We’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year… and what a year it’s been!
We started 2015 in Cairns, where we stayed until May, working and biding our time until we had to fly home for two weddings.
Once we were on the road again, our task was fairly simple – explore the east coast of Australia. After a magical visit at Paronella Park, we passed through Townsville and Mackay before heading inland to the beautiful Lake Elphinstone.
We spent about three weeks in Brisbane because Dave needed some medical attention, but it was great to spend time with friends in that beautiful city. As we approached the Gold Coast, the dark clouds returned and by the time we got to the Best Of All Lookouts, we couldn’t see a thing!
We crossed the border into New South Wales and bee-lined straight to Byron Bay for a few days in the easternmost town of Australia. We were lucky to get a few days of sun but the drizzle returned as we made our way to Coffs Harbour. Finally, with some sun, we got to enjoy the beautiful coastline from Port Macquarie to Newcastle.
We enjoyed a tipple in the Hunter Valley before spending a week on the Central Coast, helping out a family with their household duties while Juz scored some work with a school holiday program in Gosford.
Arriving in Sydney was a little surreal. It’s the biggest city in Australia and we spent a lot of time walking around the city getting exhausted. We also have a few friends in Sydney so it was great to catch up and spend time with them.
We headed inland to the Blue Mountains and Central West just in time for a freakish cold front to sweep through the area. We had the pleasure of experiencing subzero temperatures and snow, as well as seeing the Dish in Parkes and exotic animals at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.
With a few more friendly visits in Kiama and Milton, and a stop at the Big Merino in Goulburn, we finally visited our country’s capital. We called in at the War Memorial and National Mint and even saw our old travel buddies Tom and Bella.
Once we returned to the coast, the wet weather reappeared and we reached the Victorian border within a day or two. From then on, there was no point stuffing around – we were 4 hours from home. On Sunday the 2nd of August, we rolled in unannounced and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed.
Since our return to Melbourne, we’ve been busy. We got jobs, reconnected with friends, and started making plans for the future.
We’re going to take a few weeks off to enjoy the silly season and spend time with our family and friends. We’ll see you all in the new year with more posts about the last leg of our lap around Australia, as well as our run down of Tassie later in the year.
We crossed the border into Queensland at the beginning of September 2014, and didn’t leave the sunshine state until June 2015. In the ten months that we spent in Queensland, we drove through the outback, went to the northern tip of Australia, spent time in the rainforests, got jobs in Cairns, watched the sugar cane whirl by, and soaked up the sun along the sandy beaches.
Here are our favourite things about Queensland:
Queensland’s prehistoric past includes dinosaurs, volcanoes and megafauna. During our time in the outback, we hopped on the dinosaur trail and visited the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton. It was absolutely fascinating to learn about the dinosaurs that used to live on Australian soil – Banjo the carnivorous theropod and Matilda the sauropod.
Further north in Boodjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill) are the World Heritage fossils of Riversleigh, which date back 25 million years. We got to see even more dinosaurs at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. They have a regular dinosaur exhibition that includes information about the dinosaur stampede at Lark Quarry.
As we headed towards the coast, we stopped at Undara Volcanic National Park and saw the incredible lava tubes that formed nearly 200,000 years ago. We saw more evidence of volcanic activity as we travelled east. Mount Hypipamee Crater and the Crater Lakes on the Atherton Tablelands were all created by volcanic activity, while the Glasshouse Mountains in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland are volcanic plugs of hard rock that have been exposed as the surrounding soft rock has eroded over time.
The rainforests of northern Queensland are a well known paradise, the most famous being the Daintree Rainforest, which is the oldest and largest continuous rainforest in the world. Exploring the area is easy when you base yourself at Port Douglas, and while you’re in the area, Cape Tribulation is worth a visit.
Not far away are the rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. Right in the heart of the lush forest is Kuranda, which is a beautiful little village with plenty to offer, including a range of fantastic wildlife experiences. Paronella Park is another magical gem hidden away in the green foliage.
To the south are the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, an amazing example of subtropical rainforest that has remained unchanged over many millennia. Part of this world heritage area is Springbrook National Park, where the Antarctic beech trees reside and the Best of All Lookouts offer views of the valley below (but not for us).
Beaches & Coastline
Known as the sunshine state, Queensland is notorious for its beaches. Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast is a huge beach with a big surf culture.
Up north on the Cape, after visiting the northernmost point of Australia, we camped at Chilli Beach. The isolation of the area and the row of leaning coconut trees along the beach make it seem like you’re on a deserted island.
Just off the coastline of Queensland is the beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Juz had an opportunity to go out and snorkel on the reef, swim with turtles and get severely sunburnt, but if you’re not a fan of sunburn or getting wet, you can easily see the beautiful fish and corals at Reef HQ in Townsville.
There are heaps of opportunities to challenge yourself and your 4WD in Queensland. Our first major obstacle was the Old Telegraph Track on the Cape. This was so much fun and there were heaps of water crossings, dips and surprises that required keen navigational prowess.
Fraser Island was another 4WDing favourite with plenty of sandy tracks to sink your tyres into and a whole highway of beach to cruise on, while Blackdown Tablelands gave us an unexpected opportunity to cross some rough terrain.
