The Far North Queensland town of Cairns is surrounded by the world’s oldest tropical rainforest on one side and the Coral Sea on the other. But beyond that, the area also boasts beautiful local produce, gourmet picnic experiences and a lively art scene. And it’s a known fact that beachside cocktails taste better in Cairns. With so much to cram into one weekend, here are our tips for getting most out of a short break.

Day one

Start the day with breakfast at Bang & Grind on Spence St. The eggs Benedict is a local favourite and comes with a choice of meat (bacon, ham or smoked salmon), or go the other direction and order a breakfast banana split, loaded with homemade granola, yoghurt, berry compote and roasted coconut. Coffee is from locals Ransom Specialty Coffee Roasters, and its colourful milkshakes in a jar make for a photogenic breakfast.

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After you’ve eaten, wander a few minutes through town to the Cairns Art Gallery. A touring exhibition from Canberra’s National Gallery, Rauschenberg & Johns: Significant Others, hits town between September 9 and November 19, 2023. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, lovers who met in the 1950s in New York City, acted as each other’s muses as they crafted groundbreaking avant-garde art against a backdrop of forbidden love (when same-sex relationships were illegal in the United States). Their relationship is considered one of the most important artistic dialogues of the 20th century, and the artworks it inspired remain vital today.

Grab a bite to eat at the gallery restaurant before driving half an hour north to Palm Cove Beach, a relaxed beachside community shrouded by 500-year-old melaleuca trees and coconut palms. Hire a kayak or just stroll along the pale sand. You could even go for an indulgent spa treatment, the ideal pre-dinner activity.

Nu Nu is nestled right on the beach at Palm Cove. Start with a cocktail (a coconut and pandan Daiquiri sets the scene well) then take your pick of Australia’s finest produce from the sea and the land. Think Pacific oysters, spanner crab, raw yellowfin tuna, Victorian lamb, slow-roasted beef – the range is huge and servings are generous, so come hungry.

Take a post-dinner stroll 500 metres down the beach to check in at The Reef House, a boutique hotel and spa with all the luxe trappings. Enjoy complimentary canapes and punch on arrival, before taking a dip in the tranquillity pool, then settle in for a blissful night’s sleep before a big day two.

Day two

Start day two at 27 Degrees for a beachside breakfast. The retro-styled cafe serves up acai bowls with a generous dollop of peanut butter made on-site by the Peanut Project. The coffee and smoothies are spot on and, if you can’t get a seat, there are worse places to plonk yourself than on the beach.

Get changed into your activewear and drive 15 minutes south for a 3.6-kilometre hike up the Earl Hill Summit Track. The short but steep climb rewards you with stunning views of the coastline and the rainforest-clad mountains surrounding Cairns.

You’ll have definitely worked up a sweat, so make your way down to Half Moon Bay Beach to catch your breath. This secluded spot doesn’t get a lot of tourist traffic, so don’t be surprised if you’re the only ones on the beach. It’s not a place for swimming due to crocodiles in the area, but just walking along the sand and exploring the rocks at the northern end (also a great fishing spot) makes a visit worthwhile.

Head back to The Reef House, where your hosts will have conjured a gourmet picnic, prepared by their in-house chef (remember to order it the day before). Take your picnic basket to the pool, the patio or the beach, and delve into antipasti for two, parma ham, a selection of cheese and crackers, a petit fours assortment, coconut macaroons and a fresh tropical fruit salad.

The last stop of the day is at Vivo for a sunset cocktail on the tropical-scented verandah overlooking the ocean. Its signature drink is the “Cojito”, which puts a coconut twist on the classic Mojito, and an Aperol Spritz always goes down a treat on balmy northern Queensland evenings. If you’re still peckish after your picnic, there’s no shame in leafing through the Mediterranean-style menu – think fettucine marinara, duck pappardelle, reef fish tacos and crab tagliatelline.

Before you retire back at The Reef House, stop for a quick jump in the jacuzzi, at which point you’ll probably feel a tinge of sadness that your tropical weekend is almost at its end – a disappointment mitigated by making a booking to return.

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