Oh, jet lag you are not my friend. I fell asleep last night at about 9 p.m. here in Queensland, Australia — having unplugged my hotel-room phones and clock radio, turned off my cell phone and placed the privacy sign on my door — figuring I’d conk out for at least 12 hours. Alas, when I took a groggy look at my watch this morning, it was only 4:30 a.m. (Around 12:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, perhaps? I cannot keep this time change straight.)
So far, my travels and settling into Cairns’ Pullman Reef Hotel Casino have gone swimmingly. (Unlike my fellow Queensland Blogger Correspondent Tsh over at SimpleMom, whose first flight in the U.S. was canceled and who will arrive in Australia today, instead of yesterday; no worries, Tsh – I’ve got Tim Tams for you, if you need a chocolate pick-me-up!)
Some first impressions of my first visit to Australia and Tropical North Queensland:
Australians are friendly folks: Upon arrival in Brisbane (after a 14-hour flight from LAX; Valium is my friend), we were surprisingly greeted by Eleen Coloretti a local Brisbane tour guide and huge fan of one of my traveling companions Jodi of MCP Actions. (I had no idea Jodi was such an international star!) Kind Eileen brought us each a bag of goodies to welcome us to her home country, including those little fuzzy koala bears that you can clip on to your collar (bringing me back to 7th-grade shopping at Spencer’s Gifts at the mall), as well as a tube of vegemite (souvenir score – can’t wait to have the kids try it). Eileen escorted us to the bus that would take us to our flight from Brisbane to Cairns; it was such a treat to be welcomed to Australia by a genuinely friendly soul.
Australians are friendly folks, part two: Smiley Dale Flack, a media manager with Tourism Tropical North Queensland, picked us up in Cairns for the quick 15-minute drive to the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino, where a valet greeted me with, “How are you going?” To which I replied, “Um, where am I going?” Him: “No, how are you going?” Me: “You mean how am I doing?! Great!” Note to self: Learn some Oz lingo.
Cairns is more mountainous than I thought: Sure, these aren’t my Rocky Mountain jagged peaks, but lush rolling hills I wasn’t quite expecting here in tropical Cairns. I think I was picturing flatter terrain and sandy beaches (which I’m told are north of the city).
The Cairns Esplanade is awesome. Prior to arrival in Cairns, I’d booked a afternoon massage at Spa by the Sea at the Tradewinds Rydges just a few blocks from my hotel. A $99 special got me an 45-minute hot stone massage (which kind therapist Liz extended to an hour because she knew I’d just come off 26 hours of travel), glass of wine, light spa lunch and access to the pool and hot tub; highly recommend.
But to get to the spa, I first walked the waterfront Esplanade, and I couldn’t stop gaping at the scene. So much to do here!
I stumbled upon the hub of the Esplanade, the Lagoon, a huge saltwater swimming pool that is free and open to the public. With water spouts and a zero-depth entry, as well as a sandy beach, this free public pool is ideal for children. But I saw all ages frolicking in the warm water here. My family would love this!
Also along the Esplanade are pedestrian paths for walking, jogging and biking. In the late afternoon this is the place to get your exercise on. Literally hundreds of locals were jogging the wooden boardwalk next to the harbor. People were actually using the exercise stations along the way — doing pull-ups and sit-ups with the bars and benches. (So often I see those at urban parks, but no one really puts them to use; people in Cairns seem like a fit bunch!) Also offered at the Esplanade are daily fitness classes, such as yoga and Zumba, a bouldering park and live music. I love how the amenities at the Esplanade encourage fun exercise in the outdoors! Reminds me a lot of the healthy vibe in Colorado.
For still more outdoor activity, sandy volleyball courts invite pick-up games (I think I observed a club or two practicing or kids getting some lessons), as well as a rad skatepark. I saw rugby and cricket games being played on sprawling grassy areas, and there’s a bocce court, too. Muddy’s Playground with more water-play areas is amazing for the pint-sized set; toddlers and preschoolers would love to play on the climbing structures and getting wet in the sprays. A fast-food restaurant Muddy’s Cafe is also near the kid-friendly playground; community barbecue grills are great for family picnics.
On the opposite side of the road from the green parkland is a strip of souvenir shops, galleries and bunches of open-air, sidewalk restaurants offering everything from seafood and pizza to Turkish food and Indian cuisine. This vibrant area comes to life after the sun sets, and the eateries filled the streets with all sorts of tantalizing and savory aromas.
As the sun now rises in the sky here in Cairns, I’m eager to strap on my own trainers (is that what they are called in Australia?) and get out and walk the Esplanade again. So, I’ll bid farewell for now from the Land Down Under; there’s little time for posting more updates this week. We’ve got a full program of activities on the docket, including today’s excursion to the Cairns Tropical Zoo to cuddle with koalas!
Also on the week’s agenda:
- A tour of Canopy Artspace, with galleries, artists’ studios and printmaking workshop
- Dinners at Salt House, Nunu, Flames of the Forest; we will be eating well on this trip!
- Boat trip to Green Island
- Ziplining in Daintree Rainforest
- Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef with Poseidon Cruises…
And a ton more. Though I likely won’t be blogging any more this week, please follow along on Twitter at #QLDblog. I’ll update when I can!
I am visiting Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef courtesy of Tourism Queensland. For more travel inspiration, check out Queensland blog.