Cairns, Queensland, Australia 16th to 24th October 2012.
The city of Cairns is nestled on the coast of Far North Queensland about 2500km from Sydney by road. The city is tucked between the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea and the lush rolling downs of the Atherton Tableland to the west.
The official Cairns region follows a narrow coastal strip from Ellis Beach in the north to Mirriwinni in the south and covers an area of 1687sq km. This includes Queensland's tallest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere, and two World Heritage-listed attractions - the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforests
Cairns is home to more than 130,000 people from all corners of the world
The first European to discover the site of what is now called Cairns was Captain James Cook who sailed up the coast of northeast Australia in June, 1770.
The journey of his ship the HM Bark Endeavour was not easy as the Great Barrier Reef is difficult to navigate. At 30m long, Cook's ship was quite small and it sustained serious damage when it ran aground on a coral reef.
Captain Cook and his crew managed to gain the coast and holed up in what became the Endeavour River, near Cooktown, north of Cairns.
The region was rugged, difficult to explore and didn't do much to cheer Cook and his crew as can be seen in the names he dotted about … Cape Tribulation, Hope Island and Weary Bay.
Tuesday 16th October
We checked into JJ's Backpackers, this was double room with shared facilities on a half board basis. The rooms where small, clean with a fairly comfy bed. There is also a small pool onsite. The staff were very friendly and knowledgeable about Cairns and activities. Breakfast consisted of help yourself cereals and toast. Dinner was in a restaurant/bar in the City centre, which was a 20 minutes walk. It is a voucher system which enables you to upgrade at a cost, unfortunately it services several hostals and gets very busy, meals are very basic but appetizing.
After breakfast we walked down into town and checked out a few tour prices against the car hire for a few days. We decided to have a car because we can then go when and where we want, also much better value this way.
Cairns has little in the way of a beach and the one it does have has a big yellow warning sign about crocodiles, so I guess no swimming then. It does however have 'The Lagoon' a very large swimming pool area near the beach which is free, with excellent changing, eating and sunbathing facilities.
At night time we walked along the promenade to the main town, this was a great opportunity to people watch as there are BBQ sites, a skate park and several exercise sites. Cairns has large fruit bats called 'flying Foxes' that roost in the trees during the day but at night come out to feed, these are fascinating to watch as they swoop just above your heads.
Wednesday 17th October
We used the hire car today to go North of Cairns along the coast to Port Douglas stopping at Barron Falls near Kuranda on the way.Just a ten minute drive north of Cairns is the Barron River. This river was responsible for cutting through the escarpment country to create the nearby Barron Gorge. At the top of the gorge, near Kuranda, are Barron Falls. The once mighty flow is today diverted for hydroelectricity, so now the full Falls are only seen in flow during the extreme wet season. In such a flow, the water tumbles over 260 meters to the river below. The Falls, and much of that river, are protected as part of the 'Barron Falls National Park'. The best known view of the Barron Falls is from above the Barron Falls railway station on the Cairns to Kuranda railway. The view can also be reached by car or foot from Kuranda, and has been the premier vantage point for over a century. There are also views of the gorge from the Skyrail.
There isn't a lot of water in the falls due to it being dry season I can imagine they are pretty impressive during the wet season. Kuranda is good for souvenir shopping because of it's many shops and markets with their exotically handcrafted goods, Aboriginal artifacts, restaurants and coffee shops make Kuranda a well known day destination
Port Douglas is on a peninsula so it has the feeling of an island with sea on both sides. It is an upmarket seaside town with good shops and plenty of bars and restaurants. The views out to sea at pretty too. We visited Four Mile Beach which is considered the premier beach of Port Douglas, beginning at the northern rocky headland and continuing for four more miles without any buildings or construction interrupting the pristine views. Whilst Four Mile Beach curves around one side of Port Douglas there is d*** on Inlet nestled on the other side with a protected harbour and marina. Located here is a small beach which is great for a refreshing swim and paddle about.
On the drive back we stopped at Ellis beach for a walk and paddle. Onto Palm Cove to watch the sunset and the locals fishing, apparently this is a popular spot to propose to your loved one, I can understand why. We also drove past a field with a pack(mob) of wallabies in, so we stopped to take photos.