If you want to do nothing else but get loco on the tracks, head to Landcruiser Mountain Park. This place is dedicated to challenging tracks of varying difficulty, from relatively easy to “ah fuck – I just broke my car”. Plus, because the map they give you at reception is so shit, you’re bound to get lost and end up on a track that will push your limits.
Queensland isn’t all about beaches. There are some beautiful lakes, creeks and waterfalls as well. In the tropics, waterholes are the perfect spot to cool off and wash the film of sweat from your skin. Josephine Falls and The Boulders are popular with locals and tourists alike, while Crystal Creek and Jarouma Falls make quite the pretty picture.
Up in the Atherton Tablelands, the Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit takes you around to three waterfalls set in the rainforest, while Lake Eacham is a beautiful turquoise lake that is great for swimming and kayaking. Another beautiful plateau is the Blackdown Tableland further south near Mackay. There are lots of creeks surrounding the camping area but the real beauty is Guddo Gumoo, which is also known as Rainbow Waters.
In country Queensland, there are three locations that are simply sublime. Our favourite was Lake Elphinstone, and we were very fortunate to be there on the night of a full moon. For those who are travelling along the Savannah Way, Lawn Hill Gorge is a beautiful place to get your togs wet, and while we don’t recommend getting into the water at Cobbold Gorge (CROCS!), we do recommend a peaceful boat cruise through the gorge.
Only 7km north of the border between Queensland and New South Wales is Natural Bridge, set amongst the Gondwana Rainforest. Natural Bridge is a product of time, as water has washed over the rock, eroding it and creating a hole.
Who would have thought that what was supposed to be a short two-month stop in Cairns would drag on for seven months! The main reason for the extended stay was because we needed to earn some money and fix the Troopy, but another important reason was because we needed to be close to an airport so we could fly back to Melbourne for Dave’s sister’s wedding in April.
Living in Cairns
With the intention of making contact with some new friends that we met up in Cape York, we arrived in Palm Cove just in time for the Reef Feast Festival. Symon and Robyne were perfectly hospitable and let us stay at their place, which was a lifesaver while we sorted out more long-term arrangements.
After a few days, we moved into a hostel on Lake Street, about 3km from the city centre. We worked for our accommodation – Juz was behind the reception desk while Dave drove the shuttle bus for guests between the airport and town. As long as we worked 21 hours a week each, we had our private double room paid for, but Juz picked up a job at Subway for some extra cash, and eventually a visit to the emergency room because of a cut thumb.
However, after a month of living with scores of partying backpackers from various countries, working irregular hours and missing a clean and tidy kitchen, we moved out into a house down the street. The rent for the room was affordable on Juz’s wages, the kitchen was tidy and had a gas stove, and our housemates were lovely and quiet. Unfortunately, with the road to the airport just outside our window, and the flight path for incoming planes overhead, sleeping in was impossible and conversations would occasionally be interrupted by the roar of jet engines. We also had an alien fungi farm growing under the sink!
After a month or two, we were presented with an offer we couldn’t refuse. Cheap rent of a room with an ensuite for a few household favours meant that we moved away from the city to the suburb of Redlynch. We lived at the base of the Great Dividing Range, close to major supermarkets and a gym but far, far away from the bustle of the city and noise of the airport. We stayed here until the end of our time in Cairns, and enjoyed weekly cooking challenges with our housemate.
Working in Cairns
Once we had moved in to the Lake Street House, we were relieved to be free of our hostel duties. Juz continued her job at Subway while Dave picked up three days of work per week as a landscaper. He also worked two nights a week as a dish pig at the Palm Cove Surf Club, thanks to Symon putting a good word in.
When school holidays started, Juz’s shifts at Subway were cut to accommodate for the less expensive teens, so she looked for another way to earn some money. A search on Gumtree turned up a casual data entry job whereby she could chose her own hours, her own hourly rate, and invoice the client at the end of the week. It was a dream job that got even dreamier when the client suggested that Juz do it from home – score!
On top of the Subway job and data entry gig, Juz also enrolled to knock off another subject in her Nutritional Medicine degree. Needless to say that when the school holidays were over and her Subway shifts were increased, she got stressed out and ditched Subway to focus on data entry and uni work at home.
In the meantime, Dave’s landscaping job dried up just in time for the Wet Season so he had to find another way to make an extra buck and keep himself busy. He cleverly devised a plan that would solve both his problems. Every fortnight, auctions were held in town to sell off a variety of goods, such as repossessed stolen goods, hospitality gear from closed restaurants, tools, furniture, computers, everything you can think of – including bikes! The bikes would usually sell for between $5 and $20, so Dave would buy one or two each fortnight, fix them, clean them and sell them on Gumtree for what he thought the bike was worth. One time – he sold a bike for $200!
Fun in Cairns
Our main, regular activity was trivia at the Red Beret Hotel on Monday nights. On our first visit, we won the jackpot round ($150!) and were hooked. Over time, we got another core player – Phillip – each week, we would try our luck at winning various vouchers. Most of them were for Port Douglas, but the prizes for first and second place included a voucher for the Red Beret, so occasionally we would be rewarded with a free dinner.
When it came to making new friends in Cairns, it was fairly difficult with the locals because many of them seem to resent foreigners (the ones supporting Cairn’s tourism industry)! Most of our friends in Cairns weren’t actually from Cairns at all – like Viki and Akos – a Hungarian couple that moved to Cairns around four years ago, and another couple from Darwin. It was also great to meet up with local blogger, Kate Richards from Adventure Mumma (but not from Cairns), and chat about what’s great about Australia. We made a few friends while we were staying at the hostel too.
