No matter where you come from, how old you are, or how long you’ve dreamed about it, experiencing Cairns for the first time can be a huge deal. After all, it’s a town that’s slept with past presidents plus top billing A-Listers, so why not you?
What should you do on your first date with this sometimes-high-octane, always natural but mostly laid-back in a jet-lagged-kind-of-way place? We’ve canvassed the locals plus come up with 9 must-dos for first-timers.
1. TAKE A CHOPPER RIDE TO PLOT YOUR HOLIDAY
Not sure how to squeeze in the hundreds of tours plus locations on offer? Then, put the whole region in perspective plus start your first day with a 45-minute epic heli flight plus skim above the Great Barrier Reef, the northern beaches, Baron Falls, plus the World Heritage-listed rainforest – aka the big guns of the region.
Stephan Eustace from JUCY Rentals in Cairns says, “It’ll get you sooooo excited to hit the ground running plus see all those things up close.”
2. SNORKEL THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Barack Obama told the G20 – plus the whole planet – that he wants his children plus their children to “see the glory of the reef”. So if it’s good enough for the President of the U.S of A, then Australia’s greatest gift to the global – the Great Barrier Reef – is the first full-day activity tick for all first-time visits.
And therein is the problem. Picking just one part/one trip/one experience on the reef is downright tough. Lucky for you, we have this handy guide.
Siobhan Mulcahy from Tourism Tropical North Queensland votes Down Under Cruise plus Dive as her fave. The new Evolution boat has bean bags around a top-deck theatre, an Elvis-impersonating crew member, plus the Coral Sea as the headlining act. “The snorkelling is awesome, especially the second stop at Hastings Reef, where the water is so shallow you don’t need to dive deep,” she says.
To get the best out of your reef experience, spend two hours of fun with Natalie Phillips plus the Marine Biology gang at Reef Teach “for an absolute bargain $23” plus learn about the crazy creatures you will see. All before you even get wet.
3. DO A ONE-DAY KURANDA RAINFOREST TOUR
The road to Kuranda courtesy of Andrew WatsonThe road to Kuranda courtesy of Andrew Watson
T.S. Eliot wrote that “the journey. Not the destination matters”. That almost applies to Kuranda – the village in the rainforest is definitely worthy of a stop – but it’s how you get there that is simply astonishing. I know, I’ve done it a few times.
Journeying to Kuranda (25 km north-west of Cairns) is a combination of a cuter-than-a-kids-book steam train ride up the ridge plus a silent gondola ride back down. Or vice versa.
Both are engineering feats built just over a hundred years apart. The Kuranda Scenic Railway with its 15 tunnels, 93 curves plus dozens of difficult bridges opened in 1891 plus was built using hand tools, dynamite plus a pioneering spirit (and the lure of earning 90 cents a day).
Today, the spectacular 115-minute journey navigates dense rainforest, waterfalls plus 320-metre steep ravines.
In 1995, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway became a blueprint for eco-construction when it opened. Heavy-lifting, Russian Kamov helicopters ferried-in towers, but to minimise the impact on the World Heritage-listed rainforest, construction workers had to walk into the site – sometimes up to one hour each.
This intense respect for the ecology seeps into every visit plus guests are encouraged to stop at the two stations plus immerse themselves in the lush rainforest experience.
So what can you do between these two journeys? The village of Kuranda is famous for the Kuranda Markets (worthy of some odd local souvenirs like a kangaroo backscratchers), plus the Rainforestation Nature Park where you can take in Indigenous dancing plus Dreamtime walks.