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Wednesday morning my wife and I are headed to Cairns, from the US. We'll be in Cairns for 4 days before heading to Auckland. We will pick-up a van in Auckland and spend 8 days driving down to Christchurch.

Most of the trip is planned, but I could use some local insight for the following items:

First few days in Cairns:
We have a day trip planned to Green Island (12/21). Otherwise we have nothing else planned. We are staying at the Rydges Tradewinds. 12/18-12/22. We'll also be back again from 12/31-1/2. We'll be looking for something to do for newyears. Thoughts?

In NZ, we arrive in Auckland on the 22nd. We have a ferry in Wellington on the night of the 26th. We are canyoning on the 23rd, then planning to head to Rotorua to hike and ride. The problem is finding lodging on Christmas day. I know if we check in on the 24th and leave on the 26th all will be well, but I'd sort of like to head to Wellington on the 25th and camp there that night, so we can ride the next day before our ferry. Do you think I'll be able to check in at a campsite on Christmas day? Do things shut down in NZ the way they do in the USA for Christmas?

Finally, Mt. Cook. We'd like to camp in the area. Should I have already made reservations at a campground? Or will I be able to just find someplace when we get there?

So in summary:

Activities in Cairns:

The availability of services on Christmas day in NZ:

Reservations or wing it for camping grounds:
 

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fan of maple syrup
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I think there might be a few people from Cairns on here, but in case they're less frequent visitors, I can tell you what I know from holidaying there once a few years ago.

Assuming you're going diving/snorkelling on your Green Island day trip - that's the Great Barrier Reef covered, which is probably the biggest attraction on that whole coastline. Though if you 'really' want to see the GBR you need to go somewhere remote by a smaller charter, as most of the regular islands/quays get so many visitors the reefs around them are a little lacklustre. If you're loaded I hear getting dropped off by seaplane is the shizz. Plus the reef looks amazing from up there.

For riding, there's a DH track in the mountains behind Cairns, home to the '96 World Championships (won by Nico Vouilloz that year). Others who live up there might be able to provide insight into any XC tracks.

There's a gondola/skyrail thingy that takes you up into the rainforest if that's your thing.

About an hour north of Cairns is Mossman Gorge which has some pretty nice walks around it. The rainforest here is not too different to the Daintree, which is further north again. The part I liked about the Daintree is exploring the beaches with the rainforst right there where the sand ends.

That's about all I know. From what I gathered when I was there, the small beach towns north (Trinity Beach, Palm Cove) were nicer than the city of Cairns - bit more laid back. We only went into the city to do reef trips. There's a casino I think, if you're after a bit of poker. We didn't swim much off the mainland beaches due to jellyfish & crocs, but out on the islands you're safer.

Oh, and it's friggin hot up there, plus it's nearing tropical cyclone season I think - so watch out for those.

Have a fun trip.
 
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