We had so many visitors while we were in Cairns. Both of Juz’s parents visited at around Christmas time, and we got to see Dave’s auntie and uncle when they spent a week in Port Douglas.
We were also happy to be visited twice by Peter and Saeng who we stayed with up in Cooktown. They always brought us a goody-bag of home grown produce and some of Saeng’s home-made delicacies.
Pros & Cons of Cairns
Cairns is an awesome place to visit but can be difficult to reside in. Unemployment is high unless you’re interested in hospitality work, and even then you have to complete with backpackers and low wages. During the peak season there are lots of tourists, and we believe that some locals don’t enjoy this side of Cairns.
We arrived during the dry season and were looking forward to another opportunity to experience the wet season from December to February. Unfortunately, all the cyclones that were picked up on the radar dodged Cairns and all we got was a splash of rain and lots of humidity.
With all this time spent in the tropics of Australia, we are ready to say goodbye to the misty mountains and sugar cane fields and we look forward to heading south to cooler climates.
We decided to stop in Cairns for a couple of reasons – we had to buy and replace some parts on the Troopy, and we’d run out of money. We needed to get jobs, but it turns out that the unemployment rate in Cairns is really high. Fortunately, Juz found a job at Subway, but I wasn’t having any luck with the countless job applications I was sending out. I applied for admin jobs that I’m more than qualified for, as well as retail and labouring work and anything else that sounded decent. After three months of automated rejections, a guy we were living with ended up getting me a job working with him and his boss as a gardener.
I naively expected the work to be all about planting trees, pruning roses and re-potting plants. It was nothing like that at all. Almost all of the work was body corporate funded garden maintenance for apartment blocks.
When we arrived at a job, we’d pick up any rubbish and fallen palm fronds, snip and mow the grass, use the leaf-blower to clean up, and finally spray any weeds. Sometimes I’d use the hedge-trimmer to cut back overgrown bushes or the extendable pole-saw to cut off seed pods high up in the palm trees.
There are lots of companies doing garden maintenance in Cairns, which means the industry is highly competitive and they have to keep their prices low to get the work. As an employee, it means you have to work really fast. With temperatures up in the mid 30s and humidity around 90%, it was hot, sweaty, thirsty, exhausting work.
Overall, I enjoyed the work and would do a similar job again, just not in the tropics.
Cairns is a city in tropical north Queensland and is a major tourism destination for both Australians and Internationals. We were here for around 7 months and really got to know Cairns – we even got to meet a fellow blogger, Kate Richards (AdventureMumma).
Outdoor fitness is a big focus in Cairns, with a timetable of free activities on offer along the Esplanade, like yoga, Zumba and tai chi. The Lagoon is also popular with everyone. Many locals also run along the Promenade or work out at one of the fitness stations.
One thing you’ll notice about Cairns is the smelly bats. They hang around in the trees near the library and Cairns City bus terminal during the day and once the sun starts to set, they get active and take flight to find their dinner. If you’re looking for a car park and don’t mind a bit of poop on your car, there is usually a spot or two available next to the library.
Cairns is one of the fastest growing towns in Queensland, with a population of over 151,000 people and is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
Over 2 million Aussie and international tourists visit Cairns every year.
The region is home to the world’s most dangerous bird – the cassowary – and the world’s largest moth – the Hercules moth.
Queensland’s highest mountain Mount Bartle Frere (1622m) is 51km to the south.
Cairns has the highest youth unemployment rate in Queensland with over 21% of 15 to 24 year olds not working (December 2014)
Cairns, like many other towns in Australia, was founded after the discovery of gold. The city was named after Sir William Wellington Cairns, an Irish fellow who was appointed the governor of Queensland in 1875, one year before Cairns was founded.
Cairns started off as an uninhabitable swamp with nothing much to offer until a railway was built to connect the coast to the Tablelands. After nearly 30 years of settlement, Cairns finally became a town in 1903 with a population of 3,500. Once the gold rush died down, the railway was used for agricultural purposes to transport fruit and dairy to the coastal flats, where the sugar cane grew and still grows to this day.
Being in the tropics isn’t all sunshine and coconuts – cyclones can sweep through at any time during the wet season and cause some serious damage. Cairns met Cyclone Willis in 1927 and Cyclone Agnes in 1956, and while both were fairly destructive, Cairns recovered.
Tourism in Cairns became a major industry in the 1980s with the opening of the international airport and listing of World Heritage areas in the surrounding rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It is still a major tourism city that attracts visitors from all over the world who want to see the reef and explore the Daintree.
Places of Interest
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome
This awesome place is located in the dome on top of the Casino. Meet some cute Aussie animals and brave the zip line and rope course above, all in one day!
The Esplanade & Marina
Cairns may be a major tourism centre but for the locals, outdoor fitness and activities make up a big part of the culture. The Esplanade is reclaimed land that has been renovated into a wonderful outdoor venue for everyone. Have a picnic on the grass, go for a run along the promenade, or have a splash in the lagoon. There are free fitness activities on every week, like yoga, volleyball or Zumba, and there is also a Saturday morning market.
