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A Three-Day Guide to Cairns

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by Sarah Says (subscribe)
I am a marketing and communications consultant and freelance writer. Living on the Gold Coast in Australia. Check out my website or follow on Twitter @WENGoldCoast
Published July 4th 2012
At the beginning of May, I visited Cairns in Northern Queensland. It was the last on my to do list (for now) in Australia and out of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, it has been my top place to visit. Now my heart will always belong to Melbourne, it just has that certain something, but I found cairns to be a mix of all the best bits I had seen elsewhere and for that reason its been my favourite trip so far.

Here are some tips and recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, where to shop and where to visit. I had only three days in Cairns but I managed to fit as much in as humanly possible by having a balance of planning ahead and just seeing what will happen.

If you are looking for fairly cheap accommodation then I highly recommend the Bohemia Resort Cairns on McLeod Street in North Cairns. I have stayed in lots of backpacker places on my travels (the good, the bad, and the very ugly) and this was definitely the good, I stayed in an en-suite single studio, which was only $57 per night. It was very clean, had excellent facilities (TV, fridge, tea and coffee, hairdryer, pool, free basic breakfast), had a very comfy bed and was located a block behind the main road so had loads of bus connections. It was an ideal location for me; close enough by bus (5 mins) to the city centre but far enough out to be quiet and safe at night.

There are a number of small museums and galleries in Cairns. I set aside a morning to do the main two as they are close to each other in the CBD; firstly I went to Cairns Historical Society Museum, located on the corner of Lake & Shields Street, which is pretty small (totally do in 30 mins) but has some interesting stuff, there is a $5 entrance fee which is unusual but I never really mind when its going to history, culture and arts.

Then I went to Cairns Regional Gallery (again $5 entrance fee), located on the corner of Abbott & Shields Street, which had some interesting exhibitions over about 4 floors, my favourite was the top floor where they feature emerging talent in their Loft Emerging Artists Program (LEAP). The other main gallery is Kick Arts Contemporary Gallery, located on Abbott Street, its well worth a visit even just to see the giant Jelly Babies outside!

Bernie's Jazz Café is located on Abbott Street (just next to Kick Arts) and is a little treasure trove of brilliance. You really do feel like you have stepped back in time when you go here, I popped in for one drink and a few hours later I was still there and I had made loads of new friends. The music is great, the atmosphere is even better and everyone is super friendly. I only wish I had found it on my first night instead of my last night. I will certainly be back for more.

The Pier Shopping Arcade (on Pier Point Road) has a mix of speciality shops and late night markets and stalls and its in just the best location. One side overlooks the sea and the other the marina with mountain backdrop, and to make the most of these stunning views they have added decking around the perimeter of the arcade which offers loads of bars, cafes and restaurants of all different tastes, costs and desires. Look out for all the early bird deals, which are sometimes up to 40% off your meal if you eat before 6 ish and also they have a number of 241 deals on drinks during happy hour, (imagine my delight when treating myself to a glass of sparkling wine when I was told I got another for free!).

Trinity Beach is possibly one of the prettiest beaches I have seen so far on my travels, and I have seen a lot, lined with palm trees and with impressive mountain ranges at each end it really is worth the longish (40 mins by bus) journey to get there. There are a number of little cafes and restaurants running along side the beachfront, it's a perfect location to grab some fish and chips and eat at one of the many seating areas overlooking the beach. The only thing that let it down (visually) when I was there is that due to the time of year they had to section off with big nets the area to swim in due to the amount of jellyfish and crocodiles (eek), but of course safety first and regardless the views are breathtaking.

Esplanade is excellent and one of the only places I have seen in Australia that has blocks and blocks of bars, cafes and restaurant all overlooking the beachfront and Cairns Swimming Lagoon so you can sit outside and make the most of the wonderful views (and weather). Catering for every taste and budget possible it has loads on offer; I ate in Villa Romana, a gorgeous Italian restaurant on the corner of Aplin Street. The food was amazing and it was the perfect end to my first day in Cairns, which some yummy pasta and a glass of wine overlooking the beach, and it was before 6pm so I managed to get 40% off my bill, so it didn't break the bank either.

This was probably my favourite in terms of seeing something completely new, the Botanic Gardens, beautiful anyway but what I loved was the clever use of space and creative thinking. In the middle of the gardens were three giant WWII oil tanks that had been converted into three entertainment venues, a music venue, a circus venue and an art gallery (called Tanks! See what they did there). Amazing.

Even though I have a fear of the sea and everything that's in it I decided to set myself a challenge and go Snorkelling at one of the island trips, I figured if I am going to do it anywhere I am going to do it on the Great Barrier Reef. I chose the Green Island Tour, which I highly recommend, even if you don't want to swim there, is a great glass bottom boat trip which is included in the price and allows you to see down below without getting wet.

The island is very pretty and you can walk around the whole island (only on day tour) and there are a few cafes and restaurant in the middle. I just did a half-day and found that was enough for me. The snorkelling was amazing and I saw some amazing fish and coral, it wasn't as vibrant as I had hoped but apparently at that time of year, due to the water getting cooler, the algae leaves and it is that which gives it its bright colours. Still beautiful all the same and I saw a sea turtle which was very cute, and not a scary thing in sight.

Other places to visit are The Reef Hotel Casino on Abbott Street and the Twilight Market on the Esplanade. Casinos are not really my thing but check out the Zoo on the roof (yes really) and the variety of bands they have on in the lounge bar, it was great fun. The twilight markets are cute and great if you are looking for little trinkets for gifts, I found its mostly jewellery and souvenir stalls.

So three (busy) days well spent, I truly loved everything about Cairns and I will be back hopefully very soon. I know that I only scratched the surface of what Cairns has to offer and I look forward to discovering more places when I return.

I hope this gives you some ideas of where to go and what to see. It really is a fabulous place.
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Why? Here are some tips and recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, where to shop and where to visit.
Where: Cairns QLD
Your Comment
Good for you. Wishing you all the best. You've also inspired me to by the book.
by Carole Liivrand (score: 2|899) 4001 days ago
Next time take the train to Kuranda and sky rail back down. Highlight of any trip to Cairns.
by mdunn (score: 1|43) 2060 days ago
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