Cairns: Australia's Tropical Paradise

Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Cairns, Australia 16 July 2012. Framed by a backdrop of rainforest clad and mountains and fringed by the Coral Sea, Cairns – named after William Wellington Cairns, a governor of Queensland – is Australia’s tropical paradise.

The city is the ideal base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforests.  Both of these most fascinating ecosystems are listed in the World Heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 

“There are very few places on earth where two such treasurers rest side by side, and so easily accessible to visitors,” notes the 168-page colorful book, Insight -- Tropical North Queensland

Cairns is located about 1,700 kilometers from Brisbane, and about 2,420 kilometers from Sydney by road.  Tourism plays a major part in the economy of this modern, sophisticated city. 

According to Tourism Australia, the Cairns is the fourth-most popular destination for international tourists in Australia after Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  The Cairns International Airport is Australia’s seventh busiest domestic airport and sixth busiest international airport. 

The Esplanade Lagoon's huge saltwater swimming pool is an attraction.

The Esplanade Lagoon's huge saltwater swimming pool is an attraction.

Located at the heart of the city is the Cairns Esplanade Foreshore and Lagoon.  It is the place to be with something for everyone no matter what age you are.  It’s a great space with loads of activities for people to participate in or as a place to sit back and relax and watch the clouds pass. 

The Esplanade Lagoon is perhaps the area’s favorite attraction.  It is a 4,800 square meter saltwater swimming pool which allows swimmers safe swimming.  In May 2003, the then Mayor Kevin Byrne declared that topless sunbathing is permitted here. 

Make sure you have a good look at the interesting Esplanade Artwork which is made up unique sculptural works from local artists. The most iconic of all of these works is probably the Bryan Robinson’s “The Fish,” which are the metal sculptures in the lagoon that look like giant, fish flying through the air. 

The Esplanade boardwalk leading to a host of activities.

Each weekday, the Esplanade hosts the Esplanade Markets. Here, you can find a wide array of locally produced art, fashion, leather work, woodwork, pottery, food stuff and much more. 

On weekends, the Esplanade comes alive as it hosts live entertainment which locals and visitors can enjoy.  They can sit back on the grass and enjoy live music, fire twirling, animal shows and famed Cairns buskers. 

If that is not your way of fun, you can take a walk along the Harbor Walk, which would take you past the lagoon, the marina, and ending up at Trinity Inlet.  While walking, you can do what locals usually do: bird watching with birds coming as far as from Russia! There’s a bird directory that will help you know what kind of bird you’re looking.  Or you may opt to use a high-powered telescope to give you great close up views. 

Further along the Esplanade is the Muddy’s Playground, a delight for the little ones with a maze of water slides, playhouses, and climbing nets and water jets.  Along with skatebowl and beach volleyball courts, the area attracts many locals and tourists alike. 

The writer soaks in all that Cairns Regional Gallery has to offer.

Not far from the Esplanade Boardwalk is the Cairns Regional Gallery.  It exhibits fine arts from major Australian and international collections, covering historical and contemporary arts.  Likewise, it features an exclusive range of exquisite hand made products including original prints, books, jewellery, and cards. 

A few blocks away from the art gallery is the Fogarty Park, which features an outdoor entertainment area with performance space which is the focal point for many city celebrations.  This was where the more than 2,000 participants from all over the world for the 2012 International Coral Reef Symposium had a farewell party. 

The park links to the Reef Fleet Terminal.  Yes, it is the common departure point for passengers traveling to the world famous reef, the so-called “Eden beneath the waves.” Actually, the Great Barrier Reef is not one large reef but a collection of almost 3,000 individual reefs in various sizes ranging up to 100 square kilometers. 

A day before the start of the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium last week, visiting journalists from all over the world were invited to get a glimpse of the marine park in the company of eminent scientists attending the meeting. 

Getting to the Great Barrier Reef by boat.

But the weather was not cooperating; it was cloudy and the waves were huge.  It was a rough ride throughout the one-hour-and-thirty minutes travel that two journalists experienced the worst seasick in their lives. 

When we arrived at the place – the so-called Flynn Reef – I was mesmerized by the beauty – although there was no land in sight and just a couple of boats.  Then, the boat started to move here and there and I felt again the dizziness which I experienced when we did the same thing at the Biscayne National Park in Florida four years back. 

The cloudy weather didn’t stop some of the people from either diving or snorkeling.  Two Filipino journalists – Yasmin Arquiza and Kristine Alave – were brave enough to go on snorkeling.  When I asked Yasmin was what the feeling seeing the Great Barrier Reef, she said: 

"Overcast skies meant the colors of the reef didn’t show up as magnificently as it would have if we had seen blessed with sunny weather, but the marine life below the surface were a wonderful sight to see nonetheless. Everything seemed huge – the undisturbed coral heads and large fishes fit for a feast."

Admiring corals and fishes at the Great Barrier Reef.

Throughout our stay in Cairns, we spent most of our times at the Cairns Convention Center, which is renowned for its unique environmental design.  It has won many awards for its energy and resource conservation features including the first ever EIBTM environmental award in 1994. 

Several shopping centers of various sizes are located throughout Cairns. The largest of these are Cairns Central shopping centre, located in the central business district, and Stockland Cairns, located in the suburb of Earlville. 

There’s a whole host of restaurants and cafes for you to try which focus on all different types of cuisines like seafood restaurants, steak houses, Italian, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and so much more. There are also wonderful places to go out for a good coffee, fresh fruit juice and lots of places where you can get a refreshing ice cream. 

Once you are in Cairns, you will never have a dull day!