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The cosmopolitan, colourful city of Cairns, in far north Queensland, is a tourist hub and the gateway to two of the world's most awesome World Heritage Sites, the Great Barrier Reef and the 110-million-year-old Daintree Rainforest.
Cairns started life as a small fishing encampment, which received an injection of prosperity in the 19th century when gold was discovered to the north and tin and timber began to be exploited in the nearby Atherton Tablelands. The harbour and fishing operations increased in importance, and tourism arrived in the early 20th century when marlin fishing became popular, and the world discovered the delights of exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
Aided by its pleasant, warm climate, the relaxed tropical town has now become a frenzied international tourism centre, flooded with visitors most of the year, its streets lined with souvenir stores, eateries and some first class hotels. The harbour is clogged with streamlined pleasure boats, and the offshore islands bristle with resorts. To cater for tourists the city fathers have even created a man-made salt-water lagoon and sandy beach on the Esplanade to replace the original muddy swamp that crowned Trinity Bay.
To holiday in Cairns is to holiday in a city that has a mission to make tourists as happy as possible. Facilities and fun recreation opportunities are excellent, and the city is a relatively inexpensive destination. Anyone who enjoys a sunny beach holiday should travel to Cairns, where the magnificent man-made lagoon offers safe swimming all year round, the sunshine guarantees a suntan, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants and nightclubs to indulge in. A Cairns holiday is also popular among young adventure tourists, with pursuits like scuba diving, skydiving, and ballooning on offer. And, of course, the Great Barrier Reef is just a hop and a skip away.
The recently renovated Cairns Esplanade is the entertainment hub for visitors to the city, providing numerous recreational opportunities, and lined with a host of good restaurants, bars and cafes. Apart from a safe, sandy swimming lagoon and vast lawns used for all sorts of purposes from picnics and barbecues to kite flying, the Esplanade features wonderful Saturday arts and crafts markets, spiced up by buskers and colourful street characters. The Cairns Esplanade is also a great place to get some exercise in the city, popular with joggers and the site of a free fitness programme with classes four days a week that anybody can join. There is never a dull moment on this lively foreshore. Check out the website below for details on what's on.
The most popular tourist attraction in Cairns is the Skyrail rainforest cableway, which travels nearly five miles (7.5km) from the Caravonica Terminal, the gondolas gliding above the canopy of the rainforest over magnificent waterfalls and lush gorges, to the village of Kuranda. En route passengers can alight temporarily at two stations to explore the boardwalks that have been constructed in the heart of the forest. Interpretative centres have been set up so visitors can learn about the ecology, fauna and flora of the fascinating ancient rainforest. The return journey takes about two and a half hours, and the gondolas seat up to six people. Booking in advance is advisable.
This spectacular attraction is enclosed by a 65-foot (20m) high glass dome on top of Cairns' iconic Reef Hotel Casino and offers exhibits and shows featuring of some of Australia's most exotic and fascinating animals. Here visitors can learn more about these unique creatures and get a fabulous introduction to the Wet Tropics Rainforest area around Cairns, preparing them for all the close-up encounters they may have with the indigenous wildlife. In this rainforest environment visitors can experience the thrill of birds such as parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, doves and rosellas swooping freely overhead and come face-to-face with the adorable rainforest wallabies. Of course, the fact that the wildlife experience is housed in a giant dome makes this attraction wonderful no matter what the weather.
Cairns has a tropical climate with little distinction between the seasons. Temperatures are warm to hot all year round, with the occasional cold snap during June and July. The rainy season is between November and May, characterised by sudden heavy falls and occasional tropical cyclones. Generally though, blue skies, sunshine, gentle breezes and pleasantly warm temperatures are the order of the day.
Central Cairns is compact enough to explore on foot. Visitors tend to congregate around the Esplanade and city centre, where there are plenty of taxis and bus stops. The public buses cover most areas with reasonable fares, though visitors should note that bus services are less frequent at night and over weekends. The city's 'Sun Buses' run from a central transit terminal and maps and timetables are freely available from hotels and other tourist establishments. Black and white metered taxis operate day and night from ranks throughout the city, or can be flagged down in the street. Car hire firms are plentiful for those wishing to explore further afield. Naturally, boat rides and cruises are also a popular transport option in Cairns.
Any time of year is a good time to visit Cairns due to its tropical climate and the splendid variety of natural attractions and outdoor activities on the city's doorstep. A stay in Cairns is a dream come true for nature lovers, particularly scuba divers.
Meet some of Australia's indigenous animals such as crocodiles, red pandas and koalas at Wildlife Zone or the Cairns Tropical Zoo; ride the gondolas above a canopy of the rainforest, over magnificent waterfalls and gorges, to the village of Kuranda on the Skyrail, one of Cairns' most popular attractions; or pick out some stunning opal jewellery at Quilpie Opals.
Visitors keen on venturing out of the city should head straight for the coast where the Great Barrier Reef awaits avid snorkelers and scuba divers, while the verdant Daintree Rainforest, part of the oldest tropical rainforest still surviving on earth, is best explored on horseback or from the treetops. Nearby Cape Tribulation is also an outdoor enthusiasts paradise, with activities like kayaking, snorkelling, jungle surfing and river cruising on offer. The Whitsunday Islands, of which 70 percent has been declared a national or marine park, boast the resort village of Airlie Beach and are the perfect place to relax and enjoy the picturesque surroundings.
