Cairns – Butterflies, A Village in the Rainforest, Rain… And No Great Barrier Reef

October 18, 2017


Cairns is the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so, like many other tourists, we landed here very excited to go snorkeling or diving at the reef and see the gazillion of colorful fish, turtles, corals and everything in between that the reef has to offer. It was raining when we landed and our Uber driver said that we had brought it with us from Darwin – it hadn’t rained in quite a while before. We laughed about it and then focused on getting settled into our accommodation and seeing what Cairns had to offer in terms of food for 2 hungry tourists.

Turns out, Cairns is very touristic. In the city center, there are tour operators around every corner, offering all imaginable possibilities to see the reef: introductory dives, advanced dives, full-fledged dive courses including certification, one-day trips to the reef, multi-day live aboard cruises, snorkeling, semi-submersibles, glass-bottomed boats… And then you can also go ballooning, sky-diving, you can have a helicopter tour of the reef, you can visit nearby attractions, you can take a food tour of the region around Cairns… and then some more.

Feeling slightly overwhelmed by all this, we decided, as usual, to organize our own tours around the region and wait and see how the weather evolves before deciding whether and how to go see the reef.

We spent some time exploring Cairns itself. There is a huge free public pool right at the edge of the sea, lit up nicely at night. There are dozens of restaurants, offering cuisines from all over the world, there are of course cafes, bars and pubs, massage parlors, and everything else that the tourist heart needs after a nice trip to the reef.

There are many attractions centered around animals, where you can see and sometimes pet and hold some of the native Australian animals. Taking a photo of yourself with a koala seems to be a very popular thing here, and apparently a lot of people are willing to spend upwards of 20 AUD (about 16 CHF) just to have their photo taken holding a koala. While I would also be totally up for holding one (they are sooo cute and cuddly! Just look at the photo below), I don’t think the koala would choose to be held by me (or anyone else for that matter) if it really had a choice. I’m not sure this is the right way to treat animals, so for now I’m holding back on doing that.

Kuranda, a Village in the Rainforest

One of the attractions close to Cairns is a village in the rainforest called Kuranda. It has a couple of attractions centered around animals (of course!), a nice market, and a couple of good restaurants and cafes. It has a rather bohemian local community, which is evident also in the market and the products you can buy there.

One of the animal attractions in the village is the biggest butterfly sanctuary in Australia, where butterflies are bred and kept in a big enclosed greenhouse. You can see hundreds of butterflies flying around, one more beautiful than the next. There are free guided tours, with explanations of the lifecycle of a butterfly and of how the sanctuary functions, and there are interactive quizzes around the greenhouse, teaching you about butterflies and their close cousins, the moths. Overall it was a very nice and informative experience, and at least one attraction based on animals where we didn’t have the feeling that the animals are just being exploited for the tourists’ pleasure (and cash).

Bye bye Cairns (for now)

The rain that started when we landed in Cairns almost didn’t stop for the 3 days we were there. So the weather situation and the decision whether or not to go to the reef was a big topic in our discussions these few days. Is it worth spending about 400-500 dollars for a trip to the reef, if it’s cloudy and rainy the whole time? Shall we risk it? Shall we do just a one-day quick reef visit? Should we do a 5-day dive course and hope the weather gets better in the meantime? The weather forecast stayed very bad, so on the day before our booked accommodation in Cairns was ending, we decided to not go to the reef for now and instead fly down to Brisbane, where the weather should be better, and where there is anyway more to do even if it’s raining. We decided this today, so we just bought plane tickets and booked accommodation and tomorrow we’re flying out of Cairns! Good example of flexibility and last minute change of plans, which is something that we have been striving for on this trip. That’s one of the inherent luxuries of not having booked everything in advance and of last minute planning.

Highs and Lows


  • The food here! Not in the sense of gourmet, Michelin-starred restaurants, but just good, simple, mostly healthy meals, similar to the way I eat at home, which I was missing while we were in Asia.
  • The butterflies in Kuranda. I had never seen so many and so beautiful ones all in one place.
  • Our flat mate in the house in which we stayed through airbnb:
  • Lows:

    • Feeling somewhat restless in Cairns. While we needed some time to just relax a bit and not do much, after about a day and a half of not doing anything even remotely “touristic”, I started to feel like we were wasting time. We do have a lot of time on this trip and that’s one of the things I expected to enjoy the most, but I guess the impatient and active part of me has another opinion sometimes.
    • Daniel is not enjoying our trip through Australia that much. He prefers traveling in more challenging conditions. Australia is just too similar to Europe and Switzerland, or, in other words, for him traveling here is not challenging enough. I don’t share that opinion and I’m relieved at how much easier it is to travel here than in the parts of Asia where we were before. I enjoy the feeling of both familiarity and unknown that I have here. But if Daniel doesn’t, we’ll have to find a compromise, and, for now, I’m not sure what that can be and how we will plan the rest of our trip.
    • Not seeing the Great Barrier Reef. And we were so close… But I hope there will be other opportunities and that we will manage to come back here.

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