Reefs and rainforests

Dive into the blue, journey through the green, as you uncover the magic of Cairns

Reading Time: 3 minutes


“It’s one of nature’s greatest wonders, a living structure so enormous it can be seen from space,” said Sir David Attenborough in his stunning 2015 broadcast The Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is indeed an iconic site that makes its way onto the itinerary of almost every tourist Down Under.

To the locals, it is a treasure worth their very lives. The Great Barrier Reef, as its name indicates, is not just any reef. For many reasons, it is a World Heritage site on only superlatives. Firstly, it encompasses an area of 344,400 square kilometres – approximately the same area as Italy, Japan or 70 million football fields. It laces a staggering 2,300 km of the upper northern coast of Queensland.

Most significantly, this strip of blue is home to 3000 individual reefs, coral cays, over 600 types of coral and hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches. Then there is the oceanic jewellery – fish,turtles, sharks, stingrays, whales, dolphins and many more– generously scattered through the reef in numbers and variety unlike at any other singular location on earth. There are various quarters in upper Queensland from where the reef can be explored – Port Douglas, Whitsundays, Bundaberg.

However, the most popular of them all is Cairns – a touristy waterfront settlement packed with everything that a modern traveller seeks. From contemporary hotels, trendy cafes, bars, restaurants,entertainment venues and endless shopping outlets to hordes of tour operators, Cairns has it all. Tour operators in Cairns offer boat trips to nearby islands. Full or half-day outings to Green Island, Frankland Island and Fitzroy Island are some common options.

The so-called ‘Inner Reef’ is close to the shoreline while the ‘Outer Reef’ is a fair distance away but most ideal for the ultimate ocean experience. Scuba diving and snorkelling are the two best ways to explore underwater life. Countless travellers unanimously agree that it is an experience of a lifetime, an unfolding mystery, the unravelling of a secret. Drifting amidst turtles, schools of fish, sea horses, sharks and stingrays in a vibrant underwater world renders one speechless. The closer to the bottom, the brighter and richer is the marine life. The myriad colours of the coral and underwater scenery are best seen with lots of light. It is a fun challenge to try and spot, within the reef, the mischievous orange clownfish immortalised by Disney’s Finding Nemo.

For those that prefer not to get wet, glass bottom and semi-submersible boat tours are widely available and offer spectacular views of this rich ecosystem. A short helicopter ride is a great but costlier way of staying dry and seizing a bird’s eye view of the reef.

Cairns and the surrounding regions are also home to the Wet Tropics Rainforest. It’s believed to be over 150 million years old with some pockets of primitive plants remaining undisturbed from time immemorial. The Indigenous people inhabiting the area for thousands of years have adopted several elements of this forestry into their religion, spirituality and life. This rainforest is a living cultural landscape and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

No visit to Cairns is complete without exploring some parts of the 900,000 square hectare greenery. The most touristy way of doing this is by travelling up to Kuranda, quaint mountain village at 300m above sea level.

One way to do this is via the Kuranda Scenic Railway, winding its way through 15 hand-made tunnels and over 37 bridges while providing passengers panoramic breathtaking scenery and numerous photo opportunities.

The other is by Skyrail, a glass-covered cable car system that glides over the lush green providing breathtaking views and magical perspectives. Cairns Aquarium is a new addition. A quick wander through the live exhibits provides great background information for both the Great Barrier Reef and the Rainforest.

Travel notebook

Getting there: Flying to Cairns is an obvious option. Alternately, one can travel by rail on the Spirit of Queensland. Covering a distance of 1,681kms in 25 hours, this comfortable journey is not just about reaching the destination but more to cherish the raw and widely acclaimed beauty of Queensland. The Railbed class includes all meals and offers daytime seating which converts to a flatbed at night.

Where to stay: Shangri La Hotel, or Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort in Cairns, or Fitzroy Island Resort, if an island vacation is what you’re looking for.

For more information visit: www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au

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Sandip Hor
Sandip Hor
Writing is a passion for this culturally enthused and historically minded globe trotting freelancer

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