Cairns must be the kind of place people in other countries dream of when they think of Australia. The weather is always balmy, the locals all wear thongs and shorts and are never in a rush, there are palm trees everywhere and the city is set on a sparkling blue harbour -“ complete with crocodiles -“ and surrounded by lush tropical green mountains. Then there are the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, which are just a short drive away.
Cairns, the unofficial capital of Far North Queensland, also prides itself on being a gay-friendly town. The Tourism Queensland website contains plenty of information for gay and lesbian visitors and there’s quite a range of gay-owned hotels and B&Bs, and some that advertise their gay-friendliness. There’s also a gay nightclub, Nu-Trix. So while the place is no Darlinghurst, the gay community is certainly visible around Cairns.
To many tourists’ surprise there’s actually no beach in Cairns. The nearest beaches are about 15 minutes’ drive north. One of the best is Palm Cove, a charming little town with cute beachside caf?and shops, sort of like a mini-Noosa. There are regular buses to ferry people between Cairns and the beaches, but many visitors hire a car as there are plenty of other places nearby to drive to as well.
The closest thing the city of Cairns has to a beach is a large outdoor public pool in the centre of town called the Lagoon, right on the edge of the harbour. Surrounded by lawns and trees, this is the area where locals and tourists come to relax, read a book, eat lunch, listen to live music and people watch.
The timber boardwalk which runs alongside the harbour is a must-do for visitors. Take a stroll down to the marina and the city’s new restaurant precinct, the Pier, which is packed with an array of trendy restaurants, caf?and shops. And keep an eye out for crocodiles -“ they have been known to swim in the harbour and have even been spotted walking the streets.
We stayed at the recently refurbished Hotel Cairns, which from the outside looks like a sprawling, modern white Queenslander and on the inside is a hip and luxurious boutique hotel. It features a pool and restaurant and is located five minutes’ walk from the centre of town and the water’s edge.
Apart from shopping and eating -“ and there is much opportunity to do both in Cairns due to the huge tourist trade -“ other attractions include the impressive Centre of Contemporary Arts and the Cairns Regional Gallery plus the Rainforest Dome, which sits on the roof of the Reef Hotel Casino and features crocodiles, turtles, snakes and koalas.
There’s also the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which winds its way from Cairns up through the stunning mountains to the rainforest town of Kuranda, and the Skyrail, a cable car which travels 7.5 kilometres up into the tropical rainforest. The famous Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, which includes art and artefacts as well as live performances, is not to be missed.
But probably the best thing about Cairns is its close proximity to some of Australia’s finest natural wonders. An hour north of the city is the idyllic Port Douglas, where tour operators Quicksilver can take you out to swim on the Great Barrier Reef. An hour or so north of Port Douglas is the beautiful Daintree Rainforest.