Cairns is one of the best Australian travel destinations – and I’ve got the photos to prove it! This laid back city 2000 km north of Brisbane between World Heritage Listed Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, has come a long way from its sugar-cane farming roots to become Far North Queensland’s tourist hub.
Cairns has just as much to offer travellers seeking cheap holidays as it does to those looking for luxury! In fact, the only problem will be limiting your visit to a week!!
Luckily, I’ve been travelling to Cairns for 20+ years – the time period over which these photos were taken – and Pilchard even longer! So use our 7 Day Cairns sampler itinerary guide to get you started …
Day 1: Cairns Botanic Gardens
The pint-sized bag-snatcher at the Cairns Botanic Gardens Cafe was probably a one-off. No, really!! The toddler who picked up my handbag didn’t take kindly to Pilchard’s attempts to remove it from her grubby grasp.
Attracted by the shrieks, her rampaging mother berated Pilchard for making her darling cry, gave the child my bag to play with and turned back to her glass of wine table. With a) child clutching b) the handbag.
Now you tell me. Was it so unreasonable for Pilchard to insist on its return?
Sadly, this whole stultifying display of disturbed parenting could have been avoided if only I’d taken my handbag with me to the ladies room …
Happily, in addition to the Scenic Public Toilet, the large Cairns Botanic Gardens complex is full of distractions, with wonderful displays of tropical plants; several interpretive trails, magnificent butterflies and brightly coloured birds!
Although ‘wild boar’ sounds so much more exotic than ‘feral pig’, they’re both equally destructive when crashing through the undergrowth on the mangrove boardwalk through to the Centenary Lakes picnic area. Although I’d rather meet a wild pig than an unsupervised homo-sapiens (juv) allowed to run amok by overindulgent parents …
Spending the whole day in the gardens is easy – the 6.6 km Mt Whitfield trail loop gives splendid views over the busy international airport and Cairns itself. But I’m not sure if the group of school kids led by two young and ever so perky teachers we dodged on the track were a fair replacement for the cassowaries once common in the area.
Day 2: North to Port Douglas
The block of land for sale a few metres below the Port Douglas Lookout platform has the same staggering view. But would that be enough to counteract the 24/7 comings and goings above? Maybe the local residents were on to something when they tried to get the lookout closed …
The Lady Douglas probably isn’t the ritziest craft to cruise Dixon Inlet – but I’ll bet she’s the classiest! And if you want to take a look behind the scenes of what once was a small fishing village but is now amongst Australia’s most expensive real estate, the inlet is awash with wildlife – including crocodiles!
Time it right and attend – or miss, depending on your point of view – the Port Douglas markets, but whatever you do, DON’T miss Mocka’s Pies! This FAAAAABULOUS Bakery (come back for the cheese pasty, potato & pea pie, apple, lemon meringue – hell, come back for ANYTHING) has the well-deserved distinction of being our ALL TIME favourite!!!!
Day 3: Northern Beaches
Although the artificial lagoon, sandy beach and infinity pool are a good substitute for lack of foreshore beach, nothing beats the real thing! And heading north, the real thing is abundant starting about 20 km from the CBD.
Spend a day exploring all the beaches; or stay on one beach all day; or take an extra day and do both!! From the unspoiled excellence of Wangetti Beach (below the hang glider launch spot I’ll always be too gutless to try) to the ritz of Palm Cove; Ellis Beach between the highway and sea to the fabulous curve of Trinity Beach; Yorkeys Knob cliff and marina to the vast sand flats and rock wall at Machans – eateries, picnic and BBQ areas, walks, birdlife … there’s something for everyone!
Take your pick – and if you got it wrong, try again tomorrow!!
Day 4: Esplanade … and Cairns itself
Want a perfect day on the Cairns Esplanade?
WELL … my guest post on 52 Perfect Days will tell all!!
But because I’m a tease nice person, here’s a glimpse!!
Of course Cairns is much more than its foreshore! There’s shopping and eating precincts – yes, a bakery or two – the Visitor Information Centre, galleries, restaurants, museums … do I need to spell it out??
Day 5: Outdoors in the Rainforest …
Snakes, goannas, birds, butterflies, hungover backpackers – I’ve yet to visit Crystal Cascades without finding something interesting to watch!
This popular series of swimming holes on – you guessed it – Crystal Creek buried deep in the rainforest is a water supply access point but walkers can take the track for 1.2 km to the barrier for a taste of REAL rainforest and wildlife. Near the start of the trail, a track – classified as ‘strenuous’ and ‘rough’ – heads almost vertically upwards to Copperlode Dam in the ranges far above …
… and as if to prove it’s not all sunshine and serenity in the tropics, the temperature dropped 8ºC in the 25 km drive from Cairns CBD up the ranges to Copperlode Dam aka Lake Morris, 365 metres above sea level. And the hot soup that sounded so ridiculous in the balmy, high 20’s temperature on the coast was more than welcome in our efforts to counteract the chill wind!
It’s best to be sober when attempting this steep, twisting track with several one-way sections, and breathtaking (aka ‘hyperventilating’) dropaways, often being repaired after heavy rain at which time they become ‘washaways’ … But the stupendous views on each side of the range show just how much unexplored rainforest remains.
Ambitious walkers undaunted by the steep gradient can attempt further exploration on the 3km track dropping straight down from the dam to Crystal Cascades below …
Day 6: Islands
‘Tropical paradise’ is such a cliché – there’s only so much blue sky/clear water/white sand/palm trees you can take, right?
Day 7: Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway
Despite the jaw-dropping views above the unspoiled World Heritage listed rainforest canopy to the spectacular Cairns coastline, acrophobics* may find the 7.5 km Skyrail cable-car journey from Cairns to Kuranda (or vice versa) ‘challenging’.
But luckily, a couple of stops for the rainforest interpretive centre and Barron Falls lookout break the journey and allow equilibrium to be regained before another 6 person gondola – and the next leg!
But is going up the Kuranda Range by Skyrail any worse for acrophobics than dropping nearly 300 metres through 15 tunnels and across 40 rickety bridges crossing drop-away chasms down the super-steep Barron Gorge if returning via the 34 km Kuranda Scenic Railway?
As a recovering acrophobic I unreservedly recommend both trips – just breathe normally into that paper bag while taking photos all the way. And don’t look down …
Well, how quickly 7 Days can pass!
And I haven’t even started on heading south to the other side of Trinity Inlet, the Goldsborough Valley, and Gordonvale’s Cane Toad World!
Or west to the Atherton Tablelands …
That’s another 7 Days all by itself!!
I developed this 7 day guide based on visits to Cairns totalling MANY weeks over 20+ years! Photos all taken 2009-2011, except the Kuranda train (1998) as that pic was better than the ones I have from later trips.
*Acrophobia= fear of heights