Nestled on the coast of Far North Queensland, the city is tucked between the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea and the rolling downs of the Atherton Tableland to the west. The city of Cairns is located on the northeast coast of Australia in the state of Queensland about 2500km from Sydney. The official Cairns region follows a narrow coastal strip from Ellis Beach in the north to Mirriwinni in the south and covers an area of 1687sq km. The region includes Queensland’s tallest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere, and two World Heritage-listed attractions – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforests, including one of the oldest rainforests in the world, the Daintree Rainforest.
Cairns is also one of the few places on earth where you can view the total solar eclipse on 14 November 2012. The path of totality occurs in the Port Douglas and Cairns areas making these destinations the ideal locations for eclipse viewing.
The history of Cairns
The first European to discover what is now called Cairns was Captain James Cook who sailed up the coast of northeast Australia in 1770. His ship ran aground but his crew managed to repair the vessel before heading back to England. Despite Cook’s discovery of the area and the naming of the bay Trinity Bay after the day Trinity Sunday, it was another 100 years before Europeans returned to the region and settled there.
When gold was discovered at the Palmer River, east of Cooktown in 1872, thousands of miners arrived marking the beginning of a rush that would see Cairns eventually established in 1876. Originally known by a variety of names - Thornton, after William Thornton, the collector of customs in Brisbane; Dickson, after the colonial treasurer of the time; Newport, by the people of Cooktown or Trinity Bay – the name Cairns was finally chosen to honour Queensland’s first Irish-born Governor, Sir William Wellington Cairns.
Tours and activities
The city offers a myriad of activities for travellers: adrenaline-charged adventures such as diving, white water rafting and bungee jumping or more relaxing pursuits like bird watching, snorkelling or hiking.
Visit the Wooroonooran National Park, one of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area series of national parks and a World Heritage site. The area was declared a World Heritage area in 1988 and spans from Townsville in the south to Cooktown in the north. It contains some of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world. North of Cairns is the Daintree Rainforest, which is believed to be the oldest rainforest in the world, and is part of the Albatros Travel Solar Eclipse Marathon itinerary.
A picturesque one-hour drive west of Cairns is the Atherton Tablelands also known as the Cairns Highlands. Among the rolling hills, dairy cattle and deer graze on pastures and farms grow tea, coffee, vegetables, flowers and corn. This cool plateau where temperatures and humidity are generally lower, provides an ideal respite away from the coastal heat.
The Tablelands is an unspoilt undulating tableland between 500m and 1000m above the Great Barrier Reef. For bird-watching, visit Hasties Swamp, a large wetland renowned for its diversity in resident and migratory birds.
Shopping in Cairns is a varied affair ranging from small specialist boutiques to local crafts markets. Visit the Pier Marketplace or Cairns Central Shopping Centre for numerous stalls and shops selling food, souvenirs, clothing, crafts and other local products. For the perfect souvenir to bring home from your holiday, drop by the Night Market which sells trinkets and crafts on the Esplanade, or Rusty’s market between Grafton and Sheridan streets for locally-grown produce and exotic fruits. Or check out the Mud Markets, located at the Pier Marketplace, which sells a variety of gift items. For more information on markets, go to the Food and Wine section.
Restaurants and bars
Cairns offers many excellent restaurants covering cuisines from indigenous Australian, Japanese and Indian, to French and Mexican, located in the city centre. A foodie’s paradise is situated along the Esplanade beginning at the corner of Shield’s Street. Seafood and modern Australian cuisine can be enjoyed at Mangosteen’s and Kanji’s at the beginning of the strip. Rattle ‘n’ Hum, an ambient pub with a wood-fired pizza oven, is located further down the road.
Between Grafton and Sheridan streets on Shields Street, you will find many popular restaurants including the Red Ochre featuring modern Australian cuisine, Verdi’s Italian restaurant and Asian eateries which are also located on this strip.
Read more on the Food and Wine section.
Art and galleries
The Cairns Regional Gallery is Far North Queensland’s only visual art museum. It hosts exhibitions of fine arts from major Australian and international collections covering historical and contemporary art including the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Visitors can also view the work of local artists based in the Far North.
The Centre of Contemporary Arts Cairns is an important venue developed by the Queensland Government and operated by Arts Queensland. There are two performance based venues, two galleries, a gallery shop and an artist’s studio.
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