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Cairns, 1703 km north of Brisbane, is the perfect starting point for exploring Far North Queensland. The coastal attractions include the magnificent Great Barrier Reef and, further north, the tropical beaches of the Marlin Coast. Inland you will find the rainforests and plains of the Atherton Tableland and the Gulf savanna. To the north lie the lush Daintree National Park and the varied wet-tropics landscape of Cape York. In Cairns hostels can help you make travel arrangements to visit all of these major attractions.

The city itself mixes grand colonial architecture, old pubs and high-set Queenslander style homes with modern shopping malls and apartment blocks. In the early days Cairns and Port Douglas were great rivals but in 1924, when
the railway line from Brisbane was terminated at Cairns, Cairns then became the major city in North Queensland. It has grown at a phenomenal rate since 1979, with many new suburbs appearing as if by magic -its population is now 101,000.

The city is a major tourist destination for overseas travellers, especially since the opening of the Cairns International Airport. It is also a popular holiday destination for Australians wanting to experience this part of their own country. Accommodation ranges from the luxury island resorts and five star hotels to rainforest retreats, family units, camping and caravan parks to backpacker hostels. There is a stunning array of things to see and do in Cairns. Explore the deserted mining towns and the small isolated communities that still service the mining and pastoral industries. Take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming or just admiring the myriad life forms and fascinating colours of the coral.

The Kuranda Scenic Rail ride up the range west of Cairns goes through tunnels, over bridged ravines and past the Coral Sea at Australia AdventuresBarron Gorge waterfalls, arriving at the station of Kuranda, reputed to be the prettiest railway station in the country. The Kuranda markets are famous for their variety and quality. Also, there is a 7.5 km trip to Kuranda on the Skyrail, the world's longest gondola cableway, which rides above the World Heritage rainforest canopy, with spectacular views of the Coral Sea beaches, cane fields and the mountains.

Other activities include whitewater rafting down the Tully River, a thrilling hot-air balloon flight at sunrise, a 4WD safari through the rugged outback country, or a Tiger Moth or helicopter sightseeing ride over spectacular waterfalls and rainforests. The Australian Woolshed puts on shearing and working sheep dog demonstrations, and Barron Gorge Power Station, an underground hydro-electric power station, is open for tours.

The future of Cairns seems well assured, with the tourist industry continuing to grow, the $100 million Sherga RAAF Base near Weipa currently under construction, the multi-million dollar Tully Millstream hydro-electric scheme and the possibility of the Cape York Space Station project finally becoming a reality. Cairns' main annual festival, 'Fun in the Sun', is held every year in October.

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