Best of Cairns: A Guide to Australia’s Northern Coast

Australia offers so much to see that its hard to pick just one or two areas to visit when looking at the map of this giant country. Since I’ve always had diving the Great Barrier Reef on my bucket list, Colton and I decided to head to Cairns first and foremost to cross that off the list. But Cairns and Queensland has so much more to offer besides the Reef! If you’re visiting Australia anytime soon, make sure you get a chance to do some of these while in town:

1. Dive Great Barrier Reef

2. Visit Daintree Rainforest

3. Get up close to the wallabies at Granite Gorge

4. Go fishing/Take a River Cruise

 

Dive the Great Barrier Reef

Most people’s only reason for visiting cairns on vacation is to be able to see the Great Barrier Reef. Although you can dive off of much of Australia’s eastern coast to see the reef, Cairns offers some of the best diving (and closest to shore). Snorkeling is also an option if you don’t want to dive or are pressed for time. To be honest, I think we were able to see more snorkeling than diving on our trip since most everything was 10 feet or less. Some of these boats have over 200 people onboard so I highly recommend booking a smaller group. We went on one that accommodated 80 guests and only about 50 were onboard so it wasn’t bad at all.

Visit Daintree Rainforest

There are a few ways to go about this, you can either rent a car and do a self driven tour (which I recommend) or you can pay a guide to do a private tour, or do a group tour. These run at a hundred dollars or so, while if you drive yourself you only pay a small entrance fee to get your car across the water on the ferry. Driving yourself was great for us as we made a lot of stops and wanted to fly our drone in different places. I’m going to do a separate post on what to visit when driving through the rainforest and you can find it linked here once it’s posted.

Granite Gorge

Before our trip to Australia all I knew was that I wanted to see a kangaroo in person. Unfortunately, the bigger kangaroos tend to live more central to Australia (in the outback) and like to come out at dawn or dusk more so than the middle of the day, so spotting a big kangaroo in Cairns is pretty much impossible. You will however see plenty of wallabies everywhere. You might not know it, but there are over 30 species in the kangaroo (marsupial) family, big and small. The ones at granite gorge are known as rock wallabies and are on the small side, but still fun to go visit!

Granite Gorge doesn’t cost anything to visit, it’s a free nature park that offers a few hiking trails and also overnight camping if you want to. Their most popular attraction though are the small wallabies that come out to eat from tourists hands. These little guys are definitely cute, but they can get super aggressive when they have food out in front of them! Especially at dusk or dawn when they eat the most. You don’t really have to worry about them biting you, but their long nails may leave you with a few scratches as they try and reach for your food.

Look at the little baby wallaby peeking out of the pouch!!

 

Go fishing/Take a River Cruise

Getting out on the water is the perfect way to see even more wildlife Australia has to offer. If you haven’t seen a crocodile before you have to take a river cruise or go on a fishing trip while here. We opted for a private fishing trip with a local who took us out in his boat through the river. We caught tarpon, mangrove snapper, and almost got a few barramundi.

While fishing we also saw a ton of crocs, and a few kangaroos on the river bank. Because we went on a private fishing trip we were able to do more of what we wanted (fish) but still get the scenic tour of one of Cairns’ river systems and wildlife.

 

Another great option if weather permits is to do an offshore fishing trip. Cairns has some of the best black marlin fishing in the world amongst other great sports fishing. If fishing isn’t your thing, taking a group river tour in the Daintree rainforest may be a better bet for you. You’ll see plenty of wildlife but won’t get as hands on with it. Last but not least, don’t forget to stop by downtown and grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. We recommend the Prawn Star at the marina! Great seafood and cheap beer!

Hopefully this list gives you an idea of what you want to do when visiting the Northeast coast of Australia. Cairns has a super cute downtown area as well, so make sure to stop by and walk around while you’re in town. The aquarium is supposed to be amazing too, we just didn’t have enough time to visit it.

 

 

48 Hours in Lisbon, Portugal

If you had asked me two years ago where Lisbon was on a map I probably would’ve had no idea it was even in Europe, let alone Portugal. But thanks to social media, Portugal has been on the rise lately as a new and trendy spot to take your next vacation. And come to find out, Portugal has a lot more to offer than I would’ve ever guessed!

Rua Augusta

In all honestly we probably spent less than 48 hours total in Lisbon- maybe more like 30- but I want to give you all a rundown of what we did see, and a few things we wish we could’ve spent more time at in Lisbon and the surrounding areas!

After you check into your hotel in Lisbon, a great spot to head to first and foremost is Martin Moniz, which is the perfect place to hop on tram 28 as you start your day. Even if you don’t decide to ride the tram (we didn’t due to the huge line formed outside) it’s still a great walking tour you can take to see some cute parts of the city. Not to mention, you can take some iconic yellow tram shots. One of the best spots to take the tram shot is at the Bica lift in Barrio Alto.

Famous tram shot at the Bica Lift

Speaking of which, one area we’ve heard a lot about that I wish we had gotten to explore more was Barrio Alto & Barrio Alfama. It’s the older historic part of town and has sooo many cute buildings I’ve seen photos of. If you have a chance try to stop by there!

The Praca do Comércio (city commerce square) is close by the tram, and you’re able to get a good picture of the Rua Augusta arch from there. You can also go sit by the water and snap some pictures of the lookalike Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a beer museum and restaurant in the square as well, but we only sat down for a few minutes to try a beer pastel de bacalhau (fish cake)… and just so you know yes it was as gross as it sounds. Let’s just say cod fish and cheese mixed into some kind of sponge cake bread and then deep fried is not for me. And I like almost any kind of food!!

To be honest though, that was probably the only food we ate in Portugal that we didn’t love. In Lisbon we ate almost nothing but seafood. Octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams, you name it. And the seafood only got better when we visited southern Portugal, but that’s for another blog post.

For our first dinner in Portugal we visited Portas Do Sol, a restaurant overlooking the city and the water that had a great view of the sunset. We decided to order a pitcher of Sangria which ended up being much bigger than either of us had expected, along with a custard pastry for me (once you try one of these you’ll be hooked).

We drank our sangria and once we got hungry for dinner headed across the street to Cerca Moura where we had the same server bring us our dinner that had served us at Portas. I guess the restaurant is owned by the same company so when they start serving dinner some of the staff goes to help over there. We got octopus and clams and it doesn’t seem like it would be that filling but it was and it was amazing!

Day two in Lisbon includes a visit to Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) along with a visit to Cascais beach and Sintra.

Belém is a cute little area in Lisbon about 30 minutes or so from the city center that is well known for two things: the tower and their pastries.

See, those creamy custard pastries I mentioned earlier originated from Belém and supposedly there’s a tiny pastry shop there (Pasteis de Belém) that claims to be not only the best, but first ones to make them. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop, but if you have the time to stop, DO IT! I heard it’s amazing.

What we did manage to see was the tower, an old fortress that’s been around for hundreds of years right on the edge of the water (and depending on the tides it sits IN the water. You can even go inside if you want, although we opted for taking photos from the outside.

After Belém we stopped at Cascais, one of the best beaches to surf close to Lisbon. When we went the waves were huge, and the wind was howling, although I’m not sure it’s always like that. Either way it seemed to be a good spot for surfing because they had a surf shop there that offered lessons along with plenty of merch. There also was two stunning hotels you could stay at although I can imagine they were very expensive.

From Cascais we traveled up to Sintra to view the Pena palace, but we didn’t realize they closed the doors at 5 so we weren’t able to go inside and therefore couldn’t see anything. The grounds are huge, and the palace sits on top of a hill so from where we were standing we couldn’t see it through all the trees. If we were to do it again I would recommend visiting Sintra as early in the morning as you can! Or at least make sure you get there before he doors close. Even though the doors closed at 5 to get in, there were still tons of people exiting the area and parked there still by 6pm. Still, the drive to get to Sintra was pretty and we did get one glimpse of the palace while driving, but we weren’t able to take a picture.

The only photo Colton managed to get of part of one of the gardens inside the palace grounds.

That night we headed back towards the center of Lisbon and decided to check out the docks everyone kept talking about. “Las docas” is a cute marina that is filled with sailboats, and great restaurants facing the water. There’s a series of seafood options, along with Cuban, Hawaiian, Italian, Mexican etc. they have it all! We loved having dinner here and even stayed afterwards to have some drinks there for the atmosphere.

Our view from dinner at Doca Piexe

Giant tiger shrimp which were the size of Florida lobsters!

Oysters, Octopus and Giant Tiger Shrimp

Overall we were really impressed with Lisbon, and I hope I get to make it back there sometime to check out some of the spots I missed!