The flight on Jetstar from Adelaide left at the ungodly hour of 6:20am, and landed in Cairns at 9:45am. We were met in the Arrivals / Baggage claim area by a weary looking old chap from England called Frank who was holding up a sign with my name on it. The chap worked for Krystal Transport, and I’d chosen this particular company as it provides a non-stop transfer from the airport to Port Douglas for $70 per person one way, a trip of an hour. Unfortunately, the baggage belt at the airport decided to beak down just before our check-in bags had been put on it, which meant a 30 minute delay in us leaving the airport. Still, it gave us time to buy a coffee and a ham, cheese and tomato focaccia, and to have a chat with Maria, a Colombian woman traveling alone with her young child and more luggage than one poor woman could handle alone. She’d worked in Bogota as a dental nurse for 10 years, then fell in love with a Peruvian and moved to Australia. She had to start from scratch, learning the language, and re-qualifiying as a dental nurse as her qualifications are not recognized in Australia. Even then, with no experience in Australia, she couldn’t find a job. She told us she’d been trying in Adelaide for the past year, with no success, and had finally made the decision to fly out to a small town near Cairns that needed her kind of expertise and was lacking in local dental nurses, leaving her husband in Adelaide. She was being met at the airport by the manager of the dental practitioners where she’d be working, an older woman with a hard but kindly face. Maria’s husband should be ashamed of himself. If that’s love…..Maria was going to be contracted for a year here. I hope she finds what she is looking for.
Vero and I walked out with Frank and got into our mini-van taxi. The journey took us past sweeping coastline vistas to the right, mountains blanketed by dense rainforest to the left. All the way, Frank droned on, his Queen’s English voice barely audible. I took notes of the various tips he had – sunset at the Tin Shed, Cane Toad races at the Iron Bar, Poseidon for an outer reef cruise, various rainforest experiences we could have etc. He also told us a little about his life, chuckling a little as he did so, shoulders hunched and head popping up over the steering wheel like a withered old turtle driving. He left England in 1974, arriving in Sydney where he found work. He had a brief stint teaching EFL in Japan, Korea and China in the 2000s, and arrived in Cairns 10 years ago. He doesn’t particularly miss England, not having been back since 1988. Frank also mentioned a 9 year old daughter. Thai wife, I suspect.
We arrived outside the Pink Flamingo on Davidson road, a long road dotted with resorts either side to cater to all budgets and tastes. I’d chosen the Pink Flamingo as it appeared unique – each villa full of charming touches that promised ‘something different.’ I’d had enough of the boring chains of the chains of The Hilton and Stamford I’d experienced in Adelaide. Of course, boasting such a name, it’s no surprise that the Pink Flamingo enjoys a status as the number one gay and lesbian friendly resort in Cairns, and is in the top 5 in North Australia. At least it meant no kids would be running around screaming. This is Australia after all, not the Philippines.
Bade Frank farewell. He gave me his card, and slouched back into the drivers seat and off he went. Vero and I walked into the leafy grounds of the Pink Flamingo. It was beautiful here. A private, tropical oasis, nice pool, flowers everywhere, and it seemed as though all the colours of the rainbow had been given to a painter to splash liberally everywhere. Vero and I were shown Villa 2 by the friendly German owner. It was certainly a place that seemed to have been worked on with gay abandon by a landscape designer and architect. Behind the big wooden gates there was a hammock, a big brick bath, tables and chairs, and a gothic 3 pronged pole of candles. Inside, a kitchen, a huge sofa with multi-coloured cushions, a huge bed with red carpet at the foot, red curtains draped everywhere, and a nice shower. Wooden shutters opened up or shut out the outside world. It was lush, rich, homely, all oranges, reds, and deep pinks. Vero and I were smitten instantly.
