Late July, early August is a perfect time to visit Cairns, Tropical North Queensland. It is warm (up to 27C during the day) but not too hot and humid, and it is the dry season so you are likely to have good weather. I had very little leave left after all my travels last year, so a week in Australia seemed like a great option for having a winter holiday somewhere warm and that is very different from New Zealand. The key attractions are the World Heritage Sites of the Great Barrier Reef (which is the world’s largest coral reef system and represents major parts of the earth’s evolution) and the Wet Tropics/Daintree Rainforest (that has cultural significance for the Aboriginal peoples who have lived there for up to 65,000 years it is now thought).
Gill and I had been planning to stay in Port Douglas (a smaller town about an hour further north than Cairns), do some day trips and perhaps hire a car, as friends and family had done. Neither of us are sitting on the beach kind of people and we’re definitely not shoppers. Although we wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef, Gill isn’t a strong snorkeller and I get sea-sick, so boating and islands weren’t going to be a major part of our holiday activities. July is a peak time of year and we did our booking in June so finding available accommodation at a reasonable price was difficult. Most of our searches for day tours were bringing up large group trips that didn’t appeal to either of us and it was all starting to get a bit too hard.
Then I found Billy Tea Safaris in my searching: a small, family owned company that specialises in small group, 4WD eco tours of Tropical North Queensland. I really liked the look of several of their tours – small group size, focus on the natural environment and wildlife, visiting some different places off the usual tourist routes, with respect for the environment and aboriginal culture. Then I saw that they were offering a 5 night package for 2 people. This prompted me to contact them to see whether we could book a 7 night package, change the accommodation from luxury to mid-range, swap out tours for different ones and add further tours. It was no problem at all!! The lovely Tina was very happy to arrange it for me and answer all my questions.
Sat 15 July Arrive in Cairns (there is a direct flight from Auckland that takes 5 hours 30 mins)
Sun 16 July Kuranda Scenic Train and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Mon 17 July Chillagoe Caves and Outback Tour
Tues 18 July Daintree, Cape Tribulation and 4WD Bloomfield Track
Wed 19 July Magical Outer Reef Experience to Moore Reef
Thurs 20 July Atherton Tablelands and Waterfalls Tour
Fri 21 July Daintree Dreaming Tour with Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk
Sat 22 July Return home
Cairns is a great place to base yourself for these adventures. For the Daintree tours they can pick you up on the way through the northern beaches and Port Douglas but for the other tours you would be faced with an hour extra journey on each end of your trips and an extra shuttle fee. We really enjoyed staying in Cairns, a city of about 160,000 people stretching down the coast between the Great Dividing Range and the ocean. It is well set up with an Esplanade Walk and Park stretching along the coast, past the marina and along the river’s edge. The parks are well set up for all manner of activities including playgrounds, swimming pools, stage, market place, and copious cafes and bars.
We stayed at the Queen’s Court Hotel, about 15-20 minutes walk from the centre of town, so we got to know the esplanade walk quite well. On our first afternoon, we explored the Saturday markets and enjoyed an aboriginal festival complete with performances, stalls and face-painting – perfect for people watching. It was wonderful to see the public spaces so well used: there were always people strolling, running, exercising, picnicing, dog walking, entertaining children, biking, swimming, and even public exercise classes. There was a fair amount of wildlife evident too – lots of birds that we were unfamiliar with and even fruit bats in several of the trees. We enjoyed evening drinks and dinner out on the street each night just watching the world go by.