Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cairns - Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef - A First Timer's Journey

Gold! Who'd have thought it? Gold?

Cairns was settled in 1876 as the hopefuls headed inland to the Hodgkinson River an the last days of the Australian Gold Rush. The fever died out, but Cairns remained, slowly becoming the biggest town in the area, and the centre of a huge sugar cane growing industry. Have a look at the Map of Cairns and the Map of the Great Barrier Reef to get your bearings.

Then along came tourism, the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1975 and the opening of the International Airport in 1984, all of which have made Cairns a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns City is about 2,700 Kms (1,670 mi) north of Sydney by road, and 1,700 Kms (1,050 mi) north of Brisbane, so if you are thinking of driving it, leave more than a couple of days just to get there. On your first trip to Australia, you will probably arrive into Cairns by air. As you land, it's water to the east - bright blue on sunny days, and steel gray when its overcast - and a heavy green vegetation climbing the hills to the west, rising to an escarpment of higher land inland. This is the tropics, and it rains a lot, even though it is usually warm.
Cairns Esplanade Pier
The airport is north of the main Downtown area and the Marina, near the Northern Beaches. More on the Northern Beaches in another post, but check out Trinity Beach, Yorkey's Knob, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach and Palm Cove for your hotels and accommodation in Cairns area. This gets you out of town and close to the water on a really nice beach.
Palm Cove Beach
While Cairns downtown has the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, restaurants, cafes, buzz and lots of people, it does not have a really good beach. It actually does not have a beach at all. During WW2, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Trinity River entrance to allow barges with supplies into the port, and messed up the tidal flow of the area. The beach turned into mud flats. Great for wading birds, and birdwatching, but not good for swimming. There has been an attempt to turn the esplanade back into a beach by dumping a lot of sand there, but it has not been more than cosmetically successful. If you want to walk a beach with the Coral Sea lapping at your feet, do it on the Northern Beaches.

Downtown, however, is where the Marina is located, and it is from here that we will leave on our expedition to snorkel and dive the Great Barrier Reef in my next post. Stay tuned.

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