ROAD TRIP DIARIES # 25
After three weeks on the road, Charles and I finally made it to Cairns (pronounced like “care” and “nz” run together: “care-nz”), a proud tourist town reputed to be Australia’s reef-diving capital and the entry point to the Far North Tropical Queensland. But it wasn’t the city vibe or the party atmosphere, however, that made me count the days until I set foot in this popular holiday town.
Cairns was our chosen gateway for our trip to the Great Barrier Reef, and snorkeling among its majestic corals was high on my bucket list, perhaps next to seeing Machu Picchu in Peru or bungee jumping in Macau.
It was already late when we reached the town center so we drove straight to the caravan park we had pre-booked for two nights. After finding our own patch of grass to set up our camper van, we joined the chaotic scene at the bustling shared kitchen, which somehow reminded me of our camping days at Airlie Beach.
It was amusing to observe the cacophony of language, the smell of instant recipes wafting in the open-air hall and the infectious energy of everyone that seemed to say I’m on a holiday, a stark contrast from the laid-back and peaceful atmosphere at our camping ground in Paluma Range National Park.
The next day, while having breakfast at the communal dining area, we had a chat with a German couple who was about to set out on road trip around Australia. They had been working in the hospitality industry for 6 months and would be spending the rest of the year travelling, a common thing for backpackers and tourists on working holiday visas.
Cairns is usually the end of the line for many backpackers travelling the east-coast route from Sydney, and for long-haul bus services travelling on the Bruce Highway from Brisbane. But for us, it was a hub to get on the boat and get out to the reef before heading further North – as far as our borrowed two-wheel-drive van could manage.
If only buskers were all like him
Our first stop in the town was the government-run Gateway Discovery Center, an information center and booking agent . I didn’t know that booking a tour here would be an adventure in itself. It was overwhelming to sift through the huge number of pamphlets for tour groups, boats charters, as well as the numerous reef locations to choose from.
In the end, we went for a smaller boat, which meant fewer tourists, and one that would go further away from the coast to the outer reef, which is the most spectacular part of the reef. The next day was already booked out, however, so we arranged for another trip to the mountain village of Kuranda while waiting for our trip to the Great Barrier Reef in two days’ time.
Hopeless on Didgeridoo
Just a stone’s throw away from the information center was the multi-million-dollar parks and salt water lagoon along the esplanade. The wide expanse of mudflats and mangroves was now a haven for sun worshippers and the long boardwalk promenade was now a popular spot for walking and bird watching.
After wading through the maze of bronzed six-packs and bikini-clad denizens, we found our own share of grass at the foreshore and had our packed sandwich here. It was one of those moments when people watching seemed more appealing to me than perusing the eclectic rows of shops in the town center and I was quite positive Charles didn’t mind either.
A little while later, we found ourselves exploring the heady jungle of tour operators, souvenir shops, restaurants and accommodation in the central area. Every inch of it seemed to beckon us to eat, drink and be merry limited only by our budget and imagination. There was skydiving, hot-air ballooning, kayaking, bird-watching, trekking and every imaginable way to empty our pockets.
But because we were too adventurous for our own good, we found ourselves wasting our time in the cinema with that hideous movie (not my opinion) “The Killers”. After that we both agreed never to watch a movie again without checking it out at rotten tomatoes.
Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the town center to check out the Night Market. It was like a typical Australian tourist market with all manner of bric-a-brac like kangaroo products, Asian handicrafts, and all sorts of souvenirs. There were a couple massage parlors as well as reptile interaction where you get to wrap a python around your neck for 10 bucks. Well, my 10 bucks was spent on cheap Chinese takeaway, which was rather more satisfying.
We capped the day walking along the promenade while waiting for the sunset. The boardwalk was filled with joggers and people going out and about and the trees at the park were now swarmed by hundreds of noisy lorikeets. The pelicans were back at the lagoon and the cheeky seagulls had calmed down a bit. After a few more pictures and a stroll to the end of the boardwalk, we also retired to our camping ground looking forward to Kuranda Scenic Train Ride the next day.
(This is part of our 6-week North Queensland Road Trip Series, which took place July- August 2010)
Australian Road Trip 101: A Vantastic Beginning
Road Trip Diaries # 1 – An Encounter with the Strangest Animal in the World
Road Trip Diaries # 2 – Of Strangler Figs, Leeches and Long Holidays
Road Trip Diaries # 3 - Exploring Finch Hatton Gorge
Road Trip Diaries # 4 – Cape Hillsborough: On Bush Walks Beach Strolls and Star Gazing
Road Trip Diaries # 5 – Cape Hillsborough: Sunrise and Wild Kangaroos
Road Trip Diaries # 6 – Airlie Beach: Beaches Babes and Backpackers
Road Trip Diaries # 7 – Ocean Rafting to the Whitsundays
Road Trip Diaries # 8 – Unexpected Encounters
Road Trip Diaries # 9 – Exploring Bowenwood
Road Trip Diaries # 10 – Townsville: Finding Nemo and the Sunken Pandora
Road Trip Diaries # 11 – A Visit at the Billabong Sanctuary and Castle Hill
Road Trip Diaries # 12 – Magnetic Island: What Captain Cook Missed
Road Trip Diaries # 13 – Paluma Range National Park: A Walk in the Clouds
Road Trip Diaries # 14 – Of Didgeridoo, Exotic Fruits and Why I love Camping in the Bush
Road Trip Diaries # 15 – Jourama Falls: A Gray Nomad Affair
Road Trip Diarues # 16 – The Bird Man of Tyto Wetlands
Road Trip Diaries # 17 – The Quest for Wallaman Falls
Road Trip Diaries # 18 – Hinchinbrook Island: Experiencing the Wilderness
Road Trip Diaires # 19 – The Tully Show: My First Aussie Fair
Road Trip Diaries # 20 - Mission Beach: Where Have All the Cassowaries Gone?
Road Trip Diaries # 21 – White Water Rafting at Tully River
Road Trip Diaries # 22 – Finding Our Way to the Enchanted Ruins
Road Trip Diaries # 23 – Paronella Park: The Dream Continues
Road Trip Diaries # 24 – Exploring Wooroonooran National Park