Australia Travel

My Guide to Cairns, Australia

October 13, 2015

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Cairns was somewhere I always wanted to visit, pretty much as soon as the Beard and I decided that we wanted to do a year in Australia. I’d heard so many amazing things about this place, and I also knew it was a hot spot for Great Barrier Reef trips. So after five months of living and working in Brisbane, we flew up to Cairns for a few days of sun, sea and … a man-made beach!

My Top Picks for Cairns Activities

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The Lagoon (free)
The very first thing we did was head to the man-made beach aka The Lagoon. This is one of the many things I love about Australia; even if the area is inhabitable to a real beach, that doesn’t stop the Aussies from having beach fun. Brisbane had a fantastic man-made beach that we spent many a days at (when we should have been job hunting, oops).

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cairns guide lagoon

Cairns obviously does already have a beach, but it’s not people friendly. It is not only full of harmful jelly fish, but there have also been crocs spotted lurking in the water too. Not exactly everyone’s idea of a fun day out at the beach, right? So the people of Cairns created the Lagoon. A pool that is styled like a beach and is beautiful. It is right by the beach, so you still have the stunning views of the Coral Sea, whilst swimming in the crystal clear water of the lagoon, which is jelly fish free of course. I imagine this is somewhere you will hang out a lot like we did. It was our go to place if we wanted to chill out. It is right on the Cairns Esplanade, so is surrounded by coffee shops, bars and restaurants, not to mention the grassy area where you can work out for free…

Fitness Classes (free)
I loved watching these. Everyday these classes take place, that you can join in for free, and people of all ages would take part. They do a mix so that there is something for everyone, from early morning yoga and meditation to Boxing and Zumba classes. I wasn’t really into my fitness back then, but if I was there now I would absolutely take a class! What a view to look at whilst working out (and I imagine the heat would leave you sweating out even more toxins and burning more calories).

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The Great Barrier Reef
This is a MUST if you are heading to Cairns and it’s one of the main reasons so many people head there. There are lots of different companies you can go with, but we went with Compass and paid $99 (£47) per person for a package that included:
-Fruit Platter Breakfast
-A BBQ lunch
-All snorkelling equipment
-Wine, cheese & crackers on the return to land
-Underwater Camera available for hire
It wasn’t the most luxurious boat, or the fanciest food or wine. But it was all we needed. Good & safe transportation, friendly staff, and we got fed. For us it wasn’t about the trip, it was all about the Reef. However, if you wanted something more upmarket, or perhaps to find something even cheaper, you can have a look at all the options by clicking here.
Why not check out my Great Barrier Reef vlog:

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Beers at the Bavarian Beerhouse
With Australia being an expensive country, why not get your moneys worth? We decided that if we were to spend lots on a beer we may’s well make it a MEGA GIANT GERMAN BEER. I loved this little Bavarian Bar, it’s not quite on the scale as this one that I visited in London recently. But it’s cute, different and the seats outside leave you staring at the gorgeous Coral Sea. We went here on our first day for a couple of drinks, but looking like lobsters – we were sunburnt everywhere.

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The Botanical Gardens (free)
Take my advice, get a cab or a bus or some sort of transport. We eager beavers thought we could use a map and walk there. We not only got lost, but got lost in sweltering heat. Fortunately Australia is full of free water dispensers and taps, but the further out of Cairns centre we walked, the further apart the taps got. But eventually we made it.

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I have to admit, compared to both Brisbane and Melbourne Botanical Gardens, which are well looked after with colourful flowers planted everywhere, the Cairns Botanical Garden was a shock. Mainly because it’s more like a forest in its natural habitat, which is just as incredible. Although, a little scary. On our arrival at the Gardens, we were met with signs warning us of crocodiles. Fortunately we didn’t have any croc encounters, instead we saw many a wild birds, interesting insects and beautiful trees and plants. If you have a spare day and enjoy walking, then I definitely recommend visiting these Gardens (watch the vlog below to see more).

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The Night Market
I love a good night market and Cairns has one everyday, 365 days a year, with the shops open from 5pm till midnight. There are so many different types of stalls, from gifts and unique treats, to honey stalls, toy stalls, there are massage booths as well as coffee shops, ice cream stalls and Sushi places – Nom! It’s good fun to walk around for an hour or so. I really wanted to get a massage, but since I had quite badly burnt myself that day (Cairns Sun is STRONG!) I wasn’t sure if someone rubbing my skin was the best idea. Nope.

Due to budget constraints, timing, as well as those nasty Asylum hangovers (see below!) we couldn’t do everything we wanted. But here are a few other Cairns things you can do that I would love to do if a) I got the chance to go again and b) had more money to spend:

The Ajhackett Minjin Swing which looks sooooo fun and adrenaline pumping
A Hot Air Balloon ride over Cairns would be magical
I’d love to see The Waterfall Circuit which is about an hour south of Cairns

Where we stayed…
Because we were on a typical backpacker’s budget, we stayed at Asylum Hostel, which is about a ten minute walk from Cairns Centre and a five minute drive from the airport. It is essentially a very low budget yet very social hostel that has been rated 9 out of 10 on the site hostelworld.com for both its value for money and its friendly staff. It offers dorms from as cheap as $15 a night (£.7.70) for an eight bed; that’s incredibly cheap for Australia, in Brisbane the Beard and I paid $24 a night each (that’s £12.30 pp) to share a 20 bed dorm!

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Asylum also offer private rooms with shared bathrooms for as little as $35 a night (just £18). The hostel offer free Wi-Fi, $4 all you can eat BBQ’s and are fantastic hosts if you are a backpacker looking to make friends and have a good time. They are one of the very few hostels we stayed at in Australia that allowed BYOB – perfect if you are a backpacker on a shoestring budget. During the day there is a totally relaxed environment, with most backpackers either out and about on excursions or swaying their hangover away in a hammock.

However, Asylum is certainly not to everyone’s taste, mainly because it’s loud and boozy. Do not go there if you want to have quiet evenings spent relaxing or reading. Instead you could choose from one of the following places:

YHA Cairns This hostel is part of a chain and is smack bang in the centre of Cairns. It offers rooms from $21.50 pp, and has an overall 89% rating.

For more Cairns hostels, head to Hostelworld 

Coconut Resort This is perfect for families, but also groups. It offers everything from cute little cabins, to luxury villas and condos. Group rates start from $100 a night and go upto $260 a night. OR, you can camp for $38 a night.

For more upmarket accommodation, head to booking.com

To get a taste of our Cairns trip, the hostel life and see some of the CRAZY wildlife we spotted, check out my Cairns vlog:

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