Flying into Cairns in the Far North of Queensland (FNQ), we were wowed by the wilderness hugging the coastline. Thick, luxuriant, tropical vegetation is starkly contrasted against the celestial blue of the Coral Sea, home of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is a small, modern city, a short ten minute drive from its busy International Airport. On arrival, the bright, sunny, steamy atmosphere makes this city scream ‘vacation time!’. Whether you are relaxing by a pool, strolling along the coastal boardwalk under the swaying palm trees or simply stretched out on one of the many sandy beaches to the north of the city, this is a fun and friendly place to base yourself in FNQ.
We stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton Cairns which faces the sea and is only a short walk to the centre of town. This four star hotel was very comfortable, conveniently located and the room rates were more than reasonable.
The month of June is a great time to visit and play in this city. The annual Heavenly White Party is held on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Following close after is the Far North Queer Film Festival which concludes with a massive end of festival party featuring celebrity DJ’s. (See – http://www.go2gaycairns.com/mobile/ for the latest information)
You can also party in paradise in early October during Tropical Mardi Gras. Over ten days, Tropical Mardi Gras begins with the launch, followed by a reef trip, then the main party heats up on the Saturday night. This great series of events is appropriately finished off with a beach recovery party. Weekday events usually include quirky queer films, fabulous fashion parades, a clutch of cabaret and a dazzle of drag shows. Fair Day at the Tanks Arts Centre is the signature event featuring market stalls, entertainment for every taste including, of course, a dog show. (For further details check out – Tropical Mardi Gras)
Turtle Cove, just south of Port Douglas, is the heart of gay life around Cairns.
See our full article on this stunning resort : (TURTLE COVE, PARADISE IN FNQ).
If you decide to stay in Cairns you can always take a day trip to Turtle Cove and, for a very reasonable fee, you are most welcome to use the facilities and spend a wonderful day in the beautiful surroundings of this secluded and exclusive gay resort.
Taking a stroll around the streets near the centre of town we found a great little sidewalk coffee shop called Perrotta’s Cafe and Bar. Both the coffee and food are excellent and it’s the sort of outdoor spot which inspires an extended break and serious people watching. The Art Gallery next door has a wonderful exhibition space which features both local and international artists.
Finding fabulous places to dine is easy in Cairns, especially the many options to be found along the Esplanade overlooking the waterfront boardwalk. We sampled some of the Marina waterfront restaurants and found the French/Japanese fusion food at Restaurant MYogo to be superb. The whole menu was tempting but we decided on the lobster bisque for a starter and for mains the grilled Atlantic salmon in mixed olive and ratatouille ravioli and the roasted duck breast with lentil, berry sauce, potato gratin and vegetable glaze. The food was fresh, light and cooked to perfection.
Tamarind Restaurant in the Reef Hotel Casino is one of Cairns’ best restaurants for creative, Thai inspired food. The entrée of palm glazed pork with tiger prawns, green papaya, cucumber, chilli jam and turmeric sauce and the black kingfish fillet main with spanner crab congee, quail egg and smoked caviar were exotic and flavoursome. After dinner the Casino might provide some further fun and adventure.
There is a wide variety of Asian restaurants and whether you decide to eat upmarket or ‘cheap and cheerful’ you won’t be disappointed. For a delicious lunchtime treat try a laksa or wonton soup from the hawker stands in the night markets on the Esplanade. Alternatively, you can buy your own produce at Rusty’s Markets where you’ll find the freshest tropical fruit and vegetables, as well as refreshing young coconut juice straight out of the husk. One of our very favourite restaurants which has become an icon in Cairn’s is the truly authentic and enticing Marinades Indian Restaurant on Spence Street. Be sure to book in advance as this restaurant is very popular, particularly with the local Indian community.
From Cairns there are a number of day trips on offer to meet every taste. Choose from diving on the Great Barrier Reef, riding the sky rail to Kuranda, visiting the Night Zoo, rafting, skydiving or pushing the boundaries with a bungy jump from a 50 metre tower.
One of our favourite excursions is the drive to Trinity Beach north of Cairns to indulge in a wonderful Italian lunch sitting on the open air veranda of restaurant L’Unico looking over the Coral Sea. It’s a decadent way to spend a lazy afternoon and after lunch take a walk along the beach or drive a little further north to Buchans Beach between Ellis Beach and Palm Cove. This has been the unofficial gay beach since the fifties. The southern end attracts a gay and nude crowd and gets very busy on the weekend.
A road trip to Babinda Boulders and Paronella Park south of Cairns, through seas of waving green cane fields and banana plantations flowing down lush, sloping hillsides reveals the breathtaking natural beauty of FNQ at its very best.
The Boulders or Babinda Boulders is 40 kilometres from Cairns and a magic place for a swim, a barbecue and for feeling completely immersed in the Australian tropics. However, it’s not just a beautiful place to enjoy a swim, it also holds great significance for local Aboriginal people. This is one of our favourite places to spend an afternoon when visiting this part of Queensland.
Paronella Park, a further 35 kilometres down the road south of Innisfail, is a memorable, eco-listed, heritage experience. The park, built ‘out of love’ by a Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella for his wife Matilda, once included a fairytale castle with a movie theatre and ballroom. He planted around 7000 trees and an avenue of towering Kauri.
Harnessing the energy supplied by the property’s magnificent waterfall, Jose built Queensland’s first hydro electric plant to power the park and the castle. Unfortunately, due to fire, little is left of the castle today. However, the park remains as a testament to his vision and commitment to the natural environment and his undying ‘love’ for his wife and family. Each day there are guided tours around the property and don’t miss out on feeding the turtles on the river bank.
We were fortunate enough to meet one of the present owners of the park, Bridget Evans and a park tour guide Jack Panabianco at the office of FNQ Magazine. They had just come from a photo shoot for the forthcoming Queer Film Festival. Surprisingly Jack had ditched his standard tour guide gear of shirt, shorts and work boots and was displaying his more feminine alter ego, a bearded drag queen known as ‘Marina Miraj’. No doubt a rare breed only found this far north.
Cairns is a tropical playground for the rich and famous, budget backpackers and everyone in between. It is a melting pot of western, Asian and indigenous influences. It’s hot, friendly and relaxed. When the southern cities are shivering in their shoes, Cairns offers a warm and welcome remedy just a short flight up the coast. Why not escape for a mid year break?