I almost didn’t go to Cairns.
When I was planning this trip up to Northern Queensland I chatted to a few friends and the consensus seemed to be: “Definitely go to the Whitsunday Islands…Cairns, mehh…Port Douglas is pretty though”
After visiting, I can see what people meant in the sense that the town is small and only really seemed lively on the esplanade along the seafront. It also doesn’t have a beach per-se but has a big public pool to cool off in.
However, I’d definitely recommend stopping off in Cairns if you’re up in the area if only for the wonderful boat trips that you can do from there!
I flew from a rainy Sydney early on Friday morning, and even with delays landed in Cairns by 10.30am.
I picked up a hire car from the airport in order to drive up to Port Douglas later that evening…in hindsight it probably would have been cheaper to get one of the numerous transfers between Cairns and PD but it was great to have the flexibility (and to be able to play music loudly and sing along out of tune!) 🙉
I made the short drive into town and parked in an all day car park right by the ferry terminal – it was weird driving a small car again after the camper-van!
I had booked to go on a Green Island half day cruise at 1pm so had an hour or so to explore around the marina. When looking for a lunch spot I stumbled across Danny and his ‘Prawn Star’ boat in the marina which served up fresh oysters, prawns, bugs…bugs are a sort of cross between a prawn and a lobster. More meaty than a prawn – delicious!
I had a delightful little lunch of oysters and bugs with some fresh lime at the surfboard table at the back of the boat. I’m so glad I ate there instead of one of the ‘samey’ restaurants in the pier building.
Then I went and ‘checked in’ for my cruise. Green Island cruises offer full day or half day trips, I was amazed how much I was able to fit in on the half day cruise:
1 – 1.45pm: Cruise from Cairns marina to Green Island. When the island came into sight it was stunning. Quite a contrast from Sydney that morning!
1.45 – 2.45pm: Snorkeling! 🙂 I saw a ray and a turtle, and tonnes of awesome fish and coral.
2.45 – 3.15pm: Semi-submarine trip. This was a boat with a glass hull which we climbed down into and could sit fully below the waterline.
Our guide Dale told us all about the different fish, including the giant trevally which can reach speeds of 100kmph in 3 seconds. Oh to swim like that!!
3.15 – 4pm: Relax on the beach, admiring/envying the female lifeguard’s abs. Eat an ice-cream to make myself feel better.
4.15 – 5pm: Cruise back to Cairns.
It was a fantastic outing and I feel a very efficient use of my first afternoon of holiday. If I’d had a whole day in Cairns I would have loved to do the full day cruise and spent longer on the beach, snorkeling and exploring the island, but it was still a great trip and didn’t feel too rushed.
5.30 – 7pm: Drive from Cairns to Port Douglas. I obviously hit the Friday evening rush hour traffic coming out of Cairns but it cleared as soon as I got onto the stunning stretch of the Captain Cook highway along the coast. It was reminiscent of driving route 1 in the US by myself because all I wanted to do was gawp at the stunning scenery but I could look away from the road for about one second before I was confronted with another sharp bend.
7pm: Arrive at Dougie’s hostel which was almost entirely booked out for the night, the only options being a bed in a 7 bed female dorm or a bed in a 2 person ‘stylee’ tent. Preferring privacy over walls I opted for the latter and was actually rather happy with it. It had a proper bed, and power. It was reminiscent of glamping on Cockatoo Island…but not quite as nice 🙂
8pm: Fall asleep trying to write NZ blog.
Saturday was a big day out. I went on a rainforest tour with Daintree Discovery Tours which was such a great way to see the area around Port Douglas.
We covered about 200km over the day with our fantastic guide Kim and did SO much:
– Walking through Mossman Gorge;
– Morning tea down by the Daintree River with the biggest lamington cakes I’ve ever seen 🙂 we had tea in the back of a river cruise company run by a woman called Jo who did this awesome art made from the rubbish she collected from the beach.
Kim showed me photos of some 3m long fish that Jo had made which were about to go down to Cairns for an exhibition!
– Visiting Cape Tribulation beach and learning about Captain Cook’s failed landing there!
– A forest walk and yummy lunch in the rainforest. We learnt about loads of different trees, including some that were thousands of years old. The Daintree forest is the oldest living forest in the world at 120m years (!!) and has more types of tree in one hectare than there are in the whole of the northern hemisphere!
– Cassowary spotting on the drive back from lunch, we were lucky enough to see one of these rare, giant, scary birds in the wild!
– Post lunch ice-cream at the delicious Daintree Ice Cream tropical fruit farm…who knew that Wattle Seed was a flavour?
– A drive in the most awesome zebra print 4WD to the deserted Cassowary falls where we swam with turtles and fed fish….whilst I was still in the water 😳 Kim also showed us a 1.5m eel that lived in the water. Thankfully I was out by this point.
– A crocodile cruise along the Daintree River where we spotted a 3m long croc, a couple of green tree snakes and tonnes of birds!
Kim was a great guide, with a really interesting life story. He’s also just bought some land in Papua New Guinea and set up a tour company over there called Maramuni Treks so if you happen to be going to PNG then check out it.
We were in a small group of 8 for the tour which was great, and Daintree Discovery purposefully mixed the itinerary around with the other group doing the full day tour, meaning that we were never all doing the same thing.
I would really recommend taking a tour with them if you get the chance.
I was amazed by the landscape around Port Douglas. It was totally different to anything I’ve seen in Australia so far. It’s so luscious and green and it reminded me of parts of India and Thailand, except with sugar-cane being the crop dominating the fields rather than rice. Especially when we were on the river cruise with the Brahmin cows along the riverbank surrounded by egrets.
We got back from the tour about 5.30 and I had a super quick turnaround to get into town in time for sunset.
My ‘tent-mate’ was a lovely woman called Fiona who had just moved from Melbourne. We walked the 20 minutes into town together as she had a trial shift at a restaurant.
I went to the ‘Tin Shed’ (RSL style club) for dinner which had a great outdoor deck with views to the west to where there should have been an awesome sunset. Instead, clouds!
Dinner was tasty though, I got into the seaside swing with tuna carpaccio and mussels. After dinner I went to Iron Bar on the Main Street and met up with a woman called Rae who had been on my tour that day.
Rae had recommended Iron Bar for the nightly toad racing.
Yes, you read that right, toad racing! It was so bizarre and they actually must make so much money from it…you pay $5 for an entry to the toad race, which I assumed equated to temporary ownership of a toad. But no, the $5 only secured entry into a toad-raffle, which 6 people were picked from to be the first ‘toad-jockeys’.
The toads then have coloured hair-bands placed around them so you know who is who and then are put on the middle of a table, with the aim for them to get into a bucket about a metre away from the other end of the table…obviously this isn’t going to happen. They are toads. And have no sense of taking direction, even when party streamers are repeatedly blown at them by their jockeys.
It was all so strange, but the compere was great fun and it seemed to be the place to be. Fiona joined us after her shift and managed to persuade me to have a boogie to the live band that were playing afterwards.
We stumbled our way back to Dougies playing Taylor Swift from my phone. Classy 🙂
Sunday I had a super chilled day in Port Douglas. I wandered around the market – my favourite stall was a cane juice stall where they crushed the cane by pedalling a bike, I then read and swam on 4 mile beach and went for dinner at an Italian called Sassi. The food was yum and there would have been an amazing sunset view if it hadn’t been cloudy again!!
Luckily I was treated to a beautiful sunRISE instead as I made the early morning drive from PD back to Cairns today before catching the 8am bus down to Airlie beach.
I’m now tucked up in bed in Airlie and excited for what the next few days hold in store!