Go north, young man, go north

All is cool and shadowed under a thick canopy of green as the mist rises from a waterfall to give a brief reprieve from the year-round heat of Cairns, in Queensland’s Far North.

Glimpses of fluorescent blue ocean, stained by dark patches of coral reef, peek through the rainforest that thickly coats the hillsides stretching down to the sea, and the two come together to put the tropical city in a rare category.

Cairns is the only place in the world where two World Heritage listed areas live side by side – the Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It also knows only two seasons, wet and dry. From December to April, a couple of hundred millimetres of rain will fall each day as the monsoons deliver the tropics from the drought that plagues the rest of Australia. As a result, the best time to visit is May to November, when the weather is dry and marginally – but only marginally – cooler.

Because it is neither possible nor wise to travel into the forest and sea alone, locals offer plenty of ways to see their natural wonderlands. Each morning, a fleet of vessels of all shapes and sizes heads east to Green Island and the reefs beyond, where colourful corals and fish abound.

With names such as Agincourt, Thetford, Hastings and Michaelmas, the cays and reefs are a reminder that the famous English navigator Captain James Cook travelled through the area on the Endeavour in 1770.

For the day-tripper, Green Island, a coral cay created over millions of years, is an easy 45-minute trip in the Reef Rocket, a big, fast and comfortable catamaran in the Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises fleet.

Within wading distance of the beach, patrolled by lifeguards, the underwater world provides a spectacular display of fish in rainbow colours and all sizes darting about among fascinating coral structures. If even the best advices of the Big Cat Reef Cruise team can’t make snorkelling appear an exciting prospect, don’t despair. There are plenty of other ways to make sure everyone can see what they came to see, from a glass-panelled submarine, to a glass bottom boat and an underwater observatory.

The truly adventurous can go a step further as there is nothing like the Great Barrier Reef to provide some of the best scuba diving to be found. Big Cat offers half and full day tours to the reef and Green Island where there’s also a resort pool if the briny looks less than appealing.

Another day swiftly disappears in the rainforest. While the central Daintree is a long drive north, its southern fringes are between Cairns and its northern beaches and there’s no better way to see it than by Skyrail. Built in 1994, this 7.5-kilometre cableway glides over the top of the rainforest passing 80 different plant species every 100 metres, and providing spectacular views of the coastline as it climbs to the height of the circling white cockatoos.

First stop is Red Peak, a 10-metre square oasis in the centre of protected forest so deep, that it is accessible only by the Skyrail. Guides explain the ecological systems on a stroll around the edge. Next stop is Barron Gorge where three lookout points open out to panoramic views of the surrounding forest-covered hills and the magnificent Barron Falls which, in full flood, become a mini-Niagara.

The Skyrail stops at Kuranda, a picturesque village which won fame in the 1960s when it became a settlement of flower people. With an abundance of cafes and restaurants an easy walk from the station, it’s a welcome stop before the trip down on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. The line, built at the end of the 19th century, meanders around the hills, past waterfalls and through 15 tunnels as it makes its way down to Cairns.

A Trinity Inlet cruise is another interesting diversion and a chance to spot crocodiles in the wild. Cairns is 1700 kilometres north of Brisbane, or just over two hours by air.

Main Image: Visitors admire the reef from a glass-bottomed boat.
Secondary Image: Spectacular views from the Skyrail