By Suzie Luddon
I don’t think climate is high on the list of things that make Melbourne the world’s most livable city. Or maybe it is, as there’s usually something for everyone in this fair but fickle town. However, in winter, Melbourne makes up its mind. It’s decidedly cold and often wet.
As someone who needs regular doses of warm healing sunshine, it’s usually around this time of year that I’m looking for an escape to somewhere warm. Northern hemisphere anyone? Or how about northern Queensland?
I’d vote for Australia as the world’s most livable country, for in a three-hour flight from Melbourne you can be shedding the Gore-Tex and donning the lycra in delightfully deco and latitudinally blessed Cairns.
Billed as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree and Port Douglas, I’m not sure that Cairns gets the recognition it deserves as a destination in its own right. Base yourself here and you can easily access the big hitters, but you can also enjoy all the city has to offer, from heritage buildings and a vibrant arts scene to a happening entertainment precinct and a stunning waterfront that beckons, staking its claim as the beating heart of town.
Here you can take in the ocean views while walking or cycling the coastal trails, then cool down in the giant lagoon pool set next to the sea amid parkland, with plenty of barbecue areas and shaded picnic spots. Or you can relax in one of the many seaside cafes and choose from the plethora of options for getting out on the water.
With ever increasing and disturbing news reports about the ever decreasing and dying barrier reef, we opted for a day on Fitzroy Island. A mere hour or so by boat from Cairns, it’s a pleasantly unspoiled gem of an island with lots of hidden coves and bays, and bushwalks to the interior and up to the peak. You can go on a glass-bottomed boat tour around the reef and then snorkel off the beach in the invitingly calm and warm water.
Time disappears when you glide in with snorkel and fins and become enchanted by the coral and sea life just below the surface. It’s another world, with schools of fish swarming by, impossibly painted in electric blue and canary yellow with black stripes, and lumbering turtles lingering on the bottom. And there really is coral that looks like brains, as we’d been told on the boat tour.
We hadn’t had enough when the bell tolled, signalling that we needed to get back to the boat. The crew coming over had warned that anyone not back on board by 4.30pm would be left behind. We were sorely tempted to ignore the bell and stay longer. But the prospect of dinner at the night market in Cairns saw us obediently board the boat, which left on time minus one traveller who must have decided to stay, marooned on this paradise of an island until the next day. Maybe it was a Melburnian.
We met a lot of refugees from Victoria during our stay, all of whom had moved to Cairns for the sun and change of pace. Driving around the beautiful northern beaches and up into the hills above Cairns, it wasn’t hard to see why. As one former Victorian put it, it’s like being on holiday every day.
I’m not of a mind to leave this beloved city of Melbourne, but getting away to warmer climes is a midwinter tonic that I couldn’t do without, and to anyone of a similar mind, I promise that Cairns won’t disappoint.
Fitzroy Island, Northern Queensland