Cairns

A vibrant, cosmopolitan city, with a lively and sophisticated dining and entertainment scene, Cairns has long-since transcended its frontier outpost reputation and evolved to become much more than a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and wild north.

Yet it’s easy to forget you’re actually in a city, with the laidback and unpretentious aura that prevails in the tropical capital. The climate – combined with a steady flow of backpackers, international visitors and interstate holidaymakers – creates an easy-going vacation vibe even around the CBD.

Business is brisk, but it’s all done by people wearing shorts and typically revolves around one recreational activity or another. Beyond the odd ocean-overlooking hotel, there are no highrise office blocks and rush hour is far less hectic than happy hour.

Cairn’s youthful population enjoys a range of outdoor activities by day and a bouncing nightlife once the sun dips. The beaches and coves that surround the city – from Trinity to Yorkey’s Knob and Palm Cove – are idyllic.

The town centre retains its historic colonial character, but there are modern and innovative flourishes across town too – including a free open-air waterpark on the seafront that’s raucously popular with young people.

Magnificent Tablelands form Cairns’ backdrop – with stunning Barron Gorge National Park easily accessible via the Skyrail that transports you from the city to the rainforest canopy in minutes – but the CBD gazes out over the Coral Sea.

The Esplanade and Marina are the focal point and social heartbeat of Cairns, and along the palm tree-lined sea front you can enjoy everything from sensational locally sourced seafood to a range of international cuisine.

When to go

Tropical Cairns has two seasons: the Wet (October to march) and the Dry (April to September). Most people find it more comfortable to visit during the Dry, when it’s also possible to swim in the sea without wearing a stinger suit, but there are less crowds and better waterfalls in the Tableland rainforests during the Wet – the Barron Falls are particularly impressive.

Visa requirements

Everyone visiting Australia (except New Zealanders) needs a visa. Nationals of 32 countries (including Singapore, the UK, the US, Japan, Canada and most European countries) can get an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which most travel agents/airlines can arrange at the time of booking. When travelling independently, people with a passport from Singapore (or Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of South Korea and the United States) can apply for an ETA (AUD$20) online here: www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas. Independent travellers with a passport from a European country can apply for a free eVisitor visa here www.immi.gov.au.

Transport

From the airport a taxi to the city centre will cost AUD$25–30; taxis are metered. The airport shuttle bus costs AUD$15 each way. People staying at certain backpacker hostels can get discounted shuttle rates between the airport and city centre, starting from $10 return. See http://cairnsbackpackershuttle.com.au.

Sun Palm Transport offer a free bus service linking Cairns Airport with the Sun Bus public transport network, which stops on Sheridan Street, where you can catch buses to the city or the Northern Beaches for $2.20. See www.cairnsairport.com.au.

Health and safety tips

Box jellyfish and saltwater crocodiles live in the ocean and some creeks, rivers and billabongs all year round – observe warning signs and avoid swimming unless you know for a fact that these highly dangerous creatures are not present. The period between November and June is called stinger season in the Australian tropics because the water contains small creatures collectively known as marine stingers – some of which, such as the Irukandji, can be extremely painful or even lethal. Obey signs and wear stinger suits if swimming during this period. Keep hydrated and beware prolonged exposure to the sun – always use sun protection (factor 30 and above) and wear sunglasses and a hat. Some hazardous snakes and spiders can be present in the city’s parks and gardens – avoid touching anything unfamiliar. Petty crime does happen – keep an eye on valuables, particularly when eating and drinking at outside cafés, bars and restaurants.

Money

The Australian dollar (AUD$) is used throughout Australia.

Emergency details

The closest Singaporean Consulate is in Canberra (tel: (61) 2 6271 2000, www.mfa.gov.sg/canberra).

For police or urgent medical assistance dial 000 (or 112 from a mobile phone).