Thursday 18th October
Chilling out by the lagoon today. We went to the local supermarket and bought some meat to use on the communal BBQ near the beach. We were surprised how well kept they were and clean too. If this was in the UK they would be destroyed within weeks. Plenty of people watching again. In the afternoon we walked round the marina looking at the boats, there were some very large ones. We then went to the night market, which is open every evening and provides a chance for local crafts people to sell their wares - great for souvenirs. They also have a food court, which is great for dinner and very reasonable for price too.
Friday 19th October
We hired a car again today and this time headed South along the Bruce Highway to the Atherton Tablelands and the waterfall trail. The drive between Cairns and Babinda passes through spectacular mountainous scenery and luscious rainforest as well as sugar and banana farming communities. Queensland's two highest mountains; Mt Bartle Frere and Mt Bellenden Ker are both visible along the drive.
We stopped at Babinda Boulders, huge boulders and streams. Then onto Josephine falls where Peter Andre filmed his pop video for 'Mysterious Girl' and the Timotei advert was also filmed there. We then followed the Gillies Highway to Malinda to the crater lakes of Eacham and Barrine. Lake Barrine is another of Mother Natures wonders. The wildlife in the lake are a fascination on their own with the lake only having female eels that spend 10-15years of their lives in the lake until breeding time when they get a call of the wild and go across the land to the ocean and swim to trenches in the sea off Guam and pro-create and then eventually die and their offspring then return to the Lake Barrine Volcano Crater Lake to begin the process all over again.
The Cathedral Fig Tree, like the Curtain Fig Tree, is a gigantic 500 year old strangler tree. Located in the Danbulla State Forest, the Cathedral Fig has the reputation of being the best place to hear an early morning bird 'singing' in the Atherton Tablelands. Circumnavigate the base of the tree and giant buttress roots on the easily accessible boardwalk
Then over the mountain pass and back to Cairns. This is a very scenic route, unfortunately today was a little misty so we could not appreciate it fully.
Saturday 20th October
We had another chill day today, using the time to plan and swim in the pool. Tonight we walked along the promenade and used the BBQ again. It was very busy with it being a Saturday evening with lots of families out and about, great people watching opportunities.
21st to 23rd October
We spent three days and two nights on board Ocean Quest run by Deep Sea Divers Den. Picked up from the hotel and taken to the port where we joined their day trip boat, which took us out to the reef for our first couple of dives and snorkels. Then after lunch we transferred to the Live aboard. The diving and snorkelling certainly lived upto expectations with lots of colourful fish and amazing corals to see. The water was warm and most of the snorkel sites were in fairly shallow water so I was not nervous at all and able to stay in the water as long as the divers. On most occasions I was the only snorkeller, but this did not worry me as I knew that I was being watched from the boat all the time so if I got into difficulties they would send a rib boat out to get me.
The live aboard is a large spacious boat with max of thirty people on board. We had a double ensuite room with a comfy bed and plenty of room to move about. The meals on board were also of a very good standard and we certainly didn't go hungry as there were the standard 3 meals and snacks in between. Tea, coffee and juice was available all the time and on a help yourself basis. The staff were very attentive and informative. The safety on the boat was also very good with everybody checked in and out of the water each time. We met some lovely people and had a great time, we wished we could have stayed longer.
Wednesday 24th October to Wednesday 31st
Today we flew from Cairns to Sydney to stay with relatives who live in Thirroul, near Wollongong about 90 minutes train journey from the main city. Whilst flying over Sydney we had great views of The Opera House and the Harbour bridge, unfortunately our cameras were not at hand, perhaps on the way out.
Thirroul is a former coal mining village with character and fabulous surf. It has a coastal setting and an escarpment close to the west. The wonderful beach is the most compelling reason to visit Thirroul, a sweep of golden sand backed by a large grassy park with a children's play area, close to shops and cafes.
The town also has a lively arts community. The English writer DH Lawrence lived in Thirroul in 1922 and wrote much of his Australian novel "Kangaroo" here. Wyewurk, the home he lived in, is now privately owned, however a park at the end of Craig Street offers a glimpse of the views Lawrence enjoyed. The town maintains a proud cultural heritage.
While we were there we visited The Royal National Park, Wollongong, Bald Hill Lookout at Stanwell Tops and drove over Sea Cliff Bridge.
We also took the train into Sydney for a couple of days to see all the typical tourist sites such as the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Taronga Zoo. All of which lived upto expectation, although the Opera House seems to be dwarfed by it's newer neighbours in the financial district it still manages to keep it's attraction and charm.
Next stop Singapore and the gateway to South East Asia for the next 5 months for us.