About a six-hour drive south of Cairns lies Bowling Green Bay National Park. Covering 55,300 hectares, this is the largest National Park in the region, an area once home to the Wulgurukaba Aboriginal people who have left their mark with beautiful rock paintings. Bowling Green Bay National Park is situated between Townsville and Bowen and includes the Mount Elliot area and adjacent coastal wetlands, saltpans and mangrove swamps. Alligator Creek meanders through the park, with beautiful waterfalls and cascades crashing into deep pools, surrounded by tropical rainforest. Bowling Green Bay is a glorious place to enjoy hiking and camping and is a popular weekend excursion from Cairns.
The name 'Tjapukai' means 'people of the rainforest' and refers to the indigenous people who have inhabited the tropical region between Cairns and Port Douglas, and inland to Kuranda, for eons. About 20 years ago a group of entertainers established Australia's first aboriginal dance theatre at the village of Kuranda, near Cairns, in a shopping centre basement. Its popularity with tourists led to expansion into a fully-fledged award-winning 25-acre Cultural Park, which now draws the crowds at Smithfield, a few miles north of the city. Show business, in the form of history and dance theatre, remains the basis of the attraction, and at the Camp Village visitors can interact with the Tjapukai and try out traditional activities like playing the didgeridoo and throwing a boomerang. The park also offers a night-time show experience where the audience is swept up into the ancient rituals and ceremonies of the 'Dreamtime', including fire dancing and a dinner banquet of local food and wine.
Magical Paronella Park was the imaginative brainchild of a young entrepreneur, Jose Paronella, who built his dream castle on this site near Mena Creek, about 75 miles (120km) south of Cairns, in 1929. Since then the castle has come to be regarded as an architectural marvel, and a top tourist attraction, which has been used as a set for several movies. The picturesque grounds, overlooking Mena Creek Falls, feature interesting forest walks, bamboo gardens, a secret garden and a 'tunnel of love'. Cultural performances and guided walks are offered to visitors as part of the admission price. In 1997, Paronella Park was recognised as a historical treasure and listed by the National Trust. It is a popular venue for romantic events like weddings and consistently delights visitors.
The Wet Tropics of Queensland is said to be the oldest tropical rainforest still surviving on earth and a UNESCO-listed site containing the highest number of rare or threatened plant and animal species on the planet, as well as 13 different types of rainforest and 29 species of mangrove. Among the national parks included in the Wet Tropics are Barron Gorge National Park, Black Mountain National Park, Cedar Bay National Park, Daintree National Park, Girringun National Park and Wooroonooran National Park.
This unique area covers around 745 miles (1,200km) of northern Queensland, and is visited by drives of tourists who access it usually from Cairns, via Daintree Village. Visitors enjoy an unrivalled natural experience, from the beautiful golden beaches to hiking through ancient forest ecosystems full of gorgeous birds, primitive flowering plants, and fascinating animals like the estuarine crocodile. Daintree is about two hours north of Cairns, on the Captain Cook Highway, making it easily accessible for excursions and weekend getaways.
One of the great natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is as big as the total combined area of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and contains more than 1,000 islands, from sandy mounds to rainforest isles. Divers, snorkellers and nature lovers can reach specific sites by air or by water taxi. Non-divers can view this underwater world from a glass-bottomed boat.
The Reef ecosystem has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to give life to almost 7,000 species of plants and animals. It is home to some endangered species like the green loggerhead turtle, and is a breeding site for humpback whales. Visitors can either cruise the islands or make a base in Cairns or one of the many seaside towns along the Queensland coast. Visitors can access the Great Barrier Reef from numerous regions in Queensland, from the southern gateway of Bundaberg, Coral Coast and Country to Gladstone, Capricorn, the Whitsundays, Mackay, Townsville and Tropical North Queensland, including Cairns.
The Great Barrier Reef is rapidly degrading due to environmental damage so visit soon!
Located within the Daintree National Park and the Wet Tropics area of Queensland, the pristine and picturesque destination of Cape Tribulation is well worth a visit while travelling through Queensland. With the Great Barrier Reef just a short boat ride away, the oldest tropical rainforest on earth on your doorstep, spectacular beaches on which to stroll, world-class snorkelling, kayaking, jungle surfing, horseback adventures and the chance to spot the endangered cassowary, a large flightless bird, there is so much to see and do on a trip to Cape Tribulation.
Explore the rainforest from the treetops or on horseback, take a cruise on the crystalline turquoise waters, relax on a river cruise and spot one of Australia's most famous predators, the crocodile, or simply relax and enjoy the breath-taking scenery that abounds. Accommodation such as luxury resorts, self-catering cabins, bed and breakfasts and camping facilities are available.
Australia's most famous fossil site, Riversleigh, in northwest Queensland, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an extension of the Lawn Hill National Park. It contains the fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles of Oligocene and Miocene age, which were found in limestone by freshwater pools, and in caves during the period when the surrounding ecosystem was evolving from rainforest to semi-arid grassland. Most of what is known about the evolution of Australian mammals in the last 30-million years comes from bones found at a single site in the Riversleigh fossil beds, half of which were unearthed in one hour. Species such as primitive koalas and wombats, huge crocodile and large, flightless birds, as well as a range of ancestral thylacines (Tasmanian tigers) were discovered in Riversleigh.
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