For too long Byron Bay and Nimbin have held the eastern coast crowns of best ‘alternative’ towns. Ryan Auberson-Walsh thinks it’s time to have another look at somewhere a little further north – 1874km to be exact – and wander the streets of Cairns – the human hub of the Great Barrier Reef.
Normally a small city of around 150,000, tourists flock Cairns’ palm-lined streets in droves with hopes of making it out to one of Australia’s top World Heritage Sites and bringing the likes of Pixar’s Finding Nemo to life. Clownfish and black tip reef sharks aside, the rolling hills that surround the suburbs are spiritual for indigenous Australians and fulfilling for organic foodies.
But what’s sure to set Cairns apart for the younger crowd is its ability to turn out such an unusual range of attractions with brilliant café and juice bars, jewellery boutiques and vegan grocery stores nestled in-between jam-packed markets and backpacker bars. Here are two spots that need to be put on your next Tropical North Queensland itinerary.
Shi Sha Beads
Sadly it’s got nothing to do with agile/hookah- I figured that one out after entering. But it does still draw you in for several other reasons, namely their make-your-own bead station and the hundreds of trinkets that were shipped from the likes of Thailand, Morocco and South Africa.
The walls are plastered with carved wooden masks and dreamcatchers dangle from a stand near the counter. The back of the store has dense racks filled with beautiful dresses, tops and pants – think tie-dye, frills and flowing fits.
Yet nothing compares to the front of the store. A huge table contains a selection of different beads that can be weaved together for your very own bracelet or necklace.
And something for the guys who mightn’t be interested? There’s a ‘husband couch’. So sit back, relax and let your loved one bead to their heart’s content.
A local love, this is by far the crown jewel of the markets in Cairns. It may only be open Friday-Sunday, but there are around 100 stalls that do what all markets do, but better.
Expect to see old clothing, locally made produce including rainforest honey and wood-frame sunglasses, fresh fruit and vegetables, and food glorious food.
On one end of the large warehouse structure is a mini enclave of food trucks that dosh out the most authentic regional flavours. A true multicultural mix, favourites include Samoan, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Philo and Indian – there are enough Asian tastes here to best Cabramatta in Sydney – and I’m including Vietnamese pork rolls in that statement. Happy to fight you over it.
The absolute highlight is a little stall near the main entrance that’s set up by Gyorgi Katzler where you can nibble on Hungarian cakes and pastries – the most delicious of which would have to be a triangle puff stuffed with homemade pesto, capsicum, zucchini and eggplant. I would like to encourage this lovely lady to open a restaurant so she can start reeling in the Michelin stars.
Oh Rusty’s, the markets in Melbourne have got nothing on you.