There's much more to Far North Queensland than just mud flats, mangoes and backpackers wearing cut-off denims. CARLA GROSSETTI becomes a tourist in her hometown to uncover the very best that the Tropical North has to offer families.
My children's snorts of laughter are amplified through their snorkels as they follow me, waddling backwards in my flippers and flopping gracelessly into the sea at Michaelmas Cay in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. My husband and I and our two children Fin, seven, and Marley, six, were whisked here via the cobalt waters off the coast of Cairns aboard Passions of Paradise, a 25 metre catamaran.
As well as the corrugated sand, which has been beautifully patterned by the sea and wind, the warm, shallow waters here are perfect for reacquainting our children with the art of snorkelling. ("Remember, breathe out not in when your snorkel fills with water!") and they are thrilled when they finally start communing with the fish over the colourful coral.
After a few hours of this family fun we enjoy a glass bottom boat ride before purring back to the cat for a delicious smorgasbord lunch. The crew then hoists the big red spinnaker and we head into the bluey green yonder to our next destination, Paradise Reef. Both boys beg for a turn at the helm as the cat reaches speeds of up to 16 knots, leaving a silvery rish of water in our wake.
Fin thinks the onboard marine naturalist presentation on coral and bird life is "the best show and tell ever" while Marley loudly declares he's going to try and catch a turtle to bring home because he wants "a pet that won't poo in the garden". His turtle-stalking tendencies are put to the test soon after when his brother spots one swimming vertically near a shoal of fish at Paradise Reef. We also spy some psychedelic coral, a giant pink-rimmed clam and some bona fide trout pouts.
The following day we continue the family fun adventures onshore at the Cairns Tropical Zoo. The zoo gives visitors the chance to cuddle a koala, feed kangaroos and see jaw-snapping crocodiles devour chickens. But it's the wildlife talks that leave the biggest impact on my impressionable boys. Our khaki-clad wildlife guide uses up-close experiences with the animals to quietly educate visitors on the importance of protecting out fauna.
On our last night in Cairns, we check into the Mantra Trilogy, where we get to make the most of the city’s impressive infrastructure – as well as the local blue buses that zip you all over the city, there’s the amazing Muddie’s Playground; a 3km coastal bike path; a world-class skate park and man-made resort-style Lagoon. And it’s all free and within coo-ee of our fabulous accommodation!