Located in Queensland’s tropical Far North where coconut palms and mango trees sway in the breeze and the beaches are heavenly, Cairns is Australia’s fifth largest city. The menu of incredible things to see and do in this coastal city is packed with the sensational and encompasses some of the most unique experiences you can have anywhere in the world.
Cairns is the city which acts as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef –the largest coral reef on Earth and home to an underwater marine wonderland so dazzling it draws visitors from every corner of the planet. Dive, snorkel, fly over it on a scenic flight or take a glass-bottom boat trip to enter this rainbow-colored fantastical world which is teeming with life.
Another of Cairns major draw-cards is its multitude of opportunities for taking part in some truly meaningful and immersive indigenous cultural experiences. Learn how to throw a boomerang, wander deep into the bush to gather wild foods with an Aboriginal guide or gather around a night fire under the stars as you listen to Dreamtime stories or watch painted dancers depicting a hunt scenario. For some of the most easily accessible indigenous experiences possible Cairns is home to the exceptional Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park whose menu of activities is so extensive you could come here every day for a week and still not cover everything.
The third major string to Cairns bow is the richness of wildlife. Ask most people what their primary reasons are for visiting the vast island of Australia and a huge majority will answer to meet its fascinating animals which are found nowhere else on Earth. From heading off to look for kangaroos which live in trees to cruising rivers to spot crocodiles, Cairns offers a multitude of ways to get up close to Australia’s unique creatures in their stunning natural habitats.
For those who want to combine a bit of everything the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest –the oldest rainforest on Earth and a place of exceptional untouched beauty –is just a short journey away. Home to an incredible array of wildlife, Daintree is also full of opportunities for learning about indigenous culture as well as simply getting amid the spectacular beauty of it all.As if this wasn’t already enough Cairns also boasts an exceptional dining scene and is one of the top destinations in the country for foodies.
So whether you have lazy tropical beach days in mind, are intent on playing a didgeridoo, want to see a koala or simply have your heart set on feasting through sensational cuisine, Cairns –the city where the rainforest meets the reef -has everything you need.
A Morning in Cairns
While the Cairns surrounds are home to treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest it also has some true gems right here too. Two of these –the wonderful botanic gardens and the exceptional Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park together make up your morning.
The Botanic Gardens
While some cities of the world charge exorbitant entrance fees to enjoy their attractions there are others, although far rarer, which offer treasures for free. Cairns magnificent and heritage-listed Botanic Gardens is one such of these. From its visitor center which scooped a variety of design awards to its tranquil lakes, this exotic paradise delivers scene after scene of loveliness and brings you the lushness of the tropics in an easily accessible form.
With roots that stretch all the way back to 1886 and almost to the very beginning of the Cairns story of settlement by non-indigenous communities, a fairly large slice of the gardens’ charms comes from the fact that much of it has developed organically. The overall effect therefore is one of a seamless merging with its natural setting overlaid with the intention of enhancement rather than dominance. Where construction has been necessary buildings are deliberately unobtrusive. An ideal example of sensitive design is represented with the Visitors Centre building which features mirror-like panels in which trees and sky are reflected to blend the whole into its surroundings and has elegant curving edges to compliment the natural elements which of course have no straight lines. Filled with information and often hosting exhibitions, the Visitors’ Centre also incorporates a wealth of eco-friendly features such as solar panels and rain catchment systems.
Covering 38 hectares, the gardens are considered to house one of Australia’s best exhibitions of tropical plants and can also lay claim to international recognition for certain collections such as its palms and ginger plants. The whole is subdivided into themed areas and also growing habitats such as mangroves which means if you don’t have time to cover all of it you can simply head to those sections which interest you most.
One of the gardens’ highlights and often of especial interest to foreign visitors is the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden. There are several indigenous tribes who have historically called the rainforest home and over the tens of thousands of years this culture has been in existence it has passed down the generations a highly developed understanding of its plants. Some have been used as food sources, others as medicines and others yet have served to build shelter, weave clothing, carve into weapons or fashion into utensils. During a walk around this exceptional corner you will be able to see some of these plants for yourself and learn of their multiple uses.