Basic greetings
English Aussi slang
Board shorts (long swimming/surfing shorts) Boardies
Speedo-style men's swimming costume Budgie smugglers
Whoops Bugger!
Clothes Clobber
Friend Cobber
Pub grub Counter meal
Unwell Crook
Cigarette Dart
Toilet Dunny
Are you serious? Fair dinkum?
Hello G'day
Alcohol Grog
Really rather good Grouse
See you later Hoo roo
The answer to everything No worries
Alcohol (typically beer) Piss
Small measure of beer (about half a pint) Pot
Awfully pleased Rapt
Saltwater/estuarine crocodile (the big, bad bitey ones) Saltie
Large measure of beer (about two-thirds of a pint) Schooner
Bottle of beer Stubbie
Flip-flops Thongs
Can of beer/small boat Tinny
Food Tucker
Good result You beauty!

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Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Cairns Western Arterial Road, Caravonica

Offering both day and night time experiences, this award-winning park tells the story and explains the lifestyle of the Indigenous people of Tropical North Queensland’s rainforest region. Visitors of all ages can enjoy the interactive opportunities here, including learning to play the didgeridoo, hunting and sampling bush tucker, and lessons in how to throw a spear and boomerang.

Tanks Art Centre

46 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill

An eccentric and unique modern art and performance space, creatively housed in three massive World War II oil-storage tanks. These three tanks were built for the Royal Australian Navy in 1944 and camouflaged here to store crude oil during the war. In the early 1990s, talk of removing the tanks caused a massive outcry, so it was decided to redevelop the site into this unique and heritage-listed arts space.

Cairns Tropical Zoo

Captain Cook Highway, Palm Cove

One of Australia’s best wildlife experiences, Cairns Tropical Zoo has an extraordinary variety of creatures large and small for visitors to observe and, sometimes, interact with. Here you can cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos, but the big attractions are the animals of the tropical region, from the big (and frankly frightening) saltwater crocodiles through to the dinosaur-like cassowaries.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Cnr of Captain Cook Highway and Cairns Western Arterial Road Smithfield

Soar across the top of the tropical rainforest canopy in a glass cable car, from Smithfield (20 minutes from the CBD) to Kuranda, a pretty little town up in the cooler climes of the Tablelands. Break your journey by exploring the two rainforest mid-stations, where you can enjoy ranger-guided boardwalk tours and check out interpretation centres, lookouts and historical displays.

Cairns Wildlife Dome

35–41 Wharf Street

An excellent option for a wet-weather day, this indoor wildlife centre has a number of animals, including the star: Goliath, a 4-metre (13ft) estuarine crocodile. But there are also bird shows, koalas and more. You can even take a zipline ride above the crocodile enclosure. Visit at feeding times for the best experience, and allow at least an hour to explore. Tickets are valid for five days.

Shop

Cairns Night Markets

71–75 The Esplanade, Cairns

Open daily from 5pm to 11pm, this market offers an eclectic selection of food and merchandise on a range of stalls – this is the place to look for a kooky souvenir or keepsake of your trip. The action properly swings into life at dusk. To find it, cross the Esplanade, skirt the northwestern shore of the Lagoon and join the Cairns Foreshore Promenade.

Budget $

Fetish 4 Life

54 Shields Street

A unique Cairns shopping experience, this boutique store has been selling alternative clothing and funky accessories from their central outlet for over 25 years. Besides party apparel, you can also often score tickets to local dance events here. Oh, and buy firesticks – just in case you’re in the market for some.

Budget $$

Green House

55 Spence Street

An ‘environment shop’, which has been selling all things fairtrade and eco-friendly – including jewellery, art, collectables, games, socks and books – for well over two decades. It’s an experience more than it is an exercise in consumerism, and if you’ve been wondering about the Cairns Frog Hospital – and who hasn’t? – this is the place to ask.

Budget $$

Kuranda Markets

7/13 Therwine St, Kuranda

Escape from the steamy streets of Cairns to explore the stalls and produce stalls in the rainforest market in this cool Tableland town. Quirky keepsakes, woody souvenirs, semi precious stones and unique souvenirs are on offer.

Budget $$

Tjapukai Aboriginal Gallery Shop

Kamerunga Road, Caravonica

Part of the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, which is adjacent to the Kuranda Skyrail terminal, this centre is a showplace where authentic Aboriginal art and artefacts can be purchased from an ethical and verifiable source. Purchase something here and take something genuinely Australian home with you.

