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This month we’re looking back at our trip to Australia and New Zealand from earlier this year. I’ll be sharing my favourite moments and providing you with restaurants, hotels, bars and places to add to your future itinerary.
Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better” – Albert Einstein
After ringing in the New Year in Sydney, we left the comfort of the city for the wild outdoors in Australia’s Tropical North Queensland.
We decided to stay in the central business district of Cairns, a small harbour city convenient for exploring the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding nature. Trendy restaurants are limited, as are good coffee shops, but you don’t visit Cairns for that.
We only had three days in Cairns – one dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef, one for the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, and the other for our leisure. While we appreciate a good group tour, we prefer to explore on our own as much as possible. We rented a car and drove out to rainforest on our own – a real road trip!
Daintree was one of my favourite excursions of the entire vacation. The best part is that you can drive right through it, with many sights to stop and see along the way. You truly feel as if you’re in a Jurassic Park movie, only it’s not the movies and the dinosaurs are replaced by crocos, snakes and other wild creatures.
The Tropical North is a special place. Bats, parrots and crocodiles are regular citizens, 4WD cars are common modes of transport and the weather is as hot and humid as it gets. Whether you spend the day on the sea or hiking through the rainforest, you forget everything you know and surrender yourself, at one with nature. At last.
Dayna’s Travel Guide to Northern Queensland, Australia
Where We Ate:
The Chill Cafe – Palm Cove: After spending the day exploring, we thought it would be timely to slow down and grab a bite while sipping on cocktails with our feet in the sand. We headed to Palm Cove, a small beach town about twenty minutes from the city and stopped at The Chill Café, just in time for happy hour. Great snack-size sharing plates. Delicious cocktails. Fabulous bar-style seating directly facing the ocean. Peaceful, calm and laid-back.
Tha Fish – Cairns CBD: Another harbour town, we were all about seafood. In the city, there are numerous restaurants lined up along the Harbour that it can be difficult to choose the right one. Our hotel concierge thankfully recommended Tha Fish. Food was fresh and sophisticated. Service was impeccable. A great place to unwind after a long day.
DIY Grocery Shopping: Northern Queensland has delicious tropical mangoes and other fruits that it would be a shame not to enjoy them. We decided to have relaxing evening in and went to the grocery store a few minutes away from our hotel. Mangoes, peaches, apricots, granola bars, a bottle of wine, a small paring knife, Tim-Tams and Season 5 of American Horror Story made us feel right at home. It was our best idea yet.
Places to Visit:
Great Barrier Reef: Our reason for visiting the Tropical North. An exciting yet mildly frightening experience at the same time. You’re in the middle of the vast, open sea, home to marine creatures of all sizes (and appetites), completely vulnerable and unprotected. You never know who will come to say hello. Some of us saw a giant turtle, others saw Nemo, but I saw a baby shark.
Insider tip: Summertime in OZ is jellyfish season, and there are hundreds of them floating around, but throw on a stinger suit and you’re good to go. If you don’t have your own, tour operators generally are well equipped.
The Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation: Just two hours north of the city is a beautiful rainforest. There are so many parts to see, and while we only spent one day, it could easily have been more.
Around mid-afternoon, we took a small group tour of a swampy lagoon, where native crocodiles thrive. Quietly, we coasted through the waters on a rickety old pontoon as we kept our eyes open for five, six, seven feet crocodiles. Twenty-minutes in, and there was a huge, six-foot crocodile perched up by the mangroves, motionless and camouflaged.
Later, we drove all the way up to Cape Tribulation and then, to Emmagen Beach, an isolated, unmarked beach fit for an episode of Survivor.
Port Douglas: About 45 minutes from Cairns CBD. A beautiful little town with several resorts to stay and charming shopping boutiques. This place reminds me of the sun – what a lovely place.
Palm Cove and beaches: A short drive out of Cairns CBD, it’s a great spot to enjoy the beach life but careful for crocodiles and stingers!
Josephine Falls, Barron Falls, Millaa Millaa and more: The Tropical North also has many other nature sites to visit, particularly waterfalls. While we only made it out to Barron Falls, we heard that Millaa Millaa was especially beautiful.
Where We Stayed:
In Cairns CBD, trendy, well-designed hotels are limited – really, you don’t visit Cairns for this. If that’s what you’re looking for, head out to the Whitsunday Islands.
The Hilton Cairns: A bit dated and the breakfast was average. Rooms are comfortable and the private balcony was great.
Other places to stay: The Shangri-La, The Pullman.
Where We Had Coffee:
Caffiend – Cairns CBD: Hidden in a graffiti-alley off the beaten track, this is the go-to coffee spot in Cairns.
The Chill Cafe – Palm Cove: Mentioned above, The Chill Café also makes a great flat white.
Sparrow – Port Douglas: Ahoy Trader x Sparrow Coffee makes for a perfect match. So charming you might just want to take up residence in this little shop.