Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list since long. So a few months ago, I decided  it was time to head to Cairns. Cairns, in north Queensland is a gateway to the spectacular coral reefs, that stretch across 2300 kms.

This remarkable natural wonder comprises of thousands of reef systems and hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches. Scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, cruising and island hopping are just a way of life here.

Our 6-day long itinerary was planned to soak up some of the beauty of The Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns City

Cairns City Centre

Cairns Esplanade

We started our trip with some sightseeing. We were staying at the Hides hotel, which is centrally located at the Hides corner.

The Esplanade is at a walking distance from the Hides corner, so we headed there first. The Esplanade has a lagoon and a man-made sandy pool for kids to jump in and have loads of fun. Adjacent to this lagoon is a small summer market that sells handmade crafts. My 3-year-old enjoyed her water splash, while I explored the other side of the lagoon. There are cafes and restaurants along the lagoon, making it a perfect hideout from the city chaos, especially on a lazy afternoon.

I would highly recommend the Woolshed Pub, it’s the number 1 party joint in the city and we simply loved the variety of cocktails it had to offer.

Cairns Waterfront

We then headed to the Cairns Waterfront, which has gorgeous scenic views to offer. The waterfront is located at the Reef Fleet Terminal, the berthing dockyard for all the cruises and ferries that take off for the Great Barrier Reef. We enjoyed dining at Mondo – a fine dining restaurant, which famously claims to have the best views. Yes, indeed it did and we were just mesmerized.

Fitzroy Island

Aerial View of Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island Resort

A trip to Cairns would be incomplete without a stay at the Fitzroy Island Resort, an ultimate destination for all tropical island lovers. We hopped on the early morning ferry from the Reef Fleet Terminal, Cairns city, cruising through scenic rain forest and abandoned islands to reach this beautiful coral island.

Our 2 day stay in this island on the Great Barrier Reef was a dream vacation. With towering rain-forest mountains, a lighthouse, fringing tropical reefs, a turtle rehabilitation center, virgin beaches, along with several dining options, this island resort has a lot to offer.

We spotted colourful fishes and turtles while snorkelling. We explored Nudey Beach, Secret Garden and a Lighthouse. My little one was extremely excited to visit the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, where injured and old turtles are housed.

I have so much to say about Fitzroy Island that it deserves a whole separate feature. So check out my review of the Fitzroy Island Resort here.

Palm Cove

Palm Cove Shoppping Village

As much as we wanted to extend our stay at the Fitzroy Island Resort, it was time to head to the next spots on our itinerary. Therefore, we spent a free and relaxed day on the gorgeous beaches of Palm Cove – a unique, relaxing village by the sea. Palm Cove lies 27 kms North of Cairns, just 45 minutes drive by car – a perfect family getaway to sit back, relax and enjoy the palm trees that line up the sandy beaches. It isn’t advisable to venture out in the waters due to the jellyfish, however, there’s a barricade made by the Queensland beach authority for families to swim within the restricted area.

There isn’t any dearth of beach shacks, pubs or restaurants here – we chose to try the local branded beer at a pub while enjoying the breath-taking sunset views.

The Palm Cove Shopping Village is a small, cosy shopping paradise, definitely worth a visit. Public buses run to-and-fro until late at night, so there is no hurry to get back to the city even if you’re not driving.

Green Island

Green Island (Photo Credit: Tourism Australia)

Day 5 involved us cruising again on the blue waters, to explore yet another island on the Great Barrier Reef. Green Island is the smallest habituated island in this region, and the Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruise connects this tiny island to Cairns.

Aboard the Green Island Ferry

Green Island

Green Island

A bumpy ride of an hour and 15 minutes in an open top luxury cruise, brings upon you this colourful coral experience.

Soak in the waters, or take a beer and chill at the Green Island Resort pool bar. The beaches are sandy and the water is very clear – while snorkelling, we could spot turtles and sea cucumbers.

You could also walk through the National Park, and have a trail of water guiding you along as you explore the island. We took this trail and reached the other part of the island in less than 15 mins. The  beaches at this end are cleaner and less explored. There’s a Crocodile Farm, a small souvenir shop and the water activity centres. While exploring the National Park in the Island you will get to read about the aboriginals natural and cultural heritage and how they evolved.

A day trip to Green Island is good enough, I wouldn’t recommend an overnight stay. Our tour included a Semi-Submarine ride to the deeper part of the reef, which enabled us to capture the diversity of the corals and the abundant sea life through the clear glass bottom of the sub. This tour is a must-do, especially if you can’t swim or dive deeper into the coral sea.

The Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge

Daintree Rainforest (Image Credit: Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree

The last day of our vacation was spent in the wilderness of the Daintree Rainforest – believed to be one of the three oldest rain forests in the world – and Mossman Gorge, which is just one section of this vast forest.

You can get to Daintree via Port Douglas, which is just an hour’s drive from Cairns via a spectacular coastal drive – Great Barrier Reef Drive. We had pre-booked a day tour though, almost all  travel agents run similar tours daily.

Mossman Gorge (Photo Credit: Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree)

We explored Mossman Gorge, which is an accessible and very scenic section of the Daintree Rainforest, and a portion of the rain forest as well. You can explore this part of the Daintree Rainforest in less than 6 hours, inclusive of several walking trails. The fresh water gorge is worth a dip and a change from all the sea water, my daughter enjoyed this part of the gorge to the max.

After the dip, I proceeded to explore the remaining part of the rainforest and the walking trails. The sound of the shimmering water from the gorge kept me company all along. Make sure to have your walking shoes and drinking water with you, as the trails are more than 5 kms long each way.

With that, our visit to the Great Barrier Reef ended but we will be back to explore other parts of the reef. The Great Barrier Reef should definitely be on your bucket list as well.