Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Surrounding Areas

Cairns is a quaint little city in Far North Queensland, in the North East region of Australia. It should be noted that in the Southern Hemisphere, north means warm HOT. Being a mere 1000 miles south of the Equator makes it a very desirable tropical destination (if you’re into exotic animals, abundant flora and changing clothes 3 times a day). The city itself is not really a destination but rather a landing place for all Great Barrier Reef related activities. For all those who don’t know what the Great Barrier Reef is, it’s simply the only living organism that can be seen from space! How freaking cool is that?


Alaska Airlines First Class from Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Star Alliance Lounge Los Angeles
Virgin Australia Business Class from Los Angeles (LAX) to Brisbane (BNE)
Virgin Australia Lounge Brisbane
Virgin Australia First Class from Brisbane (BNE) to Cairns (CNS)
Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, and Surrounding Areas
Virgin Australia Lounge Cairns
Virgin Australia First Class from Cairns (CNS) to Melbourne (MEL)
Westin Melbourne and the Press Club
Garuda Indonesia Business Class from Melbourne (MEL) to Denpasar, Bali (DPS)
Sheraton Kuta, Bali (Wow, Wow, Wow!!)
Korean Air Business Class from Denpasar (DPS) to Seoul (ICN)
Korean Air Lounge, Seoul
Free! Cultural Experience in Seoul
Korean Air Business Class from Seoul (ICN) to Seattle (SEA)

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, back to Cairns. As soon as we got there we went to the Esplanade, which seems to be where everyone goes at the end of the day to forget about their oh so busy and stressful lives, and spent some time walking around. Locals can be seen frequenting the public pool at the Esplanade, which overlooks the sunset, sharing a typical meal of shrimp on the barbie while still in their work attire (i.e. swimmers and thongs). Recommendation: save yourselves a few bucks by buying your preferred meat/fish/burger and using the public grills at the Esplanade; trust me, you’ll need the extra money for all the scuba diving and touristy activities that will follow.


Something we learned earlier when visiting Australia for the first time is that it is a weird place indeed. It becomes pretty apparent that everything in Australia is trying to kill you. There’s plants that look like animals, animals that look like aliens, bugs the size of small chickens and creatures that look like the fruit of the forbidden love between two very distinct species. And that’s precisely what makes it such a wonderful place to visit. Don’t waste your time in the city too much, venture out, rent a car and drive in any direction into lush rain forests. That’s what we did. We went to Port Douglas for some brunch and then walked some trails in the Mossman Gorge in the Daintree National Park (which is run by the indigenous population of the area), where we dipped in the creek to cool down a bit in between some small waterfalls.

As for Scuba diving, this is the place to do it. There’s about a million different companies offering the exact same service (in fact, most are own by the same conglomerate, and many different companies in fact charter the same boat) so you choose the one that better suits your pocket. It’s worth noting that the Great Barrier Reef extends 1400 miles and is made up of around 3000 different reefs, however there’s only a few that are exploited for tourism due to their relative proximity to the coast; this is important to keep in mind since it takes about 90 minutes to reach the reefs after leaving port, so you might want to factor that in to your planning. Most chartered boats leave from either Cairns or Port Douglas; we did both and I’ll have to say they’re both great, but the reefs out of Port Douglas (where we dove the Hastings Reef) were much much more diverse and the waters much more clearer than the ones out of Cairns (where we dove the Agincourt Reefs).

We decided we wanted to explore the area a bit more, so we got a rental car car hire and hit a few other places near Cairns in a full day road trip, of course driving on the wrong side of the road. We went through the Curtain Fig National Park, where you can spot some tree-kangaroos and the magnificent fig tree that gives this park its name. Later we stopped at Gallo Dairyland Creamery for lunch before spending the rest of the afternoon at a platypus park, where we managed to see them in the wild, which is not a very usual thing.


One of the very unusual things going on in Cairns is sunset. The beautiful orange tones of the sun setting in the horizon would be extremely romantic, were it not for some equally gorgeous yet misunderstood creatures; the Spectacled Flying Fox. A fox that flies, you say? Well, not exactly. That’s the beauty of euphemisms; you say potato, I say giant hairy fruit bats by the thousands flying every sunset in every direction making a lot of noise. By now I can picture half the readers having a panic attack, but fear not, as these are fruit-eating bats and carry no diseases that could affect humans, in fact, they’re federally protected as they’re crucial to the pollination and seed dispersal of many native species. They are lovely animals no doubt, with very important niches in the environment but nonetheless it’s nice to know before you find yourself in scene the likes of ‘The Birds’ by Hitchcock.


You’ll also notice other oddities like tropical fruit, and no, I do not mean bananas, though they do have some very tasty ones. Go wild and try some dragon fruits, mangosteens, carambolas, custard apples, jackfruits, lychees, rambutans, star apples, etc. These fruits can be found in any of the hundreds of stands either at the side of the roads if you’re taking a day trip around the area or if you visit the Night Markets for some cheap food or a ridiculously affordable massage as well.


Awesome road side fruit stands



Rambutan fruit


Cairns is the best city to start your adventures into the Great Barrier Reef, but apart from that it’s a city that could easily be skipped on your Aussie tour de force.  The city is rather expensive for tourist activities, so I’d suggest renting a car and heading out, making your own journey.  The people are amazing and friendly, and the wildlife was equally as interesting.  Don’t miss it if you’re heading to the Barrier Reef or you’re into unique and diverse flora/fauna.

Coming up next, our trip to Melbourne for a taste of city life before heading onto Bali.  Stay tuned!


Author: Ben Nickel-D'Andrea

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