If you’re strolling through a Botanical Garden dotted with crocodile warning signs there’s a fair chance you’re in a place that’s still a bit wild. And although in recent years Cairns has grown from a rough and ready harbour town into a modern seaside city, it still retains its frontier edge.
North and south of town the highway cuts a path through vast canefields. Head west and you’ll find yourself deep in the impenetrable rainforests of the Atherton Tableland. Drive east and you’ll end up in the sea, so it’s probably best to organise a boat trip.
And while there are plenty of adventures on offer beyond the city limits, there’s also a lot to do in Cairns itself.
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome
One of the city’s newest attractions, the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome is a twenty metre high glass structure perched atop the casino. It houses a collection of native reptiles, amphibians, birds and marsupials, a number of which have free reign of their roomy domed enclosure. Thankfully the snakes remain segregated.
But that’s just part of the story. Visitors can choose from three rope courses that involve clambering, climbing and crawling up through the cavernous dome via swinging logs, suspended chairs, beer kegs and other peculiar obstacles.
There are also zip lines, including one that sails above the estuarine crocodile pond, and a controlled descent power jump that wisely steers clear of the croc pond. If you’re still not sufficiently thrilled then head outside for a tethered stroll around the dome, high above the city streets.
Kudos to the gardeners who have managed to tame a variety of tropical plants in an environment where things love to grow wild.
Covering nearly 40 hectares, the botanic garden is divided into zones and species, and it would be easy to spend a day here. Ecosystems that already existed when the gardens were established have become exhibits. A boardwalk meanders through one of the last remaining stands of lowland rainforest in the area, and a tidal saltwater creek fringed by mangroves remains a breeding ground for marine crustaceans and a hangout for local birds.
Wander into the Munro Martin Fernery and feel the sudden drop in temperature. Head into the orchid house and learn how deceitful orchids can be, mimicking food sources to lure pollinators.
There’s also a lily pond, a palm forest, a bamboo garden and plenty of nooks and crannies where you can find a quiet spot to soak it all in.
For the more energetic there are extensive walking trails that leave the gardens and head deep into Mount Whitfield Conservation Park.
There are some excellent picnic facilities on-site plus a coffee shop and a restaurant.
Three World War 2 oil storage tanks within the gardens precinct are now home to the Tanks Art Centre. There’s always something happening here and just about every aspect of the arts is represented. Click here to download a programme.
There are some fine beaches north of Cairns but only mud flats downtown. To rectify the situation the Council has built a sensational seafront lagoon complete with shelters, decking, shady trees, a barbecue area and a beach.
This is a major drawcard for tourists and locals alike. It provides a year-round safe place to cool off, keeping in mind that deadly jellyfish can make swimming in coastal waters hazardous, particularly in the wet season. But as one local told me, “Jellyfish don’t read calendars”.
A tree-lined promenade and bike pathway follow the coast past barbecue areas, exercise stations, information booths and a 5-inch coastal gun provided by the Queensland Government in 1889, to defend against the perceived threat of a Russian invasion. The only action it saw stemmed from a dispute between two local defence units over the gun’s operation. Following the melee it was reported that, ‘a man’s ear was almost severed by a cutlass’.
Things are slightly more sedate down at Muddy’s Playground, a magnificent playspace with lots of equipment, interactive water features and a café for mum and dad.
Jack Barnes Bicentennial Mangrove Boardwalk
The main reason people don’t stroll through mangroves is an aversion to sinking waist deep in thick mud. That and crocodiles. But the mangrove ecosystem is unique, providing a nursery for marine animals and a relatively protected environment for crustaceans. Although the beady-eyed herons probably see it as a crab buffet.
Named in honour of tropical jellyfish expert, Dr. Jack Barnes, the boardwalk winds through a dense thicket of spindly tree trunks, topped with lime-green foliage that sparkles in the sunlight.
There are two separate boardwalks passing through different mangrove environments before reaching lookout towers that allow elevated views across the treetops.
Opposite the lagoon on the Esplanade, the night market is open every evening from 5pm to 11pm. There are the usual baubles, trinkets and souvenirs here but there are also some nifty arts and crafts.
Out the front there’s a food court and there are plenty of eateries along the Esplanade to suit all tastes.
Click the following links for blogs and video blogs covering attractions around Cairns.
Train trip to Kuranda
The Great Barrier Reef
If you’re planning a trip to Cairns then talk to one of our travel experts about accommodation, flights and more. Call 8202 4589, visit an RAA Shop or go online at www.raa.com.au/travel
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