My Birthday Down Under

NOTE: I’m heading to the wine country of Barossa for a few days and may not have internet access, so I’m doing a very quick and sloppy post from the airport in Adelaide. My apologies. Bear with me, I’ll post when I can!

We arrived in Cairns on my 40th birthday to enjoy a day in this beachside Queensland town before boarding our liveaboard for three days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is a really cute town, very navigable, and with a very vibrant young vibe. A total beach-bums paradise.

Deep Sea Divers' Den in Cairns
Our dive shop and boat operators, Deep Sea Divers’ Den in Cairns. They were awesome.

As a testament to its youthfulness, it has lots of hostels and backpackers hotels, like the infamous Gilligan’s. This backpacker’s compound includes an $18 a night hostel, a travel agency to book different excursions, onsite laundry ($2 a load, according to a sign), a hopping pool area and a large bar and disco that seemed to be the happening spot.

Gilligans hostel in Cairns

Even our GBR tour operators were planning on going there the night we were returning to Cairns. Unfortunately, we’re too old to attend (well, one of us is too old) and we had to pick up our rental car, so we never made it to Gilligan’s. Wah-wah-wah.

Cairns was also the home to the Pole Idol pole dancing contest at one of their local bars, some Irish pub that looked EXACTLY like a Fado’s. I urged XFE to enter the contest, but he demurred.

Night out in Cairns, Australia

We stayed at the Hilton Cairns, which was kinda old on the outside, but the rooms and the lobby had been recently renovated and were quite nice. Our room overlooked an area where some construction was going on to extend the pier, but it wasn’t disruptive or noisy. Then again, we were only there one night.

Hilton Cairns, Australia

Hilton Cairns, Australia

Speaking of the pier, there were a lot of great bars and restaurants all along the waterfront, including one where they deliver ice through a series of those air tubes like the ones used by banks back in the day.

Bars along the pier in Cairns, Australia

We were in Cairns during the “wet season,” when there are a lot fewer tourists and visitors around, although there were a lot of Japanese tourists in town. I suppose for them, Queensland is basically like their Caribbean. Which also explains why there were a lot of high-end shops like Louis Vuitton.

We did the quintessential thing and went shopping for opals. Normally I think opals are really fussy and old fashioned, but we found a necklace with a really nice modern setting. Unfortunately, because we bought it duty free, I can’t wear it (or even open it) until we get to Bangkok and clear customs.

XFE had arranged a birthday dinner at Ochre, a place in Cairns specializing in “modern Australian cuisine.” We skipped the more adventurous “Taste of Australia” four course menu (kangaroo, crocodile, wallaby) and had the phenomenal six-course tasting menu with wine pairings instead.

modern Australian cuisine at Ochre, Cairns

It was all amazing, but the highlight might have been the crispy salt and pepper quail with watermelon rind and wild lime pickle. Divine.

modern Australian cuisine at Ochre, Cairns

They ended the meal with a wonderful crème brulee made with quandong (I have no idea what that is) and a special plate wishing me a happy birthday. Which it really, really was.

Birthday dinner at Ochre, Cairns

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