AT this time of year it’s all about the mangoes. Summer in Cairns might be hot and sweaty but it’s also time for the best mango deals in the country. At Rusty’s Market in Spence Street - a vibrant undercover sprawl right in the centre of town - the mangoes are going out at ridiculously cheap prices. Great big fat things the size of melons, they’re piled in mini mountains at every stall and the stallholders are competing heavily with each other to offer the lowest price. With such a luxurious fruit so available, so cheap, it’s worth a summer visit to Cairns just for the mangos.
And it’s not only mangoes selling for next to nothing at Rusty’s. Big avocados are three for two dollars and limes (almost a dollar each where I live on the Sunshine Coast) are heaped high on dozens of stalls just waiting for you to take a half a dozen home for a measly two dollars.
Rusty’s Market is a Cairns institution and it’s not only the locals who pile in to fill their bags with inexpensive fruit and vegetables. Most Cairns visitors make at least one trip to Rusty’s after they’ve been to the reef, if not to stock up on produce then to eat samosas or sushi at the many crowded food stalls.
Rusty’s has a 30 year history, beginning as most good things do, humbly. From just six stalls developed by the late Emrys ‘Rusty’ Rees, it now has more than 180 stalls offering everything from mangosteens to a string of pearls.
You might need to squeeze your way through crowds of knowledgeable locals filling their bags with paw paws and jackfruit, you might have to fight for a seat at the coffee stall where over 40 blends of coffee are available, you’ll enjoy watching the locals staggering out beneath enormous stems of vibrant tropical flowers, and you will definitely have to queue for a bowl of fresh Thai noodles...but it will be worth it. Rusty’s has all the atmosphere of a busy Italian or French market but with its tropical offerings there is no doubt where you are.
We buy limes and go back to our accommodation and make big jugs of margaritas. We buy avocados and throw chunks of them into salads and sometimes stand at the sink eating them halved and smothered with good mayo. As for the mangoes, we buy truck loads, take them to The Esplanade with its swimming lagoon and picnic areas and indulge in a mango orgy, letting the sweet juices run down our fingers and drip down our fronts.
But if you require more than mangoes to satisfy you on a Cairns visit, it is said there are 650 days trips and tours available in Cairns every day of the week. Add to that the sophisticated delights of Palm Cove just 20 minutes away and the natural ruggedness and cooler temperatures of Cape Tribulation further north, and you have an indulgent summer visit to North Queensland.
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