The marina is just around the corner and is a great place to buy some fresh seafood straight from the fishing boats. The Pier Shopping Centre nearby has a variety of bars, restaurants and retail shops.
Rusty’s is open on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, but the best time to go for cheap fruit and vegetable is between 2pm and 4pm on Sunday. There’s a huge variety of tropical fruits, Asian greens and unusual produce. There’s also a few food trucks and stalls selling bags, bibs and bobs.
The Night Markets
On every night from 4:30pm, the night markets are accessible from the Esplanade and feature a variety of stalls from jewellery and lanolin creams to massage and souvenirs galore. The food court on the Esplanade side is a good place for a cheap feed. For $14.90, purchase an extra large tub and fill it with ALL THE FOODS – octopus, battered fish, fried prawns, omelette, everything…
Centenary Lakes Botanic Garden
A few clicks out of town you’ll find the Cairns botanic gardens. There is a beautiful rainforest section, bamboo gardens, lakes with turtles and a variety of birds and for the fabulously fit, the Red Arrow Walk will reward you with great views over the airport.
Nearby is the Tanks Art Centre, which holds monthly markets during the dry season, and the Flecker Gardens display a diverse range of tropical plants and pretty flowers – keep your eyes open for the White Bat Flower – amazing.
About 27km north of Cairns is Palm Cove – a little beach community that is popular with holiday makers and weddings. The esplanade is choc-a-block with fancy and award-winning restaurants, hotels and tourist outlets that are built around old Melaleuca trees, while the long white beach lined with palm trees is perfect for wedding photos or a great holiday snap.
We rocked up to Palm Cove just in time for the Reef Feast festival, and sampled some of the food on offer from some of the best restaurants in the village.
Behana Gorge & Walsh’s Pyramid
Walsh’s Pyramid is visible from the top of the Casino in Cairns, but it is about 28km south along the A1 highway. At 922m, it is believed to be the highest freestanding pyramid in the world, and is a part of the same mountain range as Queensland’s two highest mountains, Mount Bartle Frere (1622 m) and Mount Bellenden Ker (1593 m).
Nestled in between the peaks is Behana Gorge. Be prepared for the long walk but it’s worth it once you get to explore the gorge and cool off in the waters that make up Cairns’ water supply.
A little closer to town is a secluded swimming hole that is quite the local hotspot. Crystal Cascades is about 5km south of Redlynch and is popular during the summer months as visitors cool off in the fresh water pools.
Big Captain Cook & Big Marlin
Cairns has two Big Things – one can be seen as you drive along the Cook Highway while the other is near Stockland Shopping Centre in Earlville.
Food & Drink
Our first visit to Cairns started with a pub crawl through town, and from that venture, we can say that the Union Jack and the Courthouse Hotel are great pubs for a Sunday sesh, while the Croc Bar at the Grand Hotel is a sight to see. If you prefer to party, check out Gilligan’s.
We also went to a few trivia nights throughout the week. Thursday nights was at the Salthouse – meals and drinks are expensive but the pork belly pizza is delicious, and there are plenty of prizes to be won. Sunday nights at the Serpent Bar at Nomads on Lake Street is a very cheap night in terms of meals and drinks, but there is only one prize – a round of drinks for the winning team. Monday nights at the Red Beret in Redlynch was our favourite trivia spot – not only because it was close to home and the trivia format was good, but the chicken fajitas won Juz over. Don’t try the pizza though – Roscoe’s across the road is much better.
Here are a few other eateries worth mentioning…
If you love noodle soup and dumplings, there are two locations that are perfect. Rest assured that if the wait for a table at Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum is too long, you can wander around the corner to Tokyo Dumpling and still be satisfied with a great value meal. Another great Asian place is BaMienVietnamese Cafe. We had visitors from Melbourne and took them here for lunch. It was a fluke that this place turned out to be fantastic. The dishes were well priced, well portioned and absolutely delicious.
Coffee lovers can head to two locations in the city – Caffiend and Smith Street Cafe. Both offer great coffee in a funky environment. If you’re after a tasty breakfast, try the Lillipad Cafe or Ozmosis near the Botanic Gardens. Lillipad has some great vegetarian options while Ozmosis gets you out of the city with their scrumptious Eggs Benedict.
Having won multiple awards, Ochre Restaurant is considered to be the best restaurant in Cairns. Juz’s awesome sister got us an Ochre gift voucher for Christmas so we got to indulge in a bit of modern Australian cuisine, like wallaby steak, Davidson plum jam and lemon myrtle sweet chilli sauce.
We were in Cairns for around 6 months and took it upon ourselves to find the best pizza. Some pizzas were too soggy, lacked flavour or were overpriced. All in all, we found some great pizzas…
Information & Accommodation
Cairns Tourist Information Centre – Cnr Alplin St & The Esplanade, Cairns. Ph: (07) 4031 1751
Just in case you didn’t know, ramen is a Japanese noodle dish served with broth. The base of the broth can be miso, soy, fish, pork, or chicken and the dish can be served with a variety of things like slices of meat or poultry, boiled eggs, fish cakes, sesame seeds, a few vegetables like cabbage, kelp, sprouts or corn. It is essentially a Japanese noodle soup and is mega delicious.
There are two fantastic restaurants in Cairns that serve up a wicked bowl of ramen – Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum and Tokyo Dumpling.
Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum
We visited this place many times and even got loyalty cards so we could score a plate of their delicious, freshly made gyoza (Japanese dumplings). They are quite popular with visitors and locals alike, and at peak times there is usually a wait for a table.
They specialise in ramen, but also do a few rice dishes too. You can pretty much order anything from the menu and win in one way or another. When the waitress takes your order, you can choose whether you want your noodles done soft, medium or hard, and later on when you’re halfway through your meal, the waitress comes back to ask if you want another dose of noodles.
This place is much more casual than Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum but is just as good in its own way. They have a few ramen and rice bowl items on the menu, but their main treat is dumplings. Choose between pork, chicken, vegetable, cheese potato, curry beef and potato or prawn! They cook them fresh and either pan fry or deep fry. If you have a sweet tooth, they even do chocolate banana dumplings…
Juz fell in love with the Tan Tan Noodles– pork mince, a boiled egg and some vegetables on top of ramen in a delicious soy milk broth. Luscious, satisfying, addictive – and with their lunch or dinner special that includes three dumplings, how can you refuse?
Winner of the 2014 Best Backpacker Awards in the Queensland Tourism Awards, Cairns Central YHA ticks all the boxes. A clean and well maintained hostel with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that provides affordable accommodation in a central location. With everything in such close proximity, and a tour desk to book all your adventures, this is an ideal place to base yourself while you explore tropical north Queensland.
There are 225 beds in 59 rooms that range from 10 bed dorms to double and family rooms. Each room has keyless entry and is air conditioned.
The outdoor common areas include a pool surrounded by sun chairs and two spas, hammocks on the balcony, an undercover outdoor area with a pool table and a courtyard with a fountain. Inside, you’ll find a lounge area with a TV, a quiet reading room, and a nice big kitchen with plenty of fridge space and shelving for food.
In the reception area, there’s a tour desk that has special deals for guests and there’s also a money exchange service. Reception hours are between 6:30am and 11pm, and check out is at 10am.
Cairns Central YHA offers FREE WiFi to all guests and FREE pick up from the airport between 8am – 8pm.
Things Close By
Cairns Central Shopping Centre – Across the road. Includes major stores and supermarkets.
The Grand Hotel – 80m. Cheap meals and the Croc Bar.
Bus stop – 260m (out the front of Cairns Central Shopping Centre)
Central Plaza Doctors – 300m
Tokyo Dumpling – 600m. This place has awesome lunch and dinner specials, that include a main meal and three dumplings for under $15.
Woolworths, Abbott Street – 600m
Cairns Zoom & Wildlife Dome – 850m. Meet some Aussie wildlife while you zip line and navigate your way around a ropes course up to 13 metres high.
The Esplanade & Lagoon – 900m. Beautiful parklands built on reclaimed land and a free public swimming pool for everyone.
While we were in Cairns, we decided to go and try to find the best pizza in town. We sampled 11 pizzas from places in the city centre and surrounding suburbs, and were surprised by the amount of variation you can find. The criteria for a good pizza included choice, quality ingredients, a hardy base, great flavour and the price, as well as customer service and atmosphere.
Here is our list from worst to best…
The Red Beret
We love the Red Beret and would go there every Monday for trivia, but they provided the worst contender on our pizza quest. Poor selection on the menu, soggy base, cheap toppings, bland and overpriced. Can’t say the same about the chicken fajitas, though – they are consistently delicious.
Score: 4/10 – points earned only because it looked decent enough to coax us into buying one.
This was the second challenger on our pizza quest. We were lured in by the bargain of a large pizza for $15.
Juz’s mexicana had good flavour and a good amount of chilli but the base was soggy and doughy. The swirl of sour cream was visually appealing though. Dave wasn’t impressed with his Capricciosa. It had a soggy base, too much onion and no olives. He also had to pay extra for anchovies. Not bad if you’re on a budget but certainly not the best pizza…
Score: 6/10 – points lost because of soggy base and the Capricciosa lacked olives and having to pay extra for anchovies.
We visited La Pizza for lunch while Juz’s mum was in town. We ordered a small supreme pizza for $15.
The base was thin and well cooked with a crunchy crust, but while it wasn’t soggy, it was probably too thin to handle the toppings. The toppings were nice and fresh, but perhaps some more seasoning or garlic would have made the flavours pop. All in all, it was a little lacklustre.
Score: 6.5/10 – points lost due to floppy base and lack of flavour punch.
We drove out to the northern beaches to give Holloways Pizza a go. We got a large Italian pizza for $24 topped with bacon, pepperoni, ham, mushroom, capsicum, onion, olives and anchovies. The first thing we noticed was the base – amazing base with a lip of crust, ready to hold whatever toppings were thrown at it.
The massive let down was the toppings – everything was there but not enough. We hardly noticed any tomato sauce, anchovies were occasional and it needed more olives, salt, seasoning, something! It had so much potential but missed the mark on flavour. Also, the 40 minute wait was too long – they need to upgrade their pizza oven to accommodate for the demand on a Friday night.
Score: 7/10 – points lost due to the poor amount of toppings, lack of flavour, no Capricciosa option, steep price and long wait. All the points go to the base.
