City Profile : Cairns



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.


Cairns 2014-10-17 003


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.


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Fast Facts

  • 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.


Great Barrier Reef - Justine snorkling


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!


Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome


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 Markets

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.


Cairns Botanic Gardens


Palm Cove

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.


Palm Cove, Cairns


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.


Behana Gorge Cairns


Crystal Cascades

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.


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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…


Asian Delights

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.


Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum Cairns


Great Cafes

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.


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Ochre Restaurant

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.


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Pizza Quest

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:


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. 



Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum Cairns

Eating Out : Ramen in Cairns

Ajisen Ramen Melbourne


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.


Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum Cairns


Tokyo Dumpling

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?


Tokyo Dumpling Cairns


Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites

Eating Out : Twee’s Hut Vietnamese Favourites, Melbourne VIC

Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites


It was our first day in back Melbourne and Juz wanted nothing more than a big bowl of pho.  Even though we’re travelling around the country, she’s still interested in the Melbourne food scene, curious about which restaurants are on the top and whether there are any new places taking Melbourne foodies by storm.


A few months ago, Juz received an invitation to try out a new Vietnamese place in the CBD, and since we were in town, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.  So, for our first day in Melbourne, we found ourselves driving into the city during lunchtime to sample the offerings of Twee’s Hut Vietnamese Favourites.  Now, maybe we’d been a bit spoilt in Darwin, because we had completely forgotten how frustrating and painful driving in the Melbourne CBD can be.  Not to mention finding parking!


However, when we walked in to Twee’s Hut, all was forgotten with the sultry aromas of Vietnamese cooking.  It was evident that the lunchtime rush was over and this gave us the perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves to Ricky.


Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites


Ricky and his wife Thuy used to be office workers, bound to their desks day in and day out.  While they had thought about changing the scenery and opening up a Vietnamese restaurant, it wasn’t until a cancer scare opened their eyes and made them realise how short life is.   After a lot of planning and hard work, Twee’s Hut was born in November 2013.


Their story really resonated with us – our situation was fairly similar before we decided to pack up all our belongings and travel around the country.


The philosophy behind Twee’s Hut Vietnamese Favourites is revealed in the name – to showcase the favourites of authentic Vietnamese home cooking and create a very warm and familiar atmosphere that’s just like home.  Their passion for great food drives them to produce dishes of high standards, and Thuy won’t send anything out unless she’s happy with it.


Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites


On that note, it was time to order.  While Juz was certain she’d have the beef pho, Dave was seduced by a piece of roast pork with crackling in the window.  He ended up ordering some with rice for now and some in a Bánh Mi ‘Captain Baguette’ pork roll for later.  We also got the signature dish – Soul Bowl – which is a combination noodle dish that consists of two kinds of noodles, pork, prawn, a little quail egg, crushed peanuts, fried shallots and coriander with a side of chicken broth.


Everything was amazing in its own way.  The flavours and textures of the Soul Bowl were fantastic, especially when you scoop a spoonful of pork mince, peanuts and fried onion into your mouth for an explosion of flavour.  Juz’s beef pho was clean and very well balanced, with the sliced raw onion amplifying the savoury flavour and the lime juice provided the perfect amount of tang to contrast the subtle sweetness.  Dave’s roast pork was the star of the show with its mighty crunch of crackling.  The meat was super juicy and not oversalted, so the flavour of the pork really stood out.


Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites


We had definitely eaten our fill and thanked Ricky for his warm hospitality before we headed back to the car with pork roll in hand.  Later that night, after a catch up with friends at the pub, we got home and Dave found the roast pork roll in the fridge.  The crackling still had its crunch and that unmistakably addictive flavour, and the roll disappeared in a flash.


Twee's Hut Vietnamese Favourites


We’re glad that we accepted Ricky’s invitation to visit Twee’s Hut.  We really enjoyed their story because we could relate and it validated our reasons for setting off around Australia. Ricky was also a great host who warmly greeted customers and wished a regular all the best with their new baby.  It was really heart-warming to see someone being so genuinely interested in his customers, but after all, Twee’s Hut has another purpose other than serving delicious food.  They want to provide an experience that revolves around caring and sharing, and promotes happiness and health.  They even donate a portion of their sales of Fru-G Lifters to the Cancer Council!  If only we had room in our bellies for one of those…


So if you’re in the CBD and hungry for a delicious meal made with love, visit Twee’s Hut – you won’t be disappointed.


Eating Out : Chow!, Darwin NT


A new Vietnamese restaurant opened in Darwin while we were there and after dubbing Saigon Star as the provider of the best pho, we realised we had a new contender to sample.  We set our expectations fairly low and walked down to the Waterfront for a feed.


We arrived just as they opened and chose a table inside next to the window.  The décor was clean and attractive with a pretty feature wall and fabric lighting fixtures around a central bar.  We ordered some beer while we perused the menu.  While the laksa, Vietnamese savoury crepes and Lemongrass chicken caught our eye, Juz went with a beef pho and Dave selected the wonton and BBQ pork egg noodle soup.




