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 BaMien Vietnamese 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
Public transport in Cairns is mainly a bus network operated by SunBus. For information about ticketing and timetables, go here: http://www.sunbus.com.au/sit_cairns.htm
Cairns Central YHA is conveniently located in the city at 20-26 McLeod Street. To make a booking, call (07) 4051 0772 or visit their website.