A getaway Down Under is an invitation to adventure
Australia is a wonderfully diverse continent, attracting international tourists for its amazing wildlife, diverse flora and fauna, scenic landscape, beautiful waters, and exceptional culture. Whether you are interested in luxurious fare or exciting adventures, Cairns, Australia, offers a world of opportunities for a memorable vacation.
Let it rain Australia used to be completely covered by rainforest. Today, the little forest left enjoys governmental protection. To see it, take the Sky Rail gondola ride. On this excursion, you learn the history of the Australian people as the rainforest tells the story through plants and their ancient uses. (For instance, some berries were poison, some were laxatives, and some produced yellow nectar for paint.) The rainforest has its own survival-of-the-fittest story as the thick plants create a canopy and the ground gets very little sunlight, spawning a competition as plants and trees fight to get to the top.
Once you’ve learned about the natural history of the area, just hop back on the Sky Rail to the artist town of Kuranda. After a relaxing break, catch the train past Barren River — keep your eyes open for the breathtaking gorge and waterfall. This scenic train ride takes an hour and a half, while the Sky Rail is only 20 minutes — but it’s worth it.
Marvelous metropolis Heading into Cairns, the Ocean Drive-esque esplanade is a feast both visually and gastronomically. Dining affords not only extravagant meals, but also awesome views of green space and the ocean. As Cairns’ only five-star hotel, the Shangri-la has one of the best restaurants in town, Tide. A nod to the multitude of Japanese tourists, Japanese and American breakfast melds and creates a cornucopia of options in an extra-large buffet spread. Dinner consists of a tasting menu with three appetizers, entrees and desserts. The hotel has been recently renovated, so don’t expect to find the rainforest replica lobby, but do revel in the ultra-modern décor.
Coral explorer The real reason to visit Cairns, of course, is to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Tusa Divers offers a wonderful underwater tour with guide Wally offering instructions and a refresher course in English, while another guide leads one in Japanese. After a two-hour boat ride to the reef, you are ready to go.
Experience a calm and relaxing dive on the Saxon Reef and around its twin peaks formation. Highlights of this reef include slimy sea cucumbers; star fish; sea anemone; and fire, brain and encrusting coral. Above water and after the dive, enjoy a fresh lunch full of salads and vegetables. On the second dive, called Coral Garden, keep your goggles fresh for a multitude of stingray, elephant trunk fish, lion fish, travail, giant clam, barramundi (a staple on Australian menus) and more.
Roos and koalas and crocs, oh my! A great activity for the evening is to visit the Cairns Zoo. Best compared to a “working dude ranch,” the standard greeting is being offered a choice of beer or wine and getting herded to the picnic area. Then, the barbecue ensues, translated into Australian as “we will feed you.” While the folk music plays, pick up your torches/flashlights for a walking tour of the zoo. What an exciting way to see Australia’s unique wildlife!
Rock the boat A two-hour bus ride from Cairns is the town of Tully, home to white-water rafting on the Tully River with Raging Thunder Adventures. Unless you’re interested in getting a bit more involved in the action, don’t sit in the front left seat of the raft — it’s the “lead seat.” The guide will encourage the group with cries like, “harder, faster, slower, jump left, jump right …. paddle,” even if the group isn’t all English-speaking!
Sky Rail, www.skyrail.com
Tusa Divers, www.tusadive.com
Cairns Zoo, www.cairnstropicalzoo.com
Raging Thunder Adventures, www.ragingthunder.com.au