Merely mention Tropical North Queensland and most people salivate in anticipation. The region is not just about the adventures you have when the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest – two World Heritage Listed areas – collide, it is also home to superb taste sensations and some of the nation’s favourite food trails.
Here we start in Cairns and find 24 hours worth of good nosh.
8AM: FIRST SHOT FROM BLACKBIRD ESPRESSO BY COFFEE NQ
Wake up and begin your day in a Cairns coffee shop that’s just been ranked by Beanhunter as the second best in the country. Sure, it’s a bit of effort to find tucked away in Oceana Walk Arcade, and yes, you won’t get the megawatt Esplanade views that you do in other locations.
But what you do get is fair-trade organic house blend coffee served smooth and delicious by the very friendly owners, Troy and Danielle, who seem to genuinely love what they do.
Head to Re:Hab Café in the Boland Centre located in Lake Street (open from 7am to 10pm). The French toast with banana, ice-cream and home-made coconut jam will fuel anyone’s idea of a tropical adventure.
10AM: RUSTY’S MARKETS, GRAFTON STREET
What began with just six stalls back in the 1980s, is now a throbbing market with more than 180 stallholders selling everything from cheese to tropical fruit, wine and Asian food. Beware though, Rusty’s, as it’s affectionately known, is only open from early Friday morning through to Sunday afternoon.
So if you hanker for fresh produce outside the weekend hours, pop into Jonsson’s Farm Market close to the airport where a fourth-generation farming family sell fresh produce and last-minute gifts like Daintree Chai Tea and locally-made chilli paste.
When I’m strapped for time in Cairns, there are two places I go, and they couldn’t be more different. Coco’s in the lobby of the Pullman Hotel delivers a beautifully cooked Power Lunch in less than 20 minutes (for just $25 with a fresh cup of coffee), while the cheap and cheerful Pho Viet in Lake Street serves up the perfect Banh Mi (crispy Vietnamese roll) alongside the usual noodle suspects.
AFTERNOON: HALF-DAY TROPICAL ADVENTURE OPTIONS
Okay, you didn’t come to Cairns just for food. Surely! Spend the afternoon on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and float above the rainforest canopy to Kuranda before returning via the cute-as-a-pic Kuranda Scenic Rail, a heritage steam train that navigates tight turns and passes a gushing waterfall.
First-class foodies will not miss the special 3.30pm Gold Class return train service, which serves sparkling wine and canapes for an additional $48 per person.
Tip: At the top of the range, there’s a myriad of touristy places to visit but we say leave time for the Kuranda Rainforest Coffee in Thongon Street where locally-grown beans are hand selected and roasted on site daily. Belinda, the owner, is passionate about good coffee and is sure to recommend the cold drip served on ice.
If you’re feeling peckish, Le Petit Café in Therwine Street does a great French-Aussie hybrid crepe. This one has kangaroo prosciutto, bush tomato chutney with egg, cheese, and cherry tomato… all for just $16.
What to buy at the Heritage Markets: Okay, it’s a bit odd, but if you want something that’s bound to create a chuckle or two back home, head to The Kangaroo Shop and pick up a kangaroo fur bikini (Is that a rookini?) to stand out on the beach this summer.
Willy Wonka would have loved this palace of digestive pleasure. At Gelocchio, the Italian Australian owners take sustainability up a notch with gelati made from fresh, local fruit served on a stick.
Try the mango and coconut, chai latte, fresh lychee, passionfruit or mojito or create your own ice-cream by dipping into a choice of three chocolates, and smother it with any of nine toppings. Sweet dreams are made of this.
7.30PM: L’UNICO TRATTORIA, TRINITY BEACH
Tell a local that you are heading to L’unico on the northern beaches, 20 kilometres north of Cairns, and your food cred will instantly double.
This beachside Italian haunt has been around for more than 15 years (trust me, I celebrated two big milestones there) and consistently dishes up fresh oysters, decent sized pastas and full flavoured locally-caught fish.
The huge verandas over the beach and swaying palms aren’t half bad either and make up the second part of the equation to a storybook dining experience.
After all that, roll into bed and get ready to tackle one of our other Tropical North Queensland food trails tomorrow!
HAVE YOU BEEN TO CAIRNS? WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE FOODIE EXPERIENCE?
Originally published on Hello, Sunshine, the Offical Blog of Queensland, Australia.