Over the years Elliot and I have had some seriously good luck when it comes to weather when traveling. Places notorious for rain (Stavanger, the Scottish Highlands, etc.) have been sunny for us, and we’ve never had weather stop us from doing what we’ve wanted to do on vacay. Well, our luck was eventually going to run out, and it did in a BIG way when we went to Cairns on Queensland’s northern coast. Aka the place where the motto is “Beautiful one day, perfect the next”. It just so happened that right before our arrival, Mother Nature decided to take a big ol’ didgeridoo on our beach plans and sent a cyclone to the northern Queensland coast. Crikey.
Rain can’t stop (won’t stop) us from exploring
Cyclone Trevor hit 300km north of Cairns, so we fortunately weren’t in the eye of it, but it was close enough to dump rain the entire time we were there. It wasn’t all terrible though; we did get to watch quite a bit of trash Aussie tv, like Married at First Sight: Australia and some German show called “Adam looking for Eve” where a bunch of naked people look for “love” on an island. So yeah, I guess what I’m trying to say is that when the weather throws a curveball in our vacation plans, Elliot and I make the conscious decision to become dumber.
Even though the thunderstorms kept us from getting some Vitamin D, we didn’t let them stop us from getting out and exploring. They also didn’t stop the people living there because there were a bunch of folks walking around without umbrellas or raincoats. Both of us even blended in with the locals when we got caught in downpours while on our respective runs. We took advantage of any breaks in the rain to walk along the boardwalk and read the different displays on the different bird and animal species found in the area, the culture and diversity of Cairns, and the Queensland contributions in WWI and II. The boardwalk is right on the ocean, and the water crashing on the rocks below would hit so hard that it would splash up between the wooden planks. That, coupled with the pelicans chilling nearby, gave us a very Nemo-like atmosphere. Hop inside my mouth if you want to live.
The boardwalk took us to the marina where we watched fishing and tour company boats taking off for the day. We also saw little school kids running around wearing digger hats, which delighted me more than I can possibly say. We stopped in the Doongal Aboriginal Art gallery which had everything from boomerangs for under $60 to aboriginal artist paintings for over $12,000. We noticed more of an aboriginal presence in northern Queensland than we did Brisbane, and we’re always interested in learning more about indigenous cultures, so the art center was a must stop for us.
The more “downtown” area of Cairns is the esplanade, and it’s lined with restaurant after restaurant, bar after bar, and tour company after tour company. Besides the innumerable tour companies and souvenir shops, there are reminders of the Great Barrier Reef everywhere in Cairns, from the light post banners to the street names. Everywhere we turned, we got more and more excited for our planned trip to the Reef.
Another must visit spot in Cairns is the famous Night Market, which is… a market only open at night. So it’s not just a clever name. Unlike St. Lawrence Market in Toronto or even Borough Market in London, this one is super unique and has everything from psychics to massage spots to fish spas. El convinced me to get a fish pedicure, which left my feet super smooth but was definitely a weird sensation to have fish pecking at my feet. It also took the woman 15 minutes to cover up all my mosquito bites with band-aids, so I’m not actually sure how much of my actual skin was fish food. The whole market space was super cool, but the food court was mostly self-serve fried Asian food, so if you’re looking for a fancy culinary experience, probably best to look elsewhere.
Speaking of food, we had some good eats when we were in Cairns, from sushi at this place called Sushi Paradise that apparently also sponsors pro wrestling according to the signs posted in the cafe to this great and cheap Indian restaurant. We also did a nicer dinner at Bushfire Churrasco, the city’s Brazilian steakhouse and one of the top rated restaurants in the area. It didn’t disappoint, and in addition to the traditional steak and chicken offerings, we also munched on some kangaroo. Because when you’re in Australia, you do as the Aussies do, mate.
“Chillin’ on the beach with a big ol’ case a beers”
Cairns has a pretty good craft beer scene, but our favorite was definitely Hemingway’s Brewery. When we got there, there was a double rainbow that ended right at the brewery, surely a sign of greatness. And we definitely found the pint o’ gold at the end of the Aussie beer rainbow. Hemingway’s is in an old warehouse right on the marina, so the space itself is super cool and we even got to watch a cruise ship taking off. To add to the experience, the beer was also fantastic and each had a story attached to it. Definitely a must visit for any craft beer or good story lover. Another great spot we found was the Barrier Reef Brewing Company, which has a sea turtle made of hops as its logo. Let me repeat that: A sea turtle. Made of hops!
