Sydney or Gold Coast may be synonymous with a family vacation to Australia but a trip up further north in Queensland, or Cairns, is a true blue Aussie experience like no other - as we found out during the June School Holidays.
Sure, Queensland's tropical north's claim to fame has been that of gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organism. Yet, Cairns and its northern neighbours are actually home to so many other family-friendly activities that the monkies have already decreed it to be their most beloved city in Australia to date!
So grab yourself that cup of coffee, as I share with you a round-up post on the tips that will make travelling to Cairns with your kids just a tad easier.
WHEN TO GO
Like the rest of Queensland, Cairns experiences two distinct weather seasons, the ‘wet' season and the ‘dry' season. Tropical Cairns has hot and humid summers and mild, dry winters. The wet season begins building up around December, resulting in humid days and stormy nights. Typical daytime temperatures in Cairns are 23-31°C in mid-summer and 18 °C in mid-winter.
Summer (December - February) in Cairns is the ‘wet' or monsoon season. Most of the region's annual rainfall occurs in the summer months although the temperature is still warm and the humidity is high. Temperatures at this time range from 24°-31°C.
Personally though, I think the best time to go is in winter (June - August) as clear skies and comfortable temperatures are perfect for exploring the region. While we were there in June, day temperatures typically hovered between 26°C and 28°C so we were superbly comfortable in our tees and shorts attire. The sea was a little cold when we went snorkelling among the Great Barrier Reef but the monkies were able to withstand the slightly colder waters.
At the end of the day though, go when it suits you because there is really no best time to enjoy all the sights with your family in Cairns.
We love Cairns' tropical weather! It may get as warm as Singapore's weather during summer months but the lower humidity is a huge plus. Here’s an annual summary of Cairns' weather from its Bureau of Meteorology.
SilkAir launched its inaugural flight to Cairns on 30 May 2015 and without a doubt, it offers the most straight-forward option of flying into the city currently. With a flight time of 6 hours and 40 minutes, it is also the option with the shortest flight duration!
Parents will understand how torturous it can be when it comes to waiting with kiddos in tow. Luckily with a few clicks of the mouse, I was able to check-in online 48 hours before our departure, select our seats and we were able to breeze right through the airport and to our seats on the day of our departure!
The flights to Cairns depart at 1.40am, which is what the wifey and I love as overnight flights mean the monkies will be able to sleep during the flight and awaken once the plane lands in the morning. The best timing to start our Cairns adventure as it is like getting a full day's worth of fun!
The new route will be operated with SilkAir’s latest Boeing 737-800 aircraft, featuring both Business and Economy class cabins. Being a full-service carrier, SilkAir not only offers baggage allowance of 40kg and 30kg for Business and Economy class respectively (yay, more shopping!) but also in-flight meals - something that, as the boys will tell you, they look forward to very very much.
How much? Polishing off every single morsel of their in-flight meals!
The seats onboard were comfortable and legroom more than adequate. Don't forget to request for SilkAir's latest toykit for kids too, as it contained mini board games to keep the little ones occupied!
However, there were no individual seat screens for in-flight entertainment although kids could be kept entertained by the overhead screens which broadcast cartoons and game shows.
Prefer something more intimate and personal? Then bring along your mobile devices and/or tablets with SilkAir's newest wireless inflight entertainment system, SilkAir Studio.
We were able to access its wireless entertainment options on either our laptop, smartphone or tablet and enjoy movies, short features and music streaming!
Frankly, I was rather surprised by the ease of connectivity of streaming up to 20 Hollywood and international movies, 26 TV features as well as 100 chart-topping music albums via WI-FI directly onto my iPad - and all these, at no additional cost.
A thing to note though, the movies were not exactly the usual blockbusters so I would like to see more popular movie choices added to the selection. Other than that, the kids' selection were not too shabby as it kept them in their seats... and before they knew it, we reached Cairns and were even rewarded with a visit to the planes' cockpit!
Overall, our both flights to and from Cairns were uneventful - the best scenario a parent can possibly hope for when travelling with children.
Cairns Airport is a 15-minute drive from the city so it is a quick trip. To get to the city, options include taxis and airport shuttles, or many hotels also arrange pick-ups from the airport.
If you are planning to stay within Cairns city, one can easily get to most of the nearby attractions, eateries and shopping centres on foot.
But if you are thinking of heading further north to the likes of Port Douglas (which we did), then renting a car is the way to go... and admiring an endless sea of green fields dotting the picturesque landscape while at it too!
For some reason, I simply adore self-driving holidays in Australia because it is really freedom on wheels. We get the flexibility of planning our own itinerary, take our own sweet time to explore places that are off the beaten tracks and basically, control our own adventure. Also, we would not have to worry about figuring out how to get around using public transportation, especially since we now travel with 3 big suitcases (in addition to 3 cheekiemonkies!).
All we need to do is just get in the car and go.
Which was what we did, thanks to Hertz. Our ride came in the form of the huge 8-seater Hyundai Imax from its Family Collection, which offered not only advanced safety features, extensive legroom but also MORE space for everyone!
Oh, and the speciousness of the vehicle definitely extended to the deep boot space for our luggage as well!
The thing about rental cars from Hertz is that they are one year old on the average and have undergone the most stringent of quality control checks, providing a peace of mind when you are travelling on the road with your loved ones.
All of which really just adds to the ease of driving in Australia as the roads are relatively well-maintained and well-signed, with an added bonus of being extremely scenic.
For Cairns city, we were right in the heart of Cairns - and next to the wonderful Cairns Esplanade - as we made Mantra Trilogy Cairns our home for 4 nights.