Another gem is the water-lily strewn Freshwater Lake which was transformed from swampland into what you see today and is home to fish, frogs and turtles. Other highlights include the giant bamboo stands, the Flecker Gardens which compare the diversity of tropical flora as found within jungle areas on different continents and the fascinating Gondwana Heritage Gardens. This latter is like a living time-line of the evolution of plants, tracing history from when plants first emerged on Earth to the present day. Wander through the different zones to learn how the continents separated and why Australia ended up with plant species which exist nowhere else on the planet.
Besides the Rainforest Boardwalk within the gardens walking trails abound ranging from a 1.5 km easy loop track to longer and more challenging options. Several of the tracks take you to look-out points for breath-taking views of city, coast and islands.
Along with its exceptional air of peace and fascinating plant-life the gardens are also a haven for birds with more than 50 species recorded here. These include some of Australia’s most colorful flying wildlife such as parrots and cockatoos, the iridescently-plumaged spangled drongo whose colors change as the sun reflects off the feathers, the vividly blue-headed tiny fairy wren and the highly vociferous and acrobatic rainbow lorikeet which is aptly named. The plumage of these beautiful birds is made up of a palette of scarlet, orange, emerald-green, yellow and a vibrant blue.
Audio tours allow you to self-guide yourself around this exceptional place or you can take advantage of free tours which include themed options such as bird-watching and history.
Morning Coffee in Cairns
Cairns has a plentiful supply of cafes and a good chunk of them are award-winning, dedicated espresso bars, roast-their-own outfits or otherwise the kind of places which will keep even the most discerning of coffee drinkers satisfied.
If lovely surroundings and convenience are your principal aim you can head to the Botanic Garden’s very own cafe once you have finished exploring its many delights. With alfresco tables surrounded by greenery, you can choose from a drinks menu of coffee, tea, juices and milkshakes and the cafe also functions as a restaurant if you feel in need of a mid-morning energy boost.
For the serious coffee drinker there are no shortage of options and while every Cairns local might direct you to a different spot if you ask them where to find the best coffee in town one cafe which features on even national ‘best of’ lists regularly is Blackbird Espresso. With a rustic wood-rich interior, Blackbird Espresso offers its very own organic coffee blend and according to its fan base adds something special to their brews by using Millaa Millaa Misty Mountain milk.
If you want both excellent coffee and top-notch views as you drink it head to Wharf One. Located at absolute waterfront on Chinaman Creek, the panorama here is magnificent and you can watch a variety of craft sailing past as you enjoy your morning coffee pause on a very roomy and sun-soaked deck. Wharf One don’t roast their own but they buy from other locals who do ensuring a high standard of coffee.
Another choice for alfresco fans is Mi Piace Espresso Bar with its sofa-filled patio area and which also offers a wonderful array of sweet treats and pastries to enhance your morning coffee. This is another of the Cairns choices whose name is often bandied about when discussing the best coffee in town while mentions of wonderful service also seem to be a common feature when former visitors talk about their experience here.
The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
There are a few common entries which tend to feature at the top of must-see lists for Australia’s visitors; the spectacular Great Barrier Reef is one, unique wildlife is another and the third is to learn something of the Aboriginal culture.
The Far North of Queensland, where Cairns is located, is one of the best regions in the entire country to learn in a wonderful variety of ways all about the ancient culture of Australia’s indigenous people and just 15 minutes from the center of the city can be found one example -the exceptional Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Offering an easily accessible way to enjoy true full immersion experiences, this award-winning cultural site offers an extensive menu of activities and tours which take place throughout both the day and the night. The hosts are the local Djabugay clan but the center provides insight into the culture of all of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Tjapukai isn’t just about watching either. This is a full hands-on experience, if you want it to be, which is intended to give you privileged and authentic insight. So, here, among many other options you can try playing the didgeridoo, launching a boomerang, perhaps have a go at face and body painting, learn how to hunt with a spear or start a fire without a match and even join in a ceremonial dance. There is also the possibility to go on a walkabout led by an indigenous guide to discover the many uses of plants for medicine, food, clothing, shelter and a great deal more. If you prefer to simply sit back and enjoy you can choose to watch performances of traditional music, dance and storytelling which are at times exceptionally moving.
