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Exploring Cairns and Great Barrier Reef in 5 days with the young ones

This northern Australian city is best known as the gateway to World Heritage-listed sites, but there’re also plenty of child-centric activities to make it an unforgettable vacation for little travellers, as Amber Yong, mum of popular Instagram twins (@LeiaLauren) discovers.

Leia and Lauren experienced their first helicopter ride. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN
Leia and Lauren experienced their first helicopter ride. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

Arriving in Cairns last September, our family was expecting the cool spring season. So what’s with this warm weather greeting us? Located in the state of Queensland, Cairns is a sunshine city all year round. Temperatures were around 25 deg C — with gentle breeze and low humidity — when we visited. The weather was certainly more comfortable than Singapore!

While Cairns is known for its World Heritage-listed sites, there’re also plenty of child-centric activities to make it an unforgettable vacation for the little ones.

Here are the highlights of our five-day self-drive holiday.

DAY 1


Port Douglas is only an hour’s drive from Cairns City. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

Upon touching down in Cairns City, we immediately set off for Port Douglas that’s about an hour’s drive away. This quaint town is also the gateway to the famous Great Barrier Reef.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing at Freestyle Resort, a boutique property that is a 10-minute walk to the picturesque Four Mile Beach.


We stayed in a spacious dual-level, two-bedroom apartment with a balcony and a fully equipped kitchen. This would be our accommodation for the next two nights. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN


Throughout our stay, Leia and Lauren also had fun playing in the resort’s pool and jacuzzi. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

DAY 2

Hello, Great Barrier Reef! We couldn’t wait to visit the world’s largest coral reef system, which was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 1981.


The Great Barrier Reef is a Unesco World Heritage site. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

We signed up for a day tour with Quicksilver Cruises. It was a 1.5-hour ride on a catamaran before we reached a spacious two-level reef activity platform.

The Great Barrier Reef is said to be teeming with 15,000 species of tropical fish and over 400 varieties of corals. We couldn’t miss the chance to go scuba diving!


Embark on a day tour with Quicksilver Cruises. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

We got Leia and Lauren to snorkel too. Yes, kids could definitely join in the fun as long as they’re confident in the water.


Leia and Lauren had the opportunity to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

Here, they also took their first-ever helicopter ride. Our experience of the magnitude of the Great Barrier Reef — measuring 2,300km long from up above — was indescribable. The helicopter swooped low enough for us to see the coral clusters and schools of fish.


Take in panoramic views of the Great Barrier Reef. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

DAY 3

On the third day, we went to the Atherton Tablelands region and stopped by Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. This wildlife park, which was built on a 10ha World Heritage site, has been operating since the 1930s.


Meeting a saltwater crocodile at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

It’s a great place to get up close with saltwater crocodiles, widely regarded as the world’s most powerful biters. We had heart-stopping moments when we witnessed them lunging at the bait at the lagoon.


Take a dip in the small pools at Crystal Cascades. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

En route to our accommodation, we stopped over at Crystal Cascades, a secluded freshwater swimming hole that’s hidden in a rainforest — and very popular with the locals.

Here, the fall cascades into several small pools, where Leia and Lauren took a refreshing dip.


Cuddle up for an evening’s rest at Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

When we reached Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat, we fell in love with its homely rustic feel. The air was extraordinarily crisp and fresh amid the rainforest surroundings and we were ready for a good rest.

Take note though that there’s no phone or Internet connection there. This gave us the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life and to fully engage with nature — and of course, our kids.

There’s an abundance of brush turkeys and rosella birds roaming freely around the premises. If you’re up for it, there’s also a 9km bush walking track.

DAY 4

We set off back to Cairns city area to explore the Kuranda mountain village. Getting there was an experience in itself.


Checking out the breathtaking views from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

We took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which took us above the rainforest canopy. During the hour-long ride, we soaked in the magnificent landscape with its lush greenery, highlands and sea.


Learn about butterflies at the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

Among the village’s attractions is the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, touted as the largest aviary and exhibit in Australia with over 1,500 butterflies. We went on a guided tour to learn about these beautiful insects’ life cycle and behaviour.


Get a chance to feed adorable kangaroos at the Rainforestation Nature Park. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

Next, we visited the Rainforestation Nature Park to feed kangaroos and take photos with koalas.


Hop on the World War II Army Duck for a fascinating rainforest tour on land and water. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

We also went aboard a World War II Army Duck for a unique rainforest tour on land and water. Our guide introduced to us Cairns’ fascinating plants and wildlife before the amphibious vehicle splashed into the lake for a cruise.


Leave Kuranda mountain village by another route. Try the train ride along the Kuranda Scenic Railway line. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN


All aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway line! PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

A train ride along the Kuranda Scenic Railway line is also a must. We took this route when we were leaving the village.

For over an hour and 45 minutes, we passed through a World Heritage protected rainforest, spectacular waterfalls and into the awesome Barron Gorge. Our girls loved the ride!


The Mantra Trilogy offers beautiful ocean views. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

That evening, we stayed over at Mantra Trilogy, a modern apartment with a panoramic ocean view. It is also within walking distance of restaurants and night markets.

DAY 5


The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is a free public saltwater swimming pool that is child-friendly. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN


Leia and Lauren splash around in the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

On our last day, we decided to relax in Cairns City. We enjoyed lazy moments at Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, a free public saltwater swimming pool. We loved that it’s clean and child-friendly.


Get your adrenaline rush at the Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

In the afternoon, we made our way to Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome, which is said to be the world’s first challenge ropes course in a wildlife park. Imagine ziplining over a ferocious crocodile!

After getting an adrenaline rush from the thrilling activities, slow down your pace and check out native Australian wildlife at the park too.


The Prawn Star is a trawler restaurant off Marlin Marina harbour. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN


Feast on a fresh and delicious spread of seafood at Prawn Star. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ LEIALAUREN

On our last night in Cairns, dinner was at Prawn Star, a trawler restaurant off Marlin Marina harbour that’s famous for its great dining atmosphere and freshly caught seafood. Think prawns, mud crabs, lobsters and oysters.


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