Little Ricardo’s on Sheridan Street claims to have been voted the best pizza place in Cairns and we were curious to see if this was true. Juz got a large Mexicana for $19.90 with extra olives and the toppings were spicy and spot on. Dave wasn’t as impressed with his Capricciosa ($17.90), which lacked olives and ham! Both of our pizzas had a really thin base that didn’t have the structural integrity to handle the toppings. Tasty, but not the best… However, the service was good and our waiter, Giovanni was a really friendly guy.
Score: 7/10 – points lost due to the Capricciosa lacking olives and the base was way too thin.
The next pizza is proudly brought to you by Pedro’s on Sheridan Street. We got two large pizzas, two garlic breads and a bottle of drink for around $42.
Dave’s Capricciosa was delicious, with plenty of olives and anchovies while Juz’s Mexicana was a surprise with fresh chilli and minced beef instead of ham. What really blew us away was the thick, crusty base that handled all the toppings with gusto, but it could have done with a bit more salt. In fact, the base was so thick, that we ended up saving some slices for breakfast because we were so full. Their garlic bread was also fantastic.
Score: 8/10 – points lost due to super-thick bland base that made the pizza a little dry and too filling.
Houdini’s Pizza – Best Pizza Base
This was the first pizza on our quest and was the leader for a long time. We were hoping for a Capricciosa pizza but there was no such option so we went with a pizza that we both agreed on – Houdini’s Favourite. It had a great crust that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, while the toppings were of high quality, flavour and freshness. It cost us $21 for a large 12″ Houdini’s Favourite and we enjoyed every delicious bite.
It has been a few months since we’ve eaten there and it seems that they have since expanded their menu to include more traditional pizzas.
Score: 8/10 – points lost for lack of Capricciosa option, price and snotty customer service.
Il Forno – Best Quality Toppings
Just before our two-week hiatus in Melbourne, we drove up to Palm Cove to try the infamous Il Forno. These 12″ pizzas were $22 each which is quite dear, but the toppings were top notch quality and tasted fantastic.
Dave got the closest thing to a Capricciosa, which was the San Pietro and got extra anchovies while Juz got the mega spicy Il Forno. Both pizzas were served piping hot, too hot to touch initially. The thin base struggled to handle the toppings but was superb at the crust. Great pizza, truly… but the base was a major let down.
Score: 8/10 – point lost due to soggy base, extreme temperature when it was served and steep price.
Roscoe’s Pizza in Redlynch – Best Value for Money (Thursdays Only)
Roscoe’s in Redlynch was the closest pizza place to where we were living and we were blown away by the value. On Thursdays, they do 2 large pizzas for $20 so we opted for their Anchovy, Olive and Mushroom pizza, as well as a Salami pizza with additional olive and onion at no extra charge.
Both pizzas had a thin but hardy base that was not soggy at all. The olives were quality kalamata and there was enough anchovies and mushroom to satisfy Dave. The salami pizza had the perfect amount of cheese, and the extra toppings really set it off. Of all the pizzas we have tried in Cairns, Roscoe’s Pizza sits at the top for value.
Score: 9/10 – point lost because we suspect they don’t make their own base. It was just so neat!
Stratford Pizza – Equal Best Overall Pizza
This was the final adventure on our epic pizza quest – a little place called Stratford Pizza. Careful or you’ll miss it – it’s only open a few nights a week and is hidden away in the back streets. We’d had our eyes on this place for a while and with high hopes, we were pleasantly surprised. We ordered half and half Capricciosa and Neapolitan with bacon for $22, which was fair because of the extra charges for half and half and extra bacon.
The base was solid and the toppings delicious, plentiful and flavourful. The only thing about the pizza was that it was only cut three times instead of four, so we ended up with a massive slice each. This is easily ignored though because not only was the pizza great, but the licensed BYO courtyard had a lovely ukulele songstress serenading us with a cute tune about puppies.
Score: 9.5/10 – trivial half point lost due to incomplete slicing, but the base, toppings, flavour, price and atmosphere of the place makes it such a gem in the burbs. We highly recommend this place.
La Porchetta – Equal Best Overall Pizza
La Porchetta is conveniently located in the city centre, right next to the cinemas. We ordered a large half & half, Capricciosa and Italian for $19.50. Dave was happy with his pizza, it had all the standard ingredients and tasted great. For Juz, the Italian was the ultimate in pizza – bacon, hot salami, olives, anchovies, garlic and herbs. Wow! What a great combination of flavours. The base was nice and thin but with enough guts to hold up the toppings. Our La Porchetta Pizza rated so highly, it hit the top without hesitation.
Score: 9.5/10 – it ticked all the flavour boxes. Half point off for staff lazing around on couches.
Located on the Cook Highway as you enter Cairns from the north, the Big Captain Cook is a huge 14m high structure that has even been voted as Australia’s No. 1 Big Thing in one online poll.
The conception of the Big Captain Cook started as an advertising gimmick that would be used to promote the Endeavour Inn. When the plans were presented to the Council, the measurements were mistakenly read as feet and inches instead of metres and it was approved. Building went underway and needless to say, once it was unveiled in 1972, it was a lot bigger than expected. The Endeavour Inn was later renamed as the Captain Cook Backpackers Hostel.
In case you were wondering, the statue is not motioning to ‘Heil Hitler’. The design is based on a 1902 painting of Captain Cook landing at Botany Bay and commanding his crew to not shoot the approaching aborigines. Some locals believe that the statue is trying to hold back the barrage of tourists that visit Cairns every year.
