Cairns city and surrounds
Cairns is located about 1,700 km from Brisbane, and about 2,420 km from Sydney by road. It is a popular travel destination for foreign tourists because of its tropical climate and proximity to many attractions. The city is rapidly expanding, with a population of around 147,100 in 2010. Tourism is the largest income producer for the region, followed closely by the sugar industry. Cairns city is nice enough if you just want to eat, drink, party or chill by the lagoon. But the best parts are all in the surrounding areas: the Atherton Tableland, south towards Mission Beach (including Paronella Park), north towards Cape Tribulation and of course out to the Great Barrier Reef. The must-do activities in the city are a walk along the Esplanade and a look at the hundreds of flying foxes (also known as fruit bats) that hang out in the huge fig trees next to the library (corner Abbott and Aplin St).
A notable feature of the Cairns Esplanade is the swimming lagoon with adjoining barbecue areas. This is a free outdoor pool with shade areas, artificial beach, water fountains and shower facilities. In May 2003, the then Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne declared that topless sunbathing is permitted here, as the area is a gathering point for people from around the world. A boardwalk along the Esplanade allows pedestrians and cyclists to move north along the foreshore, or south to the Marina, from the lagoon.
The Edge Hill botanical garden precinct (a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride north from city centre) includes: Flecker Gardens, Red Arrow & Blue Arrow rainforest walks, Tanks Arts Centre, and boardwalk through to Centenary Lakes.
The nearest beach to Cairns is Machans Beach (15min), but it’s better to go a little further to Holloways or Yorkey's Knob if you want some sand, or Palm Cove (1hr) if you want whiter sand (but more tourists!). Buses are available to all these beaches. Catch buses from the bus terminal right next to City Place, the pedestrian square on Shields St. If you have wheels then Ellis Beach to the north and Bramston beach to the south are also local favourites.
If you prefer freshwater swimming there are a number of beautiful creeks and rivers close to the city, including Lake Placid, Crystal Cascades and Stoney Creek. Further afield, spectacular water holes include Mossman Gorge to the north, and Behana Gorge, the Boulders and Josephine Falls to the south. Be aware that heavy rains in the mountains can cause flash flooding and please pay attention to any danger signs.
There are many excellent hotels and hostels in Cairns in various locations. As usual, make sure you check the location is close to the city centre or the hotel or hostel offers a free, regular shuttle service.
You can check the Cairns adventure group on Facebook as they sometimes have upcoming adventurous events planned! http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=31975969568
The local Aboriginal culture is fascinating and offers something very different for visitors to enjoy. Visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park at the base of the Skyrail to Kuranda.
The Mamu Rainforest Canopy walkway (on the Palmerston Highway, near Innisfail) includes elevated walkways, a cantilever and observation tower. It offers visitors an exhilarating experience of being high in the rainforest canopy and provides spectacular panoramic views of World Heritage rainforest landscapes. The Mamu rainforest is the homeland of the Ma:Mu Aboriginal people. Many generations of Ma:Mu people have lived here—they have a strong and enduring connection with their rainforest country.
Various parks and attractions take advantage of Cairns city's natural surroundings. Among them are Rainforestation Nature Park (5 mins from Kuranda and 30min bus from Cairns), Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, and Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which extends for 7.5 km over World Heritage rainforest.
The best way to see the beautiful areas surrounding Cairns is to hire a car; if you don't have anyone to share the costs with why not put a note up asking for people to join you? Most hostels have a signboard and there are also some public signboards in Lake St and Abbott St; just ask a couple of tourist shops for the exact location. You might even find other people offering lifts down the coast or to Darwin etc.
CSs often post to the Cairns group looking to share hire car costs usually for trips to Cape Tribulation or the Atherton Tableland. This allows you to avoid expensive tours, travel at your own place, and visit some of the areas that are less touristy.
Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation, about 130 km north of Cairns, are popular areas for experiencing a tropical rainforest. Various tours operate in this area, but it’s recommended that you stay at least overnight to get the full benefit of this beautiful part of Queensland’s far north.
The Great Barrier Reef can be reached in less than an hour by boat. A wide variety of cruises from a range of operators are available which can include snorkelling, scuba diving, lunches and island visits. However, consider how many people are taken on each boat, the locations that the boat will visit and try to pick the best day weatherwise to maximize your experience. Couchsurfers often post in the Cairns group looking for diving recommendations so it might be worth checking what others report. For the best deals on Reef trips, walk around Lake St, Shields St and Grafton St and check tour places and specials on signboards; the best offers may be available for trips leaving the next day.
Cairns Diving Advice from Allan Woo http://www.couchsurfing.org/profile.html?id=4JMXH2K
Cairns is the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Its international airport and its proximity to beautiful reefs, islands and sand cays have spawned a thriving and competitive diving industry in Far North Queensland. Although the Reef is closer to land here than along other parts of the Queensland coast, you will still need to take a boat to see its beauty; and there are dozen of companies that are more than happy to take you. The following is a broad overview of the variety of trips offered in the region.
First of all, when deciding on a trip, be aware that the saying holds true “You get what you pay for”; and there´s nothing wrong with that. There are so many operators in Cairns that there is a trip that best suits the needs of everybody. If you are a snorkeler who would like to also try a first time scuba dive, or a diver with limited time, I would recommend that you choose a day boat (departs in the morning and returns in the evening). From here, you need to decide on the level of service and quality of reef systems you desire. If the excursion is cheaper, one or both of two things probably exist: many people on a small boat and/or the money is saved on the distance travelled. Many companies brag that they visit three sites in one day. In my opinion, this is not always a good thing. I feel that these trips can be quite rushed for customers, especially during high occupancy times.
Generally I would recommend www.tusadive.com.au because they maintain a high level of quality, service, and safety. Certified divers have the freedom to plan and follow their own dive plan independently with a buddy, or they can relax and chose to simply follow a certified dive master. Snorkelers with very little previous experiences in the water, as well as nervous first time divers, will feel secure and receive patient instruction from the crew.
It is also important to check weather conditions. You will be travelling through open sea, so don´t expect a smooth trip to the Reef. If you are somebody who gets motion sickness easily, don´t think about it – take a sea sickness preventative before you board the boat! If you are somebody who is terrified of water but still would like to see the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef, I would recommend that you try one of the floating pontoons. Try www.greatadventures.com.au, where, from their stable pontoon, you have more options of looking at the Reef in glass bottom boats or semi-submersibles. Be prepared for many people, but for those terrified of water, or who succumb to motion sickness easily, this is a more enjoyable option.
For those who would like to learn how to scuba dive, I recommend that you do your Open Water Course. It is the foundation for all recreational diving, allows you to dive independently with a buddy anywhere in the world, and it never expires. In Cairns you have several options. For these courses I would definitely suggest live-aboard vessels. You will have more fun, have the option of going on an exciting night dive, and will finish the adventure with some new friends and lifelong diving buddies.
For high quality and good reef systems, I would recommend www.prodivecairns.com.au or www.diversden.com. They both offer PADI Open Water Courses, offer courses in English and German, and have good boats and equipment. If I had a choice, however, I would lean toward Pro Dive Cairns. The main reason is that you stay with your team for the entire 5 days and you will have an after-party with the whole boat at the end. It really makes for a well rounded trip and allows for some real bonding between fellow passengers and crew. They also have a strong foundation of permanent instructors which facilitates a good learning environment resulting in the development of good competent divers.
For cheaper options, try Cairns Dive Centre. They also offer live-aboard trips at middle-of-the-road prices. The cheapest option for Open Water Course in Cairns is Down Under Dive. It is not a live-aboard trip, but you would do two or three day trips to complete your training and possibly at the same locations. Remember that you get what you pay for, and this is often what people want, but keep in mind that with live-aboard trips, your accommodation and food is included; as well, as you will do more diving as well as a night dive on the live-aboards.
