Ask a local: Tropical North Queensland

By Peter Chapman

Cairns is the gateway to 'God's aquarium' and more, finds Peter Chapman.

The pool on the Esplanade at Cairns is a great place for a family picnic.
The pool on the Esplanade at Cairns is a great place for a family picnic.

Where is this place? Cairns is in the northern region of Australia and is the gateway to the world famous Great Barrier Reef. It is a tropical paradise that offers visitors an unforgettable experience. They say the Great Barrier Reef is "God's aquarium" and once you've experienced it you'll probably agree.

What's nearby? The Great Barrier Reef, World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, seaside towns of Palm Cove, Trinity Beach and Port Douglas and the Atherton Tablelands.

How do I get there? Cairns has a domestic and international airport for easy access and is serviced by Queensland Rail from Brisbane.

Where can I get a great coffee around here? Coast Roast or Perrotta's.

Have a spare afternoon? Then take a drive to the Atherton Tablelands - it's about an hour from Cairns and an amazing journey through the waterfall circuit. Or go out to a nearby croc farm.

Best hotel? The Hilton, the Shangri-La and the Pullman. All great and centrally located.

What do the locals get up to around here? They swim in the waterholes, dive on the Great Barrier Reef, catch fish, go camping and soak up the outdoor adventure.

Source of pride: The Great Barrier Reef is a world wonder and living in Cairns comes with the pride of having it right on your doorstep.

What's the best local produce? You must get a fresh ripe mango when you visit Cairns - nothing tastes quite like it. And the freshly caught seafood is superb.

It's time for lunch. Where should we eat? Salt House, Waterbar and Grill at the marina and Barnacle Bill's on the Esplanade.

Best picnic spot? The wonderful free family pool on the Esplanade.

Looking for something special for dinner? Ochre Restaurant, Waterbar and Grill.

Where to hang out when the sun goes down? There are a range of pubs along the Esplanade and the pier shopping centre.

Fancy a bit of culture? There are lots of small galleries in Cairns where you can pick up tropical landscapes and colourful aboriginal works of art.

Best walk? Hike up Walsh's Pyramid.

Best adventure: You can do it all in Cairns from bungy jumping and whitewater rafting to skydiving, jungle surfing, quadbiking and scuba diving.

Fancy a spot of fishing? Go game fishing on the reef or the lakes on the Atherton Tablelands.

Best kept secret? Crystal Cascades swimming hole, just a 20-minute drive from the CBD.

Wildest wildlife? Crocodiles, cassowaries and the 1500 species of fish on the Great Barrier Reef.

When Kiwis visit, they love: The Great Barrier Reef, relaxing under the palm trees and enjoying the warm winters.

What's the winter event you wouldn't miss? The Ironman triathlon and the Cairns Adventure Festival from June 1-9.

Best website? cairnsgreatbarrierreef.org.au.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand offers direct flights from Auckland to Cairns and Brisbane.

- NZ Herald

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