Cairns – The Start of our Australian Adventure
Well, we’re off on the road again for our next 5-month adventure. After 36 hours in transit from Toronto, we arrived in Cairns, Queensland. Getting off the plane was like walking into a sauna. Granted, we came from -10C in Canada, so mid-30s C feeling like low 40s is quite the adjustment. One extreme to the other!
With a 15-hour time difference, we crashed soon after getting to our AirBnB rental apartment. Good thing too, as we had a busy 3 days planned, beginning with an early morning boat excursion the next day.
See our full gallery of Australia pictures here.
Great Barrier Reef
Not sure whether this was a good idea or not, but for our first full day we booked an all-day diving and snorkeling tour on the Great Barrier Reef with Reef Experience. We were picked up just before 7:30am for the transfer to the boat.
We paid a bit extra for their “Top Deck” experience, which provided better food, a reserved table on the dive boat, and most importantly, a personal diving and snorkeling guide. Christine isn’t particularly confident in deep water, so we thought this was worth the cost to make sure we both got as much out of the experience as possible.
The dive sites at the Hastings Reef were about a 90-minute boat ride from the harbour. Weather forecasts were terrible for the day, but we lucked out with clear, calm, and incredibly hot weather.
After dropping some of the passengers off at Reef Experience’s liveaboard boat (where divers can stay for several days, and dive up to 4x per day), we anchored at our first site.
The downside of any trip to Australia is that everything might kill you. In this case, there was a risk of being stung by multiple types of deadly jellyfish (‘stinger season’ runs from November to May), some as small as a thumbnail. So we donned our flattering, blue stinger suits before jumping into the water. Normally a dip in the ocean would be a welcome refreshment from the scorching sun, but not here. The ocean was a balmy 29C, about the temperature of a warm bath. On the plus side, it meant we could snorkel and dive for a long time without ever getting cold.
We snorkeled for about 45 minutes at the first site, before Trevor went for his dive (included in the price of the trip) for another 45 minutes. We saw incredible coral, schools of fish, several giant clams, and even a friendly turtle.
After a surprisingly good lunch on board, we went to the next site on the other side of the reef. We snorkeled for another 45 minutes or so before getting back on the boat to enjoy some snacks and local sparkling wine on the trip back to the dock. This was New Year’s Eve for us, so it was nice to celebrate early since we doubted we’d be able to make it until midnight!
Kuranda – Village in the Rainforest
Holding a koala was on Christine’s bucket list, and Kuranda is the place to do it. A 30 minute drive from Cairns, the village is really a grouping of souvenir shops, a few restaurants, and several nature attractions. We went to the Kuranda Koala Gardens which also showcases several freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies, and of course a bunch of koalas.
Kuranda also has other attractions like a butterfly sanctuary and a bird exhibit.
The downside of Kuranda is it’s not particularly easy to get to. We rented a car for the day (from Sugarland Car Rental), which made it very easy. Public transit options are few and far between. There are various tours available and the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which are both pricey.
Exploring Port Douglas
With our rental car, we drove further north along the coast for about an hour to Port Douglas. Port Douglas definitely has a more resort-y feel than Cairns. The main shopping street is filled with a mixture of high-end boutiques and souvenir shops, as well as a range of casual restaurants and pubs.
The oceanfront is at either end of the main shopping area. The beach we walked along was beautiful. Of course, you can’t swim there! The water is filled with poisonous jellyfish (or stingers as they’re called here) and saltwater crocodiles. There was a small area with nets in the water to protect swimmers, but we were skeptical. If a 20ft croc decided it was hungry, we’re not sure the little net would stop it.
Wandering around Cairns
Cairns is definitely a bit rougher around the edges than Port Douglas, but also seems a bit less touristy. There are many more affordable accommodation options, and the downtown core is filled with shops and restaurants with many patios.
The beach in Cairns is nothing to write home about, but you wouldn’t be able to swim there anyway. There is, however, a large saltwater public pool on the oceanfront which seemed like a great alternative.
Heading away from the central area, there are also some great walks around Mount Whitfield and the Botanic Gardens, although the heat and humidity made them seem much more strenuous than they were.
A great base to explore the region
Cairns was a great place to start our Australian adventure. If we’d had a bit more time, we would have headed further north to the Daintree Rainforest or even explored Cape Tribulation. We were very happy with what we got to see, and it was a great place to get over our jet lag, but we’re now looking forward to heading further south down the coast and especially watching some tennis in Brisbane!
- There are plenty of local rental car companies that are less expensive than the well known international brands. We rented a car from Sugarland Car Rentals, but other options include A1 Car Rentals and Cruising Car Rentals.
- Cairns has a range of budget to high-end accommodation. If visiting, make sure to book a hotel with a pool as the ocean is dangerous much of the year. Just be warned – many of the hotel pools are nothing more than a small concrete basin filled with water, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
- Port Douglas, about a 1 hr drive up the coast, has high-end resorts and a more touristy feel, with a better beach.
- The airport is very close to downtown, but it still somehow costs $20 to take a taxi. Shared shuttle buses are only cost effective for individual travelers. Groups of 2 or more are better off taking a taxi.