Monday, April 12, 2010

First and Second Day in Cairns

Flight PX 98 finally departed Jackson International Airport, Port Moresby, for Cairns, Australia at about 6:12 p.m. It was originally scheduled to fly at 5:00 p.m.

It touched down at Cairns Airport at about 7:30 p.m. It was drizzling. At the immigration check point, I was singled out for interview by the immigration officer. Was it because I am Asian? No whites were stopped. Is this the first time you are here? Yeah. What is your purpose in coming here? Are you on a visa run? Where are you working? Questions which I found serve no purposes were asked. Would these questions determine whether my intention was to stay in Australia illegally? Anyway, the officer finally said he was satisfied with my answers and let me go. I then went through Customs and was asked whether I brought items which might be prohibited. I said yes and showed the woman officer my Kwells sea sickness pills, which I said was for my Great Barrier Reef trip. The bags were scanned and they cleared Customs.

At the arrival hall, I went to look for Sun Palm shuttle bus booth, a company that I read on the internet provided shuttle bus transport to the city. It was there alright but there was nobody manning it. I went to ask an officer of the adjacent money exchange booth where I could book a shuttle bus, and was shown to the empty Sun Palm booth. On the counter, was a notice asking guests to call 431 if nobody was at the counter. He told me to call the number, like what a lady at the counter was doing. I called, and the lady on the other end of the phone told me that the shuttle bus was on its way.

I exited from the arrival hall. There was no taxi or bus waiting for passengers. How strange! In Malaysia, you would see a long queue of taxis waiting to do business with you, but not here. It was only 7:55 p.m.

At 8:00 p.m., Sun Palm shuttle bus arrived. The lady conductor called out asking everyone interested to take the bus to the booking booth. I was the first and she asked me my name, where I wanted to go and how many people there were. I told her my name, my destination to Koala Beach Resort and there was only me. She wrote that down on a form and said it was ten dollars for a seat. I was given a boarding pass, which I then handed to the shuttle bus driver before boarding the bus.

At 8:10 p.m., the shuttle bus left, and went to pick up a couple of passengers at the domestic airport. After that, it went to the city to drop off the passengers. I was the second last to be dropped off, and by that time, it was 8:45 p.m. already. Much time was lost when the driver faced difficulty in reversing the bus at The Lakes, after dropping off the passengers there.

The resort office was closed, and thinking that could not be the reception, I went in the left entrance and saw a couple just finishing supper. I enquired where the reception was. The girl, probably a guest of the resort also, kindly showed me back to the office, saying that was the reception. I tried pushing the door opened, and a guy appeared from behind me. I told him I was checking in and he asked me to stay put, while he went off to search for the receptionist. The male receptionist appeared, opened the door and went to check my booking. I gave him the tax invoice. He seemed to have some problem confirming my booking. At the same time, I asked him whether the resort was organising tours to the Great Barrier Reef, and his reply was in the affirmative.

Finally, he told me it was 72 dollars a night. I told him I have paid for the four nights already and reminded him about the tax invoice. He then handed me some brochures and the room key, and gave me the direction to the room. Prior to that, an older man appeared. He volunteered to show me to my room, Room 201.

After putting down my luggage in the room, I decided to go out to take a look at Cairns. It was 9:00 p.m. and still drizzling. I decided that I should not take too many turns since I was very poor with direction and could get lost easily. Walking to the right and then taking a left turn, I saw a couple ahead of me. I decided to follow them, since they could be locals, and that led me to the esplanade. Wow, my lodging was so near to the esplanade and it took only two turns. It was a great start to my tour of the city. The Night Market was nearby and I went in to have a brief look before leaving the place. By 9:40 p.m., I was back in my room again.

2nd April 2010
From the brochures given to me the night before, I knew that I could not book any Great Barrier Reef package on the day of the trip because by the time the travel operators' offices opened at 8:00 a.m., the catamarans would have left (in fact, buying the packages were still possible because at the Reef Fleet Terminal where guests checked in for their trips, counters of some tour operators' opened as early as 7:00 a.m. For example, Quicksilver). I had instead decided to go to Kuranda, on the 9:30 a.m. scenic train.

I was ready to go out by 6:30 a.m. and had plenty of time to kill before Koala's office opened. I had read from the web that some cafe would open at 7:00 a.m. at the esplanade, but anyway I decided to leave early. As it was still early, I decided to explore the city, with a google map in hand. I intended to have breakfast and return to Koala Beach Resort by 8:00 a.m. to make the booking for Kuranda Village.

From my observation of the city, I noticed that traffic was very light in Cairns. There was no traffic jam and almost all drivers and pedestrians obeyed the traffic lights. I only noticed drivers of the shuttle bus and tour bus shooting the amber light at the traffic junctions. Pedestrians would wait for the walking sign to turn green before crossing the streets, even though it was possible to cross them in such light traffic. This was totally different from Malaysia, especially Sibu.

Almost every corner of the city was quiet. This was probably due to the Easter holidays. Only the Lagoon and the esplanade between Aplin Street and Shields Streets seemed to come alive with people. The shops here were mostly eateries, with some tour operators and backpacker hostels. At night, it was jam-packed with diners and shoppers.

