13 February 2014


In true “any day outside PNG is a good day” style, Paul and I left PNG just five days after I arrived. Since October 1, I have been in this country a total of three weeks.

Paul had some time off and we had an offer to visit a friend in the Northern Queensland, Australia, resort city, so we decided to head south and see just what Cairns had to offer.

I forget a lot of things about Australia, mainly how large the nation is in comparison to everything else in the world. The nation is practically the size of the continental U.S., and the distance between the northernmost point of Queensland and the southernmost point of New South Wales is a greater distance than that between non-name cities in Northern Maine and Miami.

We discovered that Cairns (pronounced Cans, like coke cans) is a 19-hour drive to Brisbane (briz-ben), the state’s capital. The same drive time can be compared to a Spring Break trip from Toledo, Ohio, to Miami, Florida, or from Seattle, Washington, to San Diego, California.

My mind also has a hard time processing Australia’s size as it compares to the geographical and environmental possibilities. Simply stated, Cairns is a tropical city that receives – in my opinion – more rain than Singapore.

I was surprised to see similarities between my recent residences and the flora and fauna present throughout Northern Queensland. Bold green palms, emerald fields and stalks of sugar canes filled the area. Saturday morning, our first, I woke earlier than everyone else because I was still facing a bit of jet lag from my prior around-the-world trip.

Paul remained in our designated bedroom and our friend, Beth, slept behind her double doors. Beth is a pilot wife; we began e-mailing each other a year ago when her husband, Joe, was offered a job with Paul’s company. Beth moved to Cairns in December and joined her husband in the southern hemisphere. After 11+months as pen pals, we were finally able to meet last Friday.

Beth very kindly offered her residence and her vehicle, so we accepted her offer and planned to stay through the weekend.

I walked out of the bedroom around 6 a.m. and made my way to the sliding glass doors off the living room. I reached up and took ahold of the two curtains and, quietly yet purposefully, pushed the curtains from one wall to the other, allowing the morning light to gleam into the white walled and floored apartment.

Though the sun was well hidden behind layers of clouds crying rain down on the earth, the evening’s darkness had faded. I listened as the rain gently filled everything around the apartment: the trees, the air, the parking lot, the grass, the roof, the balcony. I watched puddles grow exponentially.

After a short while, the rain stopped, but not for long. It rained four times before Paul made his way from the bedroom. “You can’t tell right now,” I began, “but on the other side of those clouds, there are mountains!”

We stayed 30 minutes north of Cairns in a town called Palm Cove, which is located on the eastern shore and sits alongside the Kuranda State Forest. The area between Cairns and Palm Cove is filled with diverse terrain that allowed us to see beaches, farmed fields, valley neighborhoods and high-end homes in the hills.

Looking out the window of a third-floor condo, I watched the clouds hover, embracing the untouched mountain forest in the distance. Every so slowly, like a child taking his first, deliberate steps, the clouds backed away, fading into a mist. When the mist dissipated, tress abounded.

View from the Palm Cove condo

After breakfast we decided to head into the city to explore the coastline. Unlike most coastal areas to which I am accustomed, the area between Palm Cove and Cairns did not have a coastal highway. We followed Highway 1 south and frequently saw signs directing drivers to individual village esplanades.

Signs off Highway 1 direct drivers to beach esplanades; there are no costal highways between Palm Cove and Cairns

We decided to explore the Cairns esplanade in the heart of the beach city; it wasn’t much of a sight but it did have a view.

Downtown Cairns seemed to be a typical South Florida vacation spot constructed in the 1960s, left standing to grow older with the years. There isn’t anything new looking downtown but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do any day other than Sunday (for some reason the city shuts down on Sundays).

Cairns has many great restaurants (the top two Trip Advisor rated eateries just happen to be gelato shops) and a few boutiques. We enjoyed great restaurant-boasting healthy burgers at a place called Grill’d. We each got to pick our meat, bun options, toppings, sauces and sides, and the restaurant sold a plethora of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages in the open-air venue.

After lunch we made our way to Rusty’s market, a large farmer’s market under a pavilion cover. Because the market looked like a number of other farmer’s markets, I opted not to take photos (I should also mention that I left my camera in a drawer in PNG). Fruits and vegetables were as plentiful as the trees atop the Kuranda State Forest hills, piled high on tables and packed into boxes.

Along the market’s north side were food and beverage carts offering visitors snacks and fast food options. A seafood vendor was located at the back of the market, which appeared to open into a small shopping center. Nestled around the produce tables were a bakery stand, a coffee bean stand and an herb stand. One final section boasted jewelry and knick knacks, offering everything from headbands and handbags to crocodile feet on key chains.

I was able to purchase enough goods to create a fabulous seafood pasta dinner, stopping at the store for the tagliatelle and wine. I stocked up on peaches for breakfast, onions, basil, squid and prawns for the meal, and some diamonds in the rough, purple sweet potatoes I intended to cook for breakfast (thanks, Megan!).

I will post some more photos of our weekend tomorrow. We did not do much in our threeish days, knowing that we could easily visit the area again with specific touristy goals. Our intent this trip was to see what life was like in Cairns where so many other pilots live and to see if we found the city livable.

With plenty of grocery options, from Woolworth’s and Cole’s to markets like Rusty’s, shopping giants Kmart and Target and numerous eateries and healthcare options, Cairns certainly is livable. As Paul put it, it’s better than Papua New Guinea. If I had a choice, however, I would choose to live somewhere other than Cairns. Maybe Brisbane. We should see what Brisbane is like. 

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