Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is not the most exciting town. However, just off the Esplanade, you’ll find blue waters leading to the city’s largest attraction- The Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Among one of the seven natural wonders of the world and grossing over $6.4 billion in revenue each year from ~2 million tourists, the reef is an icon that attracts hoards from all over the world. It’s one of the largest, living structures on the globe, stretching over 70 million football fields and visible from space. In this vast underwater world, you’ll find 6 out of the 7 existing turtle species, 1,625 or 10% of the world’s fish species, and 30 species of whales.
Unfortunately, as you may have heard on the news, this living organism is under attack from climate change, land-based run-off pollutants, coastal development, and overfishing. In 2016, a massive heatwave moved through Australia’s waters and caused the largest “bleaching event” in history, killing off every 1 in 3 corals within a nine-month period. Over the last few decades alone, 50% of the coral has been lost. Some scientists estimate that the GBR will only live until the year 2050.
Knowing this, I w
We also saw Lion Fish, an eel, and a yellow tube fish (is that its real name?) You can usually spot sharks and turtles pretty easily too. I saw the most diverse types of coral to date, but the colors were not as splendid as I expected underwater. I stopped to look at one coral sanctuary in particular. It was black with death in the middle, the left side was bleached white and the right was a deep red. It gave me a visual for what is to come if we can’t find a real solution to the current overheating.
We didn’t spend too much time in Cairns. Instead, we rented a car and headed up to Port Douglas to get a bit of variety. Port Douglas has a great row of shops along Macrossan Street. We walked around here for a bit and sunbathed- sorry sunburned- on Four Mile Beach.
For food and drinks, I would recommend the following places:
1. Barbados– A cool waterfront bar with comfortable lounge couches and incredible cocktails. Enjoy delicious happy hour from 6-7pm along with the chill vibes from their Tropical House playlist.
2. The Mexican– On Macrossan Street, this Mexican eatery has insanely good chips and salsa and banging burritos. The ingredients feel so natural and flavorful.
3. Watergate– This
4. Osprey’s Restuarant– I saved the best for last, ladies and gentlemen. Osprey is located a bit out of town. It’s a 17-minute drive from Port Douglas and located at the Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Here you’ll dine in a canopy overlooking the ocean and surrounded by trees. Their food is divine and they can easily cater to your dietary requirements. I can’t recommend this experience enough.
If you have a bit of extra daylight while in Port Douglas, you can head over to Mossman Gorge, a local swimming hole. Drive your car to the Mossman Gorge Center, then pay ~10 bucks for a shuttle bus to drive you to the Gorge entrance. Hurry, the last bus returns to the center at 5.30!
Due to poor planning, we missed the incredible opportunity of taking a train and cable car through the oldest rainforest in the world- a shame, I know! If you’ve got $114 to spare, head on over to Kuranda. It’s a bit closer to Cairns than Port Douglas, so you can easily go in a day or half a day. The cable car ride will take you around 1.5 hours to complete and has stops along the way at beautiful waterfalls and swinging bridges. The ticket comes paired with the train ride which allows you to get up close and personal with the surrounding nature.
There are a few islands surrounding Cairns that people like to take day trips to. We chose Fitzroy because it’s one of the more isolated ones, but has easy ferry access daily. We chose the Fitzroy Island Adventure company’s speedboat option to get there in just 30 minutes. However, they asked if I had a back injury and I told them “no”. Upon arriving, they found out that I had back surgery over a decade ago and decided that that was still an “injury”, so I was promptly kicked off the boat and relocated to their docile ferry an hour later. It was all good though because we still had enough time on the island to do a bit of exploring and swimming.
Once you’re there, you’ll find nearly deserted beaches, a hut to rent snorkel gear/paddle boards/kayaks, a hotel, a restaurant, and a few hiking tracks. I recommend grabbing your snorkel gear after a hike to the summit’s lighthouse. After a swim, you can cool off even more at the bar with an icy milkshake – it’s not on the menu, so just request it!
Don’t mind the rain, this comes and goes quickly. I would set off on your adventure anyway, but be aware that the seas can get pretty violent!