After spending two weeks road tripping north up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane Nick and I arrived in Cairns and camped there, at the Cairns Coconut site, for two nights. We had a trip booked out to The Great Barrier Reef for the day after we arrived in town and the tour company we booked with were picking us up at 6:20am. Sadly unlike our amazing experience with Whitsunday Bullet the vegan options on Reef Experience were terrible. We started badly at breakfast time with a spinach, carrot, and cucumber roll with some balsamic drizzle (what the what?!) whilst everyone else ate bacon and egg rolls. Lunch was just more salad with some roasted pumpkin in place of all of the meaty things everyone else was eating. I was getting pretty irritated by this point especially as the woman in charge kept calling us her "little vegans" which felt super patronising. Ugh!
There were also snacks for after snorkelling, cheese and crackers I think, and they didn't even try to find us a vegan option for that. It was definitely one of the worst vegan catering experiences I've had in recent memory and I was pretty annoyed that they'd told me that they can cater for vegan guests. I brought emergency snacks with me, ate all of them, and was still starving when we got off of the boat at the end of the day. When you have hours of physical activity ahead of you you can't just eat salad! It's ridiculous that in 2017, in a country with plentiful vegan options, people still think vegans basically just eat vegetables.
Getting to see The Great Barrier Reef was cool though and I was glad that we went, I'd just pick a different tour company next time. Even getting into the water wasn't great as we had to ask for lens cleaner for our masks and the woman helping people into the water was eye rolling at the people in front of us behind their backs because they were taking a while to get in. The sea was pretty choppy (you need to take anti sickness medication on these journeys, at one point about 12 people were throwing up at one time) and I was feeling pretty rushed. I even forgot to get a pool noodle and had to go back for one. As soon as we were out there snorkelling everything was great. We saw a reef shark almost immediately which was terrifying - they have no interest in humans but still, it is a shark! It was so cool. We also saw maori wrasse, fusiliers, cute butterfly fish, shoals of damselfish, and my very fave' parrotfish. The coral situation was really sad though. It's basically dead and from the research I've been doing since visiting I'm not sure that tour groups are helping the reef. Economically I think that it would ruin Cairns if the trips out there were to cease but I think that the reef needs it. I'm not an expert but as soon as I get back to a country where Netflix works I'm excited to check out the documentary Chasing Coral. It's made by the same team of people who made Chasing Ice which is one of the best environmental documentaries I've ever seen.
The day after our reef trip and just before returning the van we drove into the centre of Cairns to check into the Cairns Central YHA hostel as we thought that it made a whole lot of sense to do it that way round rather than lugging our backpacks back across town from the van hire place to the hostel on the bus. This turned out to be a smart plan and we even had time for a little cupcake stop at Cakes Annie Time.
Before I travel anywhere I check for options on Happy Cow but I also scope out local hashtags like #cairnsvegan and #vegancairns to see what's new and then hopefully I can discover somewhere to add to Happy Cow. Like this place! Hopefully more vegan travellers will find it now that it's on there because this place is a gem. It's not all vegan but it has a good range of options for both drinks and cupcakes. I chose a lamington cupcake whilst Nick went with cookies and cream.These were a delight and I wished that I'd had the chance to go back for more. Another great Instagram find was Waffle on Cairns a popular brunch spot that has both sweet and savoury vegan waffles on the menu. The savoury waffles weren't really an option for me as I'd have had to make a bunch of substitutions to keep my stomach happy so I went with sweet which wasn't exactly a hardship.
These coconut based waffles came with fruit, syrup, and coconut whipped cream and I was very impressed with the fruit selection. It included so many of my favourites; strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, as well as banana which is a must for waffles in my opinion. The coconut cream could have been a little better as it was a quite thick and heavy, I would have preferred something a little lighter like Isa's rad whip. This was a solid brunch option though and I would definitely recommend it. I love that more and more non vegan places are adding vegan options to their menus. The more options there are the easier it'll be for people to go vegan and then more 100% vegan places will appear because of demand. Bring on all of the food!
Cairns isn't a big city and I don't think that you'd need to spend more than a day exploring, we were only there for one full day and we fitted in everything we wanted to do. We found a great shop for souvenirs and things just down the street from Waffle on Cairns called Makin' Whoopee. This little gift shop is cooperatively run by three friends who put on art pop ups and sell the work of over 40 local artists as well as some from further afield. I got a cute postcard and a vinyl sticker for my suitcase for when we are eventually reunited one day!
The lagoon on Cairns esplanade is a fun place to while away a few hours. There's plenty of shade and the pool is huge, free, and has great facilities including showers and a changing area. We also stumbled upon a brilliant tree full of flying foxes which isn't technically a tourist attraction but I was pretty mesmerised by it! I've never seen so many bats and I love that they've declared the trees a conservation area to make sure that nothing happens to their homes.
Lastly I loved the Cairns Art Gallery. It was another free attraction and I thought that it was the perfect size for an afternoon wander. All of the exhibits were fascinating; ranging from a photography exhibit chronicling Australia's frontier wars, to the examination of narratives of the Pacific Islands as paradise and the life of islanders in relation to slavery and the sugar cane industry. I didn't take any pictures of those exhibits but I snapped some shots of the gorgeous textile pieces in the Lei It On show which focussed on the contemporary lei and body art of the Torres Strait Islanders.
They're so beautiful. Each piece was collaboratively made and had so many different meanings and memories sewn into it. The whole museum was fascinating. I love it when I can learn something from art, those are the pieces that tend to stick with me rather than the exhibits that were only aesthetically pleasing. Nick and I chatted about art (and bats!) over matcha lattes and tasty raw desserts at Pineapple Cafe before heading back to the hostel to grab our backpacks and catch our flight to Bali.
We've been having an amazing time exploring Bali, Lombok, and the Gili Islands so stay tuned for more travel fun coming your way on Friday. Have you had any disappointing vegan catering experiences recently? Commiserate with me in the comments!