Departing Hong Kong on a 9pm flight, we arrived into Cairns shortly after sunrise. Cairns International airport is small, and it didn’t take long to get through passport control and collect our bags. The early July temperature outside was welcomingly cool after the heat of Asia! We used the airport free Wifi to order an Uber taxi to our hotel, Aspect Central, which was to be our home for a few days before picking up our motorhome.
We arrived at the hotel too early to get into our room, but we were able to leave our bags there, so walked the 2 kilometers into the centre of Cairns discovering Rusty’s Markets (open Friday, Saturday and Sundays), Woolworths (a ‘proper’ supermarket at last!) the lagoon (the kids were desperate to get back here with their swimming stuff) and promenade. We were all too tired to enjoy these properly on this first day though! We’d booked a room with cooking facilities – including an oven (you don’t generally get these in Asia – even in an appartment), and so were able to enjoy much missed foods like pies and pizza!
For mobile data in Australia, we bought a Telstra SIM card from the nearest convenience store and added $30 to get 20GB of data and unlimited inclusive national and international calls (to selected destinations) for 28 days. As we later learned, there are often deals on pre-paid SIMs, so we recommend going to a Woolworths supermarket to see which providers have offers on. Later during the trip, instead of topping up our Telstra account, we found it cheaper to get a new SIM card (and a new number, since we didn’t care what that was) – as Woolworths were selling $30 Telstra SIM kits for $15.
Something we weren’t really expecting here were signs along the promenade warning of Crocodiles! In the summer months (approx. Nov to June), marine stingers are also a problem. We stayed out of the water. The sea temperature was also much colder than the Asian seawater temperatures that we were used to – even the lagoon was cool and took some getting used to!
For a day out to visit Kurunda and to see the scenery on the way, we took the Kuranda Skyrail cable car. The station for this is conveniently close to the Smithfield Mall north of Cairns, and the latter is easily accessible by bus from a stop right next to our hotel. We bought tickets just for the skyrail, deciding to get a bus back from Kuranda instead of paying (a lot) for a return trip by steam train, or other organised transport. The cable car took us over and into ancient rainforest and spectacular views (there are 2 stops along the route) before arriving in Kuranda. In Kuranda itself, we found a spot down by the river (accessed by crossing over the train tracks) to have our lunch. This was a lovely quiet spot as most people off the cable car headed straight for the town of Kuranda, which is arguably on the quaint side with independent cafes, art galleries, restaurants and tourist shops.
After a wander through the town, and a stop at a children’s play area for a while, we found a short walking path ‘jungle walk’ which took us back to the river through quite dense forest (apparently there are Cassowary living here, but we didn’t see any) and finished by the bridge back over the train tracks.
In Cairns, aside from chilling at the lagoon and enjoying the promenade and playgrounds along the way, we visited the Art Gallery. This was showing an interesting exhibition of pieces from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists as part of this years NAIDOC week celebrations.
Finally, the day came for us to pick up our much anticipated motorhome – a 2 month one-way hire to Sydney. The pickup didn’t go smoothly! The vehicle drop-off was delayed by several hours and the Cairns office had a single member of staff to turn it around for us. The Botanical Gardens were nearby and so we visited these to kill the time – these gardens were compact but had a good rainforest walk and excellent children’s play area. Back at the office we were eventually done with paperwork and were handed the keys – it was a really nice motorhome, only a couple of years old so up-to-date internally and in great condition. It was, however, 7m long and quite wide (so driving was going to take some getting used to!). It was dark as we drove away and so we decided to stop at a campsite 5 minutes down the road as it was too late to travel to anything further away.
On our first day we headed North towards Port Douglas with plenty of stops for photos and a couple of beaches. There are trips out to the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas, but we decided to get out to the reef further south – allowing us plenty of time to research options.
With the help of the much recommended Wikicamps app, which contains an amazing database of sites, reviews and photos, including dump stations and drinking water locations, we stayed in our first of many free rest stops near Port Douglas and heard on a local AM radio station about the nearby Mareeba Rodeo festival that weekend. We were already planning to head in that general direction, so we headed into Mareeba to enquire about tickets – a weekend ticket included 3-nights camping in the showground – perfect!
The Mareeba Rodeo weekend started with a carnival on the Friday evening. This was a procession along the main street of the small town with music and floats, and an awful lot of sweets being thrown out to the crowds (this keeps the kids interested – our Somerset carnivals could learn a trick here!). So with two sugar high kids we headed back to our spot at the showground.
The weekend involved a packed schedule of events in the ring including bucking broncos, bareback bull riding and steer wrestling some of which looked pretty hair raising and resulted in a few minor injuries – probably the normal state of affairs for a rodeo event though. Outside of the show area, a funfair was in operation in addition to a competition wood-chopping area and various food stalls.
Jessica’s account of the Rodeo:
On our first night at the Rodeo, which had cost a hundred dollars to go to, we watched the carnival down the street. First came the Rodeo Queen and princess on horses, lit up, then a load of lorries and new-looking cars with people throwing all the kids sweets! We collected enough to fill the salad bowl and Dad said they were to be gone by tomorrow night!
Next morning we went through the fairground rides to watch a bit of rodeo in the ring. As it turned out they were absolutely bonkers! We watched teens flying around the ring on the backs of bucking bulls given names like Devil’s Deal, Devil’s Diamond etc. The cowboys/girls had only a rope to hold on by and none managed the whole ‘qualified eight second ride’. We went on the bumper cars that day, too, and watched bucking ponies, more bulls, junior stuff (being timed for the fastest ride around three barrels) and a thing where two horse riders with lassoes came with a calf, and one lassoed it round the head and one tried to put a different lasso under its feet, around its hind legs! Then they’d stretch it! There was then steer wrestling. A nutter would jump off a horse onto a calf (steer) and wrestled it to the ground!! The main event was on day two of three there, more bucking broncos. In the evenings there was just entertainment from a famous clown called Big Owl and several others.
There was a petting zoo and Elliot picked up hens with Dad while I stroked the soft lambs wandering round, plus the goat and donkey. One day, we went on a bouncy castle, Elliot and I, and were having fun till the castle started to collapse! Elliot was already off but I had to crawl under the fabric arches and finally got out! Then we bought ice creams and forgot about it.
I thought the rodeo was weird and crazy, Mum thought it was a western thing, we all thought they’d lost their marbles.
In the tablelands we went to this lady (Rhonda)’s house, she shared her house with a guy called Paul. We stayed there three nights, every day we helped her clean a huge polytunnel. We didn’t do any work on the day we got there or on the day we left. The day we got there in the evening we had a tasty roast dinner, we had it with a few other people. One evening we went to Lake Eacham, Dad and I relaxed while Jessica and Mum went for a walk, there were turtles in the lake and a sign said they breathed out of their bottoms! At 8 o’clock at night it was very cold, about 7 degrees!
In addition to our visit to Lake Eacham, which was beautiful at sunset, and after saying our goodbyes to Rhonda we visited the nearby Malanda falls, Mount Hypipamee (a volcanic crater and lake) and neighbouring Dinner Falls. With a tip from Rhonda we also went to the Nerada tea factory to see if the tree kangaroos were there – they were – in the trees right next to the shop along with a ring tailed possum, though the latter was doing a great job of hiding amongst the branches, curled up asleep.
From Malanda we began the long drive west – inland towards the Undara Volcanic National Park to visit the lava tubes there. The graphic below shows our route from Cairns to Undara (ignore the travel-time graphic!).