Our lunch came out fast, and was presented beautifully in designer crockery.  At first, Juz was a little disappointed that the ritual of adding fresh herbs to the soup herself was taken away, but after tasting the soup with the herbs already included, she realised there was a new winner.  The broth was clear and fresh and was beautiful balanced with cinnamon and star anise.  The noodles were soft, silky and fresh while the beef was tender and extra delicious when dipped in the provided plum sauce.


Dave’s soup was colourful but didn’t have as much appeal as Juz’s pho.  The dumplings were a little bland and the noodles needed more time to cook, but the broth was tasty.




Overall, we really liked Chow! and look forward to our next visit.  They have a great selection of beer, their cocktails have funny names and the pho was absolutely delicious – quite possibly the best pho Juz has had since we left Melbourne.


Chow! on Urbanspoon


Palmerston Markets

Experience : Darwin Markets

Darwin is hardcore market central during the Dry Season.  Between Thursday and Sunday, there are about 5 or 6 different markets that you can go to, and each offers something a little different.  A few stay open during the Wet Season so you can still get your cheap vegetables and noodle soups throughout the year.


Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Thursday & Sunday nights from 4pm – Dry Season only

By far the most popular market in Darwin, the Mindil Beach Markets has more than 60 food stalls serving food from more than 20 different countries and about 200 art and craft stalls. It runs from May until October at Mindil Beach, Darwin.



Browse through the colourful clothes, beautiful jewellery or head over to the whip stall for a crack.  Grab a delicious laksa, tub of delicious crispy chicken or a woodfire pizza – some of our favourite meals have been at Mindil, including a pork hock covered in crackling.  While you eat, check out one of the live performances or join hundreds of other people on the beach to watch the magnificent sunset (FYI – the sunset is also amazing on other days of the week).


At the end of the season, they have a big Mindil Market with extra stalls, extra performances, and fireworks on the beach.



Nightcliff Markets

Sunday 8am – 2pm all year round

These colourful markets began in 1996 and is a great place for a relaxed weekend breakfast and browse. Listen to local musicians and tire the kids out on the playground while you munch on a sticky pork skewer.


Parap Market

Saturday 8am – 2pm all year round

A local shopkeepers started these market in 1982 and it’s one of the few markets that run during the Wet Season as well.  All the regular stalls are there – arts and crafts, exotic food and juice bars.



Rapid Creek Markets and Monsoon Markets

Thursdays from 5pm during the Wet, Sunday 8am – 2pm all year round

Darwin’s oldest market, it hass been running since the late 1970s. It runs all year round and is a great place to pick up some Asian produce and treats, soups and juices, and a massage.  Nok’s Thai Massage is the ultimate treat – and they’re open throughout the week.


Coolalinga Rural Markets

Saturdays 8am – 1pm all year round

Since the late 1980s, these markets run on Saturday from 8am to 1pm all year round.  We think of it as the cowboy market because of the crowd that is usually there, and you can buy food, crafts, plants, pets and live poultry.



Friday nights from 5pm – Dry Season only

These markets began in the mid-1980s and runs from April to October.   There are over 200 stalls, most are the regulars that circulate all the markets, but the food tends to be a little cheaper. Grab some sweet rice or a spiral spud!



It’s really busy with lots of families and kids running around.  There is also a massive grassed area for entertainment.  Sometimes there’s a clown to get the kids jumping around, an acoustic act or dance lessons.  At sunset, the lorikeets come out and make a racket but it’s a great sight.


Palmerston Markets


Mindil Beach Sunset Markets

Beef pho @ Saigon Star

Eating Out : Saigon Star, Darwin NT

Juz was working a temp reception role in Darwin city and had an hour off for lunch so she went down the street to find some pho.  There were two places – one was a bit fancy and had pho on the menu for $15 while Saigon Star was less fancy, had more people eating there, and a bowl only cost $11.50.


Saigon Star


The restaurant was divided into two, with a few places to eat inside by the counter and a larger outdoor sunroom that was enclosed and air conditioned so you could eat on the street without getting drenched in sweat.  After sitting down at a table that overlooked Smith Street, Juz was impressed with the super fast service.  The waitress took the order, returned with a bottle of water and a glass, and within 10 minutes, Juz had a big bowl of pho in front of her with all the garnishes and sauces on the side.


Beef pho @ Saigon Star


The soup was great – full of fresh ingredients, pieces of tender beef and flavoursome broth.  Juz used all the herbs, a handful of bean shoots, a few slices of red chilli and all the juice she could squeeze out of the wedge of lemon.  On a side plate, she squirted a blob of chilli sauce for the beef that she fished out from amongst the rice noodles.  It was really filling and hit the spot perfectly.


Juz will have to bring Dave here for a nice dinner sometime – crispy skin chicken, grilled pork chops, Vietnamese coleslaw with chicken and squid – but what was really missing from the menu was Che Ba Mau, or three colour bean drink.  This dessert drink is the best and really refreshing on a hot day.
Vietnamese Saigon Star on Urbanspoon