Inside the center there are also all kinds of exhibitions, displays and theater screenings which include archive footage while a gallery space showcases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. The excellent shop also sells a large range of traditional arts and crafts if you want to take home a beautiful memento of your visit.
Exceptional enough to have been part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Australian tour in 2002,The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a one-of-a-kind venue without equal anywhere in the world. However you decide to spend your time at this wonderful place it is certain you will leave knowing rather more of this 40,000-year-old culture than when you arrived.
Lunch in Cairns
The Cairns dining scene is nothing short of exceptional for its size and is known countrywide as one of the go-to places for foodies. Top quality seafood, fresh local produce, world-renowned chefs and a collection of venues which make the most of the tropical location are all factors in ensuring Cairns sits right up there as one of Australia’s best dining destinations.
Another element which keeps locals and visitors happy is the astonishing diversity of cuisine types. Choices include Asian, Australian, Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and Thai and that isn’t even the entire list.
Also, whether you want to go laid back and rustic or scale the highest echelons of fine dining Cairns has that covered too.
If you can’t bear to tear yourself away from the magical Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park head to the site’s cafe –The Flame Tree Bar and Grill -where your indigenous experience can continue into your lunch. This exceptional place offers a tropical buffet lunch with elements of native bush food and a selection of meats and vegetables cooked in a bayngga –a type of traditional underground oven used during ceremonial banquets. From a setting which gives you a view of the lake, lush gardens and mountains, you can feast your way through seafood, crocodile steaks, salads, desserts and an otherwise diverse array of indigenous-inspired flavors.
Rather more central is the fabulous seafood-focused Salt House where lunch dining comes with views to die for. Perched right on the tip of Marina Point and surrounded on three sides by water,this chic space’s views take in not just the Coral Sea but also Trinity Inlet and the mountains while also giving you the full advantage of a cooling ocean breeze.
Dotted about with coconut palms as a constant reminder of your tropical location, you can choose to dine in the elegant open-sided interior or in the spacious alfresco area although both have the sensational panorama in common. Many words have been used to describe Salt House –glamorous, stylish, laid-back, welcoming, tranquil –and all of them are true; this spot really is something quite special.
So too however is the fresh, local-sourced and seasonal food which makes up a seafood-heavy menu such as kingfish cerviche with soy caviar, ginger and lemon-grass mussels and a seafood tasting plate but also has such offerings as kangaroo tataki, east coast steaks and twice-cooked pork. Lunch specials offer particular value for money with a free wine or beer included and it seems whatever you order the food presentation is lovely. For non-seafood fans the venue is also a pizzeria.
If you’d like to sample one of the many Cairns ethnic food options head to Bayleaf which offers authentic Balinese cuisine in a stylish setting. Choose from indoor tables or an alfresco terrace and then settle down to work your way through well-known favorites such as nasi goreng to lesser-known delicious dishes crafted by specialist chefs such as the sambel udang prawns with chilies & lime in coconut cream. Bayleaf also offers set lunches which are good value.
For those who’d prefer something lighter and more casual many of the Cairns cafes have some wonderful lunch choices such as the Lillipad Cafe with its vibrantly-colored walls filled with giant art canvasses and the Foodhouse Cafe where among other things you can try emu, crocodile and kangaroo meats as you gaze at the ocean from the patio.
An Afternoon in Cairns and its Surrounds
While Cairns itself has plenty of wonderful things to fill your time its near surrounds are full of fantastic places which don’t just rank as exceptional in Australia but on a global scale.
Head out to the mountain village of Kuranda with its thriving arts community and characterful markets on a cable car ride above the forest canopy and then return on a spectacular heritage train ride which takes you deep into ancient rainforests. Alternatively fill your afternoon with the dazzling water wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef with experiences ranging from snorkeling amid coral gardens teeming with life to scenic flights on board a plane or helicopter.
The hauntingly beautiful Daintree Rainforest –at 180 million years old the most ancient on the planet -is also easily accessible from Cairns but as this is closer to Port Douglas it is perhaps best saved for your time spent there.
