TOUCHDOWN! We finally made it to Cairns after 30 long hours of plane seats, airport terminals and excited anticipation, having touched down in London, Singapore and Darwin before finally being allowed to free roam Australian territory. After 6 months of looking forward to this very moment, we couldn’t hide the smiles from our faces. We called our hostel for a ride from the airport (transfers to airports/bus stations are usually offered at Aussie hostels), and went to get introduced to our new home.
As we drove from the airport to our very first Australian hostel, it became clear that the Aussies interpret the word ‘city’ very differently to the UK. For me, a city is a big sprawling metropolis of sky-scrapers, traffic and people everywhere, but Cairns is far from that, and is a nice taster of the laid back Aussie vibe experienced along the coast.
The busiest area is at the eastern end towards the marina, and the furthest from the airport. This is where you will find Cairns’ popular lagoon (a free and public open air swimming pool), as well as supermarkets, pubs, shops, travel stores, the bus station and a big shopping centre. The Esplanade is a footpath which runs along the sea front from the lagoon, all the way up to the Nomads hostel, the furthest from the town centre. It is flanked by grassy areas and free public amenities like BBQs, fitness equipment, a skate park and many benches to rest at and take it all in.
You are not able to swim in the sea in and around Cairns due to the risk of crocodiles and jellyfish, and even without these potentially deadly factors, the tide goes out much further than I could be bothered to walk anyway! Stick to the lagoon and the hostel’s swimming pools, or book a trip out to the reef where stinger suits are available
Free WIFI is available at the lagoon, in the grassy park areas around it, and on a few of the major roads away from the waterfront, so use and abuse it as much as you can because this isn’t always the case further south. Most hostels offer WIFI too, though not always free, so there’s really no excuse not to Skype home and/or snapchat your friends to make them jealous!
There are several hostels and airbnbs in Cairns to chose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and scattered across the whole city. Some of the most popular are:
Having booked our accommodation as a package in England, our first stop was to Calypso Inn Backpackers. Calypso was the first hostel we’d ever experienced in Australia, and was pleasant enough for two novice travellers with a lot to learn about what a nice hostel looked like. There wasn’t much of a social area and the kitchen was split into a ‘pot noodles and microwave meal’ kitchen upstairs, and a real kitchen with ovens downstairs but there was free WIFI and the staff were really friendly. The rooms were quite dark but there was free evening entertainment and a licensed bar, so all in all with nothing to compare to we thought Calypso was ‘alright’
Location – 4 Out of the city centre but a free shuttle bus into the city offered every hour. 20-25 minute walk into the city centre which is nice along the Esplanade.
Vibe – 8 Super chilled, just how we like it with Reggae drifting through the air when you’re in the common areas.
Facilities – 8 Other than the dark rooms and the ill-equipped upstairs kitchen, we were left wanting nothing.
Overall – 7/10
We moved to Nomads having visited for a morning. It is our favourite Cairns hostel and the one we’d recommend to you. There are LOADS of rooms so it’s a great place to meet people, loads of social areas with sofas and a TV, free table tennis, a large kitchen, an on site bar, free WIFI, a huge swimming pool, onsite MAD Travel desk (we booked our trip all the way to Noosa here), free daily activities like volleyball, and an on site restaurant for when you can’t be bothered cooking.
Location – 3 By far the furthest hostel from the city but a free shuttle bus is offered (almost) every hour. It’ll take 30-40 minutes to walk it, or head in the opposite direction and check out the botanical gardens
Vibe – 9 Another super chilled out hostel. Fairly quiet during the days but gets busy at night as people head into the bar/restaurant including local Cairns residents
Facilities – 10 There was nothing we wanted that wasn’t here. We booked our stay at the MAD desk along with some trips, so were given a discounted rate for a private en-suite room which was pretty awesome!
Overall – 9/10
What to do in Cairns
So now you’ve arrived at your hostel, dumped your bags in your dorm room and left the front door to go and see your first glimpses of Australia, where do you go?
