Airline: Jet Star
Flight Time: 2.5 hours from Sydney
Time Zone: AEST
Dates: 4 July – 8 July, 2018
Thank god for good friends. They have your back when you need it the most, they don’t complain and they support you and your attitude when you are down. Just these sorts of friends flew over 7700 miles to visit us in the upside-down world. Not that Australia was top on their list, as they put it, but we were.
Three days into their visit I stupidly glanced at my phone whilst walking down a flight of stairs. I landed on my right ankle tearing a couple of ligaments and bruising bones. My ankle was the size of a tennis ball and the doctor prescribed a boot and no driving for several weeks. Oh shit! What kind of host would I possibly be to our dear friends? No driving, no hiking and we were set to leave for Cairns in two days. The timing was awful to say the least. I was determined to put my chin up and make the best of it.
The first couple of days, there I sat with my leg elevated and someone caring for me and my household. Icing my ankle, making meals and sorting the kids out. I put in those first 48 hours of rest, ice, compression and elevation and then packed my suitcase with ibuprofen and empty plastic bags, to fill with ice in the hotel room, and off we went to Cairns.
Cairns airport is small but felt much larger than the Proserpine one we flew into in December. There were at least some shops. Our luggage was out in five minutes, rental car a couple of minutes after that and we were walking out to load up the van. We are becoming spoiled with the ease of domestic travel in this country.
Let me just back track to security at SYD domestic. I told the security man that my water bottles were empty in advance and he laughed, “You could have filled them.” I ask “Do you want me to take the iPads out of the carry on?” “No” he says, “leave those in the bag.” “Excuse me sir, I have a small bag of liquids. Shall I put them in the tray?” “No, don’t bother.” “Shall I remove my boot before going through the screening?” Again “No” is what I heard. Wow! No one checked our tickets, no one checked our identification. From the moment we entered the airport until we were through with security it was literally under 10 minutes. Americans have a shit deal back home when it comes to the ordeal that is air travel.
We stayed at the Novotel Oasis downtown, an 8-minute drive from the airport. It had the perks of a lovely pool and a central location–great for those of us with kids in tow. On first inspection my initial thoughts were that it smelled a bit musty and that there were way too many pubes identified on our bathroom floor for comfort. There was a remodel going on during our stay and the works were currently just off the lobby area. The only place within the hotel that I found it bothersome was by the pool where the noise continued throughout the day.
Time to explore town…
We walked out and down Lake Street to investigate our surroundings. It was lively, I dare say more than Sydney, that rolls up by 5pm every day of the week. The shops were all open as were so many cute looking restaurants. The streets swelled with families and many, many college-aged kids there on holiday.
Thursday – Sunlover Reef Cruise
We grabbed a quick meal at the hotel buffet before wandering out to grab coffees and make it to our boat on time. We were venturing out on a Sunlover cruise to Moore Reef for the day to snorkel and experience the Great Barrier Reef. It was a partially cloudy day but the sun managed to peek out and grace us here and there.
We left the dock around 9:30am and the staff were immediately busy handing out little white barf bags to everybody–oh shit! Luckily, we had the foresight to take motion sickness tablets before setting off. We were in a catamaran of descent size and I have always thought of them as being a much more stable and smooth ride, however, today this was not the case. Up and down and side to side, dramatically at times, made for an interesting excursion. The vomiting started quickly and encircled us. The staff were brilliant rushing to each expulsion and whisking away the breakfast remains and handing those poor souls a new clean and tidy white vomit sack. They never grimaced, professional at all times. I thought to myself, I would never want this job nor could I even do it. What good people they are for taking it on. The noise and smell that came with it almost took us with them as we were trying desperately to focus on the horizon out of the few windows clear of people spewing. We made it to the pontoon two long hours later completely ready to get off into the fresh air and sunshine. Hallelujah!
We got straight to work fitting snorkel gear and life vests ready to finally cleanse ourselves in the 75f water. A bit crispy but it felt so amazing to wash off the last couple of hours of the morning. Hundreds of yellow tailed fish surrounded us and served as our welcoming committee as we all searched for the giant grouper and turtles.
In addition to snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, there were other activities on offer such as a semi-submersible boat to cruise around offering a glimpse of the outer portion of Moore Reef, a glass bottom boat, helicopter tours, diving lessons, fish feeding, and underwater walking to name a few. We were given four hours to enjoy any and all of it, including lunch, before making our way back.
Even I was able to enjoy it with my gimpy leg. I managed to snorkel, minus fins, and the water was divine. For a time, the swelling was gone and I was free of the entrapment of my moon boot. Having the other activities on the pontoon enables people to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef in some form without necessarily entering the water. This is great accessibility, something I wouldn’t have even considered in the past but now with an injury, I am grateful for options. What a gift to see and experience this place.
Our ride back to Cairns was bumpy about half the way back (Fitzroy Island) which was also where the vomiting stopped for this portion of our cruise. We were grateful to nab outside seats this time with plenty of fresh air. I think both of our families thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Reef and snorkelling. How could you not? You literally take away all the noise that is life and embrace the wonderful silence of the sea while surrounded by colourful, almost dreamy, creatures all while floating effortlessly. We were very grateful to have enjoyed this masterpiece of nature.
Once back in Cairns we passionately made our way for food. We were hungry because we had barely eaten, and were set on a hefty meal to fill our bellies and succumb to sleep. What is it about fresh air and sunshine that makes you feel so tired, even on a relaxing day?