Kuranda, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Scenic Railway
Located just a 35 minute drive from Cairns can be found the bewitching Kuranda, known as the ‘Village in the Rainforest. A magnet for the artistically inclined, hippy-vibe Kuranda is a collection of unique markets, cafes and galleries and a cluster of attractions ideal for culture vultures, animal lovers and nature enthusiasts.
Located on the border of the Atherton Tableland, Kuranda sits high atop mountains cloaked in rich tropical rainforest with the Barron River sweeping past. Known today as a liberal-minded and relaxed-living community, artists and musicians started arriving here in the 1970s seeking back-to-basics alternative lifestyles where they could be surrounded by the deeply beautiful and raw-natured.
Besides simply wandering and soaking up the unique atmosphere of this special place where little surprises can be found around every corner, Kuranda has a great deal to see and do, especially considering its compact size. A paradise for anyone on the look-out for unusual clothing or handicrafts, the long running markets here are charming, colorful and highly photogenic. There is also the Butterfly Sanctuary, riverboat cruises, Aboriginal cultural performances, a bird park, a fossil and gemstone museum and any number of walking trails ranging from short boardwalk forays into the steamy rainforest to longer hikes which head off into the two national parks of which Kuranda is a part.
The Markets and Shopping
Kuranda has two market set-ups –that known as the Original Markets which has been running since the 1970s and the other titled the Heritage Markets which is an undercover market. Both are open all day every day and are what the village is best known for. Wander amid quirky and colorfully decorated sheds, shacks and huts full of fascinating goods in the Original Markets as the tropical vegetation overhead dapples the paved lanes with shade and buskers entertain strolling visitors. The range of what you can buy here is astonishing, most of it handmade, of the one-of-a-kind variety or otherwise beautiful -jewelry, wood carvings, clothing, leather goods, hand-painted didgeridoos, opals, Aboriginal artifacts, endless curios, honeys, local coffee, coconuts and much more.
Chatting to stallholders is all part of the Kuranda experience and many of the market’s most colorful characters have been selling their arts and crafts here since the very beginning. The Honey House you will find on Therwine Street with its honeys, honeycomb and medicinal goods, for example, has been selling its products in Kuranda since 1959 and operating out of its present location since the 1960s.
Elsewhere in the village you will find art galleries, bookshops, boutiques and more of the locally-made crafts which together make Kuranda a one-stop-shop for every special gift, souvenir or memento you could possibly hope to find. If you need a pause in all that wonderful rainforest retail therapy Kuranda has some charming cafes to relax in for a while before you continue your explorations.
The Butterfly Sanctuary
Home to the largest butterfly aviary in the Southern Hemisphere, the Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary replicates its rainforest surrounds in miniature –even down to a waterfall -and fills it with 1,500 butterflies and moths of the huge, highly colorful and tropical kind. In shades of electric-blue, vivid scarlet, emerald-green and tangerine and with species such as the Hercules moth growing wingspans of up to 27cm, the butterflies here represent all of Australia’s native rainforest species in their entirety. Guided tours in which you will learn about life cycles are part of the entrance fee if you want to take advantage of them while visitors can also get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes breeding laboratories to see the butterflies in their caterpillar stages.
For flying creatures of a different kind head to Bird World where in another rainforest-replicated setting complete with waterfalls and ponds you can wander among 300 or so birds representing almost 60 different species in a free-flying environment.
Birds found here include cockatoos with fabulous crests, several parrot species, mischievous and acrobatic rainbow lorikeets and the remarkable rainforest cassowary which stands as tall as a human.
Admission price comes with a bird guide so you can identify what you see and there are also guided tours for those who want to learn more.
Emu Ridge Gallery and Fossil Museum and Opals
Fossil Museum-Emu Ridge Gallery is essentially one of Kuranda’s collection of wonderful shops selling crystals and gemstones as well as being home to an incredibly lifelike replica of a 9m dinosaur skeleton whose head looms over the upstairs balcony as if poised for attack. So lifelike is the skeleton in fact that when it originally arrived in crates on Australia’s shores, it sparked a bit of a fuss when customs officials alerted paleontologists from Brisbane, convinced they had discovered an illegal import of dinosaur bones.
Head downstairs to view the wonderful museum part which although small in size is home to a huge collection of gems and fossils from all over the world including meteorite shards and fossilized dinosaur droppings.
