We knew we were getting a meal or snack on the flight to Cairns, our first Qantas flight, but there had been no option online to select a vegetarian option – so I ate my meat pie (another Aussie first) and gave Mr V my cake.
We had planned to take a taxi from the airport, but the shuttle bus turned out to be much cheaper than their website indicated so we took that instead. It does mystify me why tourist-related organisations in Australia are so stingy with information on their websites, when putting more on would actually benefit them. I looked at so many hotel and caravan park websites that told me so little about the place that I just skipped over them.
It was late when we got to Il Palazzo, but at least there was a buzzer for after-hours arrivals, so we weren’t thrown on the mercy of a pizza delivery man, like in Darwin. The apartment was all that we could have hoped with a well equipped kitchen, separate bedroom, and huge bathroom that held a washing machine and dryer. Only the mattress was a bit of a let-down – I’m not sure if Australian just like very soft mattresses or I have become accustomed to firm Asian ones. But with my back, the latter are definitely preferable.
As our first day in Cairns happened to be a public holiday, Woolworths was closed and we had to cobble together the day’s menu from an IGA’s limited and expensive offerings. But it was still much cheaper than eating out. On the way back we collected leaflets for some of the myriad snorkelling trips on offer, eventually choosing one that was flexible on location so they could respond to the weather (the forecast being unpromising) and included an introductory dive.
After lunch ( which for me was Mr V’s uneaten Qantas meat pie), we walked down to the marina. Besides an assortment of pleasure cruisers and snorkelling tour boats there were marlin fishing boats, their sterns bristling with rods, and some huge ocean-going cruisers that would comfortably have accommodated several dozen passengers.
Along the seafront near the town centre a large, shallow swimming lagoon had been created so that people could bathe without the risk of encountering the venomous jellyfish that plague the Queensland coast. It appeared hugely popular, with many groups and families encamped on the surrounding lawns. Changing rooms and toilets had been provided, and even gas powered barbecues – all free.
It transpired that in Cairns the sale of wine boxes was permitted only after 4pm, but the rather bored young man in the liquor store was happy to sell us one earlier, observing that we didn’t appear to be the kind of people who were going to sit in the street outside drinking it. Well, that’s good to know!
The Il Palazzo apartments were just a few steps away from Lake Street, from where a 131 bus took us to the Centenary Lakes. As we entered the park I caught sight of a large black bird with a strange flat, vertical tail lurking near some bushes. It looked pretty exotic to me, but nobody else was taking the slightest notice of it.
As we crossed the river we peered down hoping to see crocodiles, as promised by the warning signs, but there were none – only mud skippers and small crabs. Across the river, a boardwalk led through tropical forest where we paused to watch another of those large black birds scratching the leaf litter. I know know that it was a brush turkey and that they are a common and completely unremarkable sight in eastern Australia. Any passing locals must have thought it rather odd that we were interested in it.
Emerging from Centenary Lakes onto Collins Avenue, we crossed and entered the Botanic Gardens. The new fern house was entrancing, not so much because of the plants (orchids and pitcher plants too, not just ferns) but because of the large and colourful butterflies that were flying around, much to the alarm of a young Chinese girl who was terrified of them! The rest of the gardens were lush and green, so different from the ones in Darwin. I guess I just prefer rainforest to desert.
As no bus was due we walked all the way back home, trudging almost the whole length of the Esplanade. Every so often there was a shelter and a cluster of free gas barbecues like we’d seen at the lagoon, but today few people were using them – Cairn’s residents were obviously expecting the squally showers that sent us running for cover.
We needed a few supplies for our road trip, since we planned to pre-cook the components of at least one dinner to have at our first, kitchenless stop after Cairns. Our one restaurant meal in Alice had been nice, but we couldn’t afford to make the hem a habit. We picked up good road map of North Queensland too. I like to see my route in context, and a natnav app just doesn’t cut it – a good paper map is a work of art. And besides, our satnav app didn’t show petrol stations!