There are heaps of shops and eateries lining the streets, and various travel shops you can call into to start booking your adventures. A word of warning that the popular travel companies give their employees a large commission percentage so you will be approached every time you walk past their store front. There are also a few camper van rental companies in Cairns if you were interested in planning your own road trip, with cars available too to explore the area for a day or two.
Head to the lagoon if the temperature is typically high and take a dip admiring one of the best pool views in Australia, or head to Cairns Central shopping centre to grab whatever bits and pieces you left on your bed at home. Every week there is a cute market at the esplanade so go and check it out, there are all sorts of stalls to take a look around.
Take a walk or ride up to the Botanic Gardens if you fancy some greenery in your life, although you’ll see plenty on your tours around Cairns, or head to one the parks to get your sun tan started whilst logged onto the WIFI reading this post and figuring out what you’re doing tomorrow.
What to do around Cairns
Cairns is not lacking for things to do in its surrounding areas and you could be forgiven for being a bit overwhelmed by it all, so here are some of the best bits.
The Great Barrier Reef
One of the seven wonders of the natural world and an absolute must do. The scientists say that the reef is being destroyed so get it while you can. We would highly recommend a tour including AT LEAST an introductory dive – an accompanied scuba dive for unqualified divers, we went with Passions Of Paradise. If you have more time, money and desire, there are numerous diving shops around Cairns where you can book a PADI course to enable you to do longer dives out on the reef, but it is an expensive qualification to obtain.
We chose to go on a full day trip including an introductory dive, and two snorkelling opportunities as well as lunch and refreshments. The dive was a truly special experience and I would recommend it to everyone, just don’t forget your GoPro!
Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation isn’t one of seven wonders of the world, but maybe it should be? Cape Trib beach is the only place in the world where two Unesco World Heritage sites overlap, but the physical experience of being on a deserted, white sandy beach beats any ‘world’s only’ accolade. You really do have to experience it for yourself.
Our tour included a swim in Mossman Gorge, boasting the second cleanest water in the world, (no longer included), rainforest boardwalk, croc-spotting river cruise on the Daintree river, and Cassowary spotting as we drove through the dense forest. The overnight tour gave us the best experience of Cape Tribulation, with 24 hours to ourselves to explore the area. Anything more could have been too much, and anything else might have felt a little rushed, but if your options are 1 day tour, or nothing, take the 1 day tour!
We stayed at the Cape Tribulation Beach House (we were even lucky enough to get an upgrade to our own room rather than a dorm, woo!) and spent our evening watching the stars and watching people dancing round a campfire. The atmosphere was incredible and remains one of our favourite Aussie experiences.
Uncle Brians Fun, Falls and Forest tour will take you deep into the Atherton tablelands and have you entertained all day long. The tour goes to various waterfalls and swimming holes so this is definitely one for the water babies. Stop offs include Millaa Millaa falls, famous for the Herbal Essences hair flick, Josephine falls, a natural waterslide, Babinda boulders, an awesome river bed full of huge boulders, and Lake Eacham, a mesmerisingly blue crater lake created by volcanic activity.
Other activities that we would have done if we had more time/were brave enough/did our research better before we left(!) include:
White water rafting
White water rafting on the Tully river is a popular adrenaline activity to run out of Cairns. Get your swimmers on and strap yourself in for some grade 3 and 4 white water madness.
AJ Hackett Bungy Jump
I’m still not sure I would have opted for this even with all the time in the world, but if you’re after a super adrenaline trip, then throw yourself off the world’s first purpose built Bungy Tower and see if you can prevent accidental bowel movement.
Quad biking tour
Take a tour through rainforests and water traps as fast as your dare on the back of a 250cc quad biking. A must do for any speed demons!
So there you have it. Your full and complete guide to Cairns and all the things you can get up to, so what are you waiting for, get booking!
Check out our youtube video of our time in Cairns below
Kay and Dom
* All views and opinions are our own, we are not sponsored by any company(s) we just want to create great guides for people to enjoy their time travelling in Australia.