The Shortlist on Cairns, Queensland Australia
Four days of incomparable culture and memories.
My first four days of study abroad were spent in one of the most amazing places on earth, Cairns (pronounced like “cans”) Australia.
My Australian school told me about an optional, additional cultural immersion program with study abroad provider Globalinks, and being that I wanted to embrace every possible opportunity that I could (within my means), I jumped on this opportunity. For those of us in the US of A, places across the country seem far, and I mean like 14 hours far. Well what I didn’t know was that the whole of Australia is about as large as the US but with several fewer million people. This also meant that while it seemed feasible to get from where I’d be studying in Sydney to Cairns any other time, I found out it’s actually a little over a day’s drive between the two; that’s the same time it would take to drive from my home of Denver, Colorado to the Outer Banks, North Carolina!
That being said, Cairns was in and here are 10 of my experiences for you to look into.
1) RainForeStation Nature Park: Technically located in Kuranda, this nature park is about a 30 minute drive from central Cairns. Activities available include (are you ready? Take a deep breath!) Aboriginal dream walk made up of learning to throw a boomerang, learning what a didgeridoo is, watching a spear throwing demonstration, plus we got a bonus of painting Aboriginal style then having our faces painted; amphibious army duck tour learning about the flora and what you should and shouldn’t touch in the Rainforest; have your picture taken holding a live Koala; watching (maybe volunteering to participate!) an Aboriginal dance sequence; discovering local animals such as the wombat, kangaroo, koala, crocodile, python and more. Oh, and the kangaroos in the wildlife park roam freely, so you can pet them and feed them – how exciting!
2) Great Barrier Reef: Cairns is the only place in the world where the rainforest and the coral reef ecosystems meet. In my short four day stay we also experienced a cyclone (different from a hurricane only by the direction it spins). While the weather was quite nice for the duration, and I was ready for my underwater pictures thanks to my OtterBox Armor series, the cyclone had stirred up the water making it too choppy and murky for our scheduled day on the Reef. Passions of Paradise is the local recommendation of who to book through.
3) Gilligan’s Backpacker Hotel & Resort: My first experience with a hostel was here. Our group consisted of 34 students and so we were booked in the dorm style rooms with 6 beds (3 sets of bunk beds). Each room also had a shower, sink, and toilet plus lock boxes and a mini-fridge. Each floor offered a common lounge room and kitchen area with nightly locked pantry to store your dry goods, full size refrigerators, and microwaves. In addition we were informed that should the weather go sour thanks to the cyclone, Gilligan’s was the best place to be as they are on line with the hospital for power and have generators. As for location, Gilligan’s is a prime area in Cairns on Grafton Street and has its own pool, restaurant, partner travel booking desk, and nightly club.
4) Esplanade: Cairns Esplanade is a beautiful coastal walkway that is also a long public park. Enjoy views over the ocean, the large grassy areas for a picnic, workout stations, schedules of live music, public artwork, historic monuments, and 6 days a week free public fitness classes such as Zumba and Yoga.
5) Lagoon: The lagoon is essentially the public, free, swimming pool. It is located across the Esplanade walkway from the ocean. At the lagoon there are about 4 BBQ areas, plus toilets and hot shower facilities. My favorite time at the lagoon was sunrise, hands-down.
6) Rusty’s Markets: Open Friday thru Sunday Rusty’s Markets is guaranteed local life. This huge marketplace is primarily fruit and vegetables in offerings but also provides other local merchants such as floral, jewelry, bakery and a few miscellaneous items like knives. If you don’t already know, Australia is one of the 3 most expensive countries in the world but Rusty’s is a very inexpensive way to purchase your groceries, perfect for the travel budget!
7) Universal Joint: This didgeridoo specialist I stumbled upon when walking to dinner from the lagoon. They offer all sizes of didgeridoos that are hand painted authentically by local Aborigines. Other painted goods are available for purchase as well. The gentlemen I encountered was so friendly and took the time to tell me more about the instrument and even tried to teach me how to play it! While I was able to get the vibration part, the breathing takes a bit longer to coordinate even though it’s not difficult. Stopping in at the location on Shields Street is a must.
8) Cable Ski Cairns: If you’re in need of a plan B like we were, or are simply looking for another unique activity, cable skiing is worth your time. Seeing as cable skiing was our plan B to the day on the reef, we were all rather disappointed. As an enjoyable, everyone can participate outdoor activity that also offers a slight challenge, it actually is a great day on the water. There is a small café so you can order food, as well as everyone goes through a safety briefing.
9) Mount ‘n’ Ride: On our last day in Cairns we were allowed to either spend the day doing as we like and exploring more of the town, or booking a half day adventure through the Gilligan’s travel desk. I chose to spend my afternoon horseback riding. Located about 30 minutes outside of Cairns but with free shuttle pick-ups, Mount ‘n’ Ride provides choices in half day, full day and private riding sessions for all levels of riders. The part I enjoyed the most was the ride through the Little Mulgrave River. Our guides informed us however, that further down the river there are crocodiles.
10) Ochre: The most delicious local cuisine. Ochre Restaurant located on the corner of Shields and Sheridan Streets boasts a menu of Australian native foods. I found it through the “nearby” function on my Google maps app and I have no regrets! My dinner choice was the Australian Antipasto tasting plate consisting of: smoked kangaroo with wild spice and mango chutney, crocodile wonton with red pepper jam, green ant ocean trout gravlax, pulled emu on betel leaf, with caprese salad. For dessert I was having a hard time deciding but my waiter, Matt, talked me through the two dishes and ultimately I kept it local enjoying the Wattle seed Pavlova with blood orange sorbet & macadamia biscotti. I cannot express how magnificent my meal was. You simply MUST spend an evening dining at Ochre.