For those serious divers with money and experience, I would recommend that you strongly consider one of the three operators who will take you north to the Coral Sea. The quality of the diving and reefs are far superior to those out of Cairns. These trips will take you through the ribbon reefs up to Lizard Island and to the Cod Hole where you can dive with the giant Potato Cods and grey reef sharks. After you can go to Osprey Reef, a reef that drops down thousands of meters on all sides, you can witness the whirlwind of sharks and groupers during the shark feed. www.mikeball.com and www.spiritoffreedom.com.au are the two more expensive ones and www.takadive.com.au is a little more economical.
Now there is one last recommendation I would like to leave with you couchsurfers. I feel that this trip is what many of you are looking for. It’s a two-day one-night live-aboard boat that is not as widely advertised as some of the other trips, therefore it is often overlooked. There will never be more than 16 passengers so be prepared to know everybody´s life story by time the evening goon gets passed around. On this boat, do not expect luxury cabins, or gourmet food; but what you will get is an intimate environment with others who share similar interests. The boat is called www.rumrunnercairns.com.au and I believe it is the most value for your money out to the Great Barrier Reef. The day is relaxing and it includes a free introductory to scuba dive with the possibility to do four or more dives at the cheapest rates in Cairns. Certified divers have the options of a guide and generally will be in small groups. They also offer three-day open water courses, advanced courses, rescue and Dive Master internships. If you are interested in this one, I recommend visiting the website as they often have web promotions.
Shopping and Logistics
You can buy anything you need from Cairns Central shopping centre, which is at the other end of Shields St from the lagoon, just a few blocks away. Bi-Lo upstairs at the north end is the cheapest supermarket. Fresh fruit, veg, bread, cheese, coffee etc. is best from Rusty's Market, which is open Friday-Sunday. The closest supermarket to the Esplanade and city centre is Woolworths on Abbott/Lake St. It is probably a little more expensive but convenient if you don’t want to lug shopping around. Supermarkets in the city centre are open until 9pm every day (except public holidays), but banks and post offices are generally open on weekdays only (except public holidays).
Cairns experiences a warm tropical climate, specifically a Tropical monsoon climate under the Köppen climate classification. A wet season with tropical monsoons runs from November to May, with a relatively dry season from June to October, though showers may be frequent for most of this period. Mean rainfall of Cairns is 1,992.8 millimetres. It has hot, humid summers and milder temperatures in winter. Mean temperatures vary from 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) in July to 31.4 °C (88.5 °F) in January. Monsoonal activity during the wet season occasionally causes major flooding of the Barron and Mulgrave Rivers, cutting off road and rail access to the city.
Like most of North and Far North Queensland, Cairns is prone to tropical cyclones, usually forming between November and May. Notable cyclones that have affected the Cairns region include: Cyclone Yasi, 2011; Cyclone Larry, 2006; Cyclone Abigail, 2001; Cyclone Steve, 2000; Cyclone Rona, 1999; and Cyclone Justin, 1997.
For up-to-date weather and flood information go to www.bom.gov.au
For road conditions, go to the RACQ website: www.racq.com.au
Cairns Taxis: 131 008
Emergency number is 000. The hospital is located on the Esplanade, about 15min walk north of the lagoon. The hospital number is (07) 4226 0000.
Short notice doctor’s appointments are available at the 24hr medical centre on corner of Florence and Grafton Streets. The Chemist Warehouse on McLeod St opposite Cairns Central shopping centre is good value.
CAIRNS POLICE: (07) 4030 7000
STATE EMERGENCY SERVICE (SES) for natural disasters such as cyclones: 132 500
(Most of the information for this page is from the Cairns couchsurfing wiki, which has now been deleted.)