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Published: November 18th 2015
I've already said quite a bit about Cairns but I want to give a more full impression of the city. It is so much more than its reputation as a stop for backpackers. It's official slogan is "Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef". Whichever tourist board staff member came up with this tag-line deserves a promotion... Who wouldn't want to see that?
The most famous thing about Cairns is that it is the starting point for adventures on the Great Barrier Reef. There is a huge, soulless, "Reef Fleet Terminal" to service this thriving business. Dozens of companies vie for a piece of the action. This doesn't make the experience any cheaper but does give you options as to exactly what experience you want. These can range from a simple pleasure cruise with a bit of snorkelling, through to taster sessions for scuba diving, full scuba certification courses, all the way up to helicopter flights over the reef.
Leading to the Reef Fleet Terminal is Cairn's main street, the Esplanade. One side of the Esplanade is taken up with shops, hotels and restaurants. At nighttime these become a vibrant hub of activity and it is worth wandering through just
to sample the atmosphere. Each evening there is a night market which should be experienced. Many of the stalls are just selling tat to tourists but there is the odd gem. Also the food court serves a wide variety of Asian foods at a very reasonable price.
The other side of the Esplanade is the shore front. This has a long boardwalk with splendid views across the bay. The boardwalk is a relaxed place where tourists and locals amble along. At one end is the giant salt water swimming pool, the Lagoon, which I would highly recommend. Further along are outdoor gym equipment and still further courts for tennis and beach volleyball. Interspersed amongst these different exercise facilities are 'barbecues'. These gas heated hot plates are not brilliant for cooking on but they do the job adequately. All of these facilities are completely free to use. Cairns has obviously embraced and is living out the notion of a healthy outdoor lifestyle. In the evenings there are also some pretty good buskers dotted along the Esplanade which adds to the general ambiance.
Away from the Esplanade, Cairns is formed on a grid system which makes it generally quite easy
to navigate. Well it is easy to navigate once you are inside, so long as you don't want to leave. None of the tourist maps actually show any entrances or exits to the city and they are not always easy to find. The grid, which sprawls quite a distance from the central area, houses just about every kind of business you could ever need, and some which I can't imagine anyone ever needing (pet grooming seems popular for example).
As you leave Cairns, in any direction, the first thing you will notice is the rainforest-clad hills in the distance. Then, rising in front of these, you will find sugar cane plantations. These are beautiful in themselves but added to their background they make for a truly gorgeous scene. Each of the plantations has a small narrow gauge railway which are used to haul to cane away. Whilst it can be frustrating waiting for these to cross the roads, they do add to the charm of the region.
Cairns is well connected with the Bruce Highway running North-South. East-West is a little more difficult as any road soon hits the Great Dividing Range, at its closest point to the
sea. This necessitates a steep winding journey of tens of kilometres to get anywhere. The roads are good though and there are many destinations worth going to see. As you leave Cairns there are interesting signs about preventing the spread of Electric Ants. I'd never heard of an electric ant but they sound terrifying.
The whole city is surrounded by rainforest, which implies it will rain sometimes. Whilst we were there though there was no rain at all. The sun was shining constantly in blue skies and the humidity was extremely high. This meant it could be very sticky at times. Generally though shops, accommodation and cars are air conditioned so there is always somewhere to escape to. If it becomes too much then the Lagoon makes for a wonderful retreat.
We really loved Cairns, were glad we had spent a week there and were quite sad to leave. If I ever get the opportunity to return to Australia, then Cairns will be on my list of places to revisit.
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