I flew up from Brisbane and into Cairns. After months of desert and very LA-like climate, landing in Cairns was like landing in Hawaii. Humid, lush, tropical. I loved it just from the view from the plane. I had prebooked a room at Castaways hostel a few days before because they had single rooms pretty cheap and the place was okay. A bit out of town but they had a shuttle while I utilized every day at least to get into town and ended up walking back on most days. No AC in my room, just a fan, but it had a desk, chair and fridge (!) in addition to bed, which is more then most places offer. I loved it when there was a chair in my room as I love a quiet place other then the bed to read. So already, SNAPS! The public areas were kept very clean and I really enjoyed the pool area! There was a free computer which I used a little bit too.
Cairns is a backpackers mecca. Everything in town is targeted towards tourism of all budgets. From a backpackers point of view, the place was nuts. Every travel store seemed to be giving away free internet or a free meal at this pretty crappy backpackers pub, but free food is free food. Every store seem to advertise “best deal on sailing The Whitsundays!” (a stop at about the halfway point on the East Coast) and “best deal on the Great Barrier Reef!”. I know I said before that the more you buy up front, the more you save in the long run. But I didn’t pay for things that way. I knew want I wanted to do and bought almost everything a la carte with smaller deals thrown in. I don’t know how much extra money I could have saved if I had pre-bought all my East Coast activities, but I feel like I got a fair deal on the stuff I wanted. Stores package popular activities together but half the things included, I didn’t want. The only thing I pre-bought more then a week in advance during my whole time was a tour and diving trip of Cape Tribulation. My favorite travel store was having a massive sale and I got a free tour upgrade plus a free intro dive which ended up being my most favorite dive of the whole trip. So I was in Cairns for a night, then off to Cape Trib as the “locals” call it for a tour, a night and my dive trip.
The tour was fabulous. So beautiful! And a wonderful local guide as well. After a day of taking it slowly up the coast, I tucked into a quiet night. I would totally recommend bringing some sort of food for dinner with you as there isn’t much choice and the choice is EXPENSIVE in the Cape. For one meal, it didn’t kill me, but I am glad all my meals the following day were provided on the boat. As the boat sailed out to the Reef, I sat in the dive lecture required by all intro drivers, but after a while did not feel well on the boat. I am not a car/boat/airplane sick person. Pretty much the only reason I have puked in the last 15 years was alcohol related (geeze, what does that say about me?) and I wasn’t going to change it now. Luckily, I got through the lecture in one piece, but when we got out to the reef and everyone was gearing up for the dive, I decided to sit it out. I just couldn’t take it at the moment. I jumped in with my snorkeling set for a bit though. We moved to another part of the reef and asked if I could dive this time and jumped in. I was totally nervous as this was my first time diving and the instructor was fab. She held my hand the whole time, which I needed. The whole day was great. The biggest downside was this was my first time in the sun in a looong time and well, can you guess what happened next? I got the worst burn I had ever gotten in my life. I seriously thought I was going to get the skin cancer from one that one burn. I couldn’t sleep on my back for nearly a week. I actually still have it, nearly two years later, if you look closely. Like, I can still see it. Any plans for the Great Barrier Reef in your life? Start putting on the sunblock NOW.
The next day, back in Cairns, after getting to know the town a bit and knowing what was there to do, I booked activities for the next few days, plus one free day to do nothing. I also originally casually booked my hostel for 2 more nights not knowing what my plan was and as soon as I knew what was going on in that town, I booked the rest of my time. Yeah, that is how I rolled for most of my stroll down the Coast, whatever! I booked another diving tour as well as a day trip to the town of Kuranda where you can take a 7km sky bucket ride up to the rain forest and a classic train ride back to town. It was in Kuranda that I bought my most expensive souvenir, a wind chime that I saw the moment I got to town and kept coming back to it all day. I just loved it. Since it was so big and awkward, when I got back to town, I mailed it home, sending it GROUND and they said it would take 2-3 months to get back to the US. I mailed it 1-November and I got an email from my dad around the beginning of March saying they finally got it. It barely made it home before me and thankfully in one piece. I also went out on another dive trip from Cairns, but since the boat advertised that the price included one dive, nearly everyone did it and we had to go in shifts and it just wasn’t as good as the trip off Cape Trib. Thankfully I was prepared for all the “tests” they put you through, so it was fine for me, but if it was my first time, I would have been freaking out. I only went out once and spent the rest of the day in the shade. I spent my last day in Cairns just sitting by the pool at the hostel and reading around town. Cairns was the first place that I saw those free city pools. Since you can’t swim in the ocean off the reef, each town has these really nice new public pools for people to swim and hang out in. Imagine a sort of lame water park, but for free they are actually really cool. I kind of wish we had them in the US, but people would go nuts here and they would be packed all the time. Ahh, the joys of a smaller population!
Moral: Cairns, like Las Vegas, is really fun, but only for a short period of time. I was there for nearly a week and that was enough for me.