Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Tropical North

We came to Cairns via a roundabout route as a result of persistent telemarketing. Yeah, I know – they can be a pain. But sometimes, if your hide is thick enough you can use them successfully.

A few years back I was called by a mob called Trendwest from the Gold Coast after our first ‘round-the-world trip. A long story short: we went to the presentations, politely said no after the 90 minutes of moderately hard sell, and a few months later used frequent flyer miles to take up the resulting free four nights at the Outrigger in Fiji. I was pleasantly surprised to find it worked – no charge at all.

I was surprised to get a repeat call a year later; this time I had to coach the lady from Bangalore to help her "sell" me. I checked with the people up at the Gold Coast and they assured me it was OK to do it twice. So, another 90 minutes of rather hard sell this time, again we said no, and this time we went to New Zealand in early 2006 for four nights. Well, blow me down with a feather, they did it again last year. So off we went again. This time it was two hours of really high pressure salesmanship, moving up the line to the boss when we said no – but we still did of course.

Consequently, last week, off we went to Cairns for 3 free nights at the "Tropical Queenslander" which we augmented with a couple more paid nights in Port Douglas and a final night back in Cairns. Would you believe it – after the boss had said this was the last time – they rang again a month ago. I declined this time. I’ve since added my name to the "do not call" list on the web.

So, a little about the time in Cairns.

We flew up from Brisbane on Qantas; however you can get there more leisurely by rail; I love train travel but the other half isn't quite as enthusiastic; she prefers two hours to 25. This is the Tilt Train at Cairns Station just before departure.

We found that the hotel was a bit far to walk to the centre of town for us, so we investigated the local buses. They were great – regular, cheap, and ran into the night. A "city flyer" ticket gave us 24 hours from the time of purchase for $6.30 – great value. $7.70 extended the range to all the outer suburbs.

After checking in to the hotel we wandered off into town by bus after a leisurely light lunch at a takeaway food strip in Sheridan Road.

I was a bit disappointed in downtown Cairns itself - the waterfront area is basically "tourist central". I suppose that’s not surprising; after all most people go there to go on to the reef or to travel in the district rather than to stay in town. Every second shopfront is a booking agency for reef, rainforest and skyrail/train tours; the others seem to be either restaurants, internet cafes or souvenir "markets" selling fluffy koalas and kangaroos with unobtrusive "made in China" labels on the back.

Unfortunately the seas were a bit rough for my spouse, so we didn't get to the reef. However, while investigating the options it became obvious that seniors like I need to read the details carefully - some tours are really aimed at the younger groups for diving and snorkelling, while others are more for oldies like me with glass bottom boats and pontoons. In talking to those who did go out before the seas got heavy, they had a wonderful time. Ah well, next time.

Cairns Central is a useful shopping mall at the railway Station, away from the tourist prices of downtown. And when the tide goes out at Cairns harbour - it goes a looong way out!

If you are after cheap eats there were some excellent meals available in the "Night Market" food court, especially the Thai outlet there - but the atmosphere is very basic noisy cafeteria. We ate there the first night. The market itself is yet another souvenir outlet. If you are dining more "up-market" many of the waterfront restaurants give 20-30% off if you order before 7pm. You can also use the barbecue facilities on the waterfront parks to cook your own food if you wish to.

On our second night we ate at the Courthouse Hotel, a couple of blocks back from the waterfront , which has a steak special at $12.95 on most weeknights. Excellent and tender steak, reasonable pub restaurant ambience. We were going to eat there the next night, but found that the "Origin" Rugby League match was going to be on the big screen that night and they were expecting 2000 league fans to be watching (and drinking) as they cheered for the Maroons; apart from a change in the menu to BBQ snags and steaks, we were Blues supporters and decided it might be an unwise move; so we ended up at a fairly ordinary Sri Lankan restaurant closer to the hotel.

On our first day we enjoyed just wandering around, doing the usual tourist things of watching, chatting, having a beer in a back-street pubs and listening to the locals. Despite the touristy nature of downtown we enjoyed the town and the vibrant atmosphere as locals and visitors from many parts mingled. There were moments when we felt we were on the other side of the Pacific, from the accents in the street. While waiting for the bus home at the transport centre, this one came past; they all seemed to be having a wonderful time.

On our second day, we took the train up to Kuranda and the Skyrail back down the mountain. More on that in the next post.

Cheers, Alan


Anonymous said...

Lovely descriptions and enviable free
trips! Take more close-ups for those
of us who've no idea where and what all these things are!


Alan said...


If you click on the photos they will expand to a full size page. You can then expand them with your browser.

Cheers, Alan