When I got to Cairns I had no plan. After Sydney I knew that I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and my options were to start from Cairns or Port Douglas. I chose Cairns as my base for 2 reasons: 1) after a little research I realized that Cairns was more the backpacker town and Port Douglas the small resorty town for an older crowd; 2) price: hostels were cheaper in Cairns and I didn’t have to pay AUD 30+ just to get to Port Douglas and back. Much like Sydney, I ended up in Cairns longer than I meant to be there.
I had a day in Cairns before my GBR day to try to figure out where to go next so I talked to a few different travel agencies about my options. Australia still uses travel agencies; it’s the main way travelers book anything here, from backpackers to normal tourists. On the one hand it’s fantastic that these agencies still exist somewhere. They know the places to go, how to get there, and get deals on prices through the relationships they have with different companies. On the other hand this means that everyone is following the same trail down the coast, most of the time from Cairns on a hop on hop off bus down to Sydney.
I had a general idea of some spots I wanted to see in Australia based on more friend recommendations – Fraser Island, Byron Bay, potentially Whitsundays if I could fit it in – and my own personal desire to see Uluru. I approached the agencies with these places in mind and it was quickly made apparent to me that Uluru would be hard to do: flights one way were around $400, plus the three day tour itself, it was looking like a $1000 trip. Instead I could use those days to fit in the Whitsundays boat, something they told me was really a highlight, for $300 give or take depending on the boat. Sadly, I dropped Uluru. It has become my Patagonia of Australia. I will just have to come back one day; it’s for another trip. After some strategic scheduling and price negotiation, I left Happy Travels with a package for the next 12 days: a hop on hop off Greyhound bus pass from Cairns to Brisbane, stopping for a Whitsundays boat, Fraser Island tag-along tour, and Noosa canoe trip.
Again I was conflicted about this process. On the one hand, after over 4 months of planning myself, it was nice to have someone figure it all out and book it for me. So easy! On the other hand, I felt like I had been forced into a schedule I didn’t really want. I was hoping for flexibility and now had reservations through the 19th (it was the 4th). Unfortunately though without a car flexibility wasn’t much of an option, and things like Whitsunday boats seemingly booked up. So I went with it.
This is how I ended up in Cairns longer than planned – I couldn’t get on my Whitsundays boat until Sunday the 9th, so I now had the rest of Tuesday, all of Thursday and Friday in Cairns before my night bus down the coast.
The problem is, there’s not much to do in Cairns. And it’s hot. Humid, sweating for no reason hot. One night I went to a free bouldering hour, which resulted in meeting a friendly Aussie med student who invited me over for a BBQ dinner and travel talk. One day I went to the lagoon, aka the public pool, and then out with my hostel for their famous Pants Down Party (which was happily not as ridiculous as it sounds, and actually quite a fun night). And my last day I was productive with blogging and last-minute errands before the adventures began.
Cairns was my hangout time before the East Coast trip commenced. It was a good place for it – first because it was too damn hot to do anything else, second because you really need a car in Cairns to do the good stuff anyway (which is all outside of the town itself), and third because my hostel was a really chill place.
Despite being called Asylum, the hostel was not as nuts as it seemed like it might be when I first booked it. It had some great outdoor shaded hangout areas and functioning wifi (once you paid for it; I got it with my Pants Down Party payment (AUD 15 included unlimited wifi for a week, dinner, and 4 drinks)). Plus everyone there made me feel like I’d been there for months not just a few days. Even if I did spend these days responding to “California!” instead of my real name. Chill people, chill hostel, and a more chill town than I expected based on some nightlife reviews I’d read, Cairns was a good launching point for the next 2 weeks.