Over the years, the statue has been repainted many times in a variety of colours, but the most controversial announcement came from the owner in 2010, who wanted to repaint the statue to look like George Washington. Cairns locals protested and the mayor said it would be “un-Cairns-like”. To make 2010 an even worse year for the Big Cook, plans to widen the Cook Highway meant that the statue might need to be moved, which put it at risk of crumbling due to ‘concrete cancer’.
The Captain Cook Backpackers Hostel was demolished in the mid-1990s and the surrounding trees are almost all gone too. These days, the lonely Big Captain Cook is fenced off in his own vacant lot, awaiting his fate.
The Big Marlin
Cairns is home to another big thing, the Big Marlin. This 10 metre tall structure was erected in 1980 and stands outside Stockland Shopping Centre on Mulgrave Road. While not much information can be found on why it was built, we believe it represents the Marlin Coast that runs from Cairns to Cooktown.
Cairns is considered to be the world capital of black marlin fishing, as the Great Barrier Reef is the only known breeding ground of the black marlin. This makes the region an ideal spot for sport-fishing, and the coveted catch is a black marlin that weighs in over 1000 pounds. In fact, there is a club dedicated to fisherman who have achieved the ‘ultimate in big game fishing’ – you can learn more about the World Grander Club here…
We’d like to introduce a local blogger in Cairns – Kate Richards. She is a mum to 2 very active kids, prefers the great outdoors to crafting or cooking any day. She is also an adventure and social media junkie, photographer & videographer. A true local of Tropical North Queensland and love sharing family adventures.
We asked her, if she has $100 and a day to spend in Cairns with a friend, what would she do? Here are her suggestions…
2. Check out the Esplanade Markets that run Saturday from 8am-4pm right next to the Lagoon. If you need to have a shower after your workout, there are facilities next to the lagoon.
3. Catch the 131 bus from the Cairns City bus station on Lake Street to the Botanic Gardens. Single paper tickets are $4.80 per person and are valid for two hours. On Saturdays, the 131 bus leaves the Cairns City bus station every hour on the hour and takes 15 mins to get too the Botanic Gardens.
4. Explore the Botanic Gardens, climb Red Arrow for views of Cairns and the Northern Beaches, then check out the Tanks Art Centre for local Art Exhibitions (10-2pm).
5.Catch the bus back to the Cairns City bus station and head to Rusty’s Fruit Market for lunch at one of the Rusty’s Food Trucks on the Sheridan St side.
From here there are two options – the relaxing option and the adventurous option.
The Relaxing Option
6. While you’re at Rusty’s, grab some fresh fruit & vegetables (for a BBQ later) from the market stalls.
7. Walk back to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon & take a dip in the lagoon. Listen to some live music on the lawns (2-5pm).
8. Visit Prawn Star at the Cairns Marina for some Fresh Local Seafood for dinner. Purchase a kilo of Banana Prawns for $25 with lemon. Ask for a tub of their special Prawn Star Sauce.
9. Cook dinner on the BBQs on the Cairns Esplanade.
10. Use your leftover to enjoy a cocktail and schooner of Little Creatures at the Salthouse.
The Wildlife Option
6. After lunch, head to the Cairns Wildlife Dome for an interactive experience with some native animals.
7. Share a large pizza from Oasis Kebab for dinner.
8. Head to the Salthouse for a pair of Great Northern schooners to wrap up the day.
Imagine a place where you can walk amongst the animals, climb above the treetops and feel on top of the world before floating back to earth. You can experience all of these things at one place – Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome.
You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself, but that ornate dome atop the Reef Casino in Cairns is home to an open wildlife exhibit with various rope courses, zip lines and the opportunity to get the best view in town.
Animal lovers don’t need to travel far from Cairns to get their fix. The Cairns Wildlife Dome is essentially a small tropical zoo within a 20 metre high glass dome that showcases native Australian animals. Built within the surroundings is Cairns ZOOm, an elaborate rope course with zip lines, a spiral staircase and a platform at the top to soak in the views of the region.
There are various talks throughout the day so that you can learn and interact with animals such as crocodiles, snakes, koalas and various birds. The animals are all fairly used to the presence of people so you can get up close without startling them. One of the best presentations is the crocodile feeding, where you can see and hear Goliath the saltwater crocodile snap at morsels of meat.
While many of the animals have their own separate enclosures, birds and small marsupials roam free in the rainforest environment. Kookaburras, frogmouths, curlews and cockatoos are easily spotted from the ground while parrots, herons and doves fly above and can be accessed from a circular boardwalk. There are over 400 animals within the dome, including an albino kookaburra that can turn the day into a game of hide and seek.
While many of the animals are visible during the day, such as the turtles, crocodiles and lizards, if you stick around after sunset, the nocturnal animals come out to play. Bettongs can be seen visiting the feeding stations, the mahogany gliders leave their cosy log for breakfast and curious pademelons are ready to meet the visitors. While we were in the pademelon section, they were so friendly, one even hopped into Dave’s lap for a kiss.
ZOOm Courses & Ziplines
When you enter the Wildlife Dome, the overhead ZOOm course is not hard to miss. It is the world’s first rope course set up in a wildlife exhibit and has over 65 different crossings, including ziplines, ladders, tyre bridges, rope webs and small platforms.
