Sunday, August 3, 2014

Australia Day 7--Sydney to Cairns, Holiday Inn Cairns & the Cairns Esplanade

Australia series

Australia Day 1--Qantas flight 8 DFW-BNE (Dallas to Brisbane)
Australia Day 2--Flight to Sydney, the Westin Sydney hotel & sightseeing
Australia Days 3/4--Hunter Valley & the Blue Mountains
Australia Day 5--Sydney sightseeing and Manly Beach
Australia Day 6--Paddy's Market, Bondi to Coogee Walk & Darling Harbour
Australia Day 7--Sydney to Cairns, Holiday Inn Cairns & the Cairns Esplanade
Australia Day 8--The Great Barrier Reef 
Australia Day 9--Kuranda Koala Gardens, Skyrail & Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Australia Day 10--Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation 
Australia Day 11--Going home, Part 1, Cairns to Brisbane
Australia Day 11--Going home, Part 2, Brisbane to Honolulu  

Sydney to Cairns

Another one of my aspirations was to visit The Great Barrier Reef. I decided Cairns (pronounced "cans" by the locals) was the best place for us to stay based on the hotel options and reef tours. So after five nights in Sydney, we packed up our belongings and flew to Cairns.
My cousin had a very early flight to Cairns, so she headed to the airport just before 5 am. I got to sleep in a bit, checking out of the hotel around 7:30 am. As I mentioned previously, the train to the airport was quite expensive for such a short ride. The ride from Sydney CBD to the domestic airport was $16.40 AUD. I like to cut costs wherever I can and splurge on the fun things, so I decided to once again go with the cheaper train/bus combo to the airport.

Going to the airport
I got on the train at St. James station (a 10-minute walk from the Westin) and bought a $3.80 ticket to Mascot station, which was the stop just before the airport. At Mascot, I was supposed to catch the 400 bus, and I had a little trouble locating the bus stop, but I eventually found it. After 10 minutes, the bus came. I thought the bus cost around $2, however the driver told everyone getting on that it was free fare. Woohoo!

One stop later, I was at the domestic terminal checking in for my three-hour flight to Cairns. I booked a one-way flight in economy class using 10,000 American Airlines miles and paid $21.50 USD in taxes. I was on Qantas flight 922, departing at 10:40 am and sat in seat 25A, which was near the back of the plane.

Goodbye Sydney!

Typical economy leg room
I was surprised that we were served lunch, being that USA domestic flights in economy don't get lunch. I was offered a hot choice of chicken pie or fish curry. I declined both and just took the tray without the main course. Later, we were given an ice cream bar.

I was surprised to get food in coach

And dessert!
When we landed in Cairns and de-planed, I immediately felt the difference in temperature from Sydney. In Sydney, the days were nice (highs in the 60s), but the nights were colder (40s to 50s). In Cairns, it was much warmer (highs in the mid to upper 70s).

Hello Cairns!

My cousin was waiting for me near the car rental counters as we had previously discussed. In researching transportation options from the airport to our hotel in Cairns city, I found the taxi to be the most reasonable, as far as price and convenience. There was no public transportation, so the only options were shuttles and taxi.

Holiday Inn Cairns

The taxi ride to the Holiday Inn was around $24, so $12 per person & we didn't have to worry about it taking longer to drop other people off like a shuttle would do. We arrived at the hotel after 15 minutes or so. It was around 2 pm.

Photo taken later in the evening
Holiday Inn atrium

We were able to immediately check in. The room cost 30,000 IHG Rewards points per night, so I used 120,000 points for 4 nights. The nice thing about the IHG program is that if you have the credit card (I do), you get a 10% percent rebate on all points redemptions, meaning I should get back 12,000 points. This usually posts to my account 4-6 weeks after the stay. This drops the number of points used to 108,000.
I got the points by participating in IHG's Big Win promotion earlier in the year. This promotion involved completing various stays at IHG properties. Everyone's specific promotion was different, but I was able to "mattress run" four nights in my local area for a total cost of about $300 to receive over 100,000 points. Instead of just paying this out of pocket, I used cash back bonuses from some new credit cards, bringing my expense to $0.

Unlike the gorgeous Westin we stayed at in Sydney, the Holiday Inn Cairns was quite rough around the edges. As I am a platinum rewards member (thanks to the IHG credit card), at check-in, I was upgraded to a sea-view room. The view was the best thing about the room.

Balcony in the room
I could look at that view all day

View in the other direction
First, the room and the bathroom were considerably smaller than the room we had in Sydney.

No more Westin "Heavenly Bed"

Second, there were bugs! When I felt the tropical climate, I had a feeling there might be bugs. Well, I opened a desk drawer and saw a nice little note from management about if you see ants in the room to call management for spraying. The note also mentioned that the geckos were quite common. We have those in Texas, so I understood, but still not a fan of them.
I didn't see any geckos, but I definitely saw ants. We had to call for spraying on the first night and the last night. I will say that customer service was top-notch. They came in to spray promptly and even changed my cousin's bed sheets. They were very apologetic and offered us drink coupons the first time and free breakfast the second time. The hotel had free Internet for rewards members, but the signal was very weak from the room.

The Cairns Esplanade

The Holiday Inn was located was well-suited for visiting the Esplanade, or the main drag in Cairns. There were lots of shops, restaurants and live entertainment along the Esplanade.

Live music on the Esplanade
Cairns Esplanade

Entertainment on the Esplanade

Some people are surprised to find that instead of a beach in Cairns, there are only mudflats. However, I had done my research, and I knew there was no beach.

Cairns is NOT a beach town
Since there is no real beach in Cairns, there is a free public swimming lagoon along the Esplanade. It was a little cool, but I really wanted to swim, so I hopped in for a little while, while my cousin used the free public wi-fi.

Swimming lagoon

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Then we grabbed dinner from a local spot along the Esplanade and watched a Japanese man performing a fire show before calling it a night.

Where we ate dinner

More entertainment

No comments:

Post a Comment