Fragrance of sugar
When you’re cruising the Pacific Ocean with MSC Cruises, Cairns is the port of call for you.
Cairns was pegged out over the site of a sea-slug fishing camp when gold was found to the north in 1876, though it was the Atherton Tablelands’ tin and timber resources that established the town and kept it ahead of its nearby rival, Port Douglas.
When you step ashore from your MSC cruise, you’ll realize that Cairns’ strength lies in doing, not seeing: there are few monuments, natural or otherwise. Your best introduction to the region’s heritage is at the Cairns Museum, which uses photos and artefacts to explore maritime history, the Tjapukai and Bama Aborigines of the Tablelands, and Chinese involvement in the city and Palmer goldfields. Other exhibits range from World War II memorabilia to a frightening dentist’s chair. At City Place, the open-air pedestrian mall outside the museum, you’ll find Cairns’ souvenir-shopping centre, with a rash of cafés, and shops selling didgeridoos, T-shirts, paintings and cuddly toy koalas.
Local performers do their best at the small sound shell here from time to time, and there are often more professional offerings in the evenings. A shore excursion on your MSC Grand Voyages cruise can also be the opportunity to visit Kuranda. Most people come for the much-hyped daily markets, though there are also a number of good wildlife enclosures; look out for discounted combined deals to these attractions.
The road from Cairns comes in at the top of town, near the markets; however, a spectacular alternative is to travel up on the historic KurandaScenic Railway, which ascends slothfully into the Tablelands from Cairns via the Barron Gorge (stopping for a photo), and down aboard one of the green gondolas of the Skyrail cable car (or vice versa). Both offer spectacular glimpses of rainforest and falls.