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North of the sun

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

North of the sun

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland
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Queensland’s tropical north is rich in rainforests, reefs, relaxation and robust adventure. For HIA members enjoying the 2024 National Conference in Cairns, this region is a slice of paradise.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

Queensland’s tropical north is rich in rainforests, reefs, relaxation and robust adventure. For HIA members enjoying the 2024 National Conference in Cairns, this region is a slice of paradise.

In the 1980s, Queensland’s iconic slogan, ‘Beautiful one day, perfect the next’, showcased the state’s striking beauty. Even now, this tourism campaign still resonates, particularly when exploring the wonders of Tropical North Queensland. 

The epicentre of this region is the city of Cairns. With an international airport, an extensive wharf complex and luxurious resorts, it boasts a relaxed ambience and balmy weather all year round. Housing reveals some unforgettable things to do and explore when visiting the vibrant destination of Cairns. It’s a perfect bookend to the exciting HIA 2024 National Conference and HIA-CSR Housing Awards on 16-18 May. 

Sun and fun city 

Are you attracted to action-packed adventures or prefer chilling at a blissful resort? How about exploring the natural wilderness and the world-famous reef or settling in for waterfront dining? It’s all on offer in the vibrant, multicultural city of Cairns. The hub of the city is the vibrant Cairns Esplanade, a 2.5km stretch of foreshore which recently underwent a major makeover. Apart from strolling – or riding – along the waterfront, the Cairns Esplanade Dining Precinct offers an abundance of taste sensations. Whether you’re looking for a causal cafe, a lively brewery or an award-winning restaurant, these venues offer innovative dishes that surprise and delight.

Calypso Club is a perfect venue to chill and sip tasty pina coladas. Photo courtesy of Crystalbrook Collection
Ochre restaurant showcases the best of Australian produce to the world. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Menus are influenced by the location and the region’s native ingredients. For instance, the highly acclaimed restaurant, Ochre, showcases the best of Australia’s produce to the world. Some of its iconic dishes include salt and native pepper leaf crocodile, Daintree tea smoked duck breast, and an Australian antipasto platter that comprises emu wonton and salmon green ant gravlax. 

To soak up the ambience of the Esplanade, the recently opened Calypso Club is a perfect venue to chill and sip tasty pina coladas. Located at Crystalbrook Collection Cairns, this chic rum bar and seafood kitchen draws inspiration from European tavernas and American crab shacks. Its sustainability focused menu ranges from a Daintree barramundi burger to mud crab and snapper croquettes, making it a taste sensation!

Jump in the massive man-made Esplanade Lagoon.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

It’s worth exploring Cairns Esplanade’s sea themed sculptures, night markets and the creative Muddies playgrounds. Bring your swimmers so you can jump into the massive man-made Esplanade Lagoon, a free saltwater swimming pool overlooking the picturesque Trinity Inlet. For more action, try a fast-and-furious jet-boat ride.

Try a fast and furious jet boat ride.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Another not-to-miss experience is visiting the lush Cairns Botanic Gardens. Take a walking tour or settle in – quietly – to see some of Australia’s most beautiful and colourful birdlife.

Paradise and prehistoric 

Just 111 kilometres north of Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest come together, merging two World Heritage Sites. Described as ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’, this is the country’s largest continuous rainforest – over 1200 square kilometres in size. The area is home to 30 per cent of Australia’s marsupial, reptile and frog species, along with a diverse range of bats and butterflies. 

The abundance of fauna is accompanied by the largest diversity of flora in the country. If you’re keen on the rare or prehistoric, the area includes 12 of the world’s 19 primitive plant families, including the Idiot Fruit. This unfortunately named plant, with its bulbous spiral flowers, dates over 110 million years old.

The Daintree is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland
The prehistoric Idiot fruit, thought to be over 110 million years old. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Speaking of prehistoric ages, the Daintree’s flightless cassowary is dubbed a ‘living dinosaur’. It looks akin to its prehistoric ancestors, with its helmet head, blue neck, fierce claws and remarkable two-metre stature. Dating back 65 million years, it creates a sound that’s so low in frequency, humans can’t hear it. 

To see a cassowary, join a guided rainforest tour, visiting them in their natural habitat. You might also see a genetically primeval local, the saltwater crocodile. Growing up to six metres in length, they can be found in estuaries, lagoons and hundreds of kilometres out to sea. So, keep your sightseeing to inside the boat, from a sanctuary or when visiting a crocodile farm.

As well as spotting these prehistoric critters, there are many scenic areas to explore. In the Cairns surrounds, there are numerous rainforest walks, swimming holes and remote beaches to discover. 

Falling for you 

Rising more than 700 metres above sea level is the lush wetlands of the Atherton Tablelands, located southwest of Cairns. Just over an hour away by car or tour bus, the area was born from an ancient coral reef. The geographic origins eroded over centuries, resulting in an array of caves, crater lakes and the crowd favourite – cascading waterfalls. 

Malanda Falls is surrounded by lush green rainforests. With the proximity of the visitor centre and carpark, the falls are perfect for little legs or the more leisurely minded. Millaa Millaa Falls with an Insta-worthy 18-metre-drop is a popular location. For picnickers, the grassy area allows for a snack between dips or a glimpse of an elusive platypus if you’re lucky. 

Nandroya Falls. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland
Skyrail rainforest cableway. Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Some 7.5 kilometres away, the roaring Zillie Falls and surrounding rocks are accompanied by rock pools made for floating. The moss-covered Nandroya Falls and its little sister Silver Falls are not only spectacular but home to the world’s largest fern, the aptly named King Fern. 

Luckily, most of the waterfalls in the Tablelands can be accessed via a waterfall circuit itinerary and trails. In addition, there are more Tablelands adventures, including Kuranda Wildlife Experience, kayaking, hot-air balloons and crystal caves. If you’d like to take in the sights from the sky, the spectacular Skyrail Rainforest Cableway spans 7.5 kilometres above Barron Gorge and Barron Falls.

Yidiny and history

Prior to colonisation, Cairns, the surrounding Tablelands and Mulgrave River were home to the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji (Yidiny) people. Both rainforest dwelling and seafaring, the clans had intimate knowledge of their natural surrounds and were expert at understanding seasonal challenges and changes. Like many areas of Australia their fate was greatly impacted by the European immersion.

Indigenous tours offer insights and education.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

From 1770 to the early 1870s, the area was simply known as Trinity Bay and the Indigenous people were left mostly to themselves, with the exception of some European beche de mer fishermen, hunting the highly desired sea cucumbers. Their interactions often ended in violent confrontations. The discovery of gold in a nearby river changed the dynamic and with it the population. Cairns was officially named in 1876 and agriculture, rail lines and population growth followed. During World War 2, the Esplanade was a major training ground for defence force and amphibious landings. 

The city now has a population of over 150,000 with an economy supported mostly by tourism. The four groups of the Yidiny people are acknowledged as the traditional owners and custodians of the region, providing tours and education.

The Crystalbrook Collection 

Combining sustainable responsibility and luxury living, the Crystalbrook Collection in Cairns creates a unique experience on the Cairns Esplanade. 

As the preferred accommodation partner for HIA’s 2024 National Conference, you can book by emailing groups@crystalbrookcollection.com, quoting the promotional code: HIA 2024. 

Visit HIA Conference accommodation for special conference prices. Rooms are allocated on a first-in first-served basis.

Crystalbrook’s Bailey.

Photo courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland

A note from Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Tropical North Queensland’s world-class experiences are ready to welcome visitors after record-breaking flooding last summer. Flight and accommodation deals have been launched to entice travellers to explore the Great Barrier Reef and one of the world’s oldest rainforests. With one-in-five jobs depending on tourism in Tropical North Queensland, the best thing you can do is to visit the only place where two World Heritage areas meet. 

Visit Cairns and Great Barrier Reef deal.


Things to do

Where to dine

For more informaltion, visit HIA National Conference

First published on 6 March 2024

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