It is also a garden city, with trees planted along many streets.

On reaching the Lagoon during my early morning walk, I did not realise the cafe along the esplanade was just across the street. I thought that they were further up North, so I continued walking. The realisation that I had taken the wrong turn came only later. By that time, I had almost reached Cairns Base Hospital. I turned back and at a bus stop along Kerwin Street near the junction of Kerwin Street/ Abbott Street, I took out the map and found my position. I only needed to continue walking along Kerwin Street and at the junction with Lake Street, it was a matter of taking a left turn and walking straight to Koala Beach Resort. Reaching Koala, the time was slightly past 8:00 a.m. already, and I had not had my breakfast yet.

There was a different receptionist, a pregnant lady, by the name of Sandra. She seemed to have difficulty understanding my Malaysian English. (It was two days' later when she tried to describe to me a landslide that had blocked the scenic train to Kuranda by using an illustration instead of the word "landslide" that I realised her lack of proficiency in English. I asked her whether she was a local or an immigrant, and she replied me saying that she was French and moved to Cairns only four years ago. She said she was still learning the English language). Anyway, I inquired with her about the package to Kuranda at 9:30 a.m., especially about the transportation to the train station and the return to the lodging later on. She told me she needed to check with the tour operator. She called and the bad news came. She said the train was not in operation because it had broken down (actually, it was due to a landslide). I could use the Skyrail to go and return, and the fare would be five dollars more expensive. I have read that the scenic train would stop near the Barron Falls. If the train was not in operation, then I would miss the Falls. I also asked her whether it was possible to walk to the Barron Falls from Kuranda and she said that it was possible, with the return trip taking one hour. After pondering that for probably more than half an hour (as she entertained other guests), I decided against going to Kuranda. No Barron Falls, no Kuranda. Besides, the time at Kuranda was very short. That was it. I further asked her what other activities would there be in Cairns, and she suggested that I go to Green Island on a half-day trip. After thinking about it for sometime, I decided against it since I would be going to the Great Barrier Reef the next day. I told her so and asked her about making a booking for the Great Barrier Reef package which I had selected from the brochures I read a day earlier. Instead, she recommended me the Ocean Freedom.

For the rest of the day, I decided that I would explore the city and go shopping. So I took off again at about 9:40 a.m., to have my breakfast, or rather brunch. Walking along the esplanade, I went to the Lagoon, took a few photographs and decided to take beef burger, at a stall adjacent to Night Market. There was an additional surcharge of 15%, because it was Good Friday. Brunch was served at about 10:05 a.m. After brunch, with the map in hand, I explore the neighboring streets.

Except for the eateries along the esplanade, most shops were still closed. Woolworths was closed, Orchid Plaza was opened but most of the retail stores inside were closed, Cairns Central was closed, the Pier was opened but the retail stores closed. Rusty's was opened and here, I found that the majority of the stallholders were yellow and brown skin peoples. Here, I also found that the fresh water pearl was very cheap. I did not buy anything then and I was to regret it later, when I found that I did not have the time to revisit the stalls selling the cheap fresh water pearl jewellery, because they opened late or did not open again. As the shops were closed, I decided to return to my accommodation. My feet were tired and aching already.

In the afternoon, I decided to go to the Esplanade Market at Fogarty Park. There was nothing there. Later, I realised that it opened on Saturday, not Friday. It was also during this time that I booked a seat on the 5:00 a.m. shuttle bus from Cairns to the airport on 5th April 2010. As there was nothing to do, I decided to return to Koala.

At 4:30 p.m., feeling a little hungry, I went out for dinner. The place of choice was the Night Market, from Hot Wok stall for an Asian meal. The food court was at the entrance on the esplanade side. Almost all the stalls were offering Asian food, except for one western stall. The food court was full of people every night during dinner time, and there were few empty tables. Almost everybody was taking the Asian fare and most of the patrons were whites.

Besides the food stalls, there were many other stalls, mainly selling souvenirs such as t-shirts, handicraft, local jewellery and packaged food gifts. There were even a few massage parlours.

The majority of these stalls were manned by young Japanese. One young lady was trying to make a sale to me and speaking to me in broken English when I asked her whether she was a local or an immigrant. She replied saying that she was Japanese and that she had just completed her studies in Australia. She was on a working holiday visa. Asked whether the majority was Japanese, she said they were mostly Japanese and Korean and she told me that the girl at the opposite stall was Korean. No wonder they could communicate so easily with the horde of Japanese tourists here. Indeed, when you see Asian tourists, they would invariably be speaking Japanese, many of whom are young.

Later, I went to collect more brochures, from different Tourist Information centres/ travel operators and took more photographs.


  1. Cairns looks very simple and relaxing. A good place to get away from hustle and bustle city life.

  2. Jam: Except for the stretch of the esplanade between Aplin Street and Shields Street (in front of the Lagoon), the city is indeed very quiet. Maybe, it was because of the Easter holidays when I was visiting.

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