady at the front desk was cery helpful. She mentioned that there is no point now going for the Kuranda scenic train or the sky rail as it is best to leave early and gather ample time to explore etc. For the great barrier reef, she gave a number of brochures and explained that there is green island which is relatively nearby island resort and people can do snorkelling here. Then there are outer barrier reef trips which take you further out and you can do diving or snorkelling. She recommended that we should do the half day trip for green island, another one day for outer barrier reef and another day for Kuranda.
As I head back to the room with an overload of information and brochures, I was super confused in making a choice. After sometime I decided that I wouldnt do the half day tour which in in itself cost AUD 84. Plus an outer reef tour is between aud 150 -230. Plus Kuranda is AUD 120. So Id be shelling AUD 350 - 430. Multiply by three reaches 1000+. Nopes too expensive. I decide to cancel half day tour use this day for local city wandering and finding cheaper options.
We head out for a stroll towards the esplanade. Just two streets away from the hotel. When I reached the Esplande and I was overwhelmed with the view. There was the sea and the water never ending, the hills lush and green merging with the seas, the clouds over the hills. Theere was more of a swamp with pelicans sitting there followed by the deeper waters. In the distant right, I could see the sails of the yachts and an airplane over the water. The beauty was mesmerizing the fauna in particular was lush green, with all exotic plants, diverse colours. The flowers were delicately coloured all appearing to be freshly painted. The continuous intermittent drizzle kept in making it llush green. The tropical fruits were falling onto the ground. On the left there were people on holidays, barbequeing practiscing Tai chi. As we walked on towards the spence street, feeling hungry, I was searching on the phone shortlisting where to go. Shortly ahead was the Cairns esplanade pool where people of all age group were enjoying, relaxing, swimming and just lying down. There were a bunch of restaurants on the esplande. We further explored and went onto Spense St past the reef casino.
If I thought that Gold Coast was tropical, let me tell you I probably didnt know what tropical meant. For lunch we shortlisted Marinades, an Indian reatarant and boy it was tge right choice. I could smell the fragrance of indian food cooked from across the street, a phenomenon very rarely experiences here. It was my mom birthday lunch. Post lunch we strolled back to the reef terminal and spoke to the Big Cat guys for the details. They mentioned that outer barrier reef was for more experienced swimmers and snorkellers. Also they didnt do guided snorkelling but just provided equipment and the people do it on their own. I tried getting the family package for my mom and brother but it didnt work out. They gave no discount as well. Basic prices started from AUD 84. However in the next option was either snorkelling or the glass bottom boat. I optes for theglass bottom boat and the semi submersible without the lunch. I have had numrous bad experiences to decide no more cruise lunches. Post this we walked back to the hotel via the espalnade and lotof pics taken. Back to the hotel we crashed, called up India. In the evening I decided to give it a try for Balinese cuisine. Not sure, I took the chance and we walked up lake street. Intermittent drizzling continued. The restaurant was fab and the experience and the decor and ambience was unparalleled.
Overall that was my first day. Cairns is more of a quiet small town. Hardly any cars. Keeps raining. Few people. But I loved it. Public transport is minimal. No train network. Untarnished and clean natural beauty. Some good eateries all though not too many. Its quiet. There is a distinct colonial feel in most buildings. The british touch coupled with palm trees and rains makes it exotic. If you are coming from a big city and looking for maylny people and places for shopping, its less numbers. Cairns central and a couple around Spense St. Lots of people in the evening in the esplanade at the eateries and bars. It has a lot of aussie places for steaks and grills. Lot of interesting menus and meats- kangaroo, emu, crocodile. The places around Esplanade are quite touristy. In the evenings thats where the buzz is. You also see a lot of aborginals wandering around.
Though there is not much specifically in the city. There are a few really nice restaurants. Most eat outs are on the esplanade or the Spence St. Things to do in Cairns is basically the great barrier reef tours. You can select a simple tour to Green ISland or the outer barrier reef. It can be a snorkelling tour or scuba diving tours. Diving tours cost more and you need to be certified. Do you need to know swimming for snorkelling? I think basic swimming should be there.
Other things to do is the Kuranda sky rail and scenic railway. There are trips to Port douglas, Cape York but to me thats outside cairns. There are also trips to Daintree rain forests.
In the city there are night markets everyday till 10:30 in the night.
Eating if you are in Cairns, my recommendations would be
- Hanuman @Hilton
- Bayleaf Balinese Restaurant
- Cafe Thailand @ Aplin St.
All in all I loved it. Its an exotic twist of the tropics.