The Hawaii of Australia: Cairns

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After a spectacular run in Melbourne, I tried not to get my hopes up for Cairns. I heard earlier that it was similar to Hawaii – very paradise-like, but not as crowded.

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Definitely on par. The flight even yielded stunning views of the area – so similar to Hawaii with its turquoise waters and rounded green bays. It made me miss Hawaii that much more…

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Ah, but as soon as I got off the plane, an awful gust of humidity swept over me. I’ve never felt anything quite like it – not even in Florida or Hawaii. As our shuttle drove us from the airport to central Cairns, everything looked familiar – different, yet familiar (no charge for the sweat pouring down my face). The palm trees, the lush greenery, the mountains – my head was screaming, “Take me back to Maui, I miss it!”

After getting settled, I headed straight to Cairns Wildlife Dome to grab a photo with a koala. How could I NOT?!

Koalas have always been my favorite animals, along with peacocks. The one I ended up holding was a 9-year old female named Kiah, although she was the size of a slightly larger teddy bear. She seemed so little for 9 years old! She was adorable. The little girl in me died of happiness – I was in animal heaven. I EVEN BOUGHT A BRACELET WITH A KOALA CHARM (Cairns Night Market: the best). Good stuff.

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Side Fact: Queensland is the only area in the world where you can hold a koala.

Central Cairns ended up being a good 10-minute walk from end to end. The Cairns Esplanade pool was quite an eyesight, crowded with kids and families. Really neat community offering, but not my thing to wade in a pool filled with kids (and God knows what).

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When I arrived in Cairns, it was 26 degrees C (78F, but it felt like 100) with 76% humidity. My food for that evening consisted of an ice cream cone and a giant Coke slushie.

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After I couldn’t take any more, I spent the rest of the day in the air-conditioned mall across from the hostel. Spoiled American, yeah.

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I even tried on a few things in their Target… their fitting rooms are way cooler than in America.

I jumped in the pool that night to eventually cool off, and then set off solo again to explore the nighttime areas of Cairns. After three nights in Cairns, I ended up loving the nighttime the most (then again, I prefer night over day in general). There were beautiful fig trees (aka ficus trees in America) aligned with rainbow lights along the Cairns Esplanade and twinkling lights on other trees on another end of the marina.

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Paradise at night meant cooler temperatures and beautiful lights. I was surprised that most of the shops stayed open until after 9pm – so unlike all of New Zealand, where everything closes at 5 on the dot.

And then I discovered the Cairns Night Market. I was in heaven. Like all travelers, I go crazy at night markets – they usually yield the best selections, deals, unique items, and an overwhelming array of knick-knacks and general goods all laid out in front of you, sprawling out on top of each other as one booth leads to another. I want to go back to Cairns on a Saturday eventually just to peruse the Cairns Esplanade Market.

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The two things I wanted to buy most in Australia – sarongs and an Australian bracelet – were definitely found in Cairns. I was fulfilled.

Sarong happy: Trinity Beach
Sarong happy: Trinity Beach

Cairns Botanic Gardens definitely rivals Wellington Botanic Gardens for the top spot in my heart. It’s huge – and much more rainforest-esque than any other garden I’ve visited. I only wish I wasn’t eaten alive by bugs there, but at least the views were well worth it. Such beauty in ONE garden – and all for free. NZ and AUS have the best gardens in the world, I think.

The Pier on the Marina was a beautiful indoor mall that also housed upscale, outdoor restaurants along the waterfront. Even at night, the lights and music performances made the atmosphere that much more magical. I also walked through a large wooden play structure that was intertwined with a huge fig tree, as well – it was the neatest thing. The large tree branches were wrapped around some of the wooden platforms, as to support them. And here I thought New Zealand playgrounds were amazing… freakin’ Australia, man. So incredible.

Every night, I sat along the lagoon front on the Esplanade while watching airplanes fly into the airport from afar. I watched as fish jumped in and out of the water playfully (this happened quite frequently, much to the delight of intelligent birds nearby who made a meal out of them). I bird watched and meditated, taking in the last moments of my glorious vacation.

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Thanks to two fantastic locals, I was also given the opportunity to revel in the beauty of Trinity Beach, one of the northern beaches in Queensland. Very different from any beaches in NZ – the water was comfortably warm, and while it wasn’t crystal clear (a storm had passed through that week), it was still a treat. I was shown remnants of volcanic sediments that washed ashore from New Zealand’s highest volcanoes (lightweight white pumice, ultimately) and was also informed about the various types of deadwood and shells that lined the coast. If you ever want to see a country best, meet a few locals and have them take you around – it’s such a beautiful thing. By far my favorite day of adventures in Australia.

Our dinner turned into the perfect viewpoint for the Queensland sunset and moon rise – quite spectacular, as the clouds in front of the moon produced a mysterious, Halloween-esque feel. They also told me about the flying foxes (bats) that fly over Cairns every night in migration – I sadly didn’t get the chance to see any all three nights because I wasn’t in the right places, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for them next time.

You had to be there to see this beauty in person...
You had to be there to see this beauty in person…

Thank you, Cairns, for a memorable and beautiful visit. You were a piece of home (Hawaii) for me, and for that, I love you even more.

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