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Cairns Travel Guide
Cairns is the northern most city in Queensland, a bustling, thriving, humid harbor town just over a century old. The town has a spectacular setting. Overlooking the radiantly blue waters of Trinity Bay, Cairns lies enclosed in a ring of green sugarcane fields, which form a natural boundary. Farther inland the mountains rise in steep slopes, covered in thick rain forest. But the main claim to fame is Cairn's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the world's best Marlin fishing... for game, not for eating. Cairns is a small town.

House Of 10,000 Shells: A shell museum displaying specimens from every part of the world.

Reef World: An intriguing display of marine creatures - Barrier Reef coral, turtles, and crocodiles.

Cairns Botanical Gardens: About 2 miles from city center. Planted back in 1886, these gardens are now wonderfully luxuriant - a kind of harnessed tropical jungle.

Marlin Wharf: During the big game season, from August to November, black marlin hunters head here to weigh and show off their catch.

The Waterworks: One of the greatest fun contraptions outside of Disneyland. It's a kind of water complex - four giant waterslides, each different, where you go belly-down head first through a winding enclosed tube that finally spits you gently into a pool. The slides range from exciting to scary.

Kuranda: The scenic rail trip from Cairns to Kuranda is one of the best outings in Australia. The tracks run for 28 miles through spectacular vistas - and the train stops at the greatest for the benefit of cameras. The mountains of the Atherton Tableland rise green, steep, and majestic before you, waterfalls cascade like silver curtains beside the track, and the air breathes sweet and cool. There are 15 tunnels en route, each one opening up on some new panoramic splendor. At the Barron Gorge the roaring waters of the Barron Falls have been harnessed to a hydroelectric complex, but the trip through the gorge, on high iron girders, is almost as scary as it is dramatic. Kuranda lies on the rim of the Great Plateau and boasts what may be the prettiest railroad station in the world - a cross between tropical bungalow and flower garden. The town has a wildlife park, a pioneer cottage museum, and The Mountain Groves Hostelry where you can have "high tea". Robb's Monument, a stone memorial to the engineer who built this fabulous railway is nearby.

Lizard Island: ...adjacent to the outer Great Barrier Reef, this is a deserted patch of paradise that has been transformed into a natural park. It contains a magical Blue Lagoon for skinny-dipping or scuba diving, plus a dozen shaded beaches you have virtually to yourselves. There are "day trips" available to the Island.

Great Barrier Reef: The Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure ever built by living creatures - by corals. It stretches from the New Guinea region all the way south to the Tropic of Capricorn, a length of more than 1200 miles. The term "reef" is misleading. Actually, it's a series of reefs, coral cays, islands and tiny islets lapped by a warm, wonderfully clear blue-green sea rarely more than 100 feet deep. This strip of shallow ocean harbors the most varied and colorful marine life found anywhere on the globe: some 1400 varieties of fish and amphibians and reptiles including sea turtles, sharks, giant rays, marine snakes, jellyfish, octopi, starfish, molluscs, and sea urchins. At low tide vast stretches of the reef lie exposed. You can wander over them and explore some of the marvels left behind by the retreating water. But do observe a few precautions. Put on tennis shoes, because coral can be razor sharp... and don't pick up anything unless you know what it is. Some of the Islands...

Green Island: is a Small coral cay rising about two feet above sea level, densely wooded and lapped by crystal-clear water. This is the most popular of the Barrier Reef islands, offers the most fun facilities, and draws the largest crowds. Just offshore stands the Underwater Coral Observatory, where you actually walk on the ocean bed and gaze at the submarine scenery through viewing windows. You see the fantastic coral gardens, the clouds of darting rainbow-colored fish, the clams, starfish and ribbon-like water snakes. For a view from above you can take a ride in the glass bottom boats.

Dunk Island: is a rather plain name for a dazzling beauty patch, developed for $2.5 million to make it luxurious. Dunk has everything you'd expect from a tropical paradise: unspoiled vegetation and homegrown produce, delicate reef fish and top-grade chefs to cook them, vast lonely stretches of sandy beach and a hectic nightlife.

Low Isles: is a small coral cay and a striking contrast to the other islands the only residents being a lighthouse keeper and his family. The lighthouse is over a century old, the corals can be viewed from a glass-bottom boat, the low tide on the reef exposes some of the most gorgeous shells in creation, and the water is so crystal clear that you can almost count the pebbles many feet below as you float on top.

The best time to explore the reef is from may through rovember, when the tides are the lowest.

Note: Most tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef aboard the famous "QuickSilver". This "boat" goes out to the reefs and docks at its private wharf. Here you can swim around the reef (water goggles and fins included), visit an underwater viewing area, and take a submarine ride around the area. A lunch is included, but if you spend time eating lunch you don't have enough time to enjoy the reef. The Great Barrier Reef is truly a highlight of any visit to Australia. Unfortunately you need more than just the few hours you're there.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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