Opals–Kuranda is something of a hot-spot for opals and to learn something of how the national gemstone of Australia is mined and turned from ordinary-looking raw rock into one of the most exquisitely beautiful and highly variable gems of the world make your way to Opal Time or one of the other village outlets. All of course also sell opals either in raw form, as loose stones or crafted into incredible jewelry pieces.
Aboriginal Cultural Experiences
The traditional owners of Kuranda and its surrounding rainforest are the ancient-lineage race of people known as the Djabugay. With a heritage that stretches back 10,000 years, this indigenous culture continues to thrive and has a deep and abiding connection to their land.
Experiences which bring you face-to-face with members of this highly spiritual race of people and the traditional belief systems which form an integral part of their culture can be found in and around Kuranda. You can set off with an indigenous guide for a walk through the rainforest to hear Dreamtime legends, enjoy dance performances by the Mayi Wunba dance troupe at weekends around the market or try your hand at attempting to get a note out of the didgeridoo, throwing a boomerang or launching a traditional spear.
Rainforest Trails and Walks
Kuranda is surrounded by stunning national parkland and rainforest so it takes minimal effort to experience something of this tropical environment teeming with wildlife directly from the village, even if you have limited time and low levels of fitness.
Options include a 40 minute boardwalk trail which leads you high above the rainforest floor and onto the Barron Falls look-out point or an hour-long 3km loop which takes in the Jumrum creek, jungle and Barron River. For those who don’t want to stray beyond the village there is also a one hour art trail walk during which you can enjoy sculptures, mosaics and some stunning street art. The Kuranda Visitor Information Centre has a brochure which details all the self-guided trail options in the area.
Getting To and From Kuranda -The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Railway
While the getting to somewhere is typically just an element that has to be endured in the case of Kuranda this is decidedly different. So much so that many would argue that as enchanting as Kuranda is the true highlight is actually the journey rather than the destination. What’s more, the arrival journey and the return journey to Cairns can be enjoyed in two very different but equally memorable ways.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Situated next to Tjapukai Aboriginal Park in Cairns can be found the remarkable Skyrail boarding point. This award-winning cable car system with its glass-wall cabins allows visitors to glide across the ancient rainforest canopy on a 7.5 km unforgettable journey. Besides the fascination of the rainforest there are also panoramic views of fields, lakes, forests and mountains. The stops along the way include the magnificent Barron Gorge and Falls and Red Peak Station from which elevated walkways take you off to explore a natural world of colorful plants, enormous ferns, birds, flowers and animals.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway
When you decide it is time to leave the village of Kuranda your adventure is far from over. Running for 34 km and therefore much longer than the cable car ride (although equally magnificent) is the Kuranda Scenic Railway. This timber-carriage heritage train travels through lush rainforest dotted with tumbling waterfalls and spectacular gorges as the track winds through rugged mountains, passes through tunnels and crosses narrow bridges and which overall offers one of the most relaxing ways to experience pristine rainforest environments.
Construction on this historic railway began in 1887 and, with nothing but hand-tools to work with while simultaneously coping with the challenges of a jungle environment and ascending terrain, the line eventually connected with Kuranda four years later. The railway station at the Kuranda end dates from 1915 and is, to many, the loveliest of all stations in the country.
As you ride this heritage train, marveling at the natural magnificence all around, you can also enjoy an on-board commentary which relates the history in detail and so gives you a fuller appreciation of quite what a remarkable feat of engineering the whole thing is.
An Alternative Afternoon from Cairns –The Great Barrier Reef
Cairns has many wonderful attractions but there is no denying it has one draw which stands out above all else –the Great Barrier Reef -which defies any attempt at description and has to be experienced first-hand to really appreciate. Cairns acts as the principal gateway to this national treasure, Earth’s only living organism which can be seen from space and representing collectively the largest living organism in existence.
Above the surface this area is a collection of idyllic islands -900 of them in fact -with most of them of the ultimately idyllic bleached white sand and tropical turquoise water variety. Below the water and amid almost 3,000 spectacular reefs is a magical wonderland of thousands of species of rainbow-colored fish, corals and sponges, manta rays, turtles, dolphins and whales.