There are two ZOOm levels – the mid level course is great for beginners, kids and those who may be afraid of heights. Once you’ve completed the Mid-ZOOm, you’re ready for the Hi-ZOOm. This course is twice as long, with more crossings and climbs to nearly 10 metres above the floor of the dome. The view is amazing and dizzying at the very top. On the way down, there are three ziplines, with one that goes directly over Goliath’s pond. Don’t worry – there’s no chance he can jump high enough to get you, and there’s even a camera set up so you can take a cool photo souvenir home.
We were excited about getting up in the air, and the harnessing and safety processes by the friendly staff was nice and quick. The Mid-ZOOm course was a great introduction into what we were in for with the Hi-ZOOm, and we certainly worked up a sweat. It’s a great workout for your arms and core, trying to stay stable on wobbly bridges and holding onto ropes and rails. For the Hi-ZOOm course, we opted for a GoPro helmet for Dave. We are so happy to have video of the experience, especially the narrow beams at the top of the course that provide nothing to hold on to. They reminded Juz of the photos from the 1930s of the Rockefeller building construction workers sitting on beams up in the sky.
After the Zoom courses, we ducked out for lunch before returning just before sunset for the Dome Climb. We ascended the spiral staircase that takes you up to the top of the dome and were connected to a belay system before stepping through an opening to get outside. A tour guide was with us and she gave us a great run down on the history and geography of Cairns.
Needless to say, this is THE BEST VIEW OF CAIRNS, and it was even more magical at sunset. We dangled ourselves off the edge, walked all the way around the Dome and took heaps of pictures before climbing back inside.
After soaking in the great views of Cairns from the Dome Climb, we had no intention of walking back down the spiral staircase, so we chose to jump down… or POWERJUMP down! The PowerJump involves stepping off a platform 13 metres high and falling at a speed of about 30km/h to land safely at the bottom. The descent is controlled by a special fan that dissipates the potential energy and allows for a fast fall and soft landing.
Dave suggested Juz go first so he could film her with the GoPro. He probably could’ve filmed from the bottom, but then you wouldn’t be able to see the expression of her face at the edge of the platform before she jumped – or to be more accurate, crumbled – and let out a nice scream on her way down. HAHAHA! After she landed, she promptly curled up into the foetal position. Dave went next and owned it. He didn’t even make a noise.
After de-harnessing, the Dome was dark so we did another lap to meet some of the critters that come out at night.
We had an incredible time at Cairns ZOOm and Wildlife Dome. The open plan of the zoo provides the opportunity to interact with some the animals, while the rope courses above are a great way to get an active thrill. If the physical aspect of the rope course is not your cup of tea, then the Dome Climb is certainly a must do activity because those views are absolutely magnificent.
My mum came to visit us in Cairns during the Christmas period, and while she was here, she wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef. I was also keen to see the natural wonder so a booking was made with Ocean Spirit Cruises.
The day started early – we needed to be at the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal by around 7:30am to board the catamaran by 8am. We had our bags packed with all the essentials – togs, towels, thongs, tonnes of sunscreen and an underwater camera we hired from a shop in Cairns for $45.
The boat took about two hours to get to our destination, so we did some sunbaking, watched a presentation about the animals that we might see, and we were treated to complementary morning tea. Michaelmas Cay is a small sand island surrounded by reef, about 41km from Cairns. It’s actually a national park and is a protected sanctuary for around 23 species of migrating seabirds like sooty terns and boobies. The boat was anchored about 100 metres from the cay and after a quick fish feeding session, a shuttle boat started to taxi people to the island.
With 4 hours to spend on the reef, we spent as much time as we could in the water, looking at colourful coral and watching the fish. The parrot fish were particularly memorable, especially in big groups – if you held your breath and listened, you could hear their hard beaks crunching away at the coral. Other highlights included seeing a green turtle, giant clams with fluorescent colours and tiny clown fish.
After a few hours of snorkelling, it was time for lunch. We caught the shuttle boat back to the catamaran for a full buffet lunch that included chicken, prawns, ham off the bone, vegetable curry and various salads, and for dessert, there was fruit salad and carrot cake. Everything was absolutely delicious, and due to our severe food coma, we didn’t go back to the island. Instead, we went on a tour of the reef in a semi-submersible coral viewing boat before collapsing in the lounge of the catamaran with no more energy to move.
It was at this point that I realised that I must have been sitting down when I applied sunscreen, because my butt and lower back were burnt to a crisp. The two hour journey back to Cairns was spent on the verge of napping, but we held it together for a complementary glass of sparkling wine.
Once we got back to Cairns, we went to the store where we hired to underwater camera to retrieve our images, which were handed to us on a complementary 4GB SD card.
All in all, it was a fabulous day. Seeing the reef was a humbling experience, especially from within the semi-sub. When you see portions of the reef as big as houses and consider that it stretches for 2,600km and is an ancient platform for an abundance of life, you truly appreciate why it needs to be protected. Ocean Spirit Cruises are a great way to go out and see the reef, but if you can’t afford the $188, there are budget tours for around $99. If you plan to visit any of the towns and cities along the coast that call themselves the ‘Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’, I highly recommend that you allocate some cash for a day on the water.
Thanks mum! I had a great day on the Reef, and my bum didn’t peel one bit!