Large Australian cities – think Sydney or Melbourne – are all very well.  But if like me, you’re seeking a taste of the REAL Australia, head for the tourist capital of tropical Far North Queensland – Cairns!

If you can’t find something to do in this laid back northern city on Australia’s east coast amidst some of the most staggeringly beautiful scenery anywhere – well … maybe you should just head back home.  To your own planet!

Every day in Cairns has ‘perfect day’ potential.  But how can an each-way-bet girl like me choose between world class attractions like the reef, rainforest, northern beaches, botanic gardens, islands, hinterland, wildlife, markets, fishing, shopping, skyrail, railway, scenery, bird watching, entertainment and dining for the ultimate perfect day?  Impossible!

Well, almost.

For the best introduction to the center of the tropical universe, pack the most into the shortest time and whet your appetite for more at the Cairns foreshore and Esplanade walk.  It’s where al fresco dining, wildlife, fitness, scenery, swimming, picnicking, history, sports, markets, shopping, relaxation and my personal favourite – people-watching – come together perfectly in just one day!

But spend a day on the here at your peril!  Because just one day in Cairns won’t be enough.

Completed in the early 2000’s, the foreshore redevelopment is so well done that many visitors don’t notice the ‘beach’ is really a mudflat unsuitable for water activities.  That’s because the distractions are so compelling – like the scenery, activities, harbor, artificial lagoon and infinity pool and many other points of artistic and historic interest.

And the people-watching!

Mangroves, mudflats and migrating birds mean serious bird watching at the esplanade’s quieter northern end where you can sit and watch wading birds from as far away as Siberia.  The boardwalk’s viewing platforms, telescopes and interpretive signs give you a better than average chance at identification – or at least getting a closer look at anything else of interest!  If that doesn’t do it for you, it’s just as much fun spotting the serious birdwatcher – or ‘twitcher’ – at play or on tour!  Look out for distinctive clothing and behavior; equipment like binoculars and bird books can also be a dead giveaway …

But ‘twitching’ isn’t just for hardcore birders – if you’re still on the foreshore at sunset, enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of colorful rainbow lorikeets settling down for the night!

Prepare for disappointment if you’re expecting koalas or kangaroos – but in a fair exchange (!) you may see creatures like this young fruit bat lurking in the Moreton Bay fig trees … In fact, look UP before parking your vehicle – a day under a tree full of fruit bats won’t make you (or your car hire company) very happy.  But hey!  Paradise sometimes has a price!

Walkers like me tend to find exercise stations superfluous – but the sometimes gratuitous display of rippling muscles can be distracting, or even inadvertently hilarious!  Weirdly though, some folks actually use the stations to exercise so your open admiration or laughter isn’t always appropriate.  Be careful what you admire/find comical!  And if all else fails, plenty of young male travelers strip down to their board-shorts without apparent provocation to play beach volleyball and other games on the lawns around the pool with no doubt about their attention-seeking motives!

In fact, watching young travelers make their moves and practice their pick-up lines on other young travelers while you relax with a drink and snack in the shade is quite possibly the ultimate leisure activity of all time!!

Just watch out for sunburn.

By all means admire the colorful sculptures and artworks along the trail – but to leave a lasting impression on Australia’s far north, why not immortalize a superfluous shoe or other random object on this interactive living artwork?  You’ll be part of Cairns forever – or at least until the next tropical cyclone!

And if you’re wondering what the plane on a pole, anchor, cenotaph or cannon scattered along the walk are all about, an interpretive brochure from the Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre at the southern end will not only tell you the Esplanade walk is one of a network of five historic walks around Cairns, but also the historic significance of all of the above – and more!

Luckily, it’s easy to combine historic edification with gastronomy at the many cafes, bars and restaurants lining the Esplanade and side streets.

And gelato bars.

Use my extensive market testing of multiple flavors over several visits to select the best gelato combinations: banana and coconut, mango and macadamia or blood orange and pink grapefruit!  And my favorite?  They’re all good, but I’d go back to Devine Gelato any day! I’d have tested more if not for serious danger of throwing up. But a detour off the Esplanade to Rusty’s Markets for Cairns best fresh produce will cure any gelato frenzy, no matter how decadent.  And trust me – the euphoria of virtuousness this brings will outweigh any guilt you may otherwise feel from shopping all the way there and back!

You don’t have to leave the Esplanade to go shopping though – from 5:00 pm the Cairns Night Markets open!  Every night!!

Follow the trail around to the marina to admire the yachts – gasp as you estimate their collective worth – or just watch the fishermen on the jetty, or cruise boats returning day trippers from the off-shore islands.  All beautifully offset against the vast and virtually unspoiled headland across Trinity Inlet …

And as the daylight fades and the sun sets behind the Kuranda Range, you’ll realize the trap into which you have fallen.  Yes, this perfect day is just an elaborate tropical paradise teaser!  In the balmy evening the thought of leaving after just one day is unimaginable when for each new Cairns attraction, another perfect day in paradise awaits!

Want more information about Cairns?  Visit Amazing Australian Adventures for other things I’ve seen and done in and around Cairns (and elsewhere in Australia) and visit me on Flickr for more Cairns photos.

What and Where:
Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre
, 51 the Esplanade, Cairns;  ph Toll Free 1800 093 300

Devine Gelato, 5 Aplin St, Cairns City;  ph 07 4041 4959 (Aust)

Rusty’s Market, 44 Spence St, btw Grafton and Sheridan St, Cairns; Open various hours Fri-Sun;  ph 07 4051 5100 (Aust)

Cairns Night Markets, 71-75 the Esplanade, Cairns; 07 4051 7666 (Aust)

Red Nomad OZ Bio:
Alongside the great Australian destinations and experiences of 21+ years travel to every Australian state and territory, I’ve also unearthed many off-beat and downright bizarre oddities!  Amazing Australian Adventures is a non-chronological collection of my Australian travel findings – and I’m always discovering more!  Red Nomad OZ is not my real name …

Why not drop in and say g’day?!

Amazing Australian Adventures at http://rednomadoz.blogspot.com
Twitter at @RedNomadOZ
Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rednomadoz/