Quite how you experience it all is up to you. As the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is bursting at the seams with operators, tour companies, boat owners and outfits which all want to whisk you off to experience what many consider the most spectacular sight on Earth so there are a huge choice of options for all budgets and every kind of visitor.
You can simply cruise the channels and islands to take in the stunning beauty of it all in craft ranging from motorboat to luxury sailing yacht. Alternatively you can snorkel (and there are many set-ups suitable even for non-swimmers or those who have never snorkeled before), scuba dive or enjoy a glass-bottom boat trip or, if you prefer to see it from above, take a scenic flight by plane or helicopter. For the truly adventurous there is even the opportunity to skydive over it.
Some more unusual ways to immerse yourself into this spectacular destination are the underwater observatory at Townsville’s Reef HQ and the Seawalker Green Island which is like a diving experience but without any training required. Through the use of special helmets, this unique set-up allows you to actually walk on the seabed floor surrounded by coral gardens and their dazzling array of underwater creatures and is even suitable for non-swimmers.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Cairns
Sunset arrives relatively early in the tropics year round –between about 5.30 and 6.30 pm -giving you a perfect excuse to head off for sundowners as soon as you choose in one of Cairns wonderful collection of bars, cafes and drinking venues.
When it comes to dining Cairns is exceptional. As cities go Cairns is relatively small but this doesn’t prevent it from serving as one of the country’s top dining destinations. The restaurants here rank as some of Australia’s best and several employ the skills of world-renowned chefs. What’s more the variety of cuisine is astonishing with choices including Asian, Australian, Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and Thai. Top quality seafood is also something of a theme here with some outstanding fresh local produce and exotic tropical elements all the norm too. Venues range from the charming and rustic for those who enjoy more casual dining to the ultimate in sophisticated fine-dining choices.
For both drinks and dinner the Esplanade has the highest number of choices for soaking up the tropical atmosphere and enjoying the local flavors.
Tropical beaches and sundowners together are a perfect combination which is exactly what coastal-located Cairns gives you. In central Cairns the majority of bars are strung along the seafront stretch known as the Esplanade or clustered around the marina and pier so ocean views are pretty much a given.
There are also other beach areas such as the Cairns’s Palm Cove which is a tropical idyll made up of sun-drenched golden sands, turquoise ocean, waving palms and views across to off-shore Great Barrier Reef islands. A magnet for the more discerning visitor, Palm Cove is home to five-star resorts and sophisticated restaurants as well as beach-front cafes and bars which all center on the Esplanade that also features an enormous salt-water lagoon pool.
One of the Palm Grove choices is the Chill Cafe which has a sublime beach and Coral Sea view through nodding tropical palms from its alfresco wooden deck. This exceptionally laid-back place is a rustic charmer but the type of rustic which has been all carefully thought out to perfectly reflect the essence of the Far North’s tropical paradise elements; in short somewhere just perfect for sunset drinks. Run by a husband and wife team, the Chill Cafe focuses on cocktails, wines and craft beers and so has something for everyone.
More centrally located is the glamorous and stylish Salt House Bar where you can recline on a pond-surrounded daybed like a film-star, sipping on a perfectly mixed cocktail as you take in the views of ocean and mountains while the sun slides down the sky. Sundowners, most would agree, don’t come much better than this.
If hunger pangs start to kick in but you find it impossible to tear yourself away from such an experience just yet, Salt House offers tapas to keep you going a little longer.
If you’d rather be on the water than simply gazing at it Cairns has a variety of sunset cruises which allow you to watch the sky turn shades of purple, bronze and orange as you sip on a favored tipple and snack on savory bites. Boats head out into the ocean but also for a tranquil float along the Trinity Inlet’s channels and mangroves where if you’re lucky your sundowners will include spotting crocodiles too.
If you chose to head to Palm Cove for drinks and want to stay there to dine the Chill Cafe offers a big menu of high quality pub fare which features some wonderful share boards. For a higher end Palm Cove dining experience infused with romance try the 1960s established Reefhouse Restaurant which features linen-draped tables in an outdoor setting with lovely beach views and a multitude of flickering candles.
