Australia: Days 21-25 - Cairns
Updated: Mar 21
The one with the Koalas (at last)
We arrived in Cairns to glorious sunshine. And 87% humidity.
Our hire car, which we thought was going to be a standard car, turned out to be exactly the same as the previous one, the dreaded Haval Jolion and we had to explain to the lady in the hire car office why we were laughing so much.
This is our first hotel on the trip, and we are treating Cairns as a chill out stop. We are staying at the Shangri-La, which sits right next to the marina, with a garden room, so it’s nice and quiet. It’s low season here but there’s still plenty of people around; we’ve arrived on a Thursday and not only is there a cruise ship in town (the same one we saw in Sydney!), but I think a few long-weekenders too.
Someone who shall remain nameless said to me “welcome to Queensland, where you set your watch back one hour and thirty years”
We headed straight for the pool (bar) where we checked out the cocktail menu and began our chill week as we meant to go on.
Last night we ate in the hotel restaurant and took a walk around the marina. There’s no beach to speak of here but there is a brilliant open air pool with some sand for children by the marina. There are loads of shops, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Bulgari to name a few. But Cairns is a backpacker stop off as well as a cruise boat stop off so there are plenty of cheap and cheerful places too. The same goes for restaurants. We opted out of inclusive breakfast here so we found a great cafe called Bang and Grind (there’s actually two of them in Cairns) and we ate there for three out of four breakfasts in the end.
Got my nails done today like some kind of high maintenance princess. I had some gels done at home before we came away but they’d come off before Sydney. Couldn’t find a well-rated nail place in Sydney so decided to wait until we got to Cairns. Asha made a lovely job of them and now I’m thinking (as I suspected) my lady at home doesn’t do such a great job after all.
As befits a lady with new nails we spent the rest of the day poolside. Until it started raining. Rain will turn out to be a big theme this week.
We had booked a snorkel trip for today, and we woke up to torrential rain, but were surprised to find they were still running it. We, being optimistic Brits, thought it would “get out eventually”. We had booked with a company who only take a maximum of 20 people anyone time, and there were just 13 of us, plus 3 crew. This not being our first trip we knew to take sea sickness tablets, sadly not true of several other passengers, and the trip was really rough. It was a small boat, being eco friendly it was a mixture of diesel and sail power, however that meant it took two hours to get to the first reef. The crew filled the time with safety briefings while we watched the rain come down and the wind blow the waves up. This was some of the most challenging snorkelling we’d ever done. When we were in the water the waves were between 2/3 feet high and the visibility was terrible. It wasn’t fun, I spent a lot of time looking to check I hadn’t drifted away from the main group and after an hour we went back to the boat. It was still raining.
I’m not a big fan of snorkelling from boats, getting back on them is the hardest part; mix in torrential rain and rough seas it’s even more difficult.
I think we were all relieved to be back on the boat for a bit of lunch (those of us who could face it).
It stopped raining as we sailed to the next reef so we all crossed our fingers that it would stay that way. It didn’t, and while the sea was a little less rough and the visibility a little better it was still really disappointing. I couldn’t really believe this was the Great Barrier Reef.
One of the best things to come from the trip was a restaurant recommendation from one of the crew, who told us about a small Korean place hidden away a few blocks back from the main drag, called Happy 410. We ate there this evening and soon forgot about all the salt water we had swallowed. Still raining though. My hair has taken on a life of it’s own.
Still raining, and as we aren’t the sort of tourists who sit by the pool regardless, we decided to make use of our car for a trip out today.
After another breakfast at Bang and Grind, we drove to Cascade Falls, about 40 minutes away. This is supposed to be a swimmable waterfall but the recent rain meant it was running pretty hard and fast ( as evidenced by a kayaker we watched getting tipped out after a few seconds) so we had no plans to swim. We had also been keeping up with our friends’ trip around Australia and they had had a lot of problem with leeches on one of their waterfall walks and we didn’t want to fall victim to those either! We had bought a gas lighter just incase.
As we arrived it stopped raining!
Cascade falls was lovely, and it’s just a 1.5km walk on a hard surface to the top with plenty of viewing points. The rain held off while we were there but the humidity was really high. It’s hard to describe the humidity if you haven’t experienced it, although one lady I know described it as “like trying to do anything wrapped in a heated blanket”.
Back to the relief of the air conditioned room at the hotel, with some excellent sushi from Woolies and lots of photos to look at.
Tonight we ate at Tha Fish, our only pre-booked restaurant here in Cairns. We had been talking between us about the pronunciation of the “Tha” so we asked our waitress (who was English) and she said she had been pronouncing it Thai when she first started it there but that it was definitely pronounced Tha.
A quick google reveals this:
Tha is a Sanskrit word that translates as “protector,” “preservation,” “fear” and “mountain.” In the modern world of Hatha yoga, tha has come to symbolically represent the moon. More specifically, the word, hatha, is represented by ha for the sun and tha for the moon.
So there you are, not a Yorkshire fish restaurant.
Either way it was very good, I had the paella and Ian had the ravioli - he declared I was tonight’s winner of best menu choice. We noticed that the restaurants were emptying by 9pm which seems a bit early even though it’s low season. We will discover whilst in Cairns and Port Douglas that we are often the last ones in the restaurant.
It is still raining, some of the heaviest rain we have experienced, and it was so loud in the restaurant at one point we couldn’t hear each other speak.
Finally it stopped raining! This morning we decided that, as we hadn’t seen any more koalas since the one in the ‘tallest tree ever” in Mallacoota, we would go to a nearby wildlife park where they rescued Koalas, thinking we would be able to get a traditional photo of us holding one. Even better, when we got there we discovered that they offered an experience where you could go into the enclosure with them and learn about them from the keeper.
The koalas are there either because they are ill with chlamydia or because they have been injured, usually in a road accident. Since the bad bush fires in 2019, koalas have been put on the endangered species list. Unfortunately this hasn’t stopped planning permissions being past allowing the destruction of more gum forest. The problem is that out of the 800 species of gum tree in Australia, koalas can only digest a fraction of these. Once you take into account that, from that small number, koalas are only able to digest local-to-them species that their mother prepares their gut for once they’re off mother’s milk, it makes regenerating the numbers even more tricky. For example a rescued koala from Queensland likely can’t be sent to live in Victoria because the gum forest is a different species.
So for now the rescued koalas are kept in as good health as possible and take part in a breeding program, but they can’t be released back into the wild without adding to the issue of there being too many koalas and not enough gum trees.
We were thrilled to get so close to them, they are VERY cute, but do have massive claws!
Leaving the koalas we went for a drive around and came across Barron Falls. There were plenty of good viewing platforms and a boardwalk of about 1 mile that takes you down through the rain forest to the Kuranda railway stop (more of which later). The noise is astounding and again because of all the rain we had had they were in full flow, super impressive.
That night we had another reunion with Harry as he and Ben had arrived in Cairns the evening before. They had complained about how much more expensive everything seemed to be here this time, so we took them for a few drinks and a good feed as a relief from all the pasta passata they’ve been eating. They had come via Byron Bay, Whitsundays and Fraser Island where they had had mostly great weather so we hope they’ve brought it with them.
It was lovely to see them but if feels a bit like ripping off a plaster all over again when we have to say goodbye. There is a small chance we might catch up with them again in Melbourne before we head home and they make their way to NZ.
Tomorrow we leave for Port Douglas