Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. It’s situated at the north east corner of Australia and provides a more tropical environment than the cities to the south. Though it has no beaches, it does have a man made lagoon along the Esplanade that’s fun to hang out at. The Esplanade and surrounding area also have free city wifi which we found pretty useful! Make sure to at least snorkel the reef, and enjoy the town. If this is your starting point like it was for us, one thing to watch out for is a little bit of culture shock. We were told the same thing and blew it off but going from $8 rooms, $0.50 beers to $50 rooms and $8 beers really surprises you. Australia is very expensive; prepare for it.
How to Get There
Our trip to Cairns from Bali was pretty much a disaster. Due to an “ash cloud” our flight was re-routed from a direct flight Bali to Cairns to include a stopover in Perth. If you are unfamiliar with Australian geography, Perth is on the complete opposite coast of Cairns. We arrived there at 4 pm after a 4 hour flight from Bali and we had to waste 8 hours hanging out in the Perth airport (nothing like the Singapore airport!) until our flight left to Cairns at midnight. The 4 hour flight and time change meant we arrived in Cairns at 6am after sleeping for about an hour during the past 36 hours. Yay travelling! We took a taxi from the airport for about $20 AUS to get to the Esplanade where we found a bunch of hostels.
If you’re coming from the south, the trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns is about 11 hours. We were strapped for options because we booked late and had to switch buses in Townsville, and that added another hour onto our trip. We had a hop-on/hop-off greyhound pass, but the individual trip costs about $90 AUS.
Where to Stay
- Global Backpackers – We stayed in a private double room at this hostel on the Esplanade for $50 AUS. Very basic compared to SEA. It was literally a bed in a white walled room, no windows, no wifi, not even a shelf. Communal bathrooms were fairly clean and there wasn’t too much noise. The travel agent near the front desk is really good and won’t try to screw you over like the guys at Greyhound. You also get a voucher from the front desk for a $7 meal and drink at P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub just around the corner which is a pretty good deal. You can book a room at Global Backpackers online here.
Things to Do
- Great Barrier Reef – Book a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef! Whether you dive or snorkel, the reef is something you have to see, as it’s full beauty might not be around that much longer. We were able to book a dive to the reef the day before through the Cairns Dive Center for $200 AUS each, for two guaranteed dives. For snorkeling it’s $150.Both include all the equipment you need, including stinger suits. Both trip options go on the same boat and start the two hour boat ride to the dive site at 7am. After your dive is finished you’re able to shed your dive tank and snorkel around the reef until the boat is ready to move to the next location. Lunch on the boat was great and was included in the price. The Cairns Dive Center is located at the corner of Abbott and Shields or go to their website.
- Cairns Esplanade Lagoon – Right on the waterfront this man made lagoon makes up for the lack of a real beach in Cairns. The lagoon has a sand entrance on one side and a dock on the other, and never goes deeper than 5 feet. There are bathroom and changing facilities right beside the lagoon, as well as picnic tables and BBQs free to use in the park beside it. The wifi works really well here too.
Places to Eat
- P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub – A lively pub at the corner of Lake and Abbott St. that we frequented a lot due to the $7 meal and drink voucher provided by Global Backpackers. Food was good with big portions, and the free drink was a bonus. A nice pub to spend a night out!