The diverse menu here includes such delights as a prosciutto-wrapped kangaroo fillet with pistachio dukkha and Merlot jus or saltwater barramundi with coconut pilaf in a Thai red curry sauce. All the appetizers, entrees and mains are listed on the menu with a recommended wine pairing for those who want a little guidance. If you want to try a little of everything opt for the six-course degustation menu.
For those who want to make the most of the many ethnic-cuisine choices In Cairns the wonderful Asian fusion Tamarind at the Reef Hotel Casino is one of the options. Award-winning many times over, the Tamarind is stylish and elegant with well-spaced tables and intimate atmospheric lighting perfect for couples dining.
Utilizing the best of the Cairns region’s fresh produce bounty, the menu options allow you to choose individual items, opt for shared plates for two or go the whole hog and order one of the ‘Taste of Tamarind’ set menus which feature a range of the restaurant’s signature dishes paired with wines.
An extra special dinner can be enjoyed at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park which is combined with an incredible evening of indigenous dance, fire-making ceremonies and a beneath-the-stars campfire experience after a didgeridoo welcome. The dining element of this package is a sumptuous buffet where you can feast on meats cooked in a traditional underground oven, seafood, salads, desserts and all kinds of other Australian and Aboriginal-inspired dishes.
An Evening in Cairns
While you might feel like doing very little except relaxing in a water-front bar after your reef and rainforest packed day there are some great things to do if you still have any energy left. Take in a theater show, hunt down some unique souvenirs at the night market or spend a spectacular cultural immersion evening with feasting, star-canopied camp-fires and sacred ceremonies.
The Night Markets
If you haven’t had a chance to hunt down any souvenirs and gifts yet or if you simply want to enjoy a lively local atmosphere head to the Esplanade-located open-air Night Markets which set up every day of the week from 5pm until 11 pm.
The market has a collection of over 70 stalls packed with opals, leather goods, hand-carved wood, local coffee, clothing, handmade jewelry, bush hats and an otherwise large collection of locally made gifts and souvenirs. While quite which stalls rank as the best will depend on what you are looking for some notable sellers include the lovely Wombats Crossing with its range of gifts and opals and Cairns Didgeridoos. Offering authentic handmade and hand-painted items, the didgeridoos here are the work of artists representing several indigenous tribes such as KuKu Dungan, Wiradjuri and Cookanaligi. Each tribe’s art style is different which means there are a great variety of exquisite pieces to choose from.
Besides the colorful range of goods the Night Markets is also home to massage services and a diversity of food vendors so you can tuck into Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai or French culinary treats, to name just a small selection of what is found here. Many of the cafes and stalls are licensed which also means you can grab a beer if you need a refreshment pause to get your breath back.
Night Fire at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Although you may already have visited this excellent cultural center during the day it is certainly worth returning again after dark. This is when you can enjoy feasting, story-telling, dance and camp-fires for an evening which is all at once mesmerizing, moving and magical. On arrival you will be greeted by your indigenous Bama hosts who welcome you with the soul-stirring sounds of the didgeridoo and paint your face to match their own in a ceremony intended to link you with the land. From here they will guide you down a path lit with fire where you can watch the corroboree –a sacred dance ritual from the Dreamtime stories.
Beside the lake you will learn and be invited to join in with some traditional chants and songs as a ceremonial fire is lit, a ritual which involves creating a huge fire ball to finish. As the night gets older and more and more stars fill the sky you will have the opportunity to share some magical camp-fire time and a drink with your hosts and ask them any questions.
The Night Fire experience is part of a package which also includes a lakeside buffet feast at the Flame Tree Bar & Grill for an entire evening of total cultural immersion and the kind of experience which happens just once in a lifetime.
The JUTE Theatre
For those who need a cultural fix Cairns is home to the excellent JUTE Theatre whose driving ethos is to deliver the story of Australia through the medium of drama, comedy and music. From humble beginnings this talented establishment has arrived at being the professional outfit it is today, working in close conjunction with indigenous bodies and scooping a number of prestigious awards over the years including the Playlab Award for ”outstanding commitment to developing and presenting Queensland Stories and promoting a regional voice.”
Get ready to explore everything Cairns has to offer! Our planners will help you find the perfect cruise for your visit to Australia.