YOU hear them before you see them: the unmistakable rhythmic beat of sandshoes on pavement and then a slight pant as their wearers draw closer from behind.
The rollerbladers are more stealth-like as they glide along in silent, snakey manoeuvres. By the time you realise they’re there, they’ve already overtaken you.
The whirr of pram wheels of a power-walking young mum mixes with the natter of friends on their daily pre-breakfast exercise.
The day hasn’t yet reached 6.30 but you can tell it won’t be long before the sun will have some bite and the glare on the shoreline ripples will soon become blinding.
Cairns and I have become well-acquainted over many years. But in all my touristy eagerness to uncover her outward beauty and charms, I had failed to pause and breathe in her simple pleasures.
But the Cairns Foreshore Promenade along the Esplanade on this glorious Saturday morning in spring was full of local residents and tourists doing just that.
The unofficial Far North Queensland capital has its act together in encouraging a healthy approach to life and creating a playground for young and old in its multi-million-dollar foreshore redevelopment.
The Esplanade was the first street to be surveyed in Cairns in October 1876 and originally was named Troughton Esplanade after the Travelling Superintendent of the Australian Steam Navigation Company, Captain Fred Troughton. It is now the hub of recreational pursuits and the ideal place for some shady down-time in its seemingly endless beachfront park.
I start my stroll from the quiet end of town outside the Mercure Cairns Harbourside Hotel near Charles Street.
Strategically placed benches, seats and picnic tables are dotted along the pedestrian, jogger and cyclist-friendly paths, allowing for the occasional break to stop, sit and admire the water view across the tidal mudflats, a trio of pelicans waiting patiently for their breakfast or another squillionaire’s yacht coming into port.
Exercise stations offer a free workout program, while multiple beach volleyball courts beckon all-comers to join a casual, no doubt multicultural team and do their bit for world peace.
Picnickers with basketfuls of delicacies lovingly laid out on colourful tablecloths stake their claim to soft green grass under the shade of flowering poinciana trees, fragrant frangipani or palms of all descriptions.
A giant children’s playground and waterfront café breakfast menu adds to the sanity-saving mix for families, while across the park, your interest is piqued by the many hotels, restaurants, shops and businesses outnumbering the residences and holiday homes as you near the CBD.
Uniformed teams gather with their craft under portable shade structures for their outrigging competition as my destination – the 4ha lagoon with its unmistakable fish sculpture – comes into sight.
Its free swimming pool has only just opened for the day but is already proving to be popular for locals wanting to do a few laps, and tourists simply seeking somewhere to get wet and be seen in their new swimsuits.
My return journey will be at a somewhat brisker pace to have breakfast and then be ready for a wander through Rusty’s Markets, between Grafton and Sheridan streets, where locals are spoilt for choice for freshly picked and harvested fruit and veges.
But not before I exercise my right to do nothing for a few minutes but sit on a park bench and breathe in the fresh, salty air.
This is the life, Cairns-style, and I haven’t spent a cent enjoying it.
Where to stay:
MERCURE CAIRNS HARBOURSIDE
209-217 The Esplanade, Cairns.
Phone 1800 079 131
For more on Cairns Esplanade, visit www.cairnsesplanade.com
Where to shop:
Between Grafton and Sheridan streets, Cairns (next to Gilligan’s)
Opening times are: Friday 5am to 6pm, Saturday 6am to 3pm, and Sunday 6am to 2pm.