The shuttle was promptly there to get us at 7:50 am, but like at home, there were others to collect before heading to the airport. We were flying Virgin Blue, a subdivision of Virgin Airlines from England, owned and operated by Richard Branson. They were most efficient in checking us in, surprisingly, with the exceptionally long lines, we had our boarding passes in fifteen minutes. They board by having the front rows board in the front of the plane and the rest from the back. By 10:00 am, we were on the runway. Food and drinks are available for purchase at slightly inflated prices, but not much more than in the shops. The flight was three hours, but Cairns is one hour earlier, so we gained an hour.
As soon as we collected our luggage, we called Boyz on the Beach, where we are booked. Bob was there within five minutes to transport us to the place. A bit of a diversion here. Think about the name of the place we are staying and picture it in your mind. Boyz on the Beach...Now, I knew it was a gay place. Okay, their place is lovely, the pool is exactly like the photo. All around the pool are lush plants of the tropical kind, both naturally planted and landscaped. They are more than hospitable and generous with their time. One major point for them is that they have free WiFi connections.
Cairns immediately reminded me of an East coast city, circa 1970s. Only a couple of buildings look like they were built long ago, while the others look like they were built without the aid of an architect's imagination. There is not much of a city there; the streets were fairly empty of tourists. The central business district is just about three long streets made up of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafés, and of course, hotels and one casino. Here and there is a mall or shopping plaza interspersed with the other stores. We walked up one street and down the other, checking out everything, lest we miss some hidden treasure.
Stopping for a coffee, we thought we had picked a prime location with outside seating. However, when we asked for an ashtray for the outside table we were informed that there is no smoking outside anywhere in Queensland. Queensland, the state we are currently in restricts smoking within four meters of the opening of any food serving establishment. Perhaps this is the reason why there are so few people eating in these places. Making it stricter, you cannot smoke in any area that is covered either, which includes awnings; most of the stores have metal awnings that span the entire block. In order to smoke, you have to stand in the curb and on a corner like a pariah. This explained the congregation of people at the curbs and corners of the streets, puffing away until they finished and then went back to the store or restaurant they came from.
One section of the business district has all of the Asian oriented stores and businesses that range from travel agents to souvenir shops that specifically cater to the Japanese and Korean tourists with all of their signs in both languages. Business must be poor is the city. There were a number of empty store fronts with for sale or for rent signs posted in windows.
As we walked the streets, we saw this fascinating tree that had hundreds of branches coming from the trunk rooting into the ground. We found it was a type of fig tree called a strangler fig. A sign on the tree caught my attention and thinking it was an explanation of the tree, it was a request to inform the authorities if anyone spots a flying fox bat baby that has fallen to the ground. Included in the warning was not to touch it as they carry a virus fatal to humans. When I looked up, there were hundreds of bats hanging in the tree. All of the squawking we assumed was coming from birds was in actuality coming from the bats hanging around. Although daylight, they were busy flying around, spreading their wings, and most likely fighting for territory. We thought better of staying under the tree for too long fearing bat pooh bombs.
Our host had suggested we walk toward where the beach should be, but explained that Cairns does not have a beach, but a mud land. With the waters out, there is very little sand, but a large mud area, so the city built a pool for the locals to swim. It is splendidly designed so that it starts as a fountain working its way into a full fledged pool. Boasting a full 43,000 square feet, each area of this salt water pool is clearly marked with the depth and one point is deep enough to dive into. Huge starfish sculptures elevated into the air on poles are fountains pouring water into the pools. There is park area all around for sunbathing, plus ingeniously, the city installed permanent grills, in series of three that can be started with the push of a button, so people can barbecue and then eat at the picnic tables spread through the area. It is so completely user friendly, but no smoking anywhere in the area.
Cairns may be small and the area may seem like one suburban resort after another, but this area is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites are side by side: the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. The rainforest in Daintree is 110 million years old.