Have leech, will panic
Everything we read about Cairns said the Kuranda rainforest was a must do, so we took advantage of some rare blue sky and sunshine and took a bus 25 minutes to the town. The road there went up a mountain and curved at so many places that we had to hang onto the seats to keep from flying off them. As we climbed higher, the landscape around us got more lush and we had an amazing view of the ocean below. It would have been nice to have taken the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway, but the bus was the easier and more economical choice. When we finally got to Kuranda, which was tucked into the rainforest and famous for their market that’s “open 7 days a week”, we were greeted by a ghost town. Even though yes, the markets were technically “open”, almost every stall was closed, and the ones that were open were over-commercialized. I was hoping to get some unique aboriginal jewelry, so the town, while picturesque in the lush rainforest, was a big “womp womp” for me.
Not letting our trip to Kuranda be a total waste though, we got a map from the visitor center and decided to take a rainforest walk. Despite the ungodly humidity, the first half was incredibly lush and beautiful, and the animal sounds really set the scene. It even rained a little bit, which seemed appropriate and didn’t bother us one bit since we were armed with umbrellas. We eventually came to a creek where the log that was used for crossing had been totally submerged in the brown water. Thinking that was the end of our walk, I was like “Okay, well I guess it’s time to go ba-” only to see Elliot had already taken off his shoes and was wading through to the other side. Remembering all too vividly my river encounters in Jasper, I followed suit but so slowly and gingerly that an aged sloth would have beaten me across.
The trail took us back through the trees, where we again had to take off our shoes to wade through the water that blocked our path. The water left a bunch of mud stuck to my feet, which I easily wiped off with my sandals. The mud on my big toe, despite multiple wiping attempts, wasn’t going anywhere though. I was confused at first and bitched to Elliot that “I can’t get this mud off my toe” before the realization that “this ain’t mud stuck to your toe” hit me like a ton of bricks. Yep. I had a fucking leech on my big toe.
I somehow didn’t panic, an unusual reaction for me, and used my two sandals to pry off the vampire that had taken up residence on my foot. Although I rinsed the cut with some water from my bottle, as we continued the trail the bite just.kept.bleeding. I didn’t know it at the time, but leech saliva has an anti-coagulant in it. That would have been helpful information to have as I assumed then that I would just bleed to death on the rainforest floor.
The trail took us along the river, which because of the recent downpours had completely flooded over the banks in three spots. I’m talking thigh-high water. With no other choice but to ford the river with our oxen, we once again took off our shoes and waded through the brown water, being careful not to crack our toes on the big rocks hidden underneath it. I’m not gonna lie, my only thought as I walked through that water was that I’d emerge on the other side with legs covered in leeches. I wanted to get across as quickly as possible, but I also didn’t want to slip and have my whole body go into the water and have a Stand by Me situation.
After each “crossing”, I’d inspect my legs closer than I would shirtless photos of Zac Efron and would heave a big sigh of relief when I’d find virgin skin. When we got back to the town, we went to the visitor center that told us about the walk and let them know that the river had flooded over in spots. We thought we’d be doing future walkers a favor by telling them, but the workers were just kind of like “Okay…so?” I guess not everyone is as phobic about leeches as me.
Speaking of leech phobias, even though we were out of the forest, I wasn’t sure I was out of the woods. After the visitor center, El and I sat on a bench and used the free WiFi because we had an hour to kill before our bus. Everything had closed down at that point, so there was nothing for us to do but be alone with our thoughts….and the internet….which is a dangerous combination when you’ve had a rainforest leech on your toe. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that some sort of rainforest river parasite had entered my body through my leech “wound” and was making its way to my brain. My Google searches got increasingly hysterical and downright absurd the longer we sat there:
“Kuranda river leech” –> “Leech bites Australia” –> “Kuranda river parasite” –> “Amazon River parasites” (Not sure why I went down this rabbit hole considering we were thousands of miles from the Amazon River) –>”Australia rainforest parasites” –> “Microscopic leech bite parasite Australia”
I finally confessed my fear that I had contracted a brain-eating parasite to Elliot who just blinked at me in response. Nothing like my husband’s incredulous look to walk me back from the brink of hysteria…
Although we had to switch up our vacation plans and didn’t get the beach time we expected, our time in Cairns was definitely memorable. We got to have some good bites and brews, were able to literally be fish food, now have some trashy new shows to obsess over, and have our own rainforest story to tell. We left Cairns with plenty of memories, and not one single brain eating river parasite…
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