Friday – Pool Day
A day by the pool with our kids. We stayed at our hotel, even through the noisy construction, to enjoy the lovely pool and sunshine. Mostly we stayed because we were all keen on a day without plans. If I am being honest, I was more than happy to put my leg up and lie in the gorgeous sunshine. It was 27c with a perfectly sunny, blue sky. The hotel offered to teach the kids to snorkel for free, part of their three weeks of winter holiday’s kid’s activities.
We decided on even more of a lazy day with a shopping mall food court dinner and a movie.
Saturday – Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
We left at 8am on our way to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest. We had several things ticked as possible activities for the day but not sure how much we would get through with the kids, my booted ankle, and timing it all.
We paused at Walu Wugirriga scenic overlook to stretch our legs and smile for a requisite photo. The turquoise of the Coral Sea in the distance engulfed by the lush green of the Daintree Rainforest was soothing after being in the car for some time.
A little further down the windy road we emerged at Cape Tribulation Beach which welcomed us with much information about the beach and environment. Warning signs instructed us to care for marine stings by pouring the supplied vinegar from bottles onto our stinger swellings. Another placard encouraged us to stay out of the ocean water where the salt water crocs like to linger. Yikes! Not your typical beach experience to be sure. I actually saw a woman sun bathing with head phones on a secluded part of the beach and thought she must be crazy. Either I’m a really paranoid tourist or she’s very naïve (or suicidal, or crazy, etc.).
Solar Whisper Daintree River Croc Cruise was money well spent. We paid the family price of $66 for four and the tour lasted about an hour. Our guide, John, was happy to answer all of our questions especially the ones from our kids. We learnt so much in our short time about the river, the crocodiles, native birds, lizards and snakes. We were able to get up close and personal with many crocodiles as he shared knowledge of their interaction and history. Many of the crocs had been living in this area for 25 years so the naturalists along the river could confidently share stories about them.
We saw monitor lizards, kingfishers, egrets, salt water crocs…
One hour was just enough as the afternoon sun baked on us all, even with the canopy covered boat. As we returned to the dock, I reflected on how gorgeous it all was: Eden-like green lush rainforest, perfect sunny and blue skies, and a soothing breeze. It’s all so inviting. It’s all a bit twisted how the environment lures you in while there’s so much waiting to kill you. What a total freaking nightmare.
We decided to break for dinner in Port Douglas. It is so cute, a more upscale resort town with many cafes and shops. Such a nicer feel than Cairns. Two of my favourite people in the world once called this home and I was so thrilled to visit it while we were in Far North Queensland.
I still can’t get over the hundreds of fruit bats in the trees in the centre of a city. We grew up in the US with an understanding of bats living in rural areas deep in mountain caves, not around people. It’s super cool and an incredibly noisy sight as they drop big messy brown splotches all over the sidewalks below their nesting trees. It’s awesome to watch them all settling in for rest first thing in the morning.
I think this area of the world must be so fun for Uni kids on break or on a gap year. All up and down the Queensland coast this exciting backpackers route seduces naïve and adventure seeking kids to sample skydiving, snorkelling and diving, a first tattoo, hiking and kayaking, white water rafting and many, many parties. Hostels line the streets in all of the coastal towns as this tropical paradise offers youths a plethora of firsts.
For us parents and families we love the ease of pools and activities to keep our little people entertained allowing us some much needed relaxation. It reminds me of Florida in the US and how it gathers both spring breakers and families alike.
Then a leisurely walk on the promenade along the coast. Amazingly the water is at low tide and as far out as the eye can see. It’s like mud flats with a thousand crabs, pelicans and seagulls and of course all the warning signs for salt water crocs.
We stopped for a break at a fab playground and splash park to let the kids use up some energy. There is also a great outdoor bouldering park which my kids had to sample as well.
Sing Sing Espresso – A cool sign out on Lake Street, hinting us to visit down the alleyway, was a clue we were in for something special. We stopped for breakfast two mornings because this was such a wonderful find. Between the fab food, excellent coffee and super staff it is a place not to be missed.
The kids go for the always satisfying avo toast, this time decorated with edamame and black sesame seeds, served with chilli flakes and lime wedges. We also devoured banana, almond milk, cacao and date smoothies with amazing coffee served properly with double shots in a small cup with little milk. The staff were eager to help and set us up a family table outside and split a large smoothie into a couple of glasses for the kids. Would highly recommend seeking this place out if in Cairns.
Little Loco – A wonderful outdoor eatery serving up healthy breakfast fare, smoothies, juices, great coffee and coco whip ice cream (vegan). We also really enjoyed this place as everything we ordered we loved. We ended up visiting a couple of times over the four days while we were in town. A safe bet for families that are health conscious.
Spicy Bite – We let our noses decide where we ate the first night and ended up parking ourselves at an outdoor patio to savour an assortment of curries at Spicy Bite. It was delish!
Hogs Australia Steakhouse – Not so notable while in Cairns and memorable only because it was so subpar. We decided on a steak house but a casual, family friendly one because we were too lazy to shower up first. As soon as we entered the Hogs we knew this was really not the quality of place we were hoping for. It looked and tasted more like a TGIFriday’s. We were grateful to eat something but couldn’t help but feel disappointment of what it could’ve been.
This little gem on Aplin street in Cairns is fantastic. At least one of us hit this place for a scoop or two on nearly every day we spent in Cairns.
Daintree Ice Cream and Orchards
For $6, four scoops were served of the daily flavours. When we visited we were able to try wattle seed, Davison Plum, black sapote, and jack fruit. I think wattle seed was my favourite – similar to coffee flavour.
Car Hire: Thrifty 8 person van hire for five days $595 AUD – split between two families. It made life easier for getting around with the kids and my boot.