For me, planning a holiday can be almost as much fun as going on one but the one area that drags me down every time is trying to find hotels. For our trip to Australia last summer we were in the lucky position of only needing to find hotels to cover 3 nights in Cairns since the rest of the time we'd be either on a plane getting there or back, on a boat on the Great Barrier Reef or staying with my relatives in Sydney. Added to that, my parents had paid for our flights so we could afford to push to boat out a bit on the hotels.
I knew nothing about Cairns and everyone I know who had been there told me that they really thought it was absolutely NOT my kind of town. They predicted I'd hate the high-rise hotels and cheesy seaside atmosphere of the place and that I would be ready to strangle a host of backpackers within an hour or two of arriving. I therefore decided to be a bit snobby and reject every place that was going to appeal to backpackers and look for something nicer. I used the trivago hotel comparison site to narrow down a list of hotels within 1 km of the town centre and then went through lots of hotel reviews, struggling to get a clear picture. Just as I was about to give up because my head was so full of information and I was no closer to making a decision, I got an email from Hilton Hotels telling me that they were running a summer promotion offering two nights for the price of one. Since I always like Hilton hotels and this seemed like a really good bargain, I booked for our first two nights and paid about £160 in total, opting to pay a bit extra for a room with a 'water view'.
We flew to Sydney then took an internal flight up to Cairns with Virgin Blue, landing late in the evening. In the baggage collection area we found a company offering mini-bus shuttles to the city and we booked two places. We realised at the end of our trip that it would have been a lot quicker to just take a taxi and possibly not that much more expensive either but it was quite nice to take the slow approach and to see lots of other hotels on our way to the Hilton. I didn't feel envious of the others and arrived at our hotel thinking we'd not made a bad choice.
The location is fabulous as it's right on the waterfront, close to the jetties where the dive boats and day boats go out from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. This is at the south end of the city centre on a plot that's set back from the busier roads and is very quiet. The main inlet of the sea is right beside the hotel. It's also close to lots of restaurants including many along the boardwalk by the jetties, casinos (if that's what you like to do on holiday) and shops. We found no problems to just walk out of the hotel, wander around and take our chances on what we found. Even the museums and art galleries (yes, contrary to all the old jokes about Australia and 'culture' there are such places) were no more than 15 minutes walk.
Arrival and First Impressions
Australians seem to be a friendly bunch by nature and our welcome and check in was warm and seemed sincere. The guy on reception took a lot of time to tell us where everything was, what time breakfast was served, to reconfirm that it was included in our booking and to explain how the lifts worked.
The lobby is very imposing and done out in Hilton's revamped style with some very funky curved sofas and lampshades which I've seen in other Hilton hotels in the past couple of years. There's even a raked gravel garden if you're looking for a moment of zen-like contemplation. The bar was brightly lit with some amazingly shaped chairs that were really eye catching. But since we'd been travelling for a day and a half by the time we arrived, we went straight to our room to get some sleep. The lifts are card-activated for security which surprised me in a such an easy-going country as that's something I've only experienced in places like Russia and Poland where the hotel are trying to keep prostitutes away from the residential floors.
Room with a View
The rooms are arranged off open corridors which overlook tropical gardens. We really felt like we'd arrived somewhere rather special. Although it's one of Hilton's older hotels, the refurb that's been done is very impressive. Our room was light, fresh and very comfortable with walls painted in buttermilk and pistachio and the carpets were light green with a grey pattern. The first things I noticed were the rattan chaise longue and the French windows. Despite being night time we were straight out on the balcony to sniff the sea air. The bed was a king size with crisp white linens and my husband had the kettle filled and was making a brew before he had his shoes off. There was a small work desk (which I was happy not to need) and the TV was a massive flat screen with lots of channels. There was even a Sony Playstation but I don't have a clue what to do with one of those so it was purely decorative for us. Other services included several telephones and broadband. The room had some very attractive paper lampshades including a floor standing tall paper lamp which were classier than I've probably made them sound.We paid a little extra for a water-view room (not actually the sea, it was a wide creek instead) and I'm glad we did. The view was beautiful and waking up in the morning to see sail boats floating past was really worth the extra cost.
Food Glorious Food
We ate a leisurely breakfast in the Hanuman restaurant on the first morning and grabbed a very early and very rushed snack on the second morning because we were leaving for our dive trip. The long breakfast was excellent with a spectacular selection of food from all continents. This is a place where you can have a bowl of oriental congee (if you're mad enough), some sushi, American pancakes or a full English – the world is your eating oyster! (no oysters actually but nearly everything else you can think of). Smartly dressed waiting staff were happily running back and forth doing made-to-order cappuccinos and omelettes whenever anyone wanted them. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows that look out over the hotel gardens and towards the wedding chapel. You could also catch a glimpse of the 50 m freeform swimming pool.
I was a little worried that the hotel might be a bit too fancy. I've suffered in the past from dragging my very relaxed and scruffy husband into hotels where he just felt a bit uncomfortable. The Hilton in Cairns manages to be visually stunning without making you feel that if you sit on the sofas you'll make the place look messy. Perhaps this is party that Australians just don't 'do' formality and certainly don't do 'dressing up' but we didn't feel at all uneasy at this hotel. It's plush without being posh, comfortable without dipping into condescension and friendly without being fussy. It worked perfectly for us.
Would I go again?
In all honesty, probably not but only because I was disappointed by our dive trip. Perhaps 15 years of longing to see the Great Barrier Reef meant I was pre-destined to find it disappointing. I would go again, but probably not to Cairns since – as predicted by all my friends – it really wasn't my kind of town and I think we did everything there was to do during our few days there. However, if for some reason I had to be in Cairns again, then I loved the Hilton and I wouldn't hesitate to go back for another stay. Since I'm usually a total tightwad who books cheap budget hotels I was glad that on this occasion we'd gone a bit more up-market and after a long journey, it was really worth paying for a bit more luxury than normal.