Located on the Cairns Esplanade, Mantra Trilogy Cairns offers a range of accommodation options including Hotel Rooms, and self-contained 1, 2 & 3 Bedroom Holiday Apartments which come with fully-equipped kitchens and laundry facilities.
Personally, I have no complaints about our 3-bedroom apartment. It was clean and everything was in place. The apartment was in the middle of everything with only a walk away to restaurants, Cairns Central Shopping Mall or the free-to-use Cairns Lagoon.
Topping everything off was the incredible ocean view that we woke up to every single morning!
During our stay in Port Douglas, we were also put up in a similar apartment-style premise - the Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments.
Nestled amongst lush tropical vibrant gardens, the apartments are a short 10-minute walk to the main town centre and offer almost-instant access to famous and seemingly endless stretch of Four Mile Beach.
And just like our accommodation in Cairns, our 3-Bedroom apartment was also fully self- contained, with fully-equipped kitchens and laundry facilities.
Complementing our spacious apartment was a nice patio... where I spent a great deal of time editing photos of our trip!
Oh, and how can I not mention the jacuzzi bathtub in the our bathroom - a major highlight for the monkies for sure!
But that was not to say they did not enjoy dipping in the pool as well which luckily for me, was slightly heated.
A nice touch that the Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments had was the inclusion of board and card games in our apartment. A definite welcome since the shops in Australia close so early!
Fitzroy Island Resort is located a 45-minute ferry journey away from Cairns city and is the only accommodation on the tropical paradise island which boasts lush vegetation, a mixture of rainforest, mangroves and open woodlands and coral beaches with fringing reefs.
The resort provides a wide range of boutique accommodation, in 99 rooms, including Ocean Suites, Self Contained Apartments, Resort Studios and Beach Cabins. The most basic accommodation is the Resort Studio Rooms, with air-conditioned rooms, plasma TV, en-suite bathroom, tea and coffee facilities, and bar fridge.
For families though, the Self-contained Ocean Suite Fully would be the best choice as it is a spacious one-bedroom suite which includes a balcony with ocean views, full kitchen, crockery and cooking utensils, fridge, oven, dishwasher, tea and coffee facilities.
Pity we only stayed for one night, as the wifey and I completely fell in love with the gorgeous view from our bedroom!
The monkies on the other hand, had to make do with the sofa bed in the living room. Not that they minded though, I think.
Frankly, there were just too many activities on Fitzroy Island to fit into our one-day schedule so all we managed to accomplish was paying a visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, going on a Glass Bottom Boat Tour, walking on the coral beach and trekking to a secluded Nudey Beach. And no, it is not what you think it is.
I guess I will share more about Fitzroy Island Resort in another post but suffice to say, there are no shortage of family-friendly accommodation options in Cairns!
Cairns has some great family-friendly restaurants and most of the ones along the Cairns Esplanade will accommodate children readily. We had most of our lunches at the various attractions that we were at but if you intend to bring the kids to the free Muddy's Playground at the Esplanade, you will do well to have lunch at the Muddy's Cafe while your kids play themselves silly at the awesome playgrounds.
We had the privilege of dining at Dundee's Restaurant on the Waterfront, considered one of Cairns' most picturesque dining experiences.
Centrally located on the Cairns boardwalk beneath the Cairns Harbour Light Hotels, the restaurant offers an extensive selection of dishes from pasta, seafood, grills and Australian specialist foods. While the seafood we had was undeniably fresh, the monkies had a kick flipping their own steaks on a hot rock - a must-order in their eyes!
If you are looking for a sumptuous buffet, and a seafood one at that, Bazaar at QT Port Douglas Hotel will be your best bet.
Boasting a wide array of food choices that were incredibly fresh and varied, Bazaar recreates the traditional marketplace with a twenty-first century twist.
From the oysters, mussels and prawns to the fresh wild barramundi, steak and pork belly, all of us were spoilt for choices. And erm, just remember to keep the kids' sight away from candy station before they are done with the hot food!
But perhaps, one of the most economical way of having meals in Australia is making our own meals at our apartment. So that is also one of the main reasons we prefer staying in self-contained apartments.
We usually cook our own dinners - which is perfect since the monkies are usually drained after a day of activities. Plus the fact we simply love grocery shopping in Australia's supermarkets!
Good News: we have come to the most important aspect of our Cairns holiday: ALL the fun stuff for families to enjoy together in Cairns!
Bad News: the list is so extensive that I will have to dedicate a separate blog post to it, which I promise will be out soon!
*UPDATE: Read all about the 20 Cool Activities to do with your kids in Cairns HERE: http://www.cheekiemonkie.net/2015/07/20-cool-activities-to-do-in-cairns-with.html
Good News: you can participate in an exclusive SilkAir Giveaway in the meantime! (GIVEAWAY CLOSED)
It was not all play and no work for the monkies during our trip. SilkAir had tasked us to fill 5 packs with goodies from Cairns and the monkies had a hand in picking out the items - all six of them to be exact!
CONGRATULATIONS to the following winners!
1. Jacinta Ong
2. Amy G Lin
3. Louis Lee
4. Yenny Sulianto
5. JP Tan
You have each won a goodie bag containing the following items:
1. One cute Lunch Bag
2. One Sling Bag
3. One Paint-It-Yourself Boomerang
4. One Honey with honeycomb
5. One Bag of Tea Leaves from Cairns Highlands
6. One Bag of Cairns Soft Candy
SilkAir flies to Cairns thrice weekly on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, through a circular routing with Darwin. The Monday and Thursday flights will fly to Cairns via Darwin and then return to Singapore non-stop while Saturday flights will depart Singapore for Cairns non-stop and then return to Singapore via Darwin. For more information, visit www.silkair.com.
For more travel ideas, visit Tropical North Queensland's website.