After over 4000km of driving up the East Coast from Melbourne, I made it to my final destination: Cairns, Queensland.
I had spent the prior 10 days behind the wheel viewing sandy beaches and coastlines without the right weather conditions in which to indulge in a swim. Now that I had made it to the far North, the air was finally warm enough to allow for a dip in the sea.
But in Cairns there are no swimmable beaches.
I assumed this coastal city would have plenty of sandy beaches like the rest of my East Coast drive. Oh no—it’s a muddy wasteland complete with dangerous creatures ready to attack anyone who enters the water! Luckily, Cairns more than makes up for its lack of beaches with tons of free beachside activities to choose from—including a salt water lagoon that easily became my favorite hang out in town.
My first day in Cairns (pronounced “cans”) was spent seeking out the beach.
Before returning the rental car, I parked near the shore and walked toward the sea.
I walked passed a huge skate park and lots of people hanging out along a wooden boardwalk stretching the coastline. Looking down over the other side of the walkway, my eyes could hardly believe the sight.
Dark mud stretched out for several hundred feet to the ocean. Seagulls, pelicans, and other sea birds lapped in dirty water channeling through the muck. Not a soul in sight was out in the water save for a small boy whose mother was calling for him to get his filthy hands and swim trunks back onto the boardwalk for a hose down.
I walked down the wooden-slatted walkway and found a sign explaining everything to me.
Warning! Crocodiles inhabit this area attacks may cause injury or death
Zoiks! A reminder that I'm in Australia!
A little further down the walkway there were big educational billboards describing the environment of the Cairns area where I learned even more.
Marine stingers, or jellyfish like the deadly Box Jellyfish, are a big concern here mainly between November and May. But salt water crocodiles are lurking all year round. These aggressive creatures are not to be messed with. And Cairns doesn’t mess with them.
The free activities
Instead, the Cairns Regional Council built a brilliant 2.5km foreshore promenade complete with BBQs, a huge skate park, numerous playgrounds, an amphitheater, and more.
The best part? Everything is free to the public.
There are even 6-day a week fitness classes you can join and community Wi-Fi access that’s actually relatively fast!
More towns and cities should create places like this as it was really the main draw of Cairns. Aside from it being a major port for launching Great Barrier Reef tours, Cairns would be a pretty dull town for tourists.
I feel a little bad for anyone who invested in a trip to Cairns prior to 2003. If you’re one of them, definitely consider returning!
The amount of money and planning that went into creating the Esplanade was obvious to me as I walked along. The sight and sounds of tourists and locals alike enjoying this recreation area was a delight.
My favorite part of it all was the lagoon.
As the perfect answer to the problem of an unsafe, muddy shore, the lagoon is a huge public pool with fish fountains, white sand, and sunken lounge chairs.
The lagoon waters are filtered in from the sea every 3 hours to keep it clean and clear of debris. This means the water is slightly salty. The salt water should be no bother, as there are outdoor showers and restrooms with indoor showers in a modern building behind the lagoon.
Solo travelers can go here worry free—paid lockers are there to ensure you have the chance to enjoy the water without leaving you’re valuables out in the open.
When I visited on a Saturday there was the weekly market nearby and live music on the sprawling green lawn. I could easily explore the area and then mosey on back to my towel in between dips in the lagoon without concern for my things getting stolen.
I took a picnic lunch and lied out in the sun for most of the day with tons of other people doing the same around me.
The Esplanade was the perfect place to spend my last few days on land before my extended dive trip! I was so happy to find such a relaxing spot to hang out outdoors, free of worry from getting eaten by crocodiles or stung by jellyfish!
As a result of the Esplanade alone, Cairns is definitely a place I’d visit again.