Rainforest exploration, wild nights and the Reef. Our Digital Lifestyle Editor Anna Duff explains why Cairns is the perfect base for discovering Australia's beautiful Queensland…
I headed to Queensland for the same reason most people do – The Great Barrier Reef. A Natural Wonder Of The World, the infamous stretch of coral has been on my bucket list for years. But while the blue ocean and vivid sea creatures are undeniably stunning, they’re not the only things to see here.
After visiting Sydney and Melbourne, the slower pace of life in northern Australia was a welcome break. Cairns is central to the area’s main attractions, and is fairly cheap compared to the country’s bigger cities. We stayed in an Airbnb – which was super-affordable at £30 per night – but there are plenty of traveller-friendly hostels around, as well as more luxurious hotels.
As expected, our first stop was the Reef. Hundreds of boats depart from Cairns Marina every morning, so we chose the mid-range Reef Experience (£114pp for a full-day trip). This price included snorkelling at two locations, three meals and wetsuit hire, and for an extra £35 you could try scuba diving. It’s worth noting that it was a very bumpy ride. As someone who’s never suffered from seasickness before, I ignored the warnings – until I threw up in the middle of the deck. But the crew were amazing (being hosed down by a hunky diver wasn’t terrible), and no amount of nausea could take away from the breathtaking views under the water.
The next day, we joined a group tour to travel to the Daintree Rainforest (around £80pp for a full-day trip). You can go solo, but we never would’ve seen so much wildlife without our guide. Think crocodiles, lizards and tropical birds. He was also dressed in full Steve Irwin gear, so the experience felt uber Aussie.
The best bit? The rainforest backs onto Cape Tribulation, which is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. Make sure you check out the Daintree Ice Cream Co., a locally-run business that prides itself on its unique fruit flavours. Soursop is my new favourite.
Deep in the mountains of Daintree is Kuranda Village, where you can hop on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for a birds-eye view of the sea (£62pp). Meet koalas and wallabies in the Kuranda Koala Gardens (£10 entry), or find a unique souvenir at the Kuranda Markets. For the ‘Gram, don’t miss the majestic Barron Gorge waterfalls.
Cairns is a real party town, and on our last night we had a great time dancing into the small hours on a hostel bar crawl. If you’d prefer a more subdued evening, upmarket Port Douglas is the place to go for a gourmet dinner.
When it comes to food, Cairns is much less of a metropolis than other cities Down Under. But there are still a good amount of places to eat out, and being in health-conscious Australia, vegans and vegetarians are well catered for.
To be perfectly honest, I was way too busy dreaming of those stunning white sands to worry about Michelin-star meals…