From where to eat, drink and how to get the best out of the great outdoors, we sat down with the Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut team to get the inside scoop.
What do you get when you mix two World Heritage-listed wonders, an adventure scene that could pique the interest of Mad Max and a hinterland packed with foodie-finds? You get a dose of holiday-overwhelm when you’re trying to fit it all in. Make the most of your time on the ground in North Queensland, following this local’s guide to Cairns.
If you maintain that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you’ll want to enjoy it at Mama Coco. What started as a cake stall at Rusty’s Market has now expanded to this café in Westcourt, a suburb in Cairns’ inner-south. A quick glance at the menu reveals why this place is brimming with locals with the likes of chilli labne eggs, Huon smoked salmon with fritters and sweet potato and corned beef hash waffles dished up for breaky. Don’t expect the menu to stay still for long, the philosophy of this café is to change things up seasonally.
Want a brew with a view? Set your sights on Hemingway’s Brewery on the Cairns Wharf, which has to be one of the most picturesque spots to pour a pint. Inside this heritage-listed venue you’ll find a 19-metre-long bar, pouring nothing short of 10 Hemingway brew beers from its taps, along with 20 other non-house taps of liquid gold. Its brew-crew are as knowledgeable as they are friendly, and you only need to ask them about their artisanal approach to beer brewed in Tropical North Queensland to test their product knowledge. If you’re unsure on what to order, a tasting paddle will cure what ales you.
If you’re one of the 2.25 billion people in the world who are coffee dependent to get your day started, you’ll be happy to know Cairns has your caffeine fix covered. Pay a visit to Blackbird Laneway, following the scent of freshly roasted beans down Oceana Walk Arcade, between Grafton and Lake streets. These coffee-connoisseurs live and breathe their ‘nectar of the gods’ and complement each milk-based coffee with a menu of lactose alternatives that could rival some restaurants’ wine lists. Think Bonsoy Soy Milk, MilkLab Almond Milk and MilkLab Coconut Milk. On the food front, there are just a couple of light bites – so best not make this a breakfast haunt if you’re feeding hordes.
Best dining experience
When Cairns fronts the Great Barrier Reef and a world-famous continental shelf, it’s no surprise the seafood here is scrumptious. Add into the mix 5.1km of Esplanade-style walkway leading to dining options and you can see why you’ll want to top up the ‘splurge’ account for a few seafood meals before checking into BIG4 Ingenia Cairns Coconut. Take the meaning of ‘trawler to table’ to new levels dining at Prawn Star, the restaurant bobbing in the marina on board a former fishing trawler (well, four fishing trawlers now to be precise).
What started as a takeaway only service has transformed into the most interactive way to dine-in and eat seafood in Cairns – communal tables on the decks of the kind of boats that trawls them. Choose between share plates of fresh seafood and wash it down with an icy cold beer or crisp white wine – did we mention this boat is licensed?
Best short walks
If you want to truly exercise like a local, pay a visit to the Arrow Tracks and Mount Whitfield each morning. Every day the red arrow, blue arrow, green arrow and yellow arrow walking tracks which wind through Mt Whitfield Conservation Park become a real-life step machine for Cairns’ fitness fanatics. The loops range from 1.5km to 6km, winding through tropical scenery. When you’re not sharing the track with Lycra-clad locals, you’re likely to see local marsupials like the red-legged padymelon.
Best day trip
If you’re looking for waterfall action in Tropical North Queensland and want to go big, there’s only one stop you need on your waterfall circuit, Barron Falls. This mighty fall, famous for its 125m drop across 260m of granite face, has two distinct seasons – wet and dry – packing enough power to warrant a hydro-electric station underneath it. Barron Falls has its own lookout (Din Din) near Kuranda, where you can see it in its thundering glory. Alternatively, you can join Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or Kuranda Scenic Rail to see this water-machine from a different perspective. While she’s a beauty all year around, Barron Falls in the wet season between December to March is not to be missed. For more national park adventure, check out these national parks.
Best food experience
Some food experiences are worth driving for – and Gallo Dairyland on the Atherton Tablelands is one such epicurean adventure. It’s one part working dairy farm, one-part cheese and chocolate factory, which makes it equal parts a good time for the whole family. Reward your 80-minute drive from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands with lunch at the onsite café, before stocking up on supplies for a DIY cheeseboard back at BIG4 Ingenia Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort later this evening.
Something only locals know about
There’s waterfront and then there’s toes in the sand, drinking your beer and sitting under the palm trees waterfront. And the latter is what you can expect at Ellis Beach Bar & Grill. You’ll find it only five minutes’ drive north of Palm Cove, in a seemingly narrow stretch of the mainland where it feels like the rainforest and reef truly meet. Sunday sessions draw a local crowd, lured by the views and the promise of $1 oysters and live music. Perfection? We think so.
Psst – if you’re still looking for excuses, here’s 10 more reasons to head to Cairns.