So you’ve got a stack of annual leave in the bank after 2020 threw you a solid and kept you firmly bound to the entrance of your fridge. Now your boss is breathing down your neck and telling you it’s time. Time to get out. Take the days. Go and relax on a beach somewhere.
When I’ve had such orders, my mind has immediately wandered to the tropical coastlines of our Pacific and Indonesian neighbours. I want to be sipping cocktails in my bikini all day, tech-free, book in hand.
COVID-19 has forced me to look within our borders, and I must say, I like what I’ve found. Turns out I can kick back with a cocktail on a warm coastline even in the middle of winter in Tropical North Queensland.
Here are five things you’ve got to do when you get to Cairns.
1. Delight in All The Wild Swimming Options
Soak in a golden arena from an infinity pool at last light at Davies Creek Falls, slide down the waterfall and into turquoise waters at Josephine Falls, spread your body out on the flat rocks by Emerald Creek and meander up Behana Gorge to the powerful rush of Clamshell Falls.
There are so many safe bodies of water to throw yourself into within an hour or so of Cairns. You won’t be able to help yourself when you realise just how comfortable the temperatures are up here!
2. Soak up The Nightlife
Unlike certain states in Australia, Cairns has been uninhibited by laws that prevent you from dancing and delighting in all things nightlife. There are plenty of bars to sit by the water, eat your weight in wood-fired pizzas and dance the night away.
Coming from Sydney, I’d almost forgotten what a bustling city centre looked and felt like. In Cairns, music was pouring from speakers on all corners, buskers played on stages, bars were serving drinks to people milling around tables on the coastal boardwalk.
There’s a transient element to Cairns, with so many backpackers and vanlyfers and tourists choosing to base themselves in this city while they venture around. As a result, you’ve got this great mix of locals and out-of-towners, hungry to experience and celebrate life.
3. Get Connected to Country
‘This plant here helps with asthma. This here, cancer. This will help you with your itchy bites…’
Moxy pulls a handful of leaves off a branch and scrunches them together in his hands with water until a soapy foam appears. He throws the ball of leaves over to me and I wipe it over the inflamed marks left by midges. My legs are red raw from itching. Within minutes of rubbing the leaves on my legs, the itch disappears.
Moxy is nonchalant, and I am amazed. He walks over to a tree trunk, distracted by another thing to teach, and pulls off a leaf to reveal the milky residue seeping from the stem.
Mossman Gorge Centre, home to The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, offers a unique opportunity to learn from our First Nations people on their Dreamtime Walk. Moxy, like all of the guides at the Centre, are Indigenous Australians passionate about sharing their culture with those who are willing to listen.
When travelling on Country, it’s important to recognise that the land we walk on was and remains home to the Traditional Custodians and their stories. You can actively connect to Country by taking tours, but you can also connect to Country when you visit places too.
If you’re stopping by the artisan township of Kuranda, up in the mountains (near Barron Falls!), you’ll be walking on lands owned by the Djabugay people. Native title rights were granted to this tribe over the land and waters in the Barron Gorge National Park in 2004. This is a special pocket of rainforest and one which the local community celebrates with care.
The Gunggandji people hold native title rights over 7,500 hectares of land on the Yarrabah Peninsula and the Yidinji tribe, which is comprised of eight clans, call places like Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls home.
4. Head Out to The Reef
Of course, you can’t go past The Great Barrier Reef: the world’s largest coral reef system (extending over 14 degrees of latitude) and one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
We’d recommend heading out to Cairns’ closest tropical island Green Island on the Aussie-owned, Aussie-operated company Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises. These guys are advanced eco-certified and that a portion of your ticket goes to conservationists working to protect the most vulnerable areas of our reef.
5. Spot a Cassowary
When I flew to Cairns I’d never really heard of a cassowary. All I knew is that they were big emu-like animals with prehistoric feet and a crazy fin-like something on their head (is this a real life unicorn bird?).
At Etty Bay, these wondrous creatures were strolling by the beach with a strong can’t-touch-this kind of energy. As I was sitting in the car, watching a cassowary mosey its way over to the gap in the window, I decided to give the animal a quick Google.
Turns out, this flightless bird is often referred to as ‘the most dangerous bird on earth’. Wow. Very chill. Head over to Etty Bay to spot them for yourself.
There’s so much to do in Tropical North Queensland, but luckily there are heaps of activities for all adventure types within an hour or two of the city centre. This makes it way easier to have a base (it can be exhausting unpacking and packing up your way around a place) and allows you to sink into the intoxicating energy of this tropical paradise.
Photography by @mitch.cox