So anyways, Sarah and I spent four nights in Cairns last week and I have so much to tell you about – the reef, Port Douglas and Palm Cove, Kuranda Scenic Railway – but for now we’ll take a wander around…

Located in tropical Far North Queensland, Cairns is about 1600kms north of where we live in the south of the state. Yep, Queensland is that big – about 2700kms if you follow the coast.

The gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is the only place on the planet where two world heritage sites meet – the reef and the rainforests.

While the area was originally opened up by gold mining, and then agriculture (sugarcane, pineapples, bananas, corn and rice), these days the economy runs primarily on tourism – which means that Covid-19 has had a massive impact up here.

The Waterfront

All the reef cruises head out from one point on the waterfront, so the strip from Cairns Wharf to the Reef Terminal and beyond is full of parks, restaurants and even a city “beach”.

That’s another thing about up here – it’s not advisable to swim in the sea between November and May on account of the deadly stingers, or Box Jellyfish and Irukandji. Then, of course, there are the crocs in the rivers and streams. But, I digress.

I love is how the indigenous culture is wound through the public spaces up here. I also love how this magnificent tree has become a playground.

Mostly though, I love the movement – on the water, at the reef terminal, in the waterfront restaurants.

Cairns Aquarium

Tony the taxi driver told us we need to visit the aquarium as an adjunct to our reef adventure. It will fill in the gaps of any fish you don’t get to see, he said. While it hadn’t been on our list, we made the time on our first afternoon and thought that it prepared us for the wonder of the reef – until we were on the reef and swimming with the fish…but that’s for next week.

Seeing the eel (above) reminded me of a headline I once read in the NT News: “When you’re walking on the reef and you feel some sharp teeth, that’s a moray…” Get it?

Prawn Star

I can’t remember where I read about this place, but it’s an absolute must do.

Essentially, it’s a prawn trawler serving seafood; although there are three boats in operation – Prawn Star, Prawn Star 2, and Prawn Star 3.

The menu is simple: prawns, oysters, bugs, sashimi and crayfish. Nothing else.

We went for the platter between the two of us and it was absolute perfection. Tropical winter sun, great choons, excellent seafood, cold wine, on a boat. #whywouldntya?

It’s advisable to book – especially at the moment when social distancing is in play. You can find their Facebook page here.

Wolf Lane Distillery

I accidentally wandered in here and was glad that I did. A micro-distiller these guys have won both Australian and international awards for their gins.

I was wowed by their Davidson Plum gin – the Davidson plums are steeped in the tropical gin for months – and a really unusual Sherry Barrel Aged Gin; both of which found their way into my suitcase.

Their Tropical and Navy-strength Gin are also pretty special.

Cairns Night Markets

It felt a little like Phuket when we walked in here – the same type of t-shirts, beach dresses etc in the same kind of stalls, a number of which were closed (presumably because of Covid-19). While I’m not into the shopping so much there are some good street food style stalls here too. If you’re interested there’s more info here.

Where we ate

Cairns has a great range of restaurants and cafes ranging from cheap and cheerful, to Asian street food at the night markets to more high-end options.

We loved the noodle soups and dumplings at Café China Noodle Bar just outside the Reef Casino, but for our “special” dinner out we chose Dundee’s (yes, I cringed at the name too) on the waterfront.

Disappointingly the menu was limited a tad due to, well, by now you know what, but our meal was pretty great and you certainly couldn’t fault the view.

We shared duck spring rolls and soft-shelled crabs to start and followed that with bug-tail spaghettini (Sarah) and wild-caught barramundi with roast sweet potatoes, a mango salsa and lemon beurre blanc (me). No dessert.

Where we stayed

I cashed in some Accor points and we stayed at the Pullman Cairns International. While our room was a tad “tired” it was plenty big and comfortable enough for us. The pool was great and, with the wharf just across the road, we couldn’t have chosen a better location.

Next week: we’re off to the reef.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

24 thoughts

  1. My daughter visited Cairns in high school as part of People to People. She loved it. it sounds like you had a great trip. We don’t have any plans to travel this summer since so many things are not open and most of the rest of the world won’t let Americans in ( not that I blame them! ). Cairns, and Australia in general, are definitely on the someday list.

  2. It looks amazing Jo – I think if I ever decide to travel when I win Lotto, I’ll take you with me. You always seem to find wonderful things to see and do – and you photograph them so beautifully for the rest of us to live through vicariously. So glad the two of you had such a wonderful time together – relationship building at its best. #MLSTL

  3. I’ve been looking forward to your Cairns post Jo. I was sure it would bring back many memories for me and you didn’t disappoint t. Looks like you had a wonderful holiday. My son had a destination wedding at Port Douglas and we had a lovely time in the area. Many years ago I did a 10 day bike ride that started and ended at Cairns. Great memories. Lovely for you to spend this time with your daughter

  4. I haven’t been to Cairns since… well, I’m not sure. I think I went for work in the early – mid 2000s sometime. But I spent a lot of weekends there in the early 1990s when I lived in the Atherton Tablelands.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that deserted before as that was something that frustrated me about Cairns (like the Gold Coast), it was soooo overflowing with visitors. (And yes, I realise I was a visitor!)

    1. I think it was a great time to go for that reason. I would have loved to have had time to go over to the Atherton Tablelands.

  5. I’ve been loving your SM pics, and was stunned to discover you were only there for 4 days. You really made the most out of your time there. It looked wonderful and was a great escape in my phone…I got given plum gin and was surprised how nice it was. I thought it would be disgusting….

    1. I really thought I’d hate it too, but there’s so little residual sugar that it’s good. And yes, we fitted so much into our few days, but there’s still so much more we want to see!

  6. Jo, What a wonderful place to go with your daughter. Fabulous photos and your food choices make me hungry. I had read about Cairns when I thought about visiting Australia. Thanks for taking me there virtually. #Lovin’lifelinky

    1. We had an amazing time and were blessed with great weather. I’ve heard it’s different when there are heaps of tourists in town (like, heaps of them) & in summer when the humidity is off the scale, but last week it was all perfect.

  7. Jo, you are far more organised than me at getting posts up after you’ve been away. I find it a bit daunting sorting through the zillions of photos I’ve taken and deciding which ones to use etc. Anyway – looks like you’ve had a fab time! It’s so interesting to see a place you’ve been to through someone else’s eyes. You saw and did so much! I look forward to next week’s ‘reef’ post!

  8. I really must get myself to Cairns one day soon! It all looks fabulous and that Prawn Star 1,2 & 3 made me laugh! I’m so glad you and Sarah enjoyed your time away together. Can’t wait to see your reef post 🙂 #mlstl

      1. Yes that’s a lovely time as they get older. I really appreciate spending time with my daughters now they are in their next stage of life as mothers.

    1. Okay, it’s pronounced like in “air” – kairns. Of course if you want to be really Aussie about it you’d flatten the vowels and drawl it out so it sounds like Kee-ans… Spoiler alert – the reef was amazing.

  9. Your photos of Cairns make me want to come and visit your beautiful country even more. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef and Rainforest would be a dream vacation for me. I enjoyed reading about your time there. How nice to spend a vacation with your daughter!

    1. It’s such a beautiful place I can’t believe we hadn’t been before. We’ll be back for sure.

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