Cairns, a city in tropical North Queensland, Australia, is considered the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Once a sleepy sugar-milling town, it’s now a hot destination for sailing, diving and snorkeling. My  good friend and ‘The Hong Kong Chapter’ guest author Payal spent an incredible Christmas holiday in Australia and came back raving about her ‘Cairns’ travel experience. She has graciously penned down her Cairns travelogue here. Thank you again Payal an inspirational travel experience!!

The flight from Sydney to Cairns was uneventful and smooth. As we were circling the airport before landing I looked through the airplane window and was spellbound. The sight was breathtaking. Miles and miles of dense rainforest and the beautiful beach and sea encroaching upon it.

After we reached our service apartment we looked at several brochures of activities in Cairns and I found out that this place is not just a gateway to the GBR (Great Barrier Reef) but also to the enchanting and intimidating Daintree rainforests.  (The Daintree Cape rainforest in North Queensland is one of the most diverse and beautiful examples of Mother Nature and are found in an area of approx. 1200 sq km. it is home to the largest sea-water crocodiles, variety of snakes and lizards and many more reptiles.)

As soon as we checked in we consulted the lady at the reception and the tourist agents on the various kinds of packages for a day trip to the reef. Being the holiday season most of the boats were fully booked. Luckily we got a few open spots on a boat for the 2nd day. (Tip: If you are here in the holiday season or peak season June-Sept book your boat trips in advance.)

The location of our service apartment was amazing- 2 mins walk to the waterfront and the ferry terminal and in the midst of restaurants and bars. As you can see from the pictures, the view from our balcony was fabulous. 

Thereafter we hit the lagoon in front of our hotel. The water was inviting and pleasant and we had a fun time playing in the lagoon. Soon the first shower of the wet season descended upon us and it never actually stopped for the three whole days we were there. December is the time for heavy rains and lush green forests. But it is also the stinging season in the sea. We spent the evening chilling with a cold beer taking in the laid-back ambience. Afterwards we explored the streets at night and what the city had to offer.

We started early the next day since we had booked the Down and Dirty quad bike tour. We were picked up in a van and transported to the site in the rainforest. The tour operators were friendly and after a small test ride we hit the dirty, muddy and murky 12 km track. The ride lasted for around 2 hours and it was exhilarating. For a city girl like me with two left feet and a dozen of allergies it was adventure at its best. The bikes were easy to manoeuvre but on certain skiddy paths it was tricky. The icing on the cake was the non-stop rains which was slow in the beginning but then picked up pace afterwards. Though I was apprehensive at first but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best thing is after the gruelling ride my body is not sore. It’s a must for adrenaline enthusiasts. I feel if I can do it then most people can and should give it a try. Underage riders are also allowed provided they are accompanied by an adult. At the end of it we were covered in mud and dirt. 

We headed back to our apartment and after a sumptuous lunch and bath we slept the entire afternoon. In the evening we went to check out the night life. There are only a couple of places mainly filled by tourists which are open till late night. After a lazy walk around the wet streets we headed to the one hip pub called Rattle n Hum in Cairns esplanade. There is a small night market nearby where tourists can shop for souvenirs and gifts.

The last day we finally headed to the reef. Mostly people book a day trip to the reef. You can also book an overnight trip where you sleep on the boat. There are many boats and tours agents to choose from. They offer similar packages with competitive prices. These boats cover different reef sites. They take you to 2-3 different reef sites. They offer diving, snorkelling, glass bottom boat, breakfast, lunch and snacks. They provide all the equipment and gear for diving and snorkelling and they even have underwater cameras for you to hire. I strongly recommend to carry your own go-pro or hire from them. The trip starts from 8 am and usually ends at 5 pm. Our tour operator is Reef Experience and they had an awesome crew- friendly and helpful. A couple of them were marine biologists. It was raining when we left but by the time we reached the reef site it had stopped. After a few briefing sessions on the GBR, diving and snorkelling we all wore our wet suits headed to get in the water. Since I am not a swimmer I wore a life jacket. I also asked a crew member to take me to the reef which actually turned out to be a good idea. He swiftly took me far off distance-coral watching all the way. I spent around 30 mins snorkelling and saw the brilliant marine world- multi coloured fishes, corals and sea horse. My instructor was pointing out to different fishes. I was slightly disappointed that I could not spot a sea turtle. After lunch we moved to a different site to snorkel and dive. I took a nap on the top deck and didn’t venture in the sea again. Some were like me taking a nap or just chilling in the boat others went to dive and snorkel. After everyone was back on board it was time to head back to the shore. On our way back we relaxed with wine and beer and crackers and cheese. After a group photo the whole crew lined up to see us off the boat. 

Cairns should be on everyone’s bucket list. Here you see the ecosystem at its best- the spectacular GBR and the colossal Daintree rainforest.

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