Mungalli Dairy

Cairns for the fans

I recently returned from a deeply restorative week in Cairns.

It’s been freezing cold and raining in Newcastle for months (feels like years) and our crumbling old house is not coping.

Subsequently, I haven’t been coping either. I am a solar powered critter. To chill out, I need warmth.

And so to Cairns. My hubs, son and I soared north upon waves of optimism.

We had mostly sunny days – bare legs and Havaiana weather.

The pool at the hotel (DoubleTree by Hilton) was freezing but the spa was heated so we mostly hung out in there, chatting to other refugees from the south.

We did all the touristy things – and experienced severe price shock. Add meals to this and suddenly our budget holiday wasn’t so cheap.

Nevertheless, good times were had in the midst of the financial bloodbath.

If you’re thinking of heading to Cairns, here are some tips to smooth your way.

Kuranda Station

Kuranda Scenic Train and Sky Rail

People rave about this but I didn’t think it was worth the hefty price tag. If you’re deadset on visiting Kuranda (which is really touristy – think boomerangs and Aussie flags), maybe just drive up? We paid $400 for a tour for two adults and one child for the train up and Sky Rail back. Having said that, while we were there, we went to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary which Joey really loved (especially the caterpillar breeding room).

The view from Skyrail

Car hire

Car hire is really expensive too! We hired through Avis and it was $379 for two days. You can hire through Car Next Door. It’s cheaper and supports local people.

Joey at the butterfly sanctuary. He sat still for ages trying to get a butterfly to sit on him.

Atherton Tablelands

Go and visit the Cathedral Tree near Yungaburra and have lunch at biodynamic farm, Mungalli Creek Dairy. It’s in the middle of nowhere but it’s 100% worth the side trip. The rosella quark cheesecake changed my life. You can visit Milaa Milaa Falls while you’re in the neighbourhood.

The Cathedral Tree – it took my breath away – but side note: I REALLY LOVE TREES

On the way back on a loop road, we visited Paronella Park. I expected to love it – and I certainly loved the story of Jose and Margarita Paronella who built the place – but the actual gardens aren’t in great shape and the buildings are falling apart. If you want to see it, go there soon.

We also popped into Josephine Falls on the drive back. There’s a lot of talk about which waterfall to visit – and this is very pretty – but it’s not where I would recommend if you want to swim. It’s one of the more dangerous entries into the water (steps + clambering over rocks).

The waterfall at Paronella Park, home to many fish and the occasional freshwater crocodile

Free stuff

The Cairns Botanic Gardens is free and has an exceptional Conservatorium full of rare and weird plants. I highly recommend this for a relaxing stroll, coffee in hand (there’s a cafe on-site).

Muddy’s Playground is also free and fabulous. Waterplay meets climbing equipment and swings.

The Cairns lagoon is free but it was closed when we were there so I have no opinion; just FOMO.

Cairns Art Gallery is free, small and colourful enough to hold the interest of a five year old for half an hour. Hot tip: the gift shop is a crack den for people who like artsy stuff.

Coconut guy at Rusty’s

Eating out

We did what all clueless tourists do and ate at all the places on the Esplanade, thus missing out on all the really interesting food that lives a few blocks back. We will be eating at Felafelicious next time!

We discovered Rusty’s Market on our last day and it was a revelation. Open Thurs – Sun, it has a killer patisserie line up, authentic Thai street food, Vietnamese coffee and banh mi, freshly cut coconuts and take home items like mezze, cheeses and dips.

The rainbow-coloured mountains of fresh, organic produce with a South East Asian slant (think pomelos, galangal and kaffir lime leaves) is a culinary free-for-all.

Other stuff

Cairns Museum is worth a visit and is relatively cheap (about $30 for two adults and a child), Palm Cove is beautiful and is home to NuMu icecream, sister to famous NuNu restaurant. I had the pandan and coconut flavour and it was everything.

Mossman Gorge: Still gorge-ous and the bush turkeys are still stalking your snacks

Mossman Gorge is as beautiful as ever but now you have to pay for a shuttle bus to get up there from the visitors centre (unless you walk up from the bottom carpark). That was about $24. We weren’t allowed to swim the day we were there because of a flood warning.

Cairns Aquarium is outstanding and, at $120-ish for us, a fairly cheap way to get a close-up look at technicolour reef fish. Joey can’t swim properly yet but when he can, we will head out for a snorkelling day trip.

Final advice

Book a serviced apartment a few blocks back from the Esplanade and self-cater some meals.

If you can’t drive, negotiate with an Uber driver to take you to waterfalls and beaches outside of Cairns.

If you have any local Cairns friends, know that there are ‘local’ prices for tourist activities – you just need to show ID. If you can rope them into coming with you, everything is WAY cheaper.

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