Budget $$$

Dine

Al Porto Café Restaurant

1 Spence Street

In a peach of a position at the wharf end of the Reef Fleet Terminal, Al Porto serves beautiful breakfasts all day. There are light tropical-fruit salads, yoghurt and toasted muesli, and eggs several ways with all the extras. Steak, pasta, seafood and wine are available for lunch.

Budget $

Bayleaf

Corner of Lake & Gatton Street

Follow the locals to this popular Balinese Restaurant in the Bay Village Tropical Retreat. The chefs here are all graduates of the highly regarded Bumbu Bali Restaurant and Cooking School in Bali. The pork dishes are truly special. There’s a selection of about five classic curries, most involving fall-apart tender meat. It’s also open for breakfast.

Budget $$

Khin Kao Thai Restaurant

Aplin & Grafton Streets

Renowned as Cairn’s premier Thai restaurant, this busy venue offers an extensive menu featuring all the favourites – such as Massaman, yellow, green and red curries – making full and fantastic use of local seafood. Service is efficient and the prices are very reasonable, including a good-value daily lunch special.

Budget $$

Ochre

43 Shields Street

A deservedly multi-award-winning restaurant, where creative modern Australian cuisine is offered with inventive flair that uses 40 different native ingredients to enhance dishes based on kangaroo, crocodile, beef, tropical fruit and local seafood. Try the kangaroo sirloin with quandong chilli glaze, and for dessert, wattleseed pavlova with Davidson plum sorbet, or check the daily specials board.

Budget $$$

Salt House Marina Point

6/2 Pier Point Road

Perched in a prime waterfront position, this large, open-plan restaurant makes the most of its location with slick modern design and a magic menu. Great for breakfast (at weekends), lunch, or afternoon tapas, it really comes into its own at dinner when steaks and seafood are seared on the immense wood-fired grill. There’s live music, and the scene can start pumping at night, particularly towards the end of the week.

Budget $$$

Stay

Cairns Central YHA

20–26 McLeod Street

A large, but friendly, youth hostel, complete with a welcoming swimming pool to dive into when the tropical heat gets a little too much to bear. The YHA is centrally located and has plenty of communal facilities, including internet facilitates and a laundry. Get up early and you can enjoy a share of the free pancakes that are cooked and handed out each morning. Family rooms are also available.

Budget $

Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel & Resort

57–89 Grafton Street

This huge and lively (sometimes rowdy) backpackers’ resort, which offers economical dorm beds plus twin and double rooms, a swimming pool and a range of raucous entertainment. All rooms are air-conditioned and have en suite bathrooms, and each floor has its own kitchen. Guests get free airport transfers.

Budget $

Acacia Court Hotel

223–227 The Esplanade

Close to the CBD - just 2km (1.2 miles) from the city centre, via a pleasant walk along The Esplanade, rooms at the Acacia have queen-size beds, en suite bath or shower rooms, and balconies with either ocean or mountain views. There are also cheaper motel-style rooms. The on-site restaurant Charlie’s has an all-you-can-eat buffet every night.

Budget $$

Galvins Edge Hill B&B

61 Walsh Street

A warm and welcoming bed and breakfast in a genuine old Queensland building in a peaceful location. With a lounge and breakfast room that opens onto the natural-rock swimming pool, and just two bedrooms and a bathroom, only one family or group is booked at a time, so you have the whole place to yourselves.

Budget $$$

Shangri-La Hotel

The Marina, Pier Point Road

A luxury hotel with excellent views and a convenient location, the bobbing luxury flotilla of the Shangri-La fronts the turquoise waters of Trinity Inlet and the Marlin Marina. Rooms and suites boast private balconies or patios and a range of leisure facilities, including a large swimming pool, in more than an acre of lush tropical gardens.

Budget $$$

Big Talk, One Fire Indigenous Cultural Festival

July

A completely free, day-long community celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, mostly from the Far North Queensland region. Featuring art, dance, music, storytelling and performance Open to everyone.


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Cairns Adventure Festival

June

A carnival for fitness freaks and adventure types, featuring Ironman Cairns (one of Australia’s biggest multisport events) and various other triathlon races. Also includes the RRR, Australia’s oldest mountain bike race, the Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge (a marathon-length paddling race) and the Green Island ocean swim.


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Cairns Cup Carnival

August

A major date on the racing calendar, with a carnival atmosphere, exhilarating racing and superb fashion on the field.


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Cairns Ukulele Festival

August

This huge music festival draws a big international crown who enjoy concerts, workshops, tours, all featuring the ukulele and the tropical lifestyle associated with the instrument. Musical styles also include pop, rock, folk, jazz and blues.


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Palm Cove Reef Feast

October

A three-day epicurean event showcasing local produce, food and drink, produced by Tropical North Queensland’s most creative and imaginative chefs.


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Tropical Mardi Gras

October

A rainbow festival celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual people and communities of the Cairns and Tropical North Queensland region. Activities range from dance parties to dive expeditions, fashion shows to rainforest excursions.


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Adventure

Greet the dawn with an early morning paddle around Double Island from the picturesque beach at Palm Cove, just north of the city centre. Even beginners can complete a circumnavigation of the idyllic island, which sits just off the beach, and it’s not uncommon to spot all kinds of marine wildlife, including turtles, rays and – if you’re really lucky – even whales. Cool down afterwards with a swim and a snorkel. Palm Cove Watersports ( www.palmcovewatersports.com), hire sit-on-top sea kayaks and snorkelling equipment. If you fancy taking on a new challenge, try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with Paddleboarding Cairns ( www.paddleboardingcairns.com.au), who take tours around Palm Cove and Yorkey’s Knob.

En route back to the CBD, in Smithfields on the edge of the rainforest, you’ll find AJ Hackett (www.ajhackett.com), where a leap from the Bungy Tower and Giant Minjin Jungle Swing will shake you properly awake.

Cairns is the spiritual home of mountain biking in Australia, and the tracks at Smithfields will host a stage of the 2016 World Cup and the UCL MTB World Championships in 2017. Explore the tropical trails before the planet’s best riders arrive by hiring a bike or going on a ride with Cairns Mountain Bike Tours (www. cairnsmountainbiketours.com).

Grab a well-earned lunch and prepare to be be picked up for an afternoon’s white-water rafting on the Barron River. Foaming Fury (www.foamingfury.com.au) will take you on a wild ride through beautiful Barron Gorge National Park, bouncing you over Grade III rapids.

Places to visit:
Palm Cover, Smithfields, Barron River

Kids-friendly

Kick off your kid-friendly day (also suitable for big kids) by hitching an early morning ride through the World Heritage-listed rainforest behind Cairns on the Kuranda Scenic Railway (www.ksr.com.au), passing the wonderful waterfalls of Barron Gorge National Park en route to the Tableland town of Kuranda.

Stay and explore before returning to Smithfield (20 mins from Cairn’s CBD) via a stunning voyage on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway (www.skyrail.com.au), which skims you over the top of the rainforest canopy in a glass cable car. Break the journey by hopping out at two rainforest mid-stations, where you can enjoy ranger-guided boardwalk tours, interpretation centres, lookouts and historical displays.

At the foot of the Skyrail, around Caravonica Lakes, don’t miss Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park (www.tjapukai.com.au), a sensational culturally immersive experience that takes you inside the lives of the Indigenous people of the rainforest. Here you can learn to play the didgeridoo, taste some bush tucker and throw a spear.

The next stop has to be Cairns Tropical Zoo (www.cairnstropicalzoo.com.au), where you can get close to all kinds of wonderful animals, including crocodiles, dragons, koalas, wombats and dingos.

Can’t get enough of crocodiles? Check out Cairns Zoom at the all-weather Wildlife Dome (www.cairnszoom.com.au) on top of the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, where you can even zipline over a saltwater croc!

Finally, after all that action, grab an ice cream and end the day by exploring Cairn’s excellent esplanade, complete with a free-to-use open-air lagoon where kids can splash around without worrying about stingers at any time of year.

Places to visit:
Kuranda Scenic Railway, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, Cairns Tropical Zoo, Wildlife Dome