Earlier this year, I went on a multi-week adventure beginning in Wellington, New Zealand, before heading to the South Island, hopping over to Melbourne, Australia and driving to Adelaide, spending some time in Cairns at the Great Barrier Reef, and then ending in Hong Kong. While in Cairns, I had the opportunity to stay at the DoubleTree Cairns at an affordable cash rate.
This made good sense because, thanks to my HHonors Gold status, an upgrade to a room with a view was likely in store, and free breakfast each morning would save a fair amount of money. Plus, this oceanfront hotel was very well-located near a diving and snorkeling expedition we had planned out to the Great Barrier Reef during our stay, was near the shopping district of town, and was still just a short ride from the airport.
Cairns was extraordinarily humid upon our arrival, and it was clear it was going to rain for a fair amount of our stay. This was doubly unfortunate due to the hotel’s tropical layout, with rooms reachable only from the outdoors, in order to take advantage of a normally excellent climate.
Two large beds awaited us in the room, which was a nice surprise. Often, in international travel, two full-size beds are much more common in a double room than two queens, but here, there was room to spread out.
The bathroom was a bit tight, and the combination tub/shower had that irritating glass half-partition that only seems useful in ensuring water spills out onto the floor, but it was sufficient for our stay.
The TV offered only a spartan array of channels, including a few duplicate in-house channels focused on tourist activities in Cairns.
When the fog rolled away for a bit, the view from the room was gorgeous, though it was never long until the rain rolled back in:
Also, given my newly-minted Hilton Diamond status, a nice basket of fruit and a letter were left at the room during one of our jaunts out into the city:
One of the more memorable parts of staying at the DoubleTree Cairns were the giant swarms of bats that would descend on the city at night. Hundreds, if not thousands, of bats swarmed in the near distance; from speaking with locals, there had been some efforts to remove them from the city that have now been reversed, given that these fruit bats are vegetarians, help to cross-pollinate important plants, and present essentially no threat to humans:
The same can not be said of the waters along Cairns’ esplanade. A relatively attractive beach curiously had zero – not even one – tourists or sunbathers to be seen. We soon found why!
Breakfast in the downstairs lobby was adequate, but certainly nothing special. After a week of hotel breakfasts, we actually found ourselves going out to enjoy some local fare on the last day in town, which proved to be an excellent upgrade.
The room was really an afterthought in Cairns, more than in most places on our stay. Our focus was on a snorkeling and diving adventure out on the Great Barrier Reef, booked through Viator and leaving out of the nearby port. We were worried that the trip might get cancelled due to poor weather on the morning we were scheduled to depart, but were told the trip would continue apace.
Seas were extremely rough on our way out for maybe 10-15 minutes of the hour or so long journey to get to our first dive location, which was enough to make some of the more motion-averse passengers pretty sick, though we were fine. On the dive, we saw a remarkable array of coral, fish, giant clams, anemones, jellies, and more. It was a remarkable day for underwater discovery, and the fact that it was overcast or rainy up top in large spurts didn’t matter at all.
The next day, we took the Skyrail up through the nearby rainforest and national park. At roughly 7.5kms in length, the Skyrail is a gondola system that swoops passengers right over the top of the tree canopy, allowing for beautiful views of Cairns down by the sea in the distance below, and the immensity of the rainforest to all other sides.
The gondola makes two stops along the way and stations in the rainforest, allowing for pictures by waterfalls and the opportunity to walk amongst the trees on raised walkways.
The Skyrail terminates at the small town of Kuranda at the top of the hill. While Kuranda itself screams tourist trap, it is an opportunity to purchase souvenirs at lower prices than are seen in Cairns, in some cases. We walked away with a handful of aborigines-made boomerangs as a result. The ride back down the Skyrail follows the same path as the way up, while offering a better view of Cairns and the ocean during the descent.
Cairns is a fun place to visit if you have outdoor activities planned. However, note that in February and other warm months in Australia – remember, seasons are flipped in the Southern Hemisphere – rain is just as liable to set in most afternoons as it is in Florida in July. If the weather is poor, there’s not much to see beyond a few small shops and restaurants.
This is truly a town geared toward outdoor activities like exploring the Great Barrier Reef and enjoying other adventures like the Skyrail. Plan accordingly, and prepare to make the best of the outdoors even in inclement weather, so long as it remains possible, and you’ll have a great time.