Our third and final stop in Australia was Cairns, to spend a week relaxing in paradise (and of course swim at the Great Barrier Reef). By this point in the trip, we were really starting to get that ‘we are nearly at the end of our holiday’ feeling and began subconsciously counting down the days we had left. One of the good things was that Scott’s cousin and her boyfriend (Holly and Dan) were also travelling to Cairns at the same time as us straight after Sydney, so we had some lovely company to spend the week with.
We visited in March which was wet season so there were quite a few monsoons throughout the week. The weather here is so unpredictable; at the beginning of the week it was forecast for 7 days of rain and storms, however each day the forecast shifted and we had a few good days of pure sun! Even if the weather is due to rain, it’s usually just an hour or two and then it passes and turns into a beautiful day.
Don’t be disappointed if you see those little rain clouds sneak into the picture – it is very hot and humid in this tropical climate so the rainfall can actually be such a blessing in disguise.
The distance from the airport to the centre of Cairns is about a 10 minute drive (Cairns city is very small and easy to get around; however a lot of the activities are a little way out of the centre where you’ll need a form of transport). We decided to hire a car for the time that we were there as we didn’t want to be restricted by public transport or tour buses. We got picked up at the airport by Apex car rentals and taken to pick up our car just a few minutes down the road. Australians drive on the same side of the car and road as we do in England so other than the indicator being on the other side, it was pretty easy to get behind the wheel here. I think it was definitely the right decision to hire a car as it’s so much easier to get around, although they do have Uber in Cairns which is quick and convenient to use too.
What to do
Outdoor pool/lagoon – One key thing to note is that Cairns’ sea is full of saltwater crocodiles and jellyfish, which means a quick dip in the water is a big no-go! Cairns have set up a lagoon area right next to the waterfront which is a large outdoor swimming pool for everyone to use free of charge between 6am – 9pm. We were lucky enough to have booked accommodation with a swimming pool but if you don’t then don’t worry as you can pop down and have a cool off in the lagoon as much as you need. In the area around the lagoon is a big grass park and a few BBQ areas where you can sit and enjoy the Australian culture.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – The Cairns Skyrail was one of our favourite things that we did in Australia. A short 15 minute drive north of Cairns city centre takes you to the start of the Skyrail where you get into a gondola lift which rises up to 545m from sea level and takes you over the rainforest. On the journey, the gondola stops at two different look-out spots where you can fully appreciate the forest and Baron Falls, before finally taking you onto the aboriginal town of Kuranda. There are loads of gift shops, restaurants and cafes to explore here as well as a couple of nature centres including Birdworld (see below).The Skyrail cost us £42 each and was worth every penny, but if you wanted to spend a bit extra then you can get a train back from Kuranda instead of the cable cars. If we went again, we’d definitely want to experience the beautiful journey through the forest.
Birdworld Kuranda – On our stop at Kuranda, we had a couple of hours to kill and decided to have some lunch and a wander. At the edge of the town we came across a sign for Birdworld, which is right at the back of this little market so unless you know it’s there you wouldn’t think to walk in. Once inside (which is technically still outside but with some netting over the top) there are loads of beautiful birds flying around, from parrots to cockatoos and everything in between. I’m not a huge bird person (because they are terrifying) but I actually really enjoyed it here. There aren’t many places that you can visit where you get to carry around a little rainbow lorikeet, or have a huge parrot land on your shoulder! One of the highlights at Birdworld is the Cassowary which is sometimes said to be the world’s most dangerous bird – he’s safely kept in a separate area though, don’t worry. For only $20AUD each, you can’t miss it.
Hartleys Crocodile Park – We were both really glad that we decided to hire a car in Cairns because Hartleys Crocodile Park was about 45 minutes outside of the city. Holly and Dan came with us and we had a really fun afternoon; we had all been out for drinks the night before and none of us fancied an early start so we just went for the afternoon. There are set scheduled activities and talks throughout the whole day there but we found midday to be the perfect time for us to go. We arrived just in time for the 1pm boat ride, followed by the main attractions of crocodile farm tour, snake show and croc attack show. I’d recommend taking a look at their website to make sure you time your trip around everything you want to see. It costs $71AUD which I’m glad we paid for as we were able to go out in a boat into a lagoon full of crocodiles – something we’d never experience in England!
Port Douglas – Port Douglas is a beautiful town north of Cairns; set in the tropics, it’s known for its luxurious beaches (including the popular Four Mile Beach) and resorts. Sadly, when we visited it was out of season and the town was completely empty, and most of the shops and restaurants were closed. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas is stunning – open coastal roads most of the way along Captain Cook Highway is another reason to hire a car!
Palm Cove – Palm cove is another area of beauty and beaches. The suburb is situated halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas and has lots of seafront cafes and restaurants with a variety of food. There is a campground here for people who are looking to stop off – if we were travelling around in a campervan then I’d definitely want to stop here as it’s surrounded by green tropical plants and the view of the sea is beautiful!
Skydive – We knew before we got to Australia that we were going to jump out of a plane in Cairns, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone looking to tick it off their bucket list. We went with Skydive Cairns and paid $375AUD for the full video package, but cheaper options are also available! Find our more about our skydive here.
Great Barrier Reef – It’s probably safe to assume that if you’re visiting Cairns, you will have plans to see the Great Barrier Reef. We booked through Get Your Guide, but there are dozens of different tour operators and options for trips out to see the reef. The Great Barrier Reef has just under 3000 different reefs, so each day the specialist teams assess which will have the best visibility and conditions so that you get the best experience. We chose to snorkel instead of dive as Scott had a bit of a head cold and he was struggling with his ears, but most of the tours we saw had the option to do either, regardless of your experience level. We paid just under £100 for a full day, including two stops, a buffet lunch, stinger suits and snorkelling equipment. Even if you just go out to sunbathe on the boat (if you aren’t a fan of open water), you have to visit the famous Great Barrier Reef if you’re in Cairns.
Where to eat
On our first day in Cairns, we took a little walk along the waterfront to look for somewhere to have lunch as there’s a huge selection of bars, restaurants and cafes there. We came to a place called The Pier Bar where we sat outside with some beers/ciders, a HUGE plate of nachos and loaded fries and watched the monsoons come and go for a few hours whilst we planned out our week. Other than day-drinking, this is a great place to visit for the nightlife as it has a really lively atmosphere with people drinking and dancing (it’s a little bit ‘clubby’ so if you were looking for more of a relaxed bar, maybe this isn’t the place for you, but there are loads of different options in the same area).
If you’re a seafood lover like we are then the Prawn Star is an absolute must. The ‘restaurant’ is a selection of fishing boats in the harbour which have been done up with barrels and tables to create seating areas. They have a simple menu of bugs, king prawns, tiger prawns, oysters and salmon for you to pick from or have a combination of. After the skydive, we sat down here for a nice lunch and a couple of beers enjoying the water and the sunshine. One seafood platter, 16 beers and 3 different conversations with other travellers later and the evening crew arrived – this is when we knew it was probably time for us to head off. The prices are very good (it was the cheapest beer that we’d found in Australia) and the food was so fresh and delicious! Whilst we were sat there, we saw the boats come in straight from the sea to deliver the amazingly fresh food.
In Australia, we really wanted to have a taste of some of the really local dishes such as kangaroo, crocodile, emu and wallaby. We have two recommendations; Dundee’s and Ochre Restaurant. Both are in a prime position on the waterfront, and serve dishes that really highlight the ‘Taste of Australia’. We visited Dundee’s twice during our time here, purely for the pudding; I might even go as far as to say it was the best pudding I’ve ever had! It was called a Magnum Lava Cake and consisted of a mini magnum ice cream turned upside down in a hot and gooey chocolate lava cake (served with cream, honeycomb and berry compote).
I can’t stress enough just how amazing this pudding is; if you’re visiting Cairns, you need to try it.
We didn’t think that the city of Cairns had too much beauty, but the areas around it were breathtaking – people often describe it to be a paradise. If we were to go back, I think i’d like to stay in Port Douglas (as long as it’s at the right time of year for things to be open) and explore the north more, towards Cape Tribulation. I would love to come back here in a few years when we have a family, to be able to share our experiences with them. Shot glass number 15, done.