The Blonde Runs

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef



The four of us took an early flight from Brisbane to Cairns on 31 December, arriving with plenty of time in hot, humid Cairns to check into our Airbnb and explore the area a bit.

I’m not going to lie. I’m actually going to get it out there right away and say that Cairns is not what I expected. Knowing it as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef,” I anticipated the massive, beautiful, golden beaches that are a dime a dozen along the Australian coastline. Not here. You get a not-so-lovely low tide (which seems to be ever present), with a non existent beach, all of which is often crocodile infested (watch the signs that are everywhere!). Thus the need to create a man-made lagoon on the esplanade, for safety and a beach-feel. But, to get back to the “real” beaches, you have to trek another 15-20 minutes north. I assume Cairns is so popular not for the beach-going, but for the its’ proximity to the reef, as it is the city with the easiest access point. However, Cairns surrounds are beautiful! With the lush rainforests, hills, etc., what you don’t get in the beach views, you do get elsewhere!

Based on our timeframe in Cairns, we decided to head north to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge that very day. Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns, and as the road hugs the coast, the views aren’t too shabby.


We spent a little bit of time walking around the town of Port Douglas, with it’s quaint shops, cafes, etc., and we drove around to find some good lookouts. This view is back toward Cairns.


And then we took a little tour out to Mossman Gorge. The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest surviving rainforest, and in the gorge you can take a dip in the crystal clear swimming holes, hike, and watch for carrowary and other unique fauna.



That night, we enjoyed a few fireworks over the ocean, and said goodbye to 2014, my favorite year yet!

The start of the new year was fairly relaxing. Because we hadn’t made any prior bookings for day trips, Nick and I spent the morning finalizing some options out to the Great Barrier Reef. We found some availability for a snorkel tour the next day and booked in for the 4 of us. The rest of the day was spent north of Cairns in Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. I really liked this area, despite the ropped/netted off swimming area to “keep out” crocs and stingers.  Or maybe I really liked this area, because of that ropped/netted off area…


Nick and I had originally considered doing a dive trip in the GBR, as we were recently certified (cue a new post about that experience), but we didn’t want to leave Tia and Jason. So, we headed out to Green Island, one of the closest GBR locations from the mainland. Despite being on the edge of the reef, we saw some gorgeous underwater habitats and unbelievable wildlife. All the colors, all the fish, all the coral. So much to see. Sadly, I have not uploaded all of our GoPro photos onto my lappy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I would love to return for a dive trip, but be a bit farther into the reef.



Before leaving Cairns, I wanted to see the Cairns contribution to “big things” in Australia. While none of the websites tell you exactly where each thing is, I thought I had a general idea. That is, until we started driving around, and I had no general idea at all. After checking many sites, many maps, making many wrong turns, and circling around many areas (over and over), I was ready to give up and just start our trip out of town. But by now, Nick was mostly invested, as he was driving, so he made sure we found it…in a shopping mall carpark (parking lot).

The Big Marlin

After this accomplishment, we began to make our way south, along the coast. While our final destination for the night was Townsville (hostel), we made a few stops along the way. One was Josephine Falls, and the other was Paronella Park.

It had started to rain on our way out of Cairns, and by the time we made it to Josephine Falls, which was a last minute decision anyway, it was coming down in sheets. That didn’t stop us from making the short trek out to the baby falls.


Paronella Park was an oddity, all on its own. Who would expect a massive 1930’s castle/hydro electric plant set in the middle of the dense Queensland rainforest…? It it beautiful, and exotic, and yet looks out of place.



The landscape in this area is certainly a nice change from the bush I see daily in Canberra, and the mountains of Colorado…



All the banana farms.


31 December to 2 January
This Stretch – ~591km/367m (Not including the flight in the mileage)
Total – ~1954km/1214m

Screen shot 2015-02-17 at 12.00.49 PM

Keep in mind that this map shows where we went from arriving in Cairns to when we left. It does not include the out and back to Trinity Beach/Palm Cove. That is figured into the total above.

Screen shot 2015-02-19 at 12.13.47 PM


3 thoughts on “Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

  1. These pictures are amazing!! I am so jealous of your life right now – haha.

  2. Sigh. Just sigh. Love the photos!

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