It was now 12:30. Not wanting to waste time, I booked a sunset cruise with Aquarius for $50 per adult for that very afternoon – evening, and a full day diving and snorkeling tour on the Poseidon for a whopping $250 per person for the next day. Then, we headed out down the leafy street to the little path, where we beat a right and walked down to 4-mile beach. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful beach. 4 mile beach stretched for around a mile into the distance, mountains providing the backdrop and a choppy dark blue pacific ocean in front of that. I wouldn’t be swimming in that. A sign warning of ‘stingers’ put any tiny flame of swimming desire out, and Vero and I had to be content with strolling down the golden sand beach, passing palms with people sunbathing underneath and ducking under huge ropes that are used to lower nets into the water creating small ‘swimming zones.’ We carried on up the path that wound up the hill, a path that provided some stunning vistas over 4 mile beach. At the top was an exclusive enclave full of posh houses and expensive apartments. I wouldn’t mind one of those, I thought, as I walked past, gazing hopefully into the gardens as though a leprechaun might be in there prancing about on the grass to hear me. He wasn’t.
We wound down to Macrossan road, the ‘main’ road in Port Douglas, lined with bars, restaurant, travel agents and arts and crafts shops either side. Like on the beach, not many were out, possibly because it was around 1:30pm, the hottest part of the day, and partly because most tourists were probably on day trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Even if more were here, Port Douglas would still have a sleepy feel (as well as a slightly ‘frontier town’ ambience as we discovered in certain bars in the evenings). We walked the length of the road, which took about 5 minutes, then we headed across to a lovely park fringed with lush palms underneath which locals and tourists sat sunbathing, reading books, gazing out into the ocean, relaxing. Vero and I followed suit, getting the climbing mat out, laying down, and falling asleep under a swaying palm (thankfully stripped of coconuts). We emerged at 3:30, feeling a bit like flash-fried baby calamari. We walked around to the Marina. We had to be on the boat for the sunset cruise at 4:25. We gobbled a sandwich, I ran to the bottle shop on Macossan road to get a bottle of Rose as the cruise is BYO, and we got headed onto the boat.
The Aquarius is a lovely fully-sailed catamaran, elegant and very well-appointed. They had champagne flutes and wine glasses available, fridges and cool boxes for whatever alcohol you brought. Vero and I sat at the top, and marveled at the way the sails were unfurled. A beautiful boat. We headed out of the Marina, past an Osprey chilling on a mangrove, and into the open sea. It was choppy, but it didn’t deter people from glugging their wine. We were also served a selection of canapés by a delightful and very friendly Argentine chica who had married an Aussie guy and moved here. The captain, Mark, was really friendly too, and told us of how he had left Sydney years ago to work here, and didn’t miss the rat race at all. “You have to accept that you’re not going to make much money”, he explained, “but I love what I do, I’m outdoors, I’m working my body, I’m talking to people, and I’ll live a hell of a lot longer than those in the city.” Fair point. I found a lot of people in Cairns like him – loose spirits who hadn’t been really able to fit in with or adapt to the fast-paced rat-race, loathed it, and took a certain pride in being rugged ‘outdoors’ types, looking down at those still ‘stuck’ in the rat race. “Singapore – must be boring as hell!” Mark said. People over here don’t beat around the bush.
The canapés went down a treat, as did the rose. Mark and the Argentine were entertaining hosts. It was just too rough. And we didn’t get to enjoy a sunset, as the sun disappeared behind a big black cloud and never came back. We tried to find a bat colony, but they weren’t in the mood to show themselves either. Oh well. It had been worth it anyway. Worth it to feel the sea breeze in your face. Worth it to feel alive again.
Vero and I walked to Macrossan road and popped into the Iron Bar where we enjoyed calamari and pita bread with a selection of dips, washed down with a refreshing bottle of Great Northern lager – possibly the cleanest, crispest lager I’ve ever tasted. A spotty chap was doing the rounds trying to get people to buy a ticket to enter the Cane Toad races. Unfortunately, we were far too tired to hang around for the race, so we left for the 20 minute walk back to